Predicting how an entire professional baseball season will play out is a crapshoot.

Not only do injuries play a significant role in determining who will play in October, but teams also make countless transactions during the season that can drastically alter the original projected outcome.

Prior to the acquisitions of Pat Burrell and Cody Ross and the call-up of top prospect Buster Posey for instance, the San Francisco Giants were hardly on anyone’s mind to challenge for, let alone win, the World Series title last season.

Despite the difficulty in projecting seven months of play, it is still without a doubt a worthwhile exercise. Surprises like the 2010 Giants are few and far between, and most years it is possible to identify the contenders before any pitches are thrown or any outs are recorded.

So without further ado, here are my predictions for the upcoming 2011 Major League Baseball season.

 

AL East Champion: Boston Red Sox

After a disappointing 2010 season in which injuries and poor starting pitching led the club to only 89 wins — just the second time in nine years the Sox failed to eclipse 90 — Boston revamped its roster in free agency with additions like Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks, as well as the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres. Perhaps the biggest additions, however, will be the returns of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and starting pitcher Josh Beckett — three key players who all missed substantial time due to injuries last year. The 2011 club appears to have no weaknesses and tremendous depth heading into the season.

 

AL Central Champion: Chicago White Sox

Expect the White Sox and defending division champion Minnesota Twins to swap spots in 2011. The additions of designated hitter Adam Dunn and reliever Jesse Crain via free agency and the return of a healthy Jake Peavy suggest an improvement to last year’s club, which finished with 88 victories. The Twins, on the other hand, figure to take a step back after losing several relievers including Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes to free agency while also having injury concerns with stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.

 

AL West Champion: Texas Rangers

The defending American League champions figure to top their division, which has long been dominated by the Los Angeles Angels, for a second straight year. The acquisition of third baseman Adrian Beltre highlights an offseason that also featured acquisitions of Mike Napoli and former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb. The Angels will pose a threat, as usual, while the Oakland Athletics will be much improved after several offensive upgrades and the expected maturation of its young pitching staff, but expect another AL West crown in Arlington.

 

AL Wild Card: New York Yankees

Although the Yankees have several glaring holes, notably with their starting pitching, their offensive firepower remains unquestioned. They also have one of baseball’s top prospects in catcher Jesús Montero, who New York could dangle in potential trades come July as the centerpiece to acquire a top-flight pitcher should journeymen Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colón fail to perform. Other teams to watch out for include the Tampa Bay Rays, Twins, Angels, Athletics and Detroit Tigers.

 

NL East Champion: Philadelphia Phillies

In perhaps the most shocking move of the offseason, the Phillies added ace Cliff Lee to a rotation that already includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, forming potentially the strongest staff in the majors in over a decade. While the loss of outfielder Jayson Werth will sting, top prospect Domonic Brown is expected to replace much of Werth’s production. The only other viable contender in the division, the Atlanta Braves, will have to adjust to losing long-time manager Bobby Cox to retirement.

NL Central Champion:

Cincinnati Reds

Despite Milwaukee’s additions of starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, expect the Reds to remain atop the Central. Led by 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, the young Reds figure to take yet another step forward while flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and catcher Devin Mesoraco both have the potential to be major contributors for one of last year’s surprise teams.

 

NL West Champion: Colorado Rockies

Young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos González appear poised to take the next step as the leaders of a Rockies franchise that has come a long way from its days as an perennial punchline. The loss of Adrian Gonzalez means that San Diego will have trouble replicating its surprise 90-win 2010 campaign, while the magic surrounding the Giants will fade.

 

NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves

There will certainly be a transition period for a Braves team that will be without manager Bobby Cox at the helm for the first time since 1990. But the addition of second baseman Dan Uggla and the continued development of young players like outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher Tommy Hanson and first baseman Freddie Freeman will allow them to potentially improve on a 91-win 2010 season. Other possibilities include the Brewers, Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

 

World Series Prediction: Red Sox Over Phillies

Ultimately the World Series should feature baseball’s two best teams, with arguably the league’s best offense (Red Sox) challenging its best pitching staff (Phillies). While anything can happen come playoff time, these two clubs have the best balance, depth and firepower and should make for one great series. In the end, the Red Sox should celebrate their third World Series of the new millennium.

 

Preston Barclay is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Turning Two in the 202 appears in every other Tuesday edition of Hoya Sports.

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