As I do every year, I'm renewing my call for Opening Day to be established as a new national holiday. Baseball just matters that much.
I'm looking forward to a wonderful season, especially in the American League Central. Laura and I have gone ahead and ordered the online radio package from MLB.com, and we'll be able to listen to any game we want. We had the package last year, and it was probably the best purchase I've ever made. Man, I love baseball.
Ok, without further delay, here are my picks for the upcoming season:
East: Baseball has entered a wonderful age of parity, where most teams have a very real chance of making the playoffs when the season starts. Be that as it may, it is pretty easy to eliminate two of the teams in this division without much consideration. Both the Nationals and the Marlins are quite a ways back in this division, and I don't think they'll make much noise at all. I think the Braves might be a bit underrated, but I still see this as a two team race: the Mets and the Phillies. Because the Mets had the best NL record last year, I'm going to give them the edge here. They've got a little more experience, they felt the pain of losing in the playoffs, and with that chip on their shoulder it'll be the Mets taking the NL East.
Central: Just like last year, I think St. Louis is too talented to beat. I think the upgrades that the Cubs made were key, but their pitching staff is still a question, and their defense won't be good enough for them to be a real threat. The Astros lost Pettite, but I expect them to fight hard throughout the season. The team that'll give the Cardinals the biggest threat will actually come as a bit of a surprise to some: it'll be the Brewers. They're a solid group, and with Ben Sheets healthy all year they've got themselves a true ace. But the Brewers are green, and the Cardinals experience in closing out a division will come into play in September, allowing them to lock up the Central.
West: This might be the weakest division in baseball, and everyone has a shot at winning it. Even the Rockies! I don't like the Giants, and I don't think the Rockies will be able to put it together. Arizona added some key pieces, but I think it'll take them longer than a year to gel, and so it comes down to the Padres and Dodgers. I'm seriously flipping a coin between the two. Heads is Dodgers, tails is Padres. Tails. I guess I'm going Padres. Hmm... I'm not comfortable with that. Ok, Dodgers. Dodgers win the West.
Wild Card: And this is why I can be comfortable taking the Mets over the Phillies in the East; because I can still pick the Phillies to make the playoffs.
MVP: Pujols. I'm not going to pick against the best player in baseball. He got punished last year for having won it in the past, and this year people will feel compelled to go back to giving the hardware to the best.
Cy Young: I'm going to go with a kind of surprise candidate here: Aaron Harang of the Reds. He was amazing last year, but he's so unassuming that he got completely overlooked. Even though he plays in Cincy, for a ball club that's usually forgotten about, I think his numbers will be too good to ignore.
Rookie: I'll be honest, I don't know much about NL rookies this year. But I know the name Chris Young, since he's the one everyone is talking about, and I'm gonna join the crowd with this pick.
East: I hate the Red Sox. I'm not a big Yankees fan (though I'm really glad they decreased their payroll!). But I can't in good conscience pick the O's, 'Jays or 'Rays. So I'm stuck picking between the biggest scourges to the sport. I like the pitching staff of the Sox, but I like the lineup of the Yankees. If the Yankees are able to add Clemens in May, then I'd be more comfortable picking them. And since I think there's a decent chance that'll happen, or at least a better chance of Clemens in NY than of Clemens in Boston, I'm going to give the Yankees the edge. They've proved over and over they can win the division, and, again, I hate the Red Sox. So Yankees take the East.
Central: Um, crap. I've got my loyalties, and that always makes this tough to pick. The Indians way underperformed last year, and so they're kind of darlings in the sports writing community this year. The Tigers might be the best team in baseball, at least on paper, and the White Sox have a bunch of power arms and power bats, all with a chip on their shoulder from last year. And yet, I'm going to take the Twins. But it's not because I'm a homer: it's because I honestly think it's the right pick. They've won 4 of the last 5 division titles, and have conclusively proved they know what it takes to win. They have some question marks in the rotation, but they had a lot of those last year too, and I think they'll be able to overcome them again. And the biggest reason: the Twins are returning the Cy Young winner, the MVP winner, and the batting champion. They had 3 different players win those 3 awards - only the second time that has ever happened - and all 3 are coming back, another year into their primes (none are on the decline yet). I cannot imagine that a team returning those 3 players wouldn't be the favorite, and I think people are seriously underestimating the Twins.
West: Here's my surprise pick of the year: the Rangers. The A's are always good, but have some injuries and holes that will pose some problems. The Angles are probably the favorites, but for some reason I'm just not sold. It's a pretty even division, and I think this year will be the year the Rangers' offense pushes them into the playoffs. I'm out on a limb here, but I'm okay with that in the AL West.
Wild Card: Like I wrote before, the Tigers might be the best team on paper. And that'll translate to a wild card berth, just like it did last year, if their pitchers hold up again. I think they will, and so I'm picking them for the wild card.
MVP: Joe Mauer. His power numbers will rise (look for around 18 HR and 95 RBI), and his batting average won't fall more than 30 points (that'd put him at .317 still). A lot of people thought he deserved it last year, and this time around he'll get the love; especially since he'll be getting the most out of a rotation that people consider suspect.
Cy Young: Well duh. Santana. It isn't even fathomable that anyone else would even think about picking someone else for this award.
Rookie: Again, this is a relative no-brainer. Daisuke Matsuzaka might not be a rookie in the hearts and minds of fans, but he is in the rule book. And his age and experience will be too much of an edge for folks like Alex Gordon or Delmon Young to overcome.
NLS: Mets over Cardinals, Phillies over Dodgers
NLCS: Mets over Phillies
ALS: Twins over Yankees, Tigers over Rangers
ALCS: Twins over Tigers
World Series: Mets over Twins in 6.
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks