Tomorrow is the 1st game of the baseball season, even though it should be Monday. You should be able to watch the 1st day of baseball, followed by the National Championship, ending with One Shining Moment. But now it's time for the official preview of the upcoming baseball season by me here at The Cycle.
Starting in the NL East, we have probably the most competitive division in the NL. Once again, the Mets and Phillies are the favorites and I see both teams making the playoffs. The additions of K-Rod and JJ Putz fix one of the worst bullpens in baseball and the Mets should be in. I also think the Phillies did good by adding Raul Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell. The Braves and Marlins will be in the race, but ultimately are lacking a true contender since the Braves still have a weak bullpen and a lesser rotation, while the Marlins have a poor defense and I think still depend on the long ball a little too much, especially for a young team. No need to discuss Washington.
The NL Central is the Cubs title to lose; they are clearly the class of that division. They are better on offense and have the best pitching, certainly in the Central, maybe in the league. I think Kevin Gregg will prove to be a good replacement over Kerry Wood, the rotation is better than what the Phillies and Mets can offer and their lineup, overall, is better than the West can provide. As for the rest of the division, the Cardinals are always better than you think because of La Russa and Pujols, the Brewers can still hit, so they should be above .500. The Reds are the sleeper in the division that everyone's talking about with good reason; they have good young talent in both the lineup and the pitching staff. Houston should come back to the pack and the Pirates are the Pirates; one of these years they have to win, though.
The NL West should go to the Dodgers if they continue to get great play from Manny. They also have a lineup that pretty good for that division, once you start looking at the DBacks and Giants. Both teams are pitcher-heavy and are better in that aspect than the Dodgers. The Giants rotation is slightly better than Arizona's now that Randy Johnson moved there, along with last year's Cy Young Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. If San Fran can get anything from there lineup, they can beat the Dodgers. Colorado and San Diego are non-factors in the race.
Moving to the AL East, the toughest division in baseball. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are the three best teams and unfortunately one will miss the playoffs entirely. The questions surrounding the three are as follows: Are the Yankees too old and how does A-Rod's early absence and subsequent return effect them? The Red Sox have to worry about whether or not David Ortiz and Mike Lowell can comeback and if they can get anything out of Brad Penny and John Smoltz. The Rays need to avoid the post-Series hangover and a lesser bullpen. I think the Rays are here to stay and I'm a little more concerned with the Yankees, mainly because their offense was the problem and I think that they will be the team left out. And if you think this is in the words of Bill Simmons a reverse jinx, well... Blue Jays are cursed to be in the AL East, because they are better than .500 but might end up trading Halladay. The Orioles have a good lineup and need the pitching to continue improvement.
The toughest division to pick a winner is the AL Central because any of the 5 teams could win. I don't think the White Sox will be one of them. The Tigers could bounce back, but I think they also will make some trades to lower payroll (Cabrera/Ordonez to the Red Sox?). The Royals I think will be good this year and finish over .500, but they will fall short of the title. So it comes down to Cleveland and Minnesota. The Twins always play well, solid pitching and timely hitting. But they will miss Joe Mauer in the beginning and I think the Indians will bounce back. They were kind of unlucky last year and hopefully bounce back years by Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, another strong year by Cliff Lee and a better bullpen with Kerry Wood and they will win the Central.
The AL West could be interesting if the Angels start slow. Once again, they have injuries to the rotation with John Lackey and Ervin Santana missing time. They also lost more than anyone with Mark Teixeria, Frankie Rodriguez and Jon Garland leaving. But they still should win a weak division with Bobby Abreu providing insurance in the lineup, Brian Fuentes and Jose Arredondo the strength of the bullpen and an early return for both starters. The Rangers have the same story, different year: plenty of hitting, no pitching. The A's could put it all together if Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi can hit, Eric Chavez plays a full year and the young pitching comes of age. If not, expect them to sell by the deadline. The Mariners will be better than last year's putrid effort, but they aren't a .500 team.
MVP's: Albert Pujols (NL), B.J. Upton (AL)
Cy Young: Johan Santana (NL), Roy Halladay (AL)
ROY: Jason Motte, Stl (NL), Matt Wieters, Bal (AL)
Manager: Dusty Baker, Cin (NL), Eric Wedge, Cle (AL)
DS: Red Sox over Angels, Rays over Indians
Cubs over Mets, Phillies over Dodgers
LCS: Rays over Red Sox, Cubs over Philles
WS: Cubs over Rays