Who is this Year’s “Sleeper” Team?


Last year I posted a poll like this where you the fans chose the Baltimore Orioles edging out the Toronto Blue Jays as the “Sleeper” team of 2011.  While the Orioles wound up in their usual spot in the standings, dead last in the AL East, they did wind up being last year’s biggest spoilers as they dominated the Boston Red Sox in the last two weeks of the regular season to destroy the Sox dreams of a World Championship.  It’s that time again; let’s look at this year’s class of potential “Sleepers.”

Washington Nationals

The Nats had their second best season in 2011, posting an 80-81 record.  They had one game postponed with the Dodgers that they never made up.  They accomplished this with Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg spending substantial time on the disabled list.

While Zimmerman is the leader of this young team, it is Strasburg that fans are looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full season.   Can the young superstar overcome Tommy John surgery and live up to all of they hype surrounding him?  It is going to be fun watching, isn’t it?

The Nats lost out on the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sweepstakes, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort.  They gave big offers to both only to have Pujols and Fielder find new homes in the American League.

New names on the team that are sure to make an impact are Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson.  Both will be in the starting rotation.  Brad Lidge was also signed just in case closer Drew Storen’s tender elbow gives out.

What happens when Bryce Harper finally gets the call of duty?  Will he generate the same kind of excitement that Strasburg did when he first came up?  Probably and more so.  This is a kid with a boat load of talent and he is dying to strut his stuff on the big stage.  This Nationals team could be very exciting to watch.

This is a tough division with the Philadelphia Phillies the favorites and Atlanta Braves expected to remain a contender.  But both are dealing with injuries going into this season which may open the door to the new NL East powerhouse, Miami Marlins.

The new wildcard format will keep this team excited and optimistic all year. What do you think?

Pittsburg Pirates

The Pirates finally gave the city of Pittsburgh something to cheer about last year as they hovered briefly amongst the leaders in the NL Central.  Their fall from grace was just as quick as their rise, but their 72 wins were still the most since 2003.

The low budgeted teams made the wise decision this offseason to ink their only true star, Andrew McCutchen, to a 6 year contract extension.   Is this the year McCutchen makes a strong run towards being the 2012 MVP?  He has the tools, now he needs his team to stay in contention to give him a true shot at it.

What about Pedro Alvarez?  Can he overcome last year’s injuries and cut down on his strikeouts to get back to his 2010 form?

The most intriguing figure to watch is A.J. Burnett.  Does getting out of pinstripes equate into wins in the NL?  No doubt the change of scenery may give back some of the confidence he had before playing in the Bronx.  Burnett not only has to get his head on straight but he must recover first from the eye injury he suffered this spring.

This Division is definitely up for grabs, now that Fielder abandoned the Milwaukee Brewers.  But do the Pirates have enough to really be contenders?

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays keep getting better but in the AL East wins are hard to come by.  In order to make the playoffs in this division the Jays will need a minimum of 90 wins just to have a chance.  It has been 19 years since the Blue Jays have been in the post season, will his be lucky number 20?

For the second straight year, Jose Bautista lead all of the majors in home runs, proving 2010 wasn’t a fluke.  Is this the year the Blue Jays help Bautista win the MVP?  Will their good pitching staff not great lead them to the promise land?  With the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Red Sox in front of them and the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels in the West, it is going to be a tall order for the Jays to make the post season, but impossible?  Maybe not.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins had a miserable year in 2011, landing in last place in the AL Central.  This team was decimated with injuries all year long.  Will this be the year Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer return to All Star form?  Mauer maybe, Morneau highly doubtful?  But, who knows, maybe being the teams full time DH will help him recover from his chronic concussion syndrome.

Can a team really compete with your ace being, Carl Pavano?  It can, but only if the other four starters step up.  This team really needs Francisco Liriano to get back to form.  This is Liriano’s walk year before hitting the free agent market next year.  We all know how struggling players somehow and someway come up with some secret potion that makes them productive during walk off years.

This division seems to be a one horse race with the Detroit Tigers well ahead of all the others.  But, all it takes is a key injury to one of their stars and this division will be wide open for the taking.

Boston Red Sox

Yes, you read it right, the Boston Red Sox sleepers?  How can a team that was projected to win it all last year be a sleeper this year?  Well, the historic September collapse is the reason the Sox are now in sleep status.

Almost every expert has them winning close to 90 games or more, yet still coming in third behind the Yankees and Rays.  With Texas and Los Angeles having the luxury of beating up the weaker teams in their division, like the A’s and Mariners, they are projected to mount up more wins then the Sox.  Either the Angels or Rangers will most likely be one of the Wild Card teams with the other coming out of the AL East.

Don’t count this team down and out.  The Rays may have one of the best starting rotations in the American League, if not all of the majors, they are still going to have a difficult time putting up as much runs as the Sox.  The Yankees are aging, how much do Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera have left in the tank?  They seemed dormant in the offseason until one day when they acquired Michel Pineda and Hideki Koruda.  Combine them with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia and you have a pretty solid starting rotation.

The success of this team is going to evolve around three arms.  Forget about who the fourth and fifth starters will be, if Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz don’t equate to 90-95 starts and average 17-18 wins then this team will be in trouble and the post season might have only been a dream.

The Sox still have plenty of firepower on offense, but that wasn’t the problem in 2011.

Will the players dink the Bobby Valentine’s  Kool Aid?  If they do, the AL East race will be one to watch.  If they don’t, watch for heads to roll at the end of the year.

Remember the saying, winning is the only mother f—–g option, failures not.  (Eminem’s quote, not mine)

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