NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: The Most Talented Division
ESPN’s simulation machine projected the Washington Nationals having a 1% chance of winning the hotly contest and vastly talented National League East – that is 1% more than the odds they gave the Florida Marlins of winning. This is why technology is unreliable: the Marlins are primed for a division title.
This declaration should not be shocking in the slightest. How soon we forget that the Marlins finished a mere six games back in the division that ultimately produced the National League pennant winner. Had their expansion mates in Colorado not produced another late season miracle run, it would have been the Marlins in the playoffs. With a young and talented pitching staff led by Josh Johnson – now locked up long-term thanks to the first large paycheck written in franchise history – and brilliant hitters like NL MVP-to-be Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Cameron Maybin, this team is flat-out scary.
The Phillies are already experiencing pitching woes with injuries to Joe Blanton, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge, but their hitting is too strong. The two-time defending NL champs will play in October once again, but this time Philadelphia will be the wild card team.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL: The Worst Division
The worst division in baseball is also one with little hope on the horizon, save one city: Cincinnati. After years of patiently waiting, the Reds will finally be a contender once again in 2010. Let by a pitching staff of top prospects – Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Micah Owings – and veterans finally meeting expectations – Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, I’m looking at you – the team will capitalize on an easy schedule make a run for the division title, or at least the wild card.
But is anyone going to beat the team with Albert Pujols on it? No way. St. Louis wins.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST: The Most Unpredictable Division
Colorado is experiencing a run of biannual dramatic underdog success: will their young talent finally achieve consistency and remain dominant for consecutive seasons? Arizona has the potential for one of the elite pitching staffs in the league with the additions of Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy: will Brandon Webb ever be healthy enough again to lead the team, though? Los Angeles overcame a void of pitching last year to slug their way to a division title: will the McCourt divorce send the team to ruin this year?
In a division with myriad question marks, one fact remains certain: San Francisco has the best pitching staff in baseball. I pick the Giants to overcome an anemic offense.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST: The Most Competitive Division
Even with the somehow dramatically improved Boston Red Sox and reigning champion New York Yankees, this division promises to be not only competitive, but more than a two-horse race. The Tampa Bay Rays, just seven months away from what will be a terrifying offseason, are even more talented and seasoned than they were during their World Series run in 2008. Evan Longoria and company will be more than a thorn in the big spenders’ sides: they will be in the thick of things until Game 162. The Rays win the Wild Card.
Baltimore and Toronto tout some of the most talented young lineups in baseball, and while they will participate in the 2010 division race, they will directly affect the outcome in August and September.
I worry about New York’s pitching staff. The fact that A.J. Burnett survived 2009 without any devastating injuries is nothing short of a miracle, Andy Pettitte is a year older, and Javier Vazquez already fizzled under the pressure of the Big Apple once before. Boston, meanwhile, is stocked with not only starting talent, but also the best bench in baseball. The Red Sox win the division.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL: The Least Exciting Division
I make this claim for numerous reasons. For starters, this division lacks that star-studded prospects that many other divisions boast this season. Sure, fan will watch to see Zach Greinke dazzle and stump batters this year, but who else is there? Cleveland is in shambles, Detroit’s stock plummeted with the national economy, and Kansas City is not ready just yet.
Even without star closer Joe Nathan, hometown hero Joe Mauer and company will make Target Field’s inaugural season a memorable one. Not only will the Twins win the division in a landslide – they may even make a run for the World Series. Get the snow jackets ready for October.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST: The Most Improved Division (except the Angels)
Texas will not need any illicit substances (I’m talking about cocaine, not steroids) to experience a new high in Arlington this summer. This roster has it all: talented veterans (Vladimir Guerrero), rising stars (Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Hamilton), solid pitching, and a reliable bullpen.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Seattle improved more than any other team in baseball. (Unlike the Los Angeles Angels, who made the Tigers’ offseason appear promising.) When Cliff Lee comes back, he will come back with a vengeance, still bitter about his surprise departure from Philadelphia. Felix Hernandez finally has help to surround his royal arm, and the team pulled off one of the least talked about blockbuster signings of the offseason in acquiring Chone Figgins from the rival Angels. All this is to say that Ken Griffey will have a legitimate chance at ending his career in storybook fashion: the Mariners are back.
ALDS: Twins over Red Sox; Mariners over Rays
NLDS: Marlins over Giants; Phillies over Cardinals
ALCS: Mariners over Twins
NLCS: Phillies over Marlins
World Series: Phillies over Mariners – (sorry, Cliff)