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2011 MLB Season Begins Thursday: Things to Look For

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Sure it might be a bit too early to catch the smell of a fresh-cut lawn, but come Thursday afternoon the familiar phrase “Play Ball!” will be called across the country as the 2011 MLB season gets underway.

Not long ago, most of the northern states were blanketed under three, four and even five feet of snow which is slowly melting away, making room for the baseball diamond to surface once again for another season. As we spent many hours digging ourselves out and battling our way to work, you might have missed some important offseason moves. Here are a few transactions that took place.

Cliff Lee The Philadelphia Phillies were one of the biggest stories this offseason, signing Cliff Lee out of free agency. Lee takes his 102–61 career W-L record back to Philly in hopes for a World Series championship. He joins three more all-star caliber starting pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

Although the Philly pitching seems unstoppable, their lineup may have some holes, which might give the Atlanta Braves the edge in the NL East. All Star second baseman Chase Utley is battling a knee injury and may be out until the All-Star break. Slugger Jason Werth left town to sign with Washington, and Ryan Howard comes off a 31 HR, 108 RBI season. Aside from him, there is not much to talk about.

Dan ugglaFormer Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez succeeds 20-year manager Bobby Cox and inherits a balanced lineup. Second-year outfielder Jason Heyward came in second place in voting for the NL Rookie of the Year award and hit .277 with 18 HR and 72 RBI last year. Martin Prado, the second baseman who is moving to left field to make room for newly acquired Dan Uggla, led the team with 184 hits and 100 runs scored, and slugging catcher Brian McCann led the team with 21 home runs in 2010. Uggla, who joins the Braves from a trade with the Marlins, adds a nice punch to their lineup coming off a 33 HR, 105 RBI season. Starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson combined for 43 wins, 575 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA.

The Boston Red Sox made some nice moves in an effort to take back the AL East from the Tampa Bay Rays. Quick man Carl Crawford was signed by Boston to a seven-year deal worth $142 million. Crawford adds some additional speed to compliment Jacoby Ellsbury both in the outfield and on the base paths. San Diego Padres’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston in December. Gonzalez hit 31 HR and 101 RBI for San Diego in 2010 and certainly strengthens the already potent Red Sox lineup.

Their starting pitching can be hit or miss this season. Boston is hoping to get the Josh Beckett of old coming off a 6-6 record and recording an inflated 5.78 ERA. Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka was less than his impressive self with a 9-6 record and a 4.69 ERA.

The New York Yankees have some pitching problems of their own. After losing out on Cliff Lee in the free agent market, they were forced to sign some old veterans to their staff, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Garcia was named the team’s number 5 starter in the rotation and Colon made it on the team to work out of the bullpen. CC Sabathia is the glue holding their rotation together.

With an impressive 21-7 record last year, CC arrived in training camp 30 pounds lighter and is still pitching to his normal form. AJ Burnett is a huge question mark. He is coming off the worst year of his career, recording a 10-15 record and a 5.26 ERA. Like the Red Sox with Beckett, the Yankees need the old Burnett to produce in order to stay alive in the East.

Derek Jeter
is another question mark for the Yankees this season. He is noticeably a bit slower at shortstop and if his numbers decline at the plate, don’t be surprised to see manager Joe Girardi drop him in the lineup. Jeter is 74 hits away from reaching 3,000, which no Yankee has ever accomplished.

Derek JeterAfter a long heated contract dispute in the offseason, the Yankees captain signed a three-year deal. Jeter originally sought out a six-year deal, then dropped his demand to a four-year deal, which the Yankee management would not agree to. So expect all eyes to be on Jeter, as you can see he will be under the microscope in 2011.

Other offseason moves worth mentioning: Don Mattingly will finally get his shot at managing as he takes over for longtime mentor Joe Torre in Los Angeles to manage the Dodgers. Clint Hurdle takes his eight-year managerial experience from Colorado to Pittsburgh in hopes to put the Pirates back on the map. Don’t hold your breath, though. Hurdle holds a .461 winning percentage with only one NL Pennant in Colorado to show for it.

Japanese slugger Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui moves to northern California from the Angels to join the Oakland A’s. Speaking of Japanese stars, Seattle Mariners hit machine Ichiro Suzuki has won 10 straight Gold Glove awards, which tied an MLB record. There are no signs of him slowing down so expect a few more.

To round things out, the Baltimore Orioles added some punch to their lineup by adding Vladimir Guerrero (.33/29/155) and Derrek Lee (.269/19/80) with hopes to make a run in the AL East. Buck Showalter was hired as Orioles manager in 2010 after 105 games. Buck led the team to a 34–23 record (.596) and feels he can keep that train moving in 2011.

Photo credit for Cliff Lee:

Photo credit for Dan Uggla:

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