MLB 2011 Season Preview and Insights

Several ESPN MLB commentators share their perspective on a variety of topics entering the 2011 season. ESPN will debut new commentator teams this year including Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine on Sunday Night Baseball (with reporters Wendi Nix and Buster Olney), Sean McDonough, Rick Sutcliffe and Aaron Boone on Monday Night Baseball (with reporter Tim Kurkjian), and Dave O’Brien and Nomar Garciaparra on Wednesday Night Baseball (with reporter Pedro Gomez). Additionally, Baseball Tonight, with host Karl Ravech and analysts John Kruk and Barry Larkin will originate from the site of Sunday Night Baseball this season.

ESPN’s 22nd season of MLB coverage will include six games from March 31 through April 3, including Opening Night Presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods showcasing the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants visiting rival Los Angeles Dodgers at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Opening Night will be available via ESPN, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Mobile TV. ESPN games are available on and ESPN Mobile TV throughout the season.

ESPN commentator analysis:

Dan Shulman, Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play commentator, on the biggest impact free agent?

“Cliff Lee is the most significant offseason free agent signing. Not only is his performance critical to the Phillies’ success, especially with a growing number of questions about their offense, but it also leaves a big hole in the Yankees and Rangers rotations because they missed out on him. His decision to go to Philly has a chance to play a part in many different playoff races in 2011.”

Orel Hershiser, Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight analyst, on the nastiest pitchers in baseball:

“Mariano Rivera’s cutter has been the most dominant pitch in baseball for the longest period of time. Hitters know it is coming and still can’t hit it. Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum also immediately come to mind. Halladay can command both sides of the plate with the effectiveness of his cutter and two-seamer. Hernandez brings the total repertoire, with intimidating velocity, movement and a hard breaking ball. Tim Lincecum’s changeup is dominant because of his great arm speed, with the same delivery and body rhythm as his other pitches, and outstanding movement.”

Hershiser on the best pitching rotation in baseball:

“Philadelphia Phillies. Their resumes speak for themselves. They are also healthy coming out of Spring Training, which separates them a bit from teams like Boston and San Francisco right now.”

Bobby Valentine, Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight analyst, on the manager most deserving of more recognition:

“Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon, because of his ability to keep his team competitive and in the race each year. Some people believe it has been smoking mirrors, but I know he’s a great manager.”

Valentine on the most significant offseason acquisition (trade or via free agency):

“Boston’s addition of Adrian Gonzalez, because he will bring them consistent, quality at bats and solid defense.”

Karl Ravech, entering his 17th season as Baseball Tonight host, predicting what fans will see this season:

“Looking into a crystal ball, we will see the Boston Red Sox as champions and Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez as the most feared 1-2 punch in baseball. The Mets will have a new owner, A-Rod will win the MVP, Albert Pujols will play his final season in St. Louis and baseball will have agreed to a long-term collective bargaining agreement complete with expanded instant replay and playoffs.”

John Kruk, Baseball Tonight analyst, on the prettiest swing in baseball:

“The Yankees’ Robinson Cano. I have always been a fan of the ‘floating swing.’ He keeps his hands and weight back and times everything off of a pitcher’s fastball. If he gets fooled, he can still make the adjustment and turn it into a hit. That’s the swing I would want if I was playing today.”

Barry Larkin, Baseball Tonight analyst, on whether the Giants will repeat as champions?

“The Giants have the pitching to make another run towards the postseason. However, winning the division and the World Series is a function of not only great pitching, but consistent defense, timely hitting and great team chemistry. Last year, manager Bruce Bochy referred to his team as a bunch of castoffs and journeymen. The team pulled together, showed great resolve and tremendous character. Two guys that came up huge for the Giants were Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. This year, the Giants will miss the timely contributions they made – offensively and defensively – and will come up short.”

Aaron Boone, Monday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight analyst, on Albert Pujols’ 2011 season and where he’ll play in 2012:

“I think Albert Pujols will have a ‘normal,’ which means ‘great,’ season in 2011. He’ll end up back in St. Louis in 2012, unless he goes to Washington.”

Boone on players that could hit 40 home runs or more in 2011:

“I think there are seven players that can hit 40 home runs in 2011 – Miguel Cabrera, Adam Dunn, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols.”