Who is this years sleeper?

The consensus around baseball is the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies will meet in this years World Series.  We all know how it looks on paper is rarely how it works out.  Last year the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies were favored to have a rematch of the 2009 series, and look how that worked out.  Every year a team or teams come out of nowhere to surprise everyone and  last year the biggest shocker of all was when the San Francisco Giants won it all.  We saw teams like the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres exceed every ones wildest dreams.  Who will be this years sleepers?
I have narrowed my selection down to five teams: Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs.  Yes, you read it right, I think the lowly Cubs could be a sleeper this year.
Lets begin with the Florida Marlins.  The Marlins are in a the same division as the Philadelphia Phillies, so i don’t foresee them winning the division but what about the wild card?   Why not?  They have good starting pitching in Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and newly acquired Javier Vazquez.  The trade for catcher John Buck will pay dividends this year, he has some good pop in his bat.  Mike Stanton will be a player to keep your eye on this year, lets see how the NL pitchers adjust after facing him last year.  I also think this is the year Hanley Ramirez takes more of a leadership role with the team. The X factor here will be how Javier Vazquez performs.  This spring his fastball has been topping out at 88-89 mph, not exactly dominating.  But, you don’t need a fireballer to succeed and he has performed well when not in a Yankees uniform.  If Vazquez can win 15-17 games then this team will be in the wild card race to the finish.  The Marlins finished with 80 wins last year, no reason they cant win 90-93 this year.
Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto won 85 games last year.  But, will they be able to squeeze out another 10 wins, which i feel will be the magic number for the American league Wild card.  I don’t think so.  i don’t think Jose Bautista comes close to hitting 54 home runs again.  In fact, I think he will have a hard time hitting more than 30.  I know trading Vernon Wells saved them a boatload of dough, but did it make the team weaker offensively?  Their lineup and pitching wont scare to many teams but every year they seem to always be in the hunt.  The X Factor here is John Farrell.  His knowledge of the Red Sox and Yankee hitters could be valuable to his pitching staff.  I think this team will be more of a spoiler than a contender.
Oakland Athletics: They probably have the best starting rotation in the AL West. They also beefed up their bullpen this year with the addition of Brian Fuentes.  Will Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham have strong enough years to drive in enough runs to keep the A’s in contention?  The Texas Rangers inability to resign Cliff Lee has opened the door for the A’s. The X Factor will be Matsui and the offense.  Their starting pitching will keep them in most games, but will the offense score enough runs to turn their efforts into wins?  I feel this team can over take the Rangers and the Angels this year to capture the West crown, it will just need everyone to play up to their potential.
Chicago Cubs: Yes i think the Cubs are playoff contenders. I think the Tampa Bay tandem of Matt Garza and Carlos Pena will give this team some life.  No way does Pena bat down near .200 again this year.  Playing at Wrigley field is going to help.  I predict that Pena will bat .250-.260 with 30-35 home runs and 100+ RBI’s.  Aramis Ramirez will is the star of this team and the Cubs need Alfonso Soriano and Kosouke Fukudome to show some life in their bats.  Carlos Siva and Carlos Zambrano needs to control their anger and use that pent up energy to pitch deep into games.   Manager Mike Quade named Ryan Dempster as opening day starter as soon as spring training opened.  This eliminated any controversy right away.  The X factor here is Matt Garza.  He is going to enjoy not having to face the AL East lineups this year.  I feel that he is going to flourish in the NL and actually be in the CY Young discussion’s all year.  it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Garza won 18-20 games this year.  With the health of the St Louis Cardinals pitching staff heading towards panic stage and the Albert Pujols nightmare, these Cubs will be in the hunt all year.  If they cant overtake the Cincinnati Reds for the division, like the Marlins, they will make the Wild Card Race pretty exciting.
Baltimore Orioles: I am trying to be objective here, which isn’t easy.  You see, I have always been an Orioles fan and every year I think that this could be the year.  In fact i have a deal with my daughter that when the Orioles finally do win a World Championship again that she will have to wear a white Orioles hat with the pink “O’s” on the front.  Well, this could be the year.  To make the playoffs?  Well, no.  But to get some rrespectability back to an organization that used to play the game the “Oriole Way”.  This team is going to be a nightmare for some pitchers.  They have lineup from 1-9 that can hit the ball out of the park.  The Orioles made a lot of headway this off season.  The signings of Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J.  Hardy and Vladimir  Guerrero have added plenty of power to this lineup.  Add this additions to lineup of Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts and watch the balls fly out of the park in Camden Yards this season.  Their pitching staff is full of young arms, Brian Matusz,Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen along with “veteran” Jeremy Guthrie will have to pitch 6-7 innings per outing to be competitive.  The bullpen still has too many question marks in it.  The X Factor is Manager Buck Showalter.  He brings a winning attitude with a no nonsense approach.  His leadership is what the Orioles have been lacking in years.  They also need Brian Roberts to be healthy this year.  Robets must be in the lineup at least 150 games for this team to do any substantial damage.  This team wont make the playoffs but this will be the year the perennial bottom dwellers will get out of the cellar this year.  Like Toronto, this Orioles team is going to be a pain in the neck for the contenders this year.  Don’t be surprised if they don’t factor in whether an AL East team makes the playoffs or not.
What do you think?  Which one of these teams do you feel will be this years sleeper?

