With the season just one week away, it's prediction time. I'm not talking vanilla predictions of the MLB standings. That's not what we do here (well, at least not until next week). No, I'm following in Eric Mack's footsteps and giving you my bold predictions for the season.
I'll see Mack's 10 bold predictions and raise him one to 11, not to upstage the man, but simply because "11 bold predictions for '11" is symmetry too good to pass up. Plus, everyone knows 11 is one louder than 10. I'll always jump at the chance to channel my inner-Nigel Tufnel.
So here we go. Eleven predictions that flout fantasy society's conventions just in time for the true beginning of spring: Opening Day.
When Scherzer doesn't strike a batter out, he's just as likely to put it in play in the air as on the ground, but Scherzer's HR/FB rate is league-average, and he has Austin Jackson patrolling the spacious grounds of the Comerica Park outfield. Everything is aligned for Scherzer to break out this season.
He has the power fastball/power slider combo indicative of a lockdown closer. His average fastball velocity was 96.1 MPH last season, while his average slider clocked in at 83.4. He's also an inning-or-more-at-a-time lefty. Last year, lefties couldn't touch him, posting a .175/.221/.278 line. Righties weren't much better, coming in at .203/.296/.288. All the numbers over a 200-inning sample size point toward Thornton becoming a dominant closer this year.
The other NL West outfielder that could best Gonzalez is Justin Upton, but I'm not ready to be that bold. I think CarGo will have a fine season, I just don't see him equaling last year's production with such stark home/road splits. Gonzalez tore it up at Coors, hitting .380/.425/.737 with 26 homers, while posting a .289/.322/.453 line with eight homers on the road.
Additionally, the Brewers have the offense to support their starting pitchers, and even if Gallardo's wins are lacking, the BBWAA finally broke with its arcane standards last year in awarding the AL Cy Young to Felix Hernandez. Compared with other top pitching options, Gallardo is going relatively cheap. Jump on him and thank me in September.
Meanwhile, Pablo Sandoval, Mark Reynolds and Casey McGehee are all starters at third in a 12-team league. If I have to scrape the barrel at one of those two positions, I'd much rather have it be second.
If that weren't enough, he's trading Scott Hairston, Will Venable and Chase Headley for Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz. The fact that he was able to pile up such ridiculous numbers considering his environment was incredible. Now that he's out of Petco with star teammates surrounding him in the lineup, the sky's the limit.
Provided Chipper Jones can stay healthy, they should have the best offense in the division. Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Jones, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla give them a really nice top five in the order. Those five should be enough to keep the pressure off Nate McLouth, who had a dreadful '10, and rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman. Both the Braves and Phillies will make the playoffs, but I like the Braves to nip the Phils in the division.