With Opening Day quickly approaching I am getting myself pumped up for the season. People that live on the West Coast or in Florida always tell me I’m crazy to suffer through the winters here (and DC isn’t even bad compared to New York and New England). But it’s like we punish ourselves with cold dreadful winters just because it makes us appreciate Spring so much more. I’m convinced that’s why people from Boston to Baltimore, and thankfully now DC, seem to live and die by their baseball teams, while everywhere else it’s just another sport. But that is a topic for another day. Today, we look around everywhere other than the NL East, which I wrote about last week. This post will be pretty long, but if you just want to see my final predictions you can scroll down to the picture of Conan telling the future at the bottom.

The rest of the NL

I keep hearing that everyone likes the Cubs this season, and with such a history of dominance, why not? Seriously, the top of their rotation is just like Gaylord Focker’s portfolio – strong… to quite strong. Their lineup is going to do well, too, espcially that OF of Soriano, Pie and Fukudome. I think people will be surprised by the abilities of catcher Geovany Soto, and they’ve still got great bats at their corner infield positions.

Last year, the Brewers were the fashionable pick to make the playoffs. They started on track, but faded at the end and now I hear nothing about them. Lack of confidence in Ben Sheets’ ability to pitch all year may have something to do with it. But their bats are great – Hardy, Hart, and Cameron all could have 25+ HRs, Fielder and Braun should be higher than that. The more Sheets pitches the better, but Suppan, Gallardo, and Villanueva should be able to do a pretty decent job on their own. And the loss of Cordero will hurt, but not decimate their bullpen, and I think Gagne will recover from last year’s debacle.

The Reds, on the other hand, are a fashionable pick this year, but nobody’s ever accused me of being fashionable. I do like Arroyo and Harang, but I’m not sure Cueto and Bailey are ready to shoulder the burden that’s being put on them. Patterson doesn’t give me confidence in CF, although if Griffey stays healthy those corner OFs are tough to beat. I’m not sure Freel is going to make the whole season with this team, and for everyone who think Votto will come out and demolish ML pitchers, beware the lessons of guys like Jeremy Hermida and Conor Jackson. He may be great, but I’m not sure if he’s ready to be great in 2008, for 5 or 6 months. Cordero helps but doesn’t fix a shaky pen. I’ll probably wait a year or two to jump on the bandwagon here, after they’re no longer fashionable.

The Astros made the kind of moves this offseason that I just didn’t understand. They can hit some home runs with Berkman, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada. But acquiring someone like Kaz Matsui who had a deplorable .240/.304/.333 split away from Coors field last year was just strange. What they need is pitching, and besides Roy Oswalt they have… Wandy Rodriguez? Shawn Chacon? Woody Williams? Slowpitch McWalkerstein?

Last year was bad for the Cardinals, and they shouldn’t be much better. Pujols would have to completely carry this team offensively, there aren’t many hitters on this team, and one of them used to be a pitcher. At least Rick Ankiel should be a great story. My friend Brian thinks that if they Mulder and Carpenter back in July, and they’re still hanging around, they have a shot. It may be true, but I don’t think they’ll be hanging around, and I don’t think both will be back and pitching by then.

I picked the Pirates to be my most improved team last season, and they improved by 1 game, so why not try again this year? LaRoche is a 2nd half hitter, but his first was ridiculously bad last year, and Jason Bay isn’t that bad either. The rest of their lineup still isn’t very good, but their pitching staff looks to be a strong young core, with Ian Snell, Gorzelanny, and Maholm all with promising futures. Matt Morris could still provide something for this team, and remember Zack Duke was once a huge sleeper prospect.

The Rockies were fortunate enough to make it to the World Series last season, and I don’t want to take away from the fact that they played the last month of the regular season like it was the playoffs. But just like the Mets will have trouble losing that many in a row at the end, Colorado may find themselves in a similar situation in Sept ’08 than they were in Sept ’07, and will have to win most of their remaining games. I actually like their pitching staff, but it’s good not great, and I think Tulowitzki, Taveras and Helton all played a bit above their heads last year. Not to say that any of them will have bad seasons, but 2007 could be better than 2008. They’ll be in the hunt for the NL West title, but I’m not sure if they can pull it off again.