Who will be this Year's Sleeper Team

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Tags: Adam Jones Albert Pujols Alfonso Soriano Anibal Sanchez Aramis Ramirez Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Brad Bergesen Brian Fuentes Brian Matusz Brian Roberts Buck Showalter Car Carlos Pena Carlos Silva Carlos Zambrano Chicago Cubs Chris Volstad Cincinnati Reds Cliff Lee Derreck Lee Florida Marlins Hanley Ramirez Hideki Matsui J.J. Hardy Jake Arrieta Javier Vaz Jeremy Guthrie John Buck John Farrell Jose Bautista Josh Johnson Josh Willingham Luke Scott Mark Reynolds Matt Garza Matt Wei Matt Wieters Mike Quade Mike Stanton New York Yankees Nick Markakis Oakland A's Philadelphia Phillies Phillies Red Sox Ryan Dempster San Diego Padres San Francisco Giants St. Louis Cardinals Tony Pena Toronto Blue Jays Vernon Wells Vladimir Guerrero

  • Mark

    I think your article is a very poor hypothesis on the 2011 year. I believe you have nothing but tunnel vision and you will look rather stupid once the season Is over.

  • http://www.bosoxinjection.com Rick Meegan

    Mark, I wish you told us who you thought was going to be a sleeper this year or at least what you disagree about mine is. I welcome everyones opinion and debate. Mine may sound far fetched to you, but weren’t the Padres predicated to come in last place last year? Instead they were one game away from winning the division.

    How many Padre , Rangers and Giants fans were told they were being stupid last year when they picked their teams to be contenders and not pretenders?

    What team (s) do you think will surprise everyone?

    • Soxgirl4ever

      Hey Rick,

      Mark didn’t have time to tell you who was going to be a sleeper this year because he was honing his ESP skills at the latest sweat lodge retreat with James Ray. I guess I missed where you claimed your opinions to be fact, Rick. I thought this was a blog of writers who shared their thoughts on our mutual love for the game of baseball.

      Mark reminds me of the guy in life who never takes a chance on anything for fear of looking “stupid”, afterward. Very sad.

      Good luck to you, Mark.

      To all of you Bosox Injection writers, thanks for a great blog. I am a new reader and have thoroughly enjoyed your articles, whether I agree with them, or not. Thanks for sharing your passions, ideas, and views with us as we all await the official start of the season. I have also been impressed with the maturity and respectfulness you exhibit when responding to occasional ignorant commenters, which unfortunately, are a fact of blog life. Kudos all around and keep up the good work!

  • Wyatt

    Why do you think Bautista will have a hard time hitting 30 home runs? People who say that have frustrated me this entire off-season because they’re failing to look at why he hit 54.

    With a new hitting coach (Dwayne Murphy) in place in Toronto for 2010, Bautista re-tooled his swing and changed the way he times pitches. In doing this he found that had generally been late on pitches up until this point in his career. There’s a reason that of Bautista’s 54 bombs, 53 were pulled and it’s that he is earlier than he had ever been in his career. If you think 2010 was a fluke, look back to his performance in September of 2009 when he hit 10 home runs in a month. He had a whole off-season to lose this power but he didn’t. He went through dry spells and slumps but at the end of the year he was still hitting home runs.

    So explain to me Rick why you think he’ll have a hard time hitting thirty because I just don’t get it.

  • http://www.bosoxinjection.com Rick Meegan

    Wyatt, the reasons I don’t think Bautista will match last years output is because pitchers will be targeting him this year. The days of players hitting 50+ homers in a year is on the decline. Pitching these days are getting better and better and are more prepared on game day. Until last years outburst Jose never hit more than 16 homers in a year. I did hear an interview with him recently where he discussed the adjustments he made at the plate. I also think he will miss the protection Vernon Wells provided him last year. Jose is not going to see the quality of pitches he did last year. I see his home run production dropping but , his walks increasing. He raised his status as a true power hitter and pitchers are going to be very careful to him this year. Less quality pitches = less home runs.

  • http://www.bosoxinjection.com Rick Meegan

    Orioles and Blue Jay fans believe….do you?