Who are your surprise teams for 2011? Name one positive and one negative team, and why.
My surprise negative team is the Phillies, while they have a fearsome rotation, there are age and injury questions across the board on offense. Every infielder not named Ryan Howard have missed significant time, and Jimmy Rollins is showing his age. Raul Ibanez is also on the downside of his career. Subtract Jayson Werth and insert an unproven Dominic Brown and there is a better than even chance that the offense trends downward. The rotation is led by ironman Roy Halladay, but Cliff Lee has had injury concerns, and it was only two seasons ago that Roy Oswalt was slipping to a 4.12 ERA. I'm not saying that the Phillies are going to slip to a losing record or anything, but any slip could be taken advantage of by the Braves, Marlins or a talented when healthy Mets squad.
My unexpected positive team is the Rays. I know that they were a playoff team last year, but in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, and considering the personnel losses this offseason, they are not favored to return to the postseason. I think the Rays will surprise because of a deep pitching staff that is competitive on a spot for spot basis with any team in the division, and because of the life left in Manny Ramirez's bat. Even after losing Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency, the offense is still built on an elite bat in Evan Longoria, and useful parts at most positions. I believe that Manny will see a resurgence this year due to finally being released from the burden of playing the field, and a chance to stick it to the Red Sox. A deep farm system able to reload the bullpen will also help, with former top pitching prospect Jake McGee ready to fill in for the departed Rafael Soriano. The biggest hindrance I see for the Rays is will they be able to add the payroll needed to augment the team at the trade deadline? The owner has shown flexibility in the past to increase payroll, but they as always in a different strata of spending than the rest of the division.