The Dodgers look to be a much improved team this season, with some serious young talent. Andre Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp are all promising talents. Their starting pitching is good, although Billingsley could be more than that. The addition of Andruw Jones will probably help as well, but I fear that Torre will do the one thing he was maligned for (rather than mismanaging his bullpen at times) which is sticking too long with his veterans. If Torre can give his young guys the playing time they already deserve, they could contend for the title.

After just missing the playoffs last season, the Padres still still a team to consider at the top of the NL. Their pitching staff, anchored by Peavy, is impressive, as is their bullpen. The lineup has never been great, but a full season of Kouzmanoff, another year under Adrian Gonzalez’s belt, and the possible emergence of Chase Headley in their virtually empty outfield should help them contend.

The Giants are a team that will contend for the worst record in the majors next summer. Cain, Lincecum, and Zito should all be effective pitchers, but they don’t have much of a bullpen and their lineup is.. well… their best hitters are an out-of-shape Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, Benji Molina, and Ray Durham. Off the top of my head, that may be their only hitters. It’s not gonna be pretty, but at least fans can watch Lincecum’s crazy delivery.

Another contender is NL West 2007 champs, the Diamondbacks, who acquired the second-best pitcher on the market this offseason, Dan Haren. That combo up top will put them in the hunt, and their lineup should only get better, with players like Chris Young, Conor Jackson, and Stephen Drew all hopefully progressing.

And the AL Teams

The Red Sox look the team to beat and it makes sense. There are some bad things about this team: Veritek is getting older and hasn’t hit like he used to, Beckett was incredible last season, which may be hard to repeat, and now he’s starting the season on the DL with back problems, which have been known to never really go away during a season. Also, Schilling is out until at least the All Star break (I’m guessing longer), Manny had a bad season last year (for him) so who knows if he can recover to old form, Wakefield hasn’t been great recently, they released Mirabelli so who’s gonna catch the knuckler anyway?, and Mike Lowell had a career year last year so he probably will regress. They still have a hole at SS and I think their setup man Okajima will be much more hittable this year. All that seems like serious issues, but this team will still be in great shape because of the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and John Lester, plus the fact that Manny had a bad season last year so if he recovers that’ll make up for less hitting from others.

The Yankees are in an interesting situation, and should be one of the more fun teams to watch this year. The trio of Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain all need to be effective to make this team have a shot. Pettitte and Wang are still a top duo, and alot will also depend on what they can get out of Moose and the guys who may end up having to fill in 15 or so starts – Igawa, Karstens, even Pavano. Their lineup is still formidable, especially if Shelley Duncan keeps up what he’s been doing, and they get anything out of Giambi or Ensberg. Damon is still effective despite being much maligned last year, he hit .296/.364/.450 in the second half and played great D in LF. If he keeps that up he will be great leading off in front of Jeter, although I’d like to see either ARod hitting 3rd, or Cano in that spot in front of ARod at 4th. I expect Posada to hit well, but not as well as last season – that will likely be offset by a better Abreu and an improved Melky, who turns 23 this year. The bullpen is better, too, even without counting Joba the Heat. But it all comes back to whether the young pitchers can hold it togther. By September, you could see 4 of the 5 spots in the rotation held down by guys under 25 with the mystery man being Humberto Sanchez.

The Blue Jays have cobbled together a good team. Always able to score runs, last season they pitched real well and couldn’t hit at all. They’ve looked to correct it this year adding Rod Barajas, Scott Rolen and David Eckstein. Vernon Wells will most likely hit better than last year, but it still may not be enough to contend for first. Second place, however, is well within their reach.

Everyone seems to love the Rays this year, (no more Devil in their name), and they are looking better. Carlos Pena, Upton, Iwamora, Crawford and Longoria can all hit. Bartlett, and Navarro can’t. Crawford’s lack of improvement over the last few seasons is a mystery, but he’ll only be 26 this year so he may yet get better. Their young pitching staff is what everyone loves, and James Shields was great. Kazmir has yet to show he isn’t fragile. Garza, Sonnanstine, and Jackson are all good pitchers, but are inconsistent and still haven’t posted pretty ERAs.

Orioles fans should just keep their eyes on the OF and keep saying to themselves “Jones, Markakis and Scott” over and over. Because those guys are going to keep fans from going completely insane. Guthrie looks good, we have seen Daniel Cabrera and we know what we’re getting from him. I’m betting the O’s finish the season with the worst record in baseball, but thankfully they’ve FINALLY acknowledged that adding one Jay Payton or Aubrey Huff isn’t gonna put them into contention. It was time to rebuild 10 years ago, they’re just getting around to it now.

