GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Adam Cubbage
Toast of the Division: Atlanta Braves
First, a message, GET OFF!
Media members, pundits, critics, scouts, angry fans and any and all who have slowly tried to creep back onto the Atlanta Braves bandwagon—I know who you are and your seat has been taken!
Yes, this means you, Mr. Wayward Fan. It was you who drooled over the Phillies 2010 rotation—not realizing that their team was an aging one with many issues; not the least of which was self-inflicted when they let Jayson Werth walk this past winter.
I also mean you, Mr. Media who crowned these same Phillies World Champs after the Cliff Lee signing. You must have been feeling some buyers remorse after you saw how good the Braves truly were—putting up the best fight against the eventual champion—playing minus two All-Stars (Jones, Prado), a solid young ace (Jurrjens), and Kris Medlen.
Then there were all you scouts—I am particularly disappointed in you. How could you sit there and gush about the Phillies being the best team in the division for 2011? Did you not notice the Dan Uggla trade? Have you not witnessed one of the best young baseball players in the league in Jason Heyward?
The Phillies might have a “Phantastic Phour”, but the braves have a dirty dozen!
Oh! And a little more food for thought:
1.) The Braves have THREE legitimate rookie of the year candidates: Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, and Craig Kimbrel (favorite)
2.) Atlanta has the best young nucleus in this division ( any division really) with All-Stars Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado to go along with young aces Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, and bullpen duo Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
Best of the Rest
2.) Philadelphia Phillies
3.) Washington Nationals
4.) Florida Marlins
5.) New York Mets
MVP: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
I could have gone anywhere with this award but let’s just stay down South.
McCann has five consecutive gold gloves, four Silver Slugger awards,and he’s the reigning MVP of the All-Star game—and he just hit his prime. He has a sweet stroke that has batting title potential and league wide respect. I expect him to take a big step forward.
Cy Young: Roy Halladay
I don’t know if any of you expected someone different. If you did I have to apologize because, to me, it’s a foregone conclusion that Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball.
He cemented his status as such last year, in his first season with Philadelphia, throwing a perfect game, a postseason no-hitter and winning the Cy Young.
It doesn’t get much better than that really.
Impact Rookie to watch: Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Again, I say what’s not to love about this team? Teheran is the No. 5 rated prospect in baseball—already drawing comparisons to a larger version of Pedro Martinez. Should the Braves need a mid-to late season jolt in their already solid rotation, this guy will provide it.
Toast of the division: Cincinnati Reds
I didn’t want to pick the Reds. Honestly, I searched high and low for a team that I thought had a better quality rotation. I thought I had a lock in the St. Louis Cardinals…then Adam Wainwright went down and blew that up.
So I looked for the next best rotation, and even considered that they might have the offense to go along with it when I looked at the Chicago Cubs…then I realized they were the Cubs.
So after looking at them I thought “the Brewers have to be it! They’ve got to be that team.” Then Zach Greinke got hurt and I’m still not sold on Shawn Marcum as a rotation staple.
So, here we are, Dusty Baker’s Reds it will have to be—I guess.
Joey Votto, the reigning NL MVP, and Jay Bruce form a solid middle of the lineup core. Aroldis Chapman will get a full cup of coffee at the big league level and the rotation has the talented Travis Wood, teaming with Johnny Cueto and, Edinson Volquez, to make a formidable rotation.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I have to ask myself why I didn’t want to pick this team?
Best of the rest:
2.) St. Louis Cardinals
3.) Milwaukee Brewers
4.) Houston Astros
5.) Pittsburgh Pirates
MVP: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Since his playing days at Miami, this guy could rake. Now that he’s entering his prime, I expect his understanding of the game and veteran experience to take him to the next level.
Hindered by the small Milwaukee market in which he plays—he could have been MVP last year, had his team had a better record—look for him to break out in a big way this year and improve upon his 2010 numbers-25/.304/103.
Cy Young: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
I can’t pick Zach Greinke based on “potential” and one grand year. In actuality, the best pitcher in this division never made it out of spring training—Adam Wainwright—so that leaves a man who is a great pitcher, but worries me with his health issues, Chris Carpenter.
When healthy, Chris Carpenter is not someone you want to face. He already has a Cy Young on his resume, as well as a postseason pedigree.
Let’s hope his rough years, back in 2007-2008, behind him like he’s shown the last two years. (Side note: Can we please just recognize the type of rotation Toronto would have if they’d held onto their pitchers?)
Impact Rookie to watch for: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
You knew when he threw for the Cuban national team, he had a special arm. It was validated late last season with 13 of the most fascinating innings you will ever see. The question isn’t whether or not he has the ability to win major awards, but rather, where the Reds plan on using him. My suggestion: Closer. He’s most effective when he’s firing that 100 MPH plus heater in short stints.
Toast of the Division: Los Angeles Dodgers
One thing is certain in the NL West, there are no certainties. This was the most difficult call based on the teams that compete for this flag every year, and the arms in this division. I chose the Dodgers simply because Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley will step on that mound with a better supporting cast behind them than any other team in their division.
Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney make a much more formidable lineup than the Rockies or Giants (the other two contenders in the West). They’re all motivated by the fact that two of those three (Kemp and Ethier) might not be there and their window in the West as the up and coming young team of the division is closing.
I still think they have the most talent and this is the year they get to the level they need to be.
Best of the rest:
2.) San Francisco Giants
3.) Colorado Rockies
4.) San Diego Padres
5.) Arizona Diamondbacks
MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
The month of September for this guy made me an unwavering believer in the talent he possesses. One thing that needs to happen, he needs to put together two good halves of baseball (I amend that with injury free). If he does, he could be pretty special.
Carlos Gonzalez gets most of the publicity nowadays, but the undisputed leader of this ballclub (and, in my view, the best player) is Tulo.
Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
This was as easy a call as Halladay. “Tiny Tim” did have a rough go of it in August, only to become lights out in September and lead the Giants to the World Series. He figured out how to work his breaking pitches in with that nasty fastball and that put him back on the Cy Young radar.
Impact rookie to watch: Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
The lefty first basemen impressed the Giants brass so much that he pushed postseason hero Aubrey Huff into the outfield.
He has a smooth stroke and great defensive skills to back it up. Look for Belt to have an immediate impact on the lineup and challenge for the rookie of the year award.