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HOBART Picks the 2011 Season photo


Stewart O'Nan,
Author of Emily, Alone, Last Night at the Lobster, and Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season (with Stephen King), among others


American League


National League


East: Boston Red Sox


East: Philadelphia Phillies


Boston — While they'll lose some pop in Beltre & V-Mart, there's no way they'll miss that many days to injuries again, and they have the three essentials: rotation, rotation, rotation.

New York — As long as CC, Hughes & Burnett stay healthy, the age of the team won't hurt them.

Tampa Bay — I can't explain why they shipped Garza. By midseason, management will have to.

Toronto — Best fourth place team in baseball. Best team in Canada.

Baltimore — Are they really that incompetent or have they just given up?


Philadelphia — Stocked and stacked. Like the Tankees of '01–'08, they'll start slow and make the playoffs while they're still half-asleep.

Atlanta — A very good young club. Should lead the division on September 1st.

New York — Like the Cubs, they're well past their prime but resisting rebuilding.

Florida — Talented, but no one there seems to care.

Washington — May leapfrog the Marlins, if only because they have something to prove.



Central: Detroit Tigers


Central: Cincinnati Reds


Detroit — The eternal underachievers will underachieve again, but...

Chicago — injuries to the White Sox will prevent them from nailing down a playoff spot...

Minnesota — while the Twins' pitching falters badly, keeping them out of contention for the first time in a while.

KC — The Royals may even catch them.

Cleveland — The Indians won't. Do anything, I mean.



Cincinnati — Everything on this team is just good enough. Not good, but good enough.

St. Louis — Without Wainwright, they can't cover up their lack of offense.

Chicago — Can't be as terrible as last year. Can they?

Milwaukee — Should be second in this weak division, but they've grown too used to fading. Save us, CC!

Houston — Just a terrible baseball club.

Pittsburgh — See above, but with a much nicer park.


West: Texas Rangers


West: San Francisco Giants


Texas — 85 wins could take this division, and the Rangers have enough offense & grit to overcome losing Cliff Lee.

Seattle — In the biggest turnaround from 2010, the M's finish above .500, with King Felix winning 18 games.

Oakland — Young pitching keeps the A's in it through late August.

Los Angeles of Anaheim of California of America — In this division, they'll be in it till late July, but still a mediocre team.



San Francisco — Caaaaaaaaaain! Frontline pitching masks a lot of problems.

Los Angeles — Many talented players wearing the same uniform, unsure what they're doing at the ballpark.

Colorado — Where's Ubaldo? Hidden among dozens of anonymous players.

San Diego — The biggest surprise of 2010 surprised no one by shipping A-Gon. Draft, develop, hope.



Champion: Red Sox


Champion: Phillies


Sox v Rangers, Yanks v Tigers, Sox v Yanks



Phils v Reds, Giants v Braves, Phils v Giants (the rematch, and a good one)




Thanks, again, to Cliff Lee, and the failure of Beckett, Lackey or Daisuke to return to postseason form.


Jess Walter,
Author of The Financial Lives of Poets, The Zero, and Citizen Vance among others


American League


National League


East: New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox


East: Philapdelphia Phillies


Come on. Does it matter which one wins—one bought the division for $206 million and the other bought the wild card for $160 million. Or vice versa. The whole regular season ESPN thing between these two is like listening to two drunk businessmen argue over which fucking douchebag is going to pay for the porterhouse steaks and Manhattans at Ruth's Chris and which one is going to kill the hooker later. With the gap between rich and poor sickeningly wide in this country—and nobody seeming to mind—we probably deserve to have these two disgusting, filthy rich franchises fielding veritable All Star teams year after year and then fighting over who gets to come along in July and pick over the bones of the Kansas City Royals by trading some syphilitic AA bat boy and $35 for the Royals' best young pitcher, only to use the poor guy once a month in long relief because they sense a weakness against switchhitting catchers in the middle innings. Bah!


After the stunning mid-season signing of Albert Pujols, the Phillies suddenly find themselves with a starting lineup that features thirteen All Stars, nine Hall-of-Famers, a Nobel Prize winner (Jimmy Rollins-physics), a daytime Emmy nominee (Shane Victorino—Dr. Brace Glandworthy and his twin brother Brice on "General Hospital"), two original members of the New Kids on the Block, a National Book Award winner (Raul Ibanez for his debut novel, "Love in the Summer of the General's Last Hundred Years When The Tiger Ate Pepe Ruiz's Magic Beans") and Jesus Himself (a decent utility infielder, He turns out to be a dead—pull hitter Who is impatient at the plate and Whose compassion for struggling pitchers causes His manager to suspect He sometimes strikes out on purpose.)