The White Sox are bringing back some of their swagger from their championship season, or at least Ozzie Guillen is talking like they are. There is a glut of OFers yet its unclear where everyone will play, and what’s gonna happen with CF. Their pitching staff is strong but not spectacular, and I’m unconvinced they can top their chief division rivals.

The Tigers made some big acquisitions in the offseason, with Miguel Cabrera being the biggest. Get it? $153 million buys alot of cheeseburgers. They can hit, but I worry that Pudge is fading fast, Jacques Jones is more of a 4th OF now, and while Carlos Guillen can hit, he goes from being one of the best hitting SS in the league to at best a middle-tier 1B. The bats should be enough to make their pitching staff look good, and it doesn’t need too much help. Although I worry that a change of scenery isn’t enough to save Dontrelle.

The Indians are the class of the central and should continue to do well. They need Hafner back to old form in order to hit well enough, but they have strong starting pitching, especially at the top. Their bullpen still has some issues, and the sooner they move Betancourt to closer over Borowski the better, although the addition of Kobayashi (pitcher, not hot dog eating champ) should help to bolster it.

The Twins are looking more and more like a rebuilding team, and the trade they made for Santana may eventually pay off, although it wasn’t the best or second best offer on the table. Their great bullpen may see lots of action, after Liriano, who is coming off injury, I am not sure I have much faith in the rest. Morneau and Mauer are still there, and now Delmon Young is too, but other than Kubel, the other bats don’t have much potential.

The Royals are a perpetual rebuilding team but may get a chance to finish out of last place if Minnesota really struggles. Gordon and Teahan will improve this year, but other than that… it should be good to see 2006 top pick Luke Hochevar up and pitching at some point this year.

The Rangers may surprise people by putting up some runs. Their infielders can hit, and additions of Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley could add alot of offense. But their Ace is Kevin Millwood, and other than Vincente Padilla, the rest of the staff makes Millwood look like an ace in comparison.

Billy Beane is a great GM, and he’s turned coal into diamonds in Oakland, or whatever the phrase is. But the A’s are gonna need more than a few diamonds this season to be anything better than very bad. They have a few guys who can hit some HRs, but not enough, and their best pitcher is Joe Blanton. Well, it’s Rich Harden if he could ever pitch, but since he can’t, it’s Blanton. At least Huston Street’s still awesome.

The Mariners, on the other hand, have some names to take note of, especially the names Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard. That’s quite a 1-2 punch, and Washburn and Silva fill out the back end, although I think Miguel Batista will be worse this year. Their lineup has some ok spots, but Sexson needs to hit better than .205 to help out a team that had Jose Vidro as their DH, and a hasn’t hit in years Wilkerson playing the OF. If Felix and Bedard makes 60 starts between the two of them, they have a chance of winning the West, but I just don’t think they’ve improved enough.

The Angels are the team that like to show off by overpaying for players now. Gary Matthews and Torii Hunter are going to take up something like 25% of this teams payroll. In 2008 that seems like alot, in 2010 it could be crippling. But for now, I like the lineup, the infield can hit, the OF can hit, and Vlad is still, for now, a premier RF. The important thing for this team’s chances is if Garland, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joe Saunders can hold down the fort until Lackey and Escobar return in May. Look for Moseley and Adenhart to play an important role as well.

Bold Predictions

Conan Y2K

AL East – Red Sox
AL Central -Indians
AL West – Angels
AL WC- Yankees
ALCS -Indians vs. Yankees
AL Champs – Indians
NL East – Mets
NL Central – Cubs
NL West – Diamondbacks
NL WC – Brewers
NLCS – Cubs vs. Diamondbacks
NL Champs – Cubs
WS – Cubs
AL MVP – Derek Jeter
NL MVP – Jose Reyes
AL Cy Young – Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young – Ben Sheets
AL RoY – Clay Buchholz
NL RoY – Geovany Soto

Wait, did I just pick the Cubs to win the World Series? If you’re not convinced, well I haven’t convinced myself of it. But this is all for fun anyway, right? There you have it, can’t wait until everyone reminds me of how wrong I am come October…

By Charlie