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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

MLB power rankings: Rick’s picks

Published: March 25, 2011
Section: Sports

1. Boston Red Sox: The signing of top free agent Carl Crawford and the trade for Adrian Gonzalez completes the best lineup in the AL—pitchers will have nowhere to hide from Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Crawford, Kevin Youkilis (the Hebrew Hammer), Gonzalez and David Ortiz (Big Papi). Their rotation is stellar with Lester, Bucholz and Lackey at the top, but Beckett needs to have a big year after an injury-plagued 2010 in which he posted a 5.78 ERA. The bullpen is terrific with the acquisitions of Wheeler and Jenks to set up for Papelbon. The BoSox are a clear favorite to win it all in 2011.

2. Philadelphia Phillies: Without a doubt, the Phillies have one of the best rotations in modern baseball history with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, but their offense, which was once their strength, is in question with Utley out with a knee injury and Werth going to the Nationals. Nevertheless, their pitching should carry them deep into the playoffs.

3. Texas Rangers­: Texas has one of the strongest lineups in the AL, with Nelson Cruz, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and newly-acquired Adrian Beltre bringing power. Their rotation is still imposing even without Cliff Lee, and would get even better if Neftali Feliz became a starter. Either way, look for Texas to dominate the AL West.

4. San Francisco Giants: The defending world champs still have the second best rotation in baseball behind the Phillies with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito. But the Giants will struggle offensively unless Pablo Sandoval returns to his Kung Fu Panda form.

5. New York Yankees: Even with a more than $200 million payroll, the Yankees cannot guarantee themselves a playoff spot in 2011—they are aging, but they do have one of the best lineups in the AL. Their rotation, though is a huge question—it’s CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes and then three question marks. The acquisitions of Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano solidify the Yank’s bullpen.

6. Atlanta Braves: The addition of Dan Uggla strengthens the Braves offense, Jayson Heyward is expected to have another solid year and Freddie Freeman is also predicted to have a dynamic rookie campaign. The rotation is always Atlanta’s greatest weapon, and their bullpen should be strong with Kimbrel/Venters closing games. The only problem the Braves will have is winning the NL East, but they are a legit Wild Card contender.

7. Minnesota Twins: The Twins’ lineup is among the best in the AL, anchored by the M&M boys—Mauer and Morneau. Their rotation is also solid as they resigned Carl Pavano, a 17-game winner in 2010, to go with Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and Scott Baker. Joe Nathan’s return from injury fortifies a tough bullpen.

8. Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have a power-heavy lineup with the acquisition of Adam Dunn, a guaranteed 40-HR guy, to go with Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin, Alexie Ramirez and Paul Konerko, who hit 39 bombs in 2010. The rotation will be great with John Danks, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd—if Jake Peavy can recover from an injury, it would make the White Sox contenders in the AL Central.

9. Milwaukee Brewers: Milwaukee boasts an impressive lineup including Prince Fielder in his contract year, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee and Rickie Weeks. Their rotation is also dominant with the signings of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to go with team ace Yovani Gallardo. The biggest question for the Brewers will be the bullpen; in 2010, the Brewers had one of the lowest save percentages in baseball.

10. Detroit Tigers: The acquisition of Victor Martinez to provide protection for Miguel Cabrera makes the Tigers an offensive juggernaut. Austin Jackson and Brandon Boesch also look to repeat their rookie seasons. The Tigers have Justin Verlander and young pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to bolster their rotation, and Jose Valverde will close out games. The Tigers will make the AL Central extremely competitive.

11. Cincinnati Reds: The defending NL Central Champs have a lot of young stars including reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs. The loss of Johnny Cueto casts doubt on the rotation, which right now consists of Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Travis Wood and Homer Bailey. Cincinnati’s bullpen was very effective in 2010—right now, Francisco Cordero is closing, but Cuban fire-baller Aroldis Chapman and his 105 mph fastball might take the position by the end of the year.

12. Colorado Rockies: Colorado is home to two of the best young players in baseball; Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez, but the rotation is questionable beyond Ubaldo Jimenez, which will make it difficult for the Rockies to contend in the NL West.

13. St. Louis Cardinals: The loss of Wainwright who won 19 games in 2010 puts a huge strain on the Cards’ rotation which was their strength going into the off-season. The Cardinals have the best player in the baseball, Albert Pujols, and All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, but not many others; Colby Rasmus would also need to repeat his 2010 campaign for the Cardinals to beat out the Reds and Brewers in the loaded NL Central.

14. Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays have a ton of power in their lineup with home-run champ Jose Bautista and a terrific young rotation led by Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. Unfortunately, they’re in the AL East, so the best they can hope for is probably a third-place finish.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers: The biggest loss for the Dodgers was Manager Joe Torre. Even so, they have a solid core of Andre Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp, and a competitive rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. But it will be hard to compete with the Rockies and Giants in the West.

16. Los Angeles Angels: The Angels will look to rebound from a rough third-place finish in 2010. Their rotation is strong with Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, but their bullpen and lineup are questionable. They will get a boost with the return of Kendry Morales.

17. Tampa Bay Rays: Even though they lost many of their best players in the off-season, the Rays still have a dominant young rotation of David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and rookie Jeremy Hellickson, who is expected to have a big year. The Rays could end up in the Wild Card hunt in 2011.

18. Chicago Cubs: Adding Garza to the fold makes the Cubs pitching staff very formidable, and the addition of Carlos Pena also adds a power threat to the lineup. But, like the Mets, the Cubs are notorious under-performers and fold under pressure. They will struggle in the NL Central with the superior Brewers, Cardinals and Reds.

19. Florida Marlins: While they have a lot of talent on the field—with Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, and the additions of Omar Infante and Javier Vasquez—the Fish play horrid defense that has always made them mediocre; a true .500 team.

20. New York Mets: The Mets on paper have the third-best lineup in the NL behind the Brewers and either the Reds or Rockies. They have David Wright, Jose Reyes in his contract year, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Angel Pagan coming off a career year and Ike Davis coming off a superb rookie season. But the Mets also have a lot of questions including Bay’s power, Reyes’ legs, Beltran’s everything. On top of that, the rotation without Johan leaves something to be desired. Mike Pelfrey is the opening day starter, followed by a journeyman knuckle-baller and a young unproven lefty. But the Mets do have a chance. If they can stay healthy and if the rotation pitches up to its potential, the Mets could surprise a lot of people (including me).

21. Oakland Athletics: The A’s have the youngest rotation in baseball with little-known pitchers like Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. Their bullpen is also one of their strengths, anchored by Andrew Bailey. But Oakland’s problem has always been their offense, which is among the weakest in baseball—newly-acquired David DeJesus is batting third.

22. Washington Nationals—The addition of Jayson Werth to go with Ryan Zimmermann gives the Nats lineup a little pop, but their pitching staff is absolutely horrendous. In fact, their opening day starter is Livan Hernandez.

23. Baltimore Orioles—The acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee will complement the trio of Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Adams Jones nicely. Like the Nationals, the problem for the O’s is their pitching.

24. San Diego Padres—Losing Adrian Gonzalez is devastating to the Padres, whose pitching carried them almost to the playoffs last year. Now their anemic offense will rely on new additions Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, who have almost no power threat in the lineup. The Padres did have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, though, and they will have all those guys again in 2011. They also have the best bullpen in baseball with Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson setting up for Heath Bell.

25. Seattle Mariners—Reigning Cy Young Felix Hernandez complements a great pitching staff whose 3.93 ERA was good for third in the AL last year. The problem for Seattle is their offense—Chone Figgins did not perform as well as expected in 2010, and there are no other star players on Seattle to drive Ichiro home when he gets on base. Seattle should view 2011 as a rebuilding year and focus on the future.

26. Houston Astros—The Astros starting rotation will keep them in games, but their bullpen and offense will pose a problem. Their outfield has hitters like Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, but their infield is the worst in baseball with Chris Johnson, Bill Hall, Clint Barmes and Brett Wallace. Expect the Astros to spend 2011 trying to stay out of the NL Central basement.

27. Cleveland Indians—The Indians have All-Star outfielder Grady Sizemore, rising star Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo, one of the most underrated players in baseball. Their pitching is a different story; it was ranked third to last in the AL last year.

28. Kansas City Royals—Kansas City lost ace pitcher Zack Greinke and now have Luke Hochevar starting on opening day. Their farm system is the best in baseball, but the situation in the majors is a different story. Billy Butler is their only competent hitter. The signing of Jeff Francoeur, though, might help them win 70 games instead of the 67 they won in 2010.

29. Arizona Diamondbacks—The loss of Mark Reynolds leaves Justin Upton as the only star left on this once-dominant team. The Diamondbacks are in complete rebuilding mode and should focus on 2012.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates—Clint Hurdle has his work cut out for him. As long as the Pirates don’t keep trading all their star outfielders to the Yankees, they should improve within the next few years. Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen are solid young guys and Pedro Alvarez should have a big rookie year. But what has long been the downfall of the Pirates is their pitching—last year they were ranked dead last in the majors with an ERA of 5.00. All in all, Pirate fans should prepare themselves for their 19th consecutive losing season, the longest streak ever in sports history.