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2009 Predictions

Here's a quick, back-of-the-envelope look at what I think will happen this year. Leave your own predictions in the comments and we'll compare notes at the end of the season.

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals

As with the AL East, this is a three-team race. The Phils and Mets are talented but flawed, and a much-improved Braves team will try to knock them off. Even with the replacement of Pat Burrell with the aging Raul Ibanez, I like the Phillies' offense enough to be convinced they'll stave off the other two teams, which both have holes. (If I thought Daniel Murphy was for real, though, that might be enough for me to puts the Mets in first.) I'm not a huge believer in the Marlins, and I probably won't be until they show some inclination to develop players properly--the way they've treated Andrew Miller, who badly needs more seasoning in the high minors, is pretty much the opposite of what should be done. The Nationals are a mess: they've got a ton of talent in the outfield and at the corners, and very little elsewhere.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Cubs are the class of this division. The Brewers obviously lost some great pitching, but Yovani Gallardo could well impersonate the healthy Ben Sheets this year. Like the Nats, the Cards have a bunch of talent in the outfield and at first and could use some players elsewhere. The Reds have a very interesting rotation but will need a breakout from one or more of their young hitters to have a decent offense. The Astros haven't yet realized that it's time to rebuild. And the Pirates' future looks brighter than it has in years, but it'll be a while before the team shows improvement at the major league level.

NL West

1. Dodgers
2. Diamondbacks
3. Giants
4. Rockies
5. Padres

I hate picking the Dodgers here, but a very weak division forces me to. I keep waiting for the Diamondbacks' young hitting to mature, but so far it's been slow to do so. If this is the year Chris Young the hitter finally breaks out, and if Justin Upton takes the huge leap forward he will take some year, they should still be dangerous. In a vacuum, the Giants had a good offseason, but they're still far from re-establishing themselves as a contender. The Rockies and especially the Padres are just awful; any team opening its season with Nick Hundley and Luis Rodriguez in its starting lineup needs to get its hands back on the wheel, but that may not happen until the Pads' ownership situation is resolved.

AL East

1. Rays
2. Red Sox
3. Yankees
4. Orioles
5. Jays

I know I'm probably too bullish on the Rays, but I can't help but let my emotion get in the way here. Andrew Friedman is the best GM in baseball, and he's done an incredible job this year; if the Rays don't win the division, it'll be because of the Yanks' and/or Red Sox's far more expensive star talent, not anything Friedman did wrong. The Rays' depth is remarkable--they're so deep that Matt Joyce, who hit .252/.339/.492 for the Tigers last year, may not make the team. The Red Sox and Yankees should be bunched very near the Rays; I almost picked the Yanks to win the division, but bumped them because of the injury to Alex Rodriguez and concerns about Joba Chamberlain's velocity. The Rays, Red Sox and Yankees would all be 100-win teams if they played in different divisions--the talent level in the AL East is incredibly high. The top three teams are the three best teams in baseball (with the Cubs, probably, at #4). As for the other two teams in the East, I like the Orioles offense and love the high-upside outfield, but their starting pitching is awful; the Jays' rotation is dubious after Roy Halladay and their offense should be worse than Baltimore's.

AL Central

1. Indians
2. Tigers
3. Twins
4. White Sox
5. Royals

And the winner of the weirdest division in baseball will be... the Indians? Actually, Cleveland quietly played pretty well down the stretch last year. They have just enough good young hitting to be dangerous. The Tigers are old, but they're better than they played last season. The Twins have a solid rotation but offensive zeroes scattered around the diamond. Kansas City lands in the cellar instead of Chicago because at least if Kansas City stinks, you know they're going to trade people, as they should; who knows what Sox GM Kenny Williams will do? I do think Alex Gordon has an excellent shot at a breakout season, though.

AL West

1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers

The A's and Rangers are loaded with prospects, and the Mariners, apparently finally sick of flushing money down the drain, are showing signs of life under new GM Jack Zduriencik. The Angels' dominance of this division is about to end; the only question is whether it'll be this year or not. Oakland's decision to trade a bunch of suspect players for Matt Holliday suggests they think they've got a shot, and I think they're right. It's not a particularly sexy team, but they should get the job done, perhaps with around 85 wins, with Los Angeles slipping right behind them. The Angels have a lot of recognizable players, but with John Lackey and Ervin Santana injured to start the year, they may struggle out of the gate. Also, their infield leaves something to be desired, and Vlad Guerrero is getting to the age where he'd make me nervous if I were hoping my team would contend and he were the focal point of its offense. A series of astute trades for role players pushes the Mariners ahead of the Rangers for now, but Texas is going to be deadly in a couple years.