New Players Abound In 2011 MLB Season

With the shortest offseason in major sports, a lot can happen in around baseball during the winter, and this year was no different. There were a number of high quality free agents available for the taking, and as a result a lot of teams will have a new look come opening day. 

Few teams did more to improve their stock than the Boston Red Sox. In early December, the Sox landed the coveted first basemen Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with the San Diego Padres. Not only will this provide Boston with a big left-handed bat in the middle of its lineup, but also strengthens their defense. Several days later, Boston signed free agent left fielder Carl Crawford, a player that will be a spark at the top of the batting order throughout the season. Boston also bolstered its bullpen by signing Bobby Jenks as a setup man.

Cliff Lee, who brought the Texas Rangers to the World Series last season, was also up for grabs this offseason. After an intense bidding war, the Phillies beat out the Yankees and acquired the talented southpaw. Lee took less money to accept the Phillies offer, a team he took to the Fall Classic in 2009, and joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels as arguably the best rotation in the majors.

Another coveted pitcher, Zach Grienke, also changed hands. The subdued right hander had long been the lone bright spot for the Kansas City Royals over the years, but was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason in an effort to keep up with a loaded NL Central.  

There are a number of new players in Tampa Bay as well. Just one season after winning the AL East for the second time in three years, the Rays have a virtually new team. Crawford is gone along with Matt Garza (Cubs), Carlos Pena (Cubs) and Jason Bartlett (Padres). To help fill the void, the Rays brought in some very familiar faces – Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon – hoping for some veteran production out of the two former Sox.

Staying in the East, the Baltimore Orioles have long been in the basement, but they took steps to compete with the Sox, Yankees, Rays and even Jays this offseason. The Orioles acquired a few big bats in shortstop J.J. Hardy, first baseman Derek Lee and slugger Mark Reynolds. Add that to a bolstered pitching staff, highlighted by Justin Duchscherer, and teams should watch out for Baltimore.

Rays, Angels, Cubs Look Strong. Red Sox, Brewers Close Behind.

With a little more than a month to go in the regular season, the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays are dominating the MLB standings.  Both the Cubbies and the Rays have an excellent home game record, winning 45 of 62 home games.  The Rays have not lost a series since the All-Star break, though Oakland threatens to end that streak tonight, as the series is tied 1-1.  The Cubs are on a hot streak, winning three straight games heading into the final game of their series versus the Atlanta Braves.

The Angels, on the other hand, are doing just fine on the road, winning 38 of 59 games (the best away record in the league).  Though the Angels lost the series closer versus Seattle at home, they are on the road again tonight to play the Indians on Friday.  Considering their away record is dominant – and Cleveland is struggling for a win - you can bet the series is going to be cake for the Angels.

The Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers are not far behind in the standings, so watch out for these future series where anything can happen:

(For tickets to these games, click on the dates below)
Aug. 18, 19, and 20- Tampa Bay vs. Los Angeles Angels
Sep. 8, 9, and 10- Tampa Bay Rays @ Boston Red Sox
Sep. 15, 16, and 17- Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox
Sep. 16, 17, and 18 -  Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Sep. 26, 27,  and 28* -  Chicago Cubs @ Milwaukee Brewers

*Last day of the regular season

Remember, the 2008 baseball season is rounding third, heading for home.  Grab your tickets today before it is too late.