The 2009 baseball season is upon us, and it's time for some thoughts on the 6 months of summer action to come.
Most interesting pennant race: AL East. Typically the traditional Red Sox vs. Yankees slugfest, the emergence of the Rays last year left the Yankees out of the playoffs. Can a retooled Yankees team (Teixeira, Burnett, Sabathia, etc.) reclaim their playoff spot? The answer is probably yes, but at whose expense? I actually think it will be Boston. The Rays' young talent looked pretty solid, and their pitching is deep enough that David Price is starting the season in the minors. Red Sox Nation won't take a 3rd place finish very well.
Most balanced division: AL Central. This division is as up-for-grabs as it gets. Everyone but the Royals has a good shot at winning the division, but any one of those teams could finish last as well. Will the D-Train get back on track and help the Tigers get back to the World Series? Will the Indians stay healthy and crush everyone? It's anyone's guess.
Most interesting young player: Matt Wieters. The young catcher out of Georgia Tech is probably the Orioles best prospect and is expected to make a big splash this year. Based on what I saw at GT and what I've been hearing, he could be the full package as an All-Star catcher. Don't be surprised if he happens to get a couple innings as a pitcher as well, since he was a dominant closer at Tech as well.
Player(s) most worth watching: This has to go to two players I strongly dislike. A-Rod has been in the news a lot this offseason, and usually underperforms under pressure. However, his success will be the key to the Yankees' success, both getting to the playoffs and winning once they get there. The other player is Manny. Manny being Manny will be the story in LA this year, and if he plays like he did the last couple months of 2008, the Dodgers will dominate the NL West. A funk from the headstrong star could land Torre and the guys in 3rd place.
Most interesting division: This may be a biased pick, but I'm going with the NL East. The Phillies are obviously the returning champs, and I don't know how well they'll be able to sustain their dominance. The Mets have had the talent the last couple years, but just haven't delivered. No one should be surprised if they win this division. The Braves have bought themselves a new rotation, and if it stays healthy, the Braves should have enough offense to make things very interesting. On the bottom side, the Marlins are always worth watching to see the stars of the future and for the occasional World Series run. The Nats should be better than last year as well, but I'll leave that to Jeremy.
AL East: NY Yankees
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
AL West: LA Angels (of Anaheim)
AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays
NL East: NY Mets
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: LA Dodgers
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies
World Series prediction (sure to be wrong): Indians over Dodgers. The Indians will be unstoppable behind Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and a healthy Hafner and Martinez, while Manny and Torre will carry the Dodgers behind their always strong rotation. With my curse now fixed on them, I'm sure neither will make the playoffs.
Enjoy the season!