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California will be focal point of baseball action in 2011

With five Major League Baseball teams including the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants you could make a compelling case that California is the epicenter of the baseball universe. The 2011 season promises to be exciting for baseball fans all across the ‘Golden State’ with all five times expected to be competitive—it’s not an unrealistic scenario to suggest that all five California teams could finish with a winning record this year.
We’ll start up north where the San Francisco Giants made no major changes to their World Series Championship squad. They’ll return the best starting rotation in baseball and most of the key components in the everyday lineup. The only major change to the position players is at shortstop, where Miguel Tejada replaces Juan Uribe who is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Veteran pitcher Jeff Suppan was signed to a minor league contract as something of an ‘insurance policy’ in case one of the starters gets injured. Repeating as champions is a difficult task in any professional sport, but the Giants should certainly be in the mix.
Down south, the San Diego Padres hope to return to the playoffs following a disappointing down to the wire effort that fell short in 2010. Despite missing out on the postseason the Padres finished with a solid 90-72 record. The team is taking a risky path to improve upon that record—despite finishing #22 in the majors in runs scored they actually sacrificed a number of their better offensive players to improve their team defense. Keeping the other team off the board is obviously an important component of baseball, but for San Diego the question is their ability to score enough to make their defensive prowess effective.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are optimistic that the legal wrangling over their ownership is behind them and that they can focus on baseball. The team upgraded their pitching and defense and could actually have better chemistry now that Manny Ramierez is gone. They don’t have a single player that can cause the impact that they plate that ‘Man-Ram’ is capable of, but they also don’t have to deal with the countless issues generated by his notoriously egocentric behavior. Don Mattingly takes over as manager and if the new pieces are able to ‘gel’ into a cohesive unit could have a winning team on his hands.
They play in Anaheim, but they’re called the Los Angeles Angels and they may have been the biggest disappointment in baseball a year ago. In 2009, the Angels finished 97-65 and ran away with their divisional crown. In 2010, they slumped to 80-82 finishing third in the AL West. They tinkered with their position players, with the major acquisition being former Toronto Blue Jays All Star outfielder Vernon Wells. There are a few questions in the infield, but a strong lineup combined with an exceptional bullpen and competent rotation should spell an improvement in the fortunes of Los Angeles’ ‘other’ team this year.
Finally, the Oakland Athletics worked the free agent market a little more than is typical for a team considered one of baseball’s most parsimonious. Despite the acquisition of outfielders’ Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, this is still a team that prides itself on finding value within their own organization. Oakland finished 81-81 last season and with an upgraded offense there’s every reason to expect the A’s back on the right side of the .500 mark this year.
Bottom line—whether it’s the American League or National League, Northern California or Southern California there will be plenty of excitement and drama in the ‘Golden State’s’ 2011 Major League Baseball season.