1. Mets, 2. Phillies (WC), 3. Braves, 4. Marlins, 5. Nationals
The K-Rod and Putz acquisitions instantly make the Mets’ hilarious ’08 bullpen slightly less hilarious, and David Murphy and Mike Pelfrey have enough upside to close the 3-game gap in the division last year, whereas the still-mighty Phillies appear more likely to maintain the status quo after replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez and retaining 7 other positional starters and the same rotation and bullpen from ’08 (albiet successful ones). The high-upside Marlins still seem a year or two away, but a healthy Braves team could easily take advantage of any slipups by the Mets or Phillies; the absence of sentences like “You know, if Mike Hampton and John Smoltz can string together full seasons…” could actually make that a reality instead of a cruel joke.
1. Cubs, 2. Cardinals, 3. Reds, 4. Brewers, 5. Astros, 6. Pirates
The Cubs boast the best 1-5 rotation in the NL and probably all of baseball; even if Harden gets hurt this week and misses the full season (likely) they should walk away with this division. The Reds are talent-deep but still a bit on the young side to overcome a theoretically-healthy Chris Carpenter and Co. in St. Louis, who suddenly boast a legit 1-8 offense with the addition of Khalil Greene over Cesar Izturis at short and the retention of Ryan Ludwick, a contract year Rick Ankiel, and OF prospect Colby Rasmus seeping into the lineup. The Brewers and Astros are one SP injury away from punting on the season, and the Pirates are…I forsee Andy LaRoche having a decent year. Hey look over there!
1. Dodgers, 2. Diamondbacks, 3. Giants, 4. Rockies, 5. Padres
The Diamondbacks could receive the monster leap from Justin Upton or Stephen Drew to launch them into instant playoff contention any season now, but until the D’Backs prove they’re not just decent-to-above average players in the present, the weak NL West should belong to the pitching-deep Dodgers, whose defensive improvements (full season of Kemp/Ethier/Loney/Hudson instead of Pierre/Kent/suddenly retarded Andruw Jones) and a rotation backend bolstered by top prospect Clayton Kershaw (and Dodger Stadium) should have the Dodgers battling the Cubs for the fewest runs allowed in the NL. The veteran Giants should lurk around 80-84 wins in case the division completely tanks, and the pitching-deficient Rockies and everything-deficient Padres are gonna be teams to watch around Trade Deadline season.
1. Red Sox, 2. Yankees (WC), 3. Rays, 4. Blue Jays, 5. Orioles
The Red Sox are the most complete team in baseball, boasting a National League caliber rotation (7 deep with the additions of Brad Penny and John Smoltz, and with Taylor Bucholtz still in the wings) and an American League offense, plus one of the best defensive starting-8s in the league and a battle-tested bullpen. The Yankees should leap right back into postseason contention, provided their rubber-armed starting pitchers can hang in games for just 6 or 7 innings and allow their offense to coast to 10-5 victories night after night. I’d love to see the Rays repeat as October-crashers, and they’re certainly capable of growing even more deadly if B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria continue their uptick and David Price makes his way to the rotation even in limited duty, but someone in this division’s gonna end up S.O.L. and the Rays’ ’08 injury luck and moderately unsettled bullpen make them the most likely candidates. Toronto and Baltimore continue very slowly getting more interesting, but, well, sorry fellas.
1. White Sox, 2. Indians, 3. Tigers, 4. Twins, 5. Royals
Probably the hardest division to predict, but I’m gonna go against PECOTA’s 76-win prediction for Chicago and pick the Sox to repeat in the Central. While I don’t love their long-term outlook, their age, or Carols Quentin’s odds for an ’09 letdown, their Buehrle/Danks/Floyd/Contreras 1-4 is arguably the division’s most solid (barring a full healthy season from the Twins’ guys) and their deep bullpen and powerful (if elderly) offense outscored Cleveland’s a year ago. Neither the Indians nor the Tigers played as poorly as their records reflected last season (Cleveland had a +44 run differential and only won 81 games, whereas the Angels were +68 and won 100) and the Twins are always ready to unleash three or four more prospecty-looking white dudes who instantly play well into the league, but the White Sox remain the safest (if most unspectacular) pick in the division, especially if Kenny Williams makes some crazy shortsighted midyear trade to save the season.
1. Angels, 2. A’s, 3. Rangers, 4. Mariners
The Angels’ AL West dominance was somewhat of an aberration a year ago, after winning a zillion close games despite a poor offense that now flips Mark Teixiera for Bobby Abreu, but I can’t imagine how a team with Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver (plus three other DL’d all-star caliber starters), a terrific bullpen, and plus defenders around the diamond could be headed for the 81-81 season PECOTA forsees, especially in a division as untested as the current AL West. The A’s have surely improved with Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera taking away worthless at-bats from the likes of Bobby Crosby and Emil Brown, but the uncertain health of Justin Duchscherer leaves the A’s with a monumentally inexperienced rotation that surely cannot be expected to hold up to a full MLB season. I forsee the Angels sneaking into the postseason at around 85-88 wins, depending on the health of Lackey and Escobar, then annoyingly beating some 98-win team in the playoffs, anticlimactic baseball 5-game series style.
NLCS: Cubs over Phillies
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees
WORLD SERIES: Red Sox over Cubs
And no, I don’t actually believe that will be the World Series, it’s just the two teams I believe are most likely to make the playoffs, then the postseason is a total toss-up — I’m sure either the 85-win Dodgers or 84-win Angels or some other random team (D’Backs? Indians?) will sneak in there, but whatever, gotta start somewhere.
Oops! Just realized I forgot to write jokes into this – I’ll be sure to make up for it with a pile o’ zingers in my next post. Although I guess picking the Mets in the postseason is kinda funny…