Central: Minnesota Twins


Central: Cincinnati Reds


Last year Justin Morneau got bonked in the head and suffered a concussion and missed most of the season. He could struggle this year, or like John Travolta in the 1996 movie "Phenomenon," he could return with "special powers" and a bunch of quaint small town buddies, and Kevin Bacon's wife as his love interest. He could hit .340, drive in 125, be able to speak Portugese and levitate over the field spewing sunflower seeds from his magic ass. (Side note: during an interleague game with the Phillies, Jesus recognizes Twins Catcher Joe Mauer as the only Major Leaguer with even a shot of going to heaven.)



After Glenn Beck publicly accuses the Reds of being Communists during his famous "Look at Me, I'm A Shi-Ass Crazy Paranoid Apocalyptic Nutbag" TV special, the Reds begins drawing huge crowds with their "Support Our Public Sector Unions" promotion and "Wobblie Bobblehead" nights, in which bobbleheads of famous labor leaders are given out to the first ten fans. On the field, streaky Jay Bruce drives in 130 runs and Joey Votto (71 homers) confesses that he has travelled forward in time from the 1930s, which is the reason he only appears in black-and-white. In the eighth inning of a game in late August, Aroldis Chapman is suspended for suspicion of Performance Enhancing Drugs when he breaks the sound barrier with a slider.


West: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim/ Torrance/ Brentwood/ Hermosa/ Culver City/ San Pedro/ Silver Lake/ Hawthorne/ Encino/ Balboa Park/ Reseda/ Compton/ Tarzana/ Van Nuys


West: San Diego Padres


Simply put, Jered Weaver has great hair and Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez—while a total jackass—is the best of all the baseball-playing -Rods.


Fed up with the way Republicans use illegal aliens as a scare-tactic to convince poor Americans to vote against their own economic interest, the Padres transcend sport by officially becoming the San Diego/Tijuana Padres. Rather than using the seventh inning stretch to play mawkish patriotic songs, the team runs PSAs on the big stadium scoreboard educating people about the true nature of immigration. Also, Brad Hawpe gets his swing back and hits thirty dingers and Matt Latos wins twenty as the Padres beat back the surging Dodgers (Ooh, that sounded so dirty) and win the division by two games.


Wild Card: New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox


Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates


See above.


With an opening-day payroll slightly less than that of an Applebees, the Pirates stun the world by winning their first fifty-four games. This causes the Yankees to buy the entire Pirates team and send them all to AAA. Fielding a team of retired players, high school softball playes and off-season Steelers, Pittsburgh still manages to win the Wild Card (at 58, Frank Tavares steals 16 bases, Willie Stargell hits 18 homers and Ben Roethlisburger and 10th grade phenom Tiffany Martin each win 12 games as starters.)


Champion: Yankees


Champion: Phillies


YANKEES over the ANGELS 3-0 (Before the first game, the Yankees buy the entire Angels pitching staff and assign it to concessions.) 
TWINS over the RED SOX 3-2 (Playing like he's 50 again, Jim Thome hits twelve homers in the series, only to remove a mask and reveal ... it's Justin Morneau.)

ALCS: YANKEES over the TWINS 4-3 (The Yankees buy Justin Morneau and have him killed.)


PHILLIES over the PADRES 3-1 (Jesus goes 22-for-22. "I can't explain it. I guess I just got Hot at the right time."); 
REDS over the PIRATES 3-0 (The Steelers have to report to camp and two of the old Pirates die.)

NLCS: PHILLIES over the REDS 13-0 (Not satisfied with a sweep, the Phillies just keep piling on.)


World Series: Cancelled


Fed up with economic inequity in America, fans choose baseball as a symbol for the nation's twisted priorities and refuse to allow the games to be played, staging sit-ins and peaceful protests. The Yankees counter by purchasing America's baseball fans and assigning them to AAA Columbus. Doesn't matter: NASCAR fans and NFL fans and college basketball fans and UFC fans and even the forty-five people who still care about the NBA pick up the protests and America is awash in a new spirit of cooperation and caring and Donald Trump dies when he chokes on his combover and CNBC becomes a gardening channel and Goldman Sachs' employees donate their bonuses to charity and Jesus retires from baseball to start a food co-op in Dayton, Ohio ("You've just got to know when to hang 'em up," He says.)


