The major league baseball season officially started last week when the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners played two games in Tokyo. Most of the other teams open on Thursday, and the Astros get started on Friday when they host the Colorado Rockies.
Thus, here are my predictions for this season.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST: 1. Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones says he's retiring after the season. Maybe he'll get to see the Braves pull off another epic collapse like last season.
2. Washington Nationals: Stop laughing. The Nationals are no longer a laughingstock. They've got talent in the field, on the pitching mound, in the batting box, the dugout and the front office.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley's out to start the season. Ryan Howard's out to start the season. The rest of the team's beginning to get older, though damn, what a starting rotation. Still, I just don't think they'll be able to score enough runs this season.
4. Miami Marlins: Ozzie Guillen's now managing for Jeffrey Loria, who isn't exactly known for getting along with managers with strong opinions. There could be some fireworks in Miami this season.
5. New York Mets: Bernie Madoff not only destroyed a bunch of lives, he might also have destroyed this franchise as the Mets owners got caught up in his little fraud. And frankly, it couldn't happen to a nicer team. This is what you get for destroying Dickie Thon's career and bitching and moaning about Mike Scott in the 1986 playoffs.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL: 1. Cincinnati Reds: I don't really want to pick the Reds here, because when I predict the Reds to do good, they flop, but when I pick them to do bad, they excel. But the rest of the division isn't that good and they have the best player in the division in Joey Votto.
2. Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers lost Prince Fielder, but they return many of the key people that got them to the playoffs last season. The pitching staff's good, not great, as is the rest of the team.
3. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards lost Albert Pujols to the Angels and Tony La Russa to retirement (good riddance to seven-hour games). Staff ace Chris Carpenter is out until who knows when. The team's depending on Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Adam Wainwright and Lance Berkman to stay healthy -- good luck with that.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Yeah, I've got the Pirates picked to finish fourth. That's not because they're improving as a team -- they are, though -- but more because of just how awful the Cubs and Astros are going to be.
5. Chicago Cubs: Hey, Cubs, you got Theo Epstein from the Red Sox. Congratulations. Unfortunately, he's just a GM. What the Cubs didn't get from the Red Sox are any good players.
6. Houston Astros: It's going to be another last-place season for the Astros. But new GM Jeff Luhnow actually appears to have an idea as to what he's doing. Meanwhile the Astros will be letting the kids get most of the playing time this year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST: 1. San Francisco Giants: The Giants have perhaps the best starting staff in baseball. And catcher Buster Posey is returning from injury. Unfortunately, they're still depending on the rather mediocre talents of the likes of Aubrey Huff to score the runs.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: While the Dodgers have been embroiled in bankruptcy, being rescued by Magic Johnson last week, they have still managed to put a decent team on the field. Matt Kemp showed last year just how good he can be, and Andre Ethier makes for a good outfield companion. Plus, the Dodgers have the league's reigning Cy Young winner.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Here's a team with another young, good pitching staff that got lots of production from people who weren't supposed to produce last season. Don't expect a repeat.
4. Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer made the Rockies' starting rotation. He's older than I am. No players in any professional league are older than I am. Thus the Rockies finish in fourth.
5. San Diego Padres: This team can't even find an owner. But hey, it's a nice place to live.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST: 1. New York Yankees: Hey, Andy Pettitte's un-retired. Derek Jeter's still hanging around, as is A-Rod. But really, this team just has too much talent not to advance to the playoffs.
2. Tampa Bay Rays: Joe Maddon's perhaps the best manager in baseball. Evan Longoria's one of the best players in the game. The Rays have a good pitching staff, and one that should be just getting better. 3. Boston Red Sox: The team's aging, they had an epic implosion to blow a huge wild card lead last season. New manager Bobby Valentine's already arguing with the new GM. The fun times at Boston could be ending.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: There's some talent on this team, mostly anonymous talent, but it's there. They could sneak past the Red Sox and contend for the wild card.
5. Baltimore Orioles: This is the AL version of the Astros circa 2011, i.e., pre-Jim Crane putting the adults in charge. As bad as Drayton McLane ran the Astros, he treated the club nowhere near as bad as Peter Angelos has treated the Orioles.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL: 1. Detroit Tigers: This is the class, far and away, of the AL Central. The team's got a fantastic manager, the best starting pitcher in baseball, and they went out and got Prince Fielder to play first and provide more power.
2. Cleveland Indians: The Indians surprised a lot of people last year, sprinting off to a strong start before fading badly at the end of the season. If anybody's going to catch the Tigers, it's going to the Indians. 3. Minnesota Twins: The Twins were devastated by the injury bug last season, losing stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for most of the season. There's been some turnover; goodbye Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, Jason Kubel, etc., but if Mauer and Morneau stay healthy, very big IFs, then the Twins could compete.
4. Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen's finally gone, so the people of Chicago are going to have to find someone else to blame for not winning this season. Maybe they should start looking at GM Kenny Williams.
5. Kansas City Royals: The AL version of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a once-great franchise turned into a punch line. There's a lot of young talent here, but there's been a lot of young talent on the Royals for a long, long time -- the Royals once had Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran in the same outfield -- and nothing's come of it yet.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST: 1. Texas Rangers: Nolan Ryan's built quite a nice little franchise. He's got a nice little pitching staff, some quality players in the field. Still, if Josh Hamilton falls off the wagon during the season, instead of the off-season like he always does, the franchise could be in trouble.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Say hello to the new home of Albert Pujols. Owner Arte Moreno is moving to make the Angels the West Coast version of the Yankees.
3. Oakland A's: Just like Moneyball the movie didn't win the big prize when it came to movie awards season, the A's, using moneyball, never actually won anything, losing time and time in the playoffs. And it's been awhile since the A's have even sniffed the postseason. They don't get any closer this season.
4. Seattle Mariners: Hey, Seattle's a nice town, and Safeco Field is a nice place to watch a game. But there's really not much to say about the franchise. Well, Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Nationals beat Dodgers in Wild Card.
Giants beat the Nationals. Braves beat the Reds.
Braves beat the Giants to advance to the World Series.
Rays beat the Angels in Wild Card.
Rays beat the Tigers. Rangers beat the Yankees.
Rays beat the Rangers to go to the World Series.
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Rays beat the Braves.