Four Bases to Cover in the MLB 2011 Season

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Author: Lauren Siverly

From April to October, fans get to relish in every pitch, hit and run of the baseball season, but since there are 162 games and 30 teams in the Majors, it is hard to know what exactly to look out for in 2011. Here are some of the top stories of this season.

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter had a rough off-season after facing increasing scrutiny with his batting average dropping 64 points in the 2010 season. He is inching closer and closer to that 40-year-old mark, and there were also off-season questions about his return to the Yanks and how much longer he will be in the pros.

However, Jeter is one of the Major League’s most prolific offensive players and is set to pass the 3000-hit mark this season. According to Sports Illustrated, if he makes it he will be the first player drafted after 1988 and the first Yankee ever to reach the milestone. He is only 74 hits away, but with the increased production from teammate Brett Gardner, he is currently sitting in the second spot in the line-up. Unfortunately for him, each hitting drought will most likely lead to more concerns about his age and productivity. Nonetheless, look to Jeter for an exciting story this season.

Another point of interest this season is the pitching rotation for the Philadelphia Phillies. Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton and Cole Hamels instill fear into opposing batters, and they all (save for Blanton) could arguably be number one in most teams’ rotations.

After pitching for the Phillies in 2009, Lee returned to the team after brief stints in Texas and Seattle.  As a sign of things to come, Lee pitched seven innings and recorded 11 strikeouts in his first game this season. Halladay and Oswalt are seasoned veterans, and Hamels has ample post-season pitching experience. However, these pitchers have also had some issues with run support in the past and the team is getting older.  Still, with four of the five pitchers having ERAs sitting around three or lower, this starting pitching staff will give fans reasons to watch the Phillies even without Jayson Werth and an injured Chase Utley.

Baseball fans outside of Cincinnati actually have a reason to follow the Reds this season.

New-comer Aroldis Chapman, famous for setting the world record for fastest pitch with his 105.1 MPH fastball, came to the U.S. last year from Cuba. He played AAA for the Reds franchise until he was called up in the last month of the season. The Reds have yet to decide whether Chapman will be a starter or a closer.

Besides the transition into the Major Leagues, Chapman is still adjusting to life in the U.S., which is a stark contrast from his life in Cuba. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Chapman was in the U.S. just five months before he signed with the Reds. He only spoke Spanish and left his whole family back in Cuba, but he is already fitting into the clubhouse, according to pitching coach Bryan Price.  He told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “He stands out because he’s a huge talking point. He’s an interesting guy because of what he provides to our club as far as baseball. But this year, he’s just one of the guys.” After being swept by the Phillies in the NLDS last year, the Reds will look to Chapman to strengthen their pitching staff and help seek revenge this year.

Perhaps one of the biggest stories this year is the potential return of the Red Sox to the World Series.  A majority of baseball analysts are predicting the perennial favorite Boston Red Sox to win the World Series this year. With off-season acquisitions of Adrian González (2010 BA: .298) from San Diego and snatching up Carl Crawford (All-time BA: .296) from free agency, they add ample production to the third and fourth spots in the lineup.

If Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all stay healthy, the Red Sox have arguably the best offense in baseball. The only questions that arise other than staying injury-free are with starting pitchers Josh Beckett and Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka and closer Jonathon Papelbon. Beckett and Dice-K struggled through most of spring training, but both have also shown remarkable improvement since the start. Papelbon had issues last season with a walk rate nearing four per nine innings pitched. Still, the Red Sox are a force to be reckoned with in 2011.

This year will be an exciting one in the world of baseball.  With questions about veterans and excitement about rookies, there are sure to be surprises along the way. In the words of the late Dave Niehaus, beloved broadcaster for the Mariners for 33 years, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, because it’s grand salami time!”

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