1. The Phillies will win fewer than 96 games. That figure is the current line for the Phillies’ 2011 win total set by your finer, ahem, establishments. It’s easy to win December: make the biggest trade, sign the biggest free agent, lose the least talent, and no one is shredding their elbows or having trouble locating their fastball or just plain feeling old. It’s harder to win September, when stat lines give way to baseball games, bad bounces, human frailty. It was three years ago that pundits — myself included — were raving about the Tigers’ 1,000-run offense in the wake of their trades for Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera. That team won 74 games, finished last and fell just 179 tallies shy of a grand.
This isn’t to say that the Phillies aren’t the best team in the NL or won’t win the NL East for the fifth year in a row. It’s merely an acknowledgment that despite adding Cliff Lee, they’re an aging team that had some injury and performance issues last year, and whose bullpen is always an adventure. It’s a lot to ask these four starters — three of whom will be at least 32 years old next year — to carry the roster. Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels have combined for more than 60 wins in any season just once, in 2008. The 1993 Braves had four starters younger than all four of the Phillies’ hurlers, and they made 142 starts and racked up 75 wins for a 104-win team. That’s the gold standard in the free-agent era, and it will remain so a year from now.
2. The Orioles will be next year’s Padres. San Diego’s storybook run ended just shy of success, the team falling to the Giants on the final day of the season to miss the NL West title and the postseason by one game. The Orioles will meet the same playoff-less fate in the loaded AL East, but not before getting the attention of the industry with their impressive set of young pitchers. Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta are already in the majors, and top prospect Zach Britton could join them by midseason. The offense isn’t yet ready for prime time, though it does include the underrated Nick Markakis and forgotten Matt Wieters. Look for the Orioles to finish above .500 for the first time since 1997.
3. The Padres will be next year’s Orioles. As much fun as 2010 was for the Padres, it wasn’t built on a sustainable base of talent, but rather a collection of relievers and marginal veterans having big years, with just a couple of truly great players — one of whom, Adrian Gonzalez, is no longer a Padre. The Padres have worked to improve their run prevention, upgrading the defense at second base, shortstop and center field; however, they have absolutely no power and will have an extremely poor offense, even accounting for their home park. They are, however, on the right track in the long term.