The baseball season is closely approaching and that means excitement fills the air for all 30 teams, unless you are the Pirates, who have not had a winning record since 1992.
Even so, at the start of spring training, all things are equal. Many questions are left unanswered, and there is not a team that does not have a hole somewhere. With that said, there were some teams that had a really good off-season, and others that did not.
The big winners this year were the New York Yankees. Who would have guessed that the rich get richer, but in actuality, they did lower their payroll.
The Yankees were able to lose Jason Giambi’s enormous contract along with Bobby Abreu’s and Mike Mussina’s. They re-signed Andy Pettitte back into the rotation, but at a reduced price, and added A.J. Burnett and Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia to front it. Their rotation is now Sabathia, Burnett, Chin-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. Pretty impressive.
Then just add in the fact that they signed Mark Teixeira, one of the best all around players in the game, to man first base, and the Yankees are looking good. I am not naming them champs, but they had a very successful off-season.
With that said, lets take a look at who is going to win their divisions this season. I will start out with the American League.
In the East I am actually going to pick the Boston Red Sox over the Yankees, because of how Sabathia pitched in the AL last year, Burnett’s health history, Chamberlain is still an unknown and Pettitte is old.
The Red Sox have a peripheral of starting pitchers that includes Josh Beckett, Dice-K, Jon Lester, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Tim Wakefield and more. That is what I call depth, and their lineup is pretty good too.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be good again, but a repeat of what they did last year might be asking for too much.
In the Central, I will go against my gut and pick the Cleveland Indians. They are the only team that has really improved in that division over the off-season. They addressed their biggest off-season need by getting closer Kerry Wood and set-up man Joe Smith. The bullpen was horrible for the Indians last year, but there was not a better team in the second half last season and now their bullpen should be solid.
The Chicago White Sox made a few moves, but they were for future seasons and not for this one. The Minnesota Twins are staying relatively stable.
Now for the West. I cannot bring myself to vote against the Los Angeles Angels, so I am picking them. The Oakland Athletics are still an unknown, especially with so much youth, but they could be a factor. I do not see the Seattle Mariners improving and the Texas Rangers still need a few more pitchers, but they are improved.
The Angels pitcher John Lackey will be a big plus, as he will actually pitch a full season. The bullpen took a hit losing Francisco Rodriguez, but they did get two-time All Star Brian Fuentes as a replacement. And I just cannot pick against the Angels while they have Vladimir Guerrero.
For the Wild Card, I am going with the defending AL champs and taking the Rays. They have a solid rotation and a good lineup. The bullpen is good, it still needs one more arm, but it is serviceable to win games. After seeing this team play last year, they are for real. They are not the rookies from two seasons ago.
The National League is a little more up in the air than the American League.
In the NL East I see the Philadelphia Phillies getting a third win in a row, but still needing 11 more after that to tie the Atlanta Braves. The New York Mets starting pitching is not intimidating and the Braves lineup could be inept. The Florida Marlins could make a run, as they have talent and a good manager, but I doubt they can pull off winning the division.
The Phillies have decent starting pitching, a decent bullpen and a killer lineup. That should be enough for them to win it. It was last year, and they now have a better rotation and lineup than they did 365 days ago. There is that small fact that they did win a World Series last year.
In the Central I see the Chicago Cubs taking the division. They have a good rotation that is fronted by Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden gives them a nice one-two punch. If they can keep Harden relatively healthy, they should be fine. The lineup, as it has been the past few years, is a potent one.
The St. Louis Cardinals have too many questions with their pitching and the Milwaukee Brewers lost Sabathia and Ben Sheets and replaced them with Braden Looper. Yovani Gallardo is back from injury, but that will not be enough for the Brewers. The Houston Astros do not have the pitching and the Pittsburgh Pirates are the Pirates.
The West is a bit tricky. If the Los Angeles Dodgers re-sign Manny Ramirez, then I choose them to win the division. If the New York Giants sign him, then I pick the Giants. If neither team signs him, then I choose the Arizona Diamondbacks.
I know none of you want to hear that, so I will just hope Manny re-signs with the Dodgers and pick them. The Diamondbacks have great pitching but not enough hitting. The Giants have young pitching, and that is premium but they too need offense. The Dodgers are in the same boat, and if they get Manny, they have offense.
The NL wild card is a tough decision. I am pretty certain that the team will come from the NL East, but it is a tough call between the Mets and the Braves. The Mets have a spectacular bullpen and a good lineup with weak starting pitching. The Braves have a good rotation and a potentially very good bullpen with a weak lineup.
I am going to pick the Braves for two reasons. First, I cannot in good faith pick the Mets. Secondly I do believe that the Braves will acquire a power hitting left fielder to fill the gap in the lineup and that will put them over the Mets. If Tim Hudson can come back in August, and the Braves are in it, a one-two punch of Hudson and Derek Lowe is pretty good.
Well, there they are, your 2009 division champs. Go place your bets in Las Vegas and use this as a guide. No guarantees though. If I could guarantee, why watch the season?
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