Jim Ruland,
Author of Big Lonesome

As an L.A. Dodgers fan living on the West Coast and a fantasy baseball obsessive, my knowledge of the MLB is scattered but deep. Case in point, I made these picks while lounging poolside in Las Vegas after my fantasy baseball draft at the Bellagio in the high roller league I'm in with my brother (Team Name: Take Your Flunky & Dangle*). In other words, I know just enough to piss away a lot money.


American League


National League


East: Boston Red Sox


East: Atlanta Braves


If a glass donkey like J.D. Drew can light up the Green Monster imagine what Adrian Gonzalez will do?


Phillies are grabbing all the headlines but images from spring training of Chase Utley fielding ground balls on a freaking milk crate while haunt the Philadelphia faithless when he goes down like a rubber chicken before the all-star break. Atlanta is the pick.


Central: Detroit Tigers


Central: St. Louis Cardinals


A reformed Miguel “Shoot me, kill me” Cabrera will lead the Tigers to the postseason, but it won’t be drama free.



When Albert Pujols and Tony Larussa put together a “fuck you” season like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did back in ’07, you can pretend not to be surprised.


West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim


West: Los Angeles Dodgers


Behind pitching tandem of Jared Weaver and Dan Haren (both on my fantasy squad) this is the year the Angels make it look easy.


If you replayed the September the Giants had 100 times, they'd fall short in 99 of them. It was a magical season. Good for San Francisco, but let's not get silly. The putrid Padres won't see second place all year. My pick is the Dodgers because Kemp, Ethier and Loney have to put it all together at the same time just once in their careers, don't they?


Wild Card: New York Yankees


Wild Card: Colorado Rockies


The New York Yankees will battle Tampa Bay down to the wire and won't have anything left for the post season.


Two words: Troy Tulowitzki.


Champion: Red Sox


Champion: Cardinals


Anaheim, er, the Angels will make it close, but the Sox own them.


As much I'd like to put the Dodgers in the spot while they flirt with a Freeway Series, the Cards put them away in seven.


World Series: St. Louis Cardinals


World Series MVP: Matt Holliday
Fantasy Champs: Take Your Flunky & Dangle

I didn't make any exotic futures bets while in Vegas, but I did put $50 on the Dodgers to beet the Padres in Peoria when I learned Clayton Kershaw was pitching. Dodgers won. I've still got the $100 in my wallet. An omen for the Flunky Danglers...?


*My brother and I share a fondness for the film Miller's Crossing and have had success with fantasy teams in various sports whose names come from the film. Yegg Central was a basketball favorite. And What's the Rumpus? made some noise in a football challenge.


Erik Smetana,
Editor of Stymie Magazine


American League


National League


East: Yankees


East: Phillies


I'm sure New York has more than its fair share of fine burger joints, they also have one of the most exorbitant payrolls in all of baseball. Do the math, if they're willing to pay Alex Rodriguez 33 million dollars a year, we can be certain they're not skimping when it comes to catering. Any burger on this list could easily finds its way into their clubhouse, or team jet, or their secret Caribbean island. With the kind of money floating around, the real question should be how haven't they won every single World Series in this millennium? Or better yet, how did they miss the playoffs in their entirety in '08?


Philadelphia has its share of burger goodness including a high end version of the Minnesota’s Jucy Lucy — a Roquefort and caramelized onion stuffed slab of meat at Good Dog — along with a monopoly on something called a cheesesteak. Throw that together with the ever looming threat of the Philly Fanatic waiting in the shadows ready to brawl with anyone threatening his team’s run to the playoffs or giving “hey—there” eyes to his old lady and you’d be a fool not to give the Phillies the benefit of the doubt in the East.


Central: Twins


Central: Cardinals


I remember the '87 series when Minnesota made a mockery of my beloved Cardinals. But I couldn't be pissed off because they had Kirby Puckett, and no one could ever hate on Kirby Puckett (may he rest in peace). Couple that with the fact Minnesota is the homeland of the Jucy Lucy (or Juicy Lucy depending on where you like to get your burger on), what more do you need to for an easy path to victory?


