Philadelphia: The 102-win season seems hollow after the playoff disappointment against St. Louis in the Division Series. That's harsh, and normally I would protest the need to look at the team's entire body of work. But the Phils went very heavy to win now and over the last couple years they've invested top prospects for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence, along with breaking the bank for Lee to get him back in free agency. The window for a championship is still open, but this year is a bitter pill to swallow.
Atlanta: Another team that's dealing with disappointment, having come up with a collapse, that for a few minutes on the last day of the season was the biggest in baseball history, when they let St. Louis pass them for the National League wild-card (the Red Sox stole the honor from them almost immediately). The Braves' future is bright though, with young pitching on the way up, and talent like Fredi Freeman taking their spots in the everyday lineup. If you get a bounceback year from Jason Heyward, all can be well in Atlanta again.
Washington: There's a lot of justified optimism in the nation's capital right now. The fact the Nats couldn't produce the first winning season since coming to D.C. in 2004 was a disappointment, but with a full season of Davey Johnson and Stephen Strasburg ahead of them, that's an omission that should be rectified. Maybe more, if Jayson Werth relaxes a little more in the second year of his monster free-agent deal.
NY Mets: They put up more fight than a lot us thought they had in them, and they got a nice return for Carlos Beltran. Overall, I thought the Mets showed a lot of heart in the way they played for Terry Collins, and if they can upgrade their pitching and get Jason Bay's bat to come out of retirement (note sarcasm), they have a chance to move up the ladder quickly, given the resources this organization has behind them and the acumen of GM Sandy Alderson.
Florida: A very disappointing year for the Marlins, who looked playoff-caliber in April and May, but then bottomed out after Josh Johnson hit the DL with shoulder problems for the second straight year. With Johnson's problems in staying healthy and Hanley Ramirez's problems staying focused, Ozzie Guillen's got his hands full as he takes his talents to South Beach.
St. Louis: A lot of teams in baseball are looking to add a #1-caliber starter. How you like to be coming off a World Series title and have your own #1 starter, Adam Wainwright, coming back from an injury that kept him out all year. That's the equivalent of a big free-agent signing for the Cards. Now if they can ink Albert Pujols to a deal, whomever the new manager is will be well-poised to keep this proud franchise in contention.
Milwaukee: Brewer GM Doug Melvin went all-in on 2011 to make the playoffs and he got it. Milwaukee does have some re-tooling to do, presuming the loss of Prince Fielder in free agency and the rapid decline of Shawn Marcum in the second half, but with 96 wins and an epic Division Series triumph over Arizona, it was a year to remember for my the town I lived in until I was 29.
Cincinnati: They're on the short list for most disappointing team in baseball, as the Reds always seemed on the verge of turning the corner until the bottom finally fell out in August. It's natural to look at the pitching, but Dusty Baker also has to be concerned that the lineup is a little too dependent on Joey Votto and has too many dead spots in it. The September call-up on Yonder Alonso could provide this team a nice spark next spring.
Pittsburgh: It might have been tough for Pirate fans to watch the team fade so badly in August and September, but the four months of contending baseball that Clint Hurdle's team produced, even with serious holes throughout the lineup, give reason to hope that maybe this struggling franchise is finally turning the corner. The emergence of Joel Hanrahan as an elite closer was one of baseball's top transformations.
ChiCubs: The perils of being a big-budget team that doesn't know what they're doing are evident on the North Side, as the Cubs are buried under big contracts from underachieving players, namely Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. One top-dollar player who did perform was third baseman Aramis Ramirez, but he's opted out of his deal and will hit the open market with a publicly stated intention to go elsewhere. Even this is no disaster for the Cubbies, as Theo Epstein needs wiggle room in the budget to start the rebuilding process.
Houston: Can't there be a limit on the number of teams within a divison who are facing huge rebuilding projects? The Astros are a long way from the halycon days of the 2005 pennant winning team and need a fresh infusion of talent. They also need to develop more stars, if nothing else, so Philadelphia has someone to trade for at the July 31 deadline next year.
Arizona: The Diamondbacks look poised to be the team to beat in this division for a few more years, as they brought along young pitchers like Josh Collmenter, young hitters like Ryan Roberts and have a true star talent in Justin Upton. They've also got a true star in the dugout with Kirk Gibson. Arizona was only a run away from the NLCS this time around and World Series hopes in the desert are legitimate again for the first time since Schilling and the Big Unit were manning the mound in the early part of the 21st century.
San Francisco: After adding Carlos Beltran at the deadline, the prospect of a second straight World Series title was dancing in the city of San Francisco's head. No one was cavalier about taking on Philadelphia in the NL playoffs, but surely no one expected that a terrible two months and missing the playoffs entirely were in the cards. A long offseason ahead for GM Brian Sabean as they try and figure out how to get some runs.
LA Dodgers: Tremendous late-season push to a winning season and a great year from Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, who could pick up MVP and Cy Young Awards in a couple weeks. Ultimately this year is a vindication for Don Mattingly as he kept his team focused amidst all the turmoil surrounding the ownership situation and the problems of aging and injuries on the field. The ownership situation is settling down and this team should be able to start investing some of its huge financial potential into the baseball team rather than the legal system.
Colorado: An ugly year for the Rockies that went downhill after Jorge de la Rosa was lost for the year with a rotator cuff injury. Though they didn't play well beyond that, I liked the way the front office handled things, dealing Ubaldo Jiminez while his value was high and getting a nice chunk of the Cleveland farm system in return. The Rockies are the NL's equivalent of the Twins--no denying the darkness that was this season, but don't overreact when it comes to evaluating their 2012 chances.
San Diego: After the Padres shipped out Adrian Gonzalez to clear their payroll, you knew 2011 was going to be a lost season. The pitching declined from its strong showing of the previous year, particularly Mat Latos who might have been given to big a workload. The next big question is whether they'll hold on to Heath Bell in the free-agent sweepstakes, but even if they do, until ownership gets the ability or inclination to spend some money, the Padres will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding and targeted one-year shots.