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After five months of hibernation, another baseball season is upon us. This season should once again be filled with excitement and plenty of surprises.
As the defending champions the Boston Red Sox are the team to beat and with not key departures it is hard to bet against them especially with the emergence Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury. The New York Yankees should give them a run for their money but will ultimately fall short due to dependence on rookie pitchers Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain to produce at high levels. With the emergence of an abundance of talent and finally a pitcher to pair with Scott Kazmir in Matt Garza the Tampa Bay Rays will easily surpass the 70-win mark for the first time in team history. There is even a shot at 80 wins. The Toronto Blue Jays always seem to make their case with their talent, yet every year they seem to underachieve and this year everyone will soon realize that they never were that good. As expected the lowly Baltimore Orioles will pull up the rear. At least with Erik Bedard they could rely on 15+ wins. Well, that’s not happening anymore. The Orioles can hope for a 70-win season at most.
Even with making only minor acquisitions, the Cleveland Indians are the ones with the talent. Even a stacked Tiger rotation is no match for the Sabathia-Carmona combo, even though I am skeptical whether Carmona can repeat his 2007 performance. Nonetheless, the Indians are still the best. After making the biggest splash with an unexpected acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the Detroit Tigers easily boast the best lineup in the league. But then again, that’s what everyone said a year ago before they were ousted by the Yankees. The Tigers will need more consistently from their rotation and bullpen to challenge the Indians. When Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams acquired Nick Swisher, he ensured this season would not be a total bust, as the White Sox will remain in contention most of the year before fading. The Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins will remain in a battle all year not to be the last place team only to have the Royals superior pitching bail the team out.
The Los Angeles Angels are the obvious choice in the West as the rest are far behind. Outside of the Angels, no other team will finish above a .500 winning percentage. The Oakland Athletics will come the closest with just enough offense and pitching to get by. Although the Seattle Mariners boast the best rotation with Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez at the top, there are too many questions concerning Seattle’s consistently underachieving offense. The Texas Rangers will struggle once again. They may actually give the Orioles a run for the worst record in the majors.
With the New York Mets acquiring ace Johan Santana it is impossible to pick against them. Especially when their rotation plays out to be Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Orlando Hernandez. However, the Mets may run into trouble with Martinez’s questionable health. Although a surprise to some, the Atlanta Braves easily surpass the rest of the division. Centerfielder Mark Kotsay and pitcher Tom Glavine will prove to be vital to the Braves division hopes in additional to a full year of superstar first basemen Mark Teixeira. After a dramatic end to the season the Philadelphia Phillies have only gone backwards starting with a sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. The only positive thing to come of the off-season was the deal in which Houston sent star closer Brad Lidge for almost nothing. The Phillies are too thin in too many positions to contend, especially with the loss of Aaron Rowand. The Florida Marlins have an enormous amount of talent and can look forward to a strong showing in years to come, but not this year. The same goes for the lowly Washington Nationals who have improved just enough to avoid consideration for the worst team.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Milwaukee Brewers were cruising last year until a second half collapse and a surge from the Chicago Cubs derailed their playoff hopes. Just a year ago I picked this team to go to the World Series, if not for pitchers Johan Santana and Dan Haren coming to the National League I would say the same this year, that’s how good this team is. The Chicago Cubs should display another strong showing this year, but will fall short of the playoffs this year. Although the Cincinnati Reds have improved their malign bullpen, they still do not have the starting pitching to contend. As far as the rest of the division goes, the Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals will all finish within five games of each other. It is anyone’s guess to the order.
With a rotation headed by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren in addition to a spectacular showing last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the favorite. However, the San Diego Padres may boast the best pitching rotation in baseball with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, Mark Prior, and Randy Wolf. The Los Angeles Dodgers will remain within striking distance, but will not be able to sustain the pace set by the Diamondbacks and Padres. The defending National League Champion Colorado Rockies will encounter a disappointing year after a disappointing World Series sweep at the hands of the Red Sox and will slip to fourth although they will still posses a record over .500. The San Francisco Giants just do not have enough talent to even stay in consideration for over two months. They will be completely out of the race by June.
The Arizona Diamondbacks will advance to the World Series on the shoulders of pitching studs Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, but a complete Boston Red Sox team will be too much. The Red Sox just have no outstanding weaknesses, or any at all. Red Sox in six games.