So what do I know? I'm just a soccer loving Limey.
The last time I could tell you who was the second string catcher of the Seattle Mariners, rattle off Cleveland's top prospects or give an in depth analysis of the Red Sox bullpen was around about 1996. Heck, I support two teams in the same division.
Credentials? Donutball doesn't care.
We all love predictions. This soccer loving Limey may not have quite the encvclopedic knowledge he once had and hasn't seen an MLB game live in 6 years, but I can pontificate like the rest of blogdom.
So, nyah! Here goes nuttin'.
In some ways, this year more than any other year could be seen as a no brainer. St Louis, Lost Anaheim and the Ozzie Sox have kept the core of division winning squads. Are you gonna bet against the Yanquis and the Bravos seventy-umpth titles in a row? And, San Diego wins by default.
But, that's no fun is it?
Let's start with the NL Central
, because no one else does. St Louis is a great baseball town and the new old Busch was one of the best stadiums I've been to, especially of the cookie cutter kind. New old Busch has gone. The Cards will likely draw 3.5 million to see probably a 95 win season. Sidney Ponson's comeback will be interesting: another Dave Duncan re-tread. The Astros World Series debut was over almost as soon as it began. They should challenge for the wild card again, but Preston Wilson is not the offensive upgrade they needed. Pitching carries them, with or without the Rocket. The rest of this overcrowded division is a sorry bunch. But, you gotta like the youth movements at Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. The Brewers lost Ben Sheets before opening day and that'll hurt. Prince Fielder is a slimmer version of his dad and could make an assault on 50 homers one day. I used to hate the Pirates because they dominated the old NL East. Their rotation looks wonky though Zach Duke might be a Rookie of the Year candidate. Have the Reds recovered from Jim Bowden? God, that team is awful. Meanwhile, the Cubs come into the season without (yawn) Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Wrigley's new bleachers will be filled and patrons can catch lots of dingers from Derek Lee. However, there will be a lot more homers being thrown back.
As alluded to above, the NL West
is a bit like the last man standing. It shapes up to be a dogfight between San Francisco and San Diego. The Bonds distraction apart, the Giants probably have enough pitching to edge the Pads, but age and health, as ever, is an issue. San Diego wheels out some right old geezers - Piazza, Klesko and Vinny. Pass around the cod liver oil. Oh my god, what happened to the rest of this division. The Dodgers have No-mah at first? Colorado plays to a half empty stadium? The D-backs have Vargas in the rotation? Euch!
Let's head over to the AL West
. Oakland and the Angels of Orange County are set to try to out pitch one another. Both field a pretty impressive rotation and solid bullpens. It might come down to offense to decide between the two. I'm going for Oakland because I think the Big Hurt might have himself a good season. That monster foul territory and dense night air could damage his average and power, but I've got a feeling. Nats' fans know all about Texas's center fielder. It'll be the usual feast of 13-11 games at the Ballpark somewhere in the middle of Texan heat. Pleased to see Jamie Moyer still pitching for the Mariners. That probably tells you enough about their chances. Ichiro could get 300 hits and it won't help. Still, Seattle might be closer to .500 than any other bottom club and 4th place team.
Like it's NL counterpart, the AL Central
features a couple of AAA teams - KC and Detroit. Both should remember that Minnesota used to be considered lame ducks. Well, they can hope. Okay, I'm picking the defending "adjusted" AL Central champs to take the "real" crown. Smartball is dead. Yeah, that White Sox rotation is frightening and the Injuns went backwards with the loss of Millwood and Elarton. I'm going for offense over pitching. This'll blow up in my face, but I expect Brian Anderson back in AAA by July and Jim Thome will be a bust. The Twins make a run at the wild card until the All-Star break. Johann Sanata might make a run at 20 wins with a sub-.500 club. Here's hoping KC's Zack Greinke gets his life sorted out. I doubt whether Jim Leyland can get the Tigers sorted, but I like Justin Verlander (so it's 2-14, 6.83 ERA for him).
Over to the soap opera that is the AL East
, it's the Johnny Damon show. Red Sox Nation (tm) is heartbroke that Johnny has left for George Steinbrenner's bucks. Back in Beantown "Trade Manny" still wants a trade. When all's said and down, the Yankees will come top of the pile. There's too many bats to argue against though the rotation is both too old and too untested. Mariano Rivera can't keep going for ever - or can he? Pulling out of the World Baseball Classic was an indication that Rivera has thrown too much in the last two years. I expect a big trade mid-season (Soriano to the Yanks?). Behind the bickering Hadfields and McCoys, Toronto went out and spent plenty of Canadian green. This winds up as either a serious run at a wild card or a busted flush. Big bucks aside for Burnett and Ryan, there's a lot of young talent that might give Boston a close run for second. I working on a hunch and against my own logic to pick Toronto as the AL wild card ahead of Anaheim and Boston by single games. Oh, there's two other teams in the division. Tampa Bay looks like it's finally coming alive so could make a run at 75 wins. Baltimore? Well, position wise there's lots to admire: Roberts, Tejada, Millar. On the down side, Conine and Javy Lopez are the wrong side of 35 and the pitching is meh. More soap opera with Kirk Benson's divorce.
So, that brings us to the NL East
. I don't intend to ride the waves of the Natosphere. Check the right hand column for better analysis of Washington. Suffice it to say, most agree that D.C.'s second season back in the big leagues could be a tough ride. At the top of the division, Donutball can't but ink in Atlanta for another title. John Schuerholz has quietly turned over 50% of the lineup bringing in blue chippers like Francouer, McCann and LaRoche. But, it's pitching that always wins for the Braves. The rotation is second to none: Smoltz and Hudson untouchable as a 1/2 punch. As usual, there are questions in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth wasn't the answer. I don't know if Bobby Cox will find the perfect answer this year. That in itself might spell playoff doom. Behind Atlanta, the Mets have had plenty of upheavals. It's time for Carlos Beltran to deliver. Much rests on Pedro and Glavine; Billy Wagner anchors the bullpen. Money might only buy second place, but I think it's the wild card too. Philly struggle with starting pitching. It'll still be fun to see how many homers Ryan Howard can poke. He might top 30 at home. The Marlins, of course, are your de rigeur
Florida AAA club once again.
To recap:NL East
2. NY Mets (wild card)
5. FloridaNL Central
1. St Louis
5. Chicago Cubs
6. CincinnatiNL West
1. San Francisco
2. San Diego
3. Los Angeles
5. ArizonaAL East
1. New York Yankees
2. Toronto (wild card)
5. Tampa BayAL Central
2. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City
5. DetroitAL West
2. LA Angels of Anaheim
Donutball takes Atlanta to beat the Yankees in the World Series, 'cause they've gotta win it someday.