St. Louis is home to the burger, or at least is the catalyst behind its popularity. No, really. We had a World's Fair, there was a movie made about it. Judy Garland sang in it or something. A local magazine, St. Louis Magazine interestingly enough, devotes an issue every year to the best burgers in and around town — there are even subcategories. We take our ground and grilled meat seriously. We also take our baseball seriously, the Cards have won more World Series crowns than any other team in the NL. Cardinal Nation would really like another.


West: Mariners


West: Padres


Seattle is some sort of foodie Shangri La, I've in the course of a 24 hour period in the city had a croque monsieur, lobster bisque, a ridiculous amount of liquor (wine, beer, blue margaritas, things I don't remember), risotto, gelato and filet mignon, beignets, burrito, pancakes and chili. What I haven't had there is a burger, though I hear they make a mean one (or two, if you include their veggie burger) at Zippy's. Seattle showed me a good time a long time ago, they also have the most consistent bat in baseball — Ichiro Suzuki — along with King Hernandez in the mix. On paper they're better than a lot of teams, this year they'll leave it all on the field.


The fact that the city of La Jolla (home to the epically tasty Burger Lounge, whose cheesy, sauté onioned burgers and red velvet cupcakes are so amazing I'd gladly get in a knife fight over them) is a hop, skip and jump from San Diego all but guarantees a playoff run. That or a clubhouse full of bloated, sluggish, though undoubtedly happy players.


Wild Card: Red Sox


Wild Card: Cubs


The AL Wild Card race is like a biker bar I ventured into once during my college days. It was grimy and loud and the beer was surprisingly overpriced (and not surprisingly, watered down). This same bar had a three pound cheeseburger on the menu named “The Hunky Burger.” Boston is home to the Eagle’s Deli where they serve a five pound burger, they also have David Ortiz channeling the power of Grayskull.  


As much as it pains me to give any kind of credit to my hometown's arch nemesis in all things athletic, Chicago has been on a tear the last few years between the Bears, the Blackhawks and Michael Jordan's recent anointing of the Bulls' Derrick Rose as the best player in basketball. Plus, they have freaking amazing pizza (though no awesome cheeseburgers that I'm immediately aware of). With that in mind, the Cubs are due for a few games in October. 


Champion: Yankees


Champion: Cardinals


Two-hundred and six million dollars can buy a lot of things. It could buy an In-N-Out 4x4 (four patties, four slices of cheese) for every person living in Canada. It should also manage to buy a league championship more times than not.


On a non-cheeseburger related note: In an alternate universe, there's a comic book featuring the world's greatest hero, a man-god named Pujols. This same bizarro world has a baseball team in a city not unlike St. Louis where there's a hippie-haired, old English speaking Norsemen batting in the three spot with wings on his helmet. I'll take our universe any day of the week.


World Series: YANKEES over Cardinals


Sometimes evil triumphs over good. Sometimes I'm not in the mood for a cheeseburger. Point is, there are times when bad things happen. Awful things even. 2011 is going to be one of those years when it comes to baseball (it's also a year in which I'm trying to eat vegetarian), no one wins this season except maybe the cows saved from my insatiable burger hunger.


Rick Moody,
Author of The Four Fingers of Death, Right Livelihoods, and The Diviners among others


National League East, Final Standings


Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Florida Marlins




New York (my team) and Florida are going to go back and forth in the battle for last all season, and it's going to be tense, but the absence of heroics by Florida will be such as to forbid anyone else to get close. New York, the team that Madoff slew, will have individual performances of merit, but the third consecutive year of fourth-place ball will be impossible for any player to manage, and Reyes will locate his inner lost child, and Wright will continue to be defeated by the winds of the new stadium, and Beltran's other knee will require surgery, and eventually the Wilpons will find a partner to buy a minority stake in the team, which won't mean a major power shift this season, but maybe next. Meanwhile, Washington, despite the absence of any real fan base, or much of a personnel budget will thrive. And at the top, Atlanta will try to mount a credible challenge to Philadelphia but will fail to have made the necessary trades. Philadelphia, therefore, will dominate the division, but will reveal a new mortality in the playoffs, owing to hubris and injuries, and will fail, for a second year, to make the series.


Andrew Ervin,
Author of Extraordinary Renditions


National League East, Final Standings


Florida Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets




It's tough to think about baseball right now, even though we're finally past the Ides of March. There's something wrong with me. It's the first season since I was six and sporting my homemade Tug McGraw jersey—a red-striped t-shirt to which my mother ironed on a red 45—that there are more important things going on. Turning forty. Anti-labor disputes in another state and another sport. War against a third Muslim nation. Nuclear meltdown in Japan. (Wally Yonamine R.I.P.) There's supposed to be a big ol' but here, right? But baseball can make us forget our troubles for three hours at a time… But the grass is green and the sun is shining so all is right in the world... Last week on the way to work I watched the grounds crew prepare the field of La Salle University's team. They used rakes and bags of chalk. They dragged metal screens through the dirt of the infield. It was beautiful. I stopped and for that moment I felt great. Even hopeful. It was mesmerizing. But what if this is the season there's no but? I imagine we would still find moments of contentment watching things get dragged through the dirt.


World Series: my wildcard PHILLIES over the Boston Red Sox in seven


Michael Czyzniejewski,
Author of Elephants in Our Bedroom


American League


National League


East: 5-way tie


East: Phillies nip a never-say-die Mets bunch by 80 games to win their 5th—straight division crown


By what will become known as “The Big East Rule,” all 5 teams will make the playoffs, but none will advance past the first weekend of play. The Yankees will come closest, slating $10 million raises to each player in the 8th inning of Game 5 of their opening series versus the Mariners.


Philadelphia's much-heralded pitching staff will go 161-1, their lone defeat coming in a Roy Halliday no-hitter where his team commits 27 fielding errors. The rotation will fail to win a game in the playoffs, however, swept out by their interstate rivals in 3 rain-shortened games.


Central: 5-way tie


Central: Pittsburgh clinches on last day of season


Jim Thome will work his contract  so he can DH for every team in the division at the same time. In mid-May, he will become the first player to hit a home run for two different teams in the same game, twice, then fly to Kansas City and homer for the Royals against himself, in his pitching debut. No teams will make the playoffs, as the AL East simply will take their ball and go home.


The Pirates go 53-109, yet win the Central  by default, as the other  5 Central teams will be kidnapped and held for ransom by Albert Pujols' agent. The Pirates will defeat the Mariners in the World Series. During the victory parade in downtown Pittsburgh, an anonymous phone call from Miami will lead police to an abandoned warehouse near the St. Louis arch, where the Astros, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs and Reds will all be found in good health, in good spirits, yet scarred for life. No team from the Central will ever win the World Series again.


West: Mariners clinch on Memorial Day


West: The Rockies prevail with another historic comeback


Ichiro Suzuki will break his own Major League hits record, slapping a single to right field in all 632 plate appearances. When asked about his accomplishment, Suzuki will fake an inability to speak English, then spit on a teammate who attempts to push a shaving cream pie in his face.


The Rockies, down 25 games to the Padres on September 1, will storm  back to win the division on the last day of the season, the fact that the Padres had not scored a single run all season finally catching up to  them.


Owen King,
Author of We're All in This Together


American League


National League


East: Boston Red Sox


East: Philadelphia Phillies


With the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, this year’s Sox team is so stacked as to be positively Yankee-esque. Moreover, in Dustin “Laser Show” Pedroia, they have the toughest, most annoying player in the game. Listen closely and you can hear his steel balls clacking together as he rounds third, puts his head down, and barrels toward home. The Sox can hit, they can run, they can pitch. After these guys sweep the World Series, they’re storming the gates of Mordor.


The Phillies seem slightly past their prime now — little known fact: Chase Utley is held together with Super Glue — so I'm tempted to give someone else a chance. Can't do it, though. The Braves should be decent, I suppose, but after them this is a ghastly division. The Mets could very well finish in Triple-A. 


Central: Minnesota Twins


Central: Chicago Cubs


My heart wants this division to go to the Tigers or the Royals, but my brain sighs, “Twins.” Miguel Cabrera’s alcohol problems are a major threat to the Tigers’ offense and as good as Justin Verlander is, I’m not convinced that his spindly shoulders are strong enough to carry this flawed team to the Promised Land. Meanwhile, the Royals have lots of talented young parts — but they are still the Royals. If they hadn’t traded away the weird-seeming yet deadly Zach Greinke, I’d go with them in spite of their powder blue legacy of sadness. Alas, no.

That leaves the steady Twins. 


Without Adam Wainwright the Cardinals really do look like a lower-to-middle-of-the-pack club for once, which narrows the division to the other three likely contenders: Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Chicago. (Let us not speak of Houston or Pittsburgh.)

Milwaukee traded for Greinke and he promptly hurt himself playing basketball — bad news for Beer Town. Even a few weeks without him could turn out to be the difference. We're down to the Cubs and the Reds. I like the Cubs acquisition of Matt Garza, who ceaselessly tormented my Red Sox when he was a member of the Rays. In the lighter-hitting senior circuit he ought to win a bunch of games. The Reds got no-hit in the playoffs. They seem talented, but soft. It's the Cubs.


West: Texas Rangers


West: San Francisco Giants


It's still something of a mystery to me how the Giants beat the Rangers in last year's World Series. The Rangers had Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young; the Giants had a bunch of hard—throwing hairy guys and no bats. I'm going to lay it on nerves. In any case, they still look like the class of the division, although the A's and the Angels ought to make it interesting.


As I mentioned above, I thought the Giants had no chance against the Rangers and I was totally off base. The Giants' seemingly slight edge in pitching turned out to be a huge advantage. Besides Buster Posey and, I guess, Aubrey Huff, none of their hitters seem particularly scary, and yet they got it done. Maybe the Rockies can make it interesting here; I'll take the Giants.


Wild Card: Toronto Blue Jays


Wild Card: Atlanta Braves


You're wondering where the Yankees are — over there, that's them, tucked safely away in fourth place in the AL East. Unless C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes each win twenty-seven, it's not happening for the Bombers this year. They don't have enough starting pitching. Jeter is starting to look old. A-Rod is starting to look stony. There's something annoying about the way Mark Texiera's nostrils flare. Mariano Rivera is, admittedly, a wise and wicked sorcerer who only grows more powerful with each passing year. But he won't be enough.

That leaves the A's, the Angels, the Rays, and the Jays. I'll take Toronto, because I find the big, true hops off their artificial surface pleasing.


Milwaukee and Cincinnati ought to be right there, too. The great young slugger Jason Heyward gives Atlanta the edge.


Champion: Red Sox


Champion: Cubs


The Fenway Frighteners lose a couple to the Rangers in the Championship Series, but they're too much to handle in a seven-game series.


They must have got hot at the right time. (I'm already having second thoughts about this one. I should never have forsaken the Reds.)


World Series: BOSTON RED SOX


After Jon Lester outduels Matt Garza 1-0 in Game One it's a foregone conclusion. The entire planet rejoices. The most heroic, urbane, and beautiful team in all of pro sports has once again claimed their rightful place atop Baseball Mountain.


Nick Mainieri,
Hobart contributor


National League Central, Final Standings


Chicago Cubs (give ‘em the pennant, too)
Milwaukee Brewers (Wild Card winner)
Cincinnati Reds
St. Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros
Pittsburgh Pirates




Predictions are hard. A bad hop, a gust of wind, suddenly the certain becomes uncertain. But the Cubs can do it this year. Matt Garza gives a boost to the rotation, and young fireballer Andrew Cashner has the potential to really shore up the staff. Starlin Castro builds on his excellent rookie season. Carlos Peña provides the much-needed lefty pop in the heart of the order. Tyler Colvin is too good to be kept out of the lineup for long. Carlos Marmol closes out a lot of W’s. And new manager Mike Quade keeps it rolling after the 24-13 finish in 2010.

But the division promises to be grueling—close races, dire situations, improbable comebacks. The Brew Crew now has the rotation to compete, along with a solid lineup. Look for mustachioed gentleman-closer John Axford to lead them to the Wild Card. The Reds come off an excellent season with some good young players, but a Dusty Baker bullpen will always be gassed by the end of the year. And though you can’t count out Pujols and the veteran Cardinals, losing Wainwright really hurts.

Only the Astros and the Pirates will be sincerely terrible. What can I say about the ‘stros? Mediocre at best? And the Pirates... well, Pittsburgh’s front office will undoubtedly sell their best players post-All-Star break and then continue to pacify their fans by “signing” all their high draft picks (with the newly garnered funds, of course).

What I’d like to see happen in the Summer of ’11, beyond the Cubs holding up the big trophy, is slightly more complicated and lots more unlikely. Perhaps, amid such global and domestic turmoil, as well as an ominous NFL lockout, the game of baseball—and all the inexorable drama that is its fabric—can once again come to play its rightful role in the country’s imagination.

This is a wistful, even irrational hope. But it’s cool. As far as sports fans go, we baseball folk are created in the image of our game, and that which we love prepares us all too adequately for disappointment. But right now? Right now it’s April, and everything is beautiful. This is the year.


World Series: CUBS over Yankees in seven



image: Christy Bohlen