With the start of the 2009 MLB season approaching, it's time for some predictions. Everyone loves to be a forecaster, and though there are many fancy projection systems out on the Web, this Herald sports columnist has a few of his own. These are my predictions for division winners, end-of-year awards and future breakout teams.
West: Oakland Athletics. It will be close, but I'll start off with a surprise pick. Adding Matt Holliday and other hitters, playing in the spacious Coliseum with talented rookie pitchers to throw at teams, and getting to beat up on Texas and Seattle? It adds up to a division title. Sorry, Los Angeles Angels, but your style of small ball, lack of on-base percentage and power, an aging outfield and last year's over-performing pitching spell out a year of disappointment.
Central: Cleveland Indians. It's a four-way flip between the teams not named Kansas City Royals. This is less a pick based on Cleveland's strengths and more a pick based on lack of faith in the pitching staffs of the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers and the lack of a Minnesota offense with an injured Joe Mauer. When the dust settles, the midges will be back with a vengeance.
East: New York Yankees. The three best teams in the MLB (Yankees, Red Sox and Rays) are in the AL East. The race will be exciting, disgusting and at the end we'll see one 90-plus win team at home in October. Even with the Alex Rodriguez injury, the Yankees' offense and pitching staff are too much to handle - who cares if they can't play defense? Cry for Toronto and Baltimore.
Wild Card: Boston Red Sox. As much as it pains me to not pick my defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays who improved their lineup and rotation in the offseason, the Red Sox have a much better offense and under-performed last year. I'll be praying for luck.
MVP: Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians. Finally recognized, does everything.
Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees. Media darling, workhorse, book it.
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles. Best catcher right off the bat and for years to come.
2010 Team: Texas Rangers. Pitching will finally catch up with a great offense, thanks to the best farm system. Young hitting prospects and flame-throwing pitching prospects make the Rangers legit in a year, but look for signs now.
West: Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, the rotation scares me, but the NL West is pathetic. The Arizona Diamondbacks might challenge with a good balance of pitching, hitting and a favorable home park, while the San Francisco Giants will do well with their rotation - but both fall short. Gas is up!
Central: Chicago Cubs. An offensive machine, solid pitching - it won't be close. Make these precious chances count because your window is closing fast with aging hitters, terrible minors and a payroll monster in two years. Baaaaaa.
East: New York Mets. Congratulations, you finally have a bullpen, just don't blow it, again, times two. Third time's the charm, right? Sorry, Philadelphia Phillies, no more September runs - you over-performed like crazy last year, so expect to regress, by a lot.
Wild Card: Atlanta Braves. That's right. After a three-year hiatus, they're back. Pitching additions, solid hitting and elite prospects who will be up this year. It will be tight but I'll go out on a limb and say the Braves will surprise in the NL.
MVP: Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins. Sorry Albert Pujols, Hanley solidifies himself as the best player for the next three years.
Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants. He doesn't ice his arm for crying out loud.
Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida Marlins. Future stud, if only the Marlins had more everything.
2010 Team: San Francisco Giants. Since I already picked the Braves to break out a year early, I'll pick the Giants instead. Premium pitching prospects, solid young hitting prospects and core, everyone else in the NL West better make this year count.
Sure, some of these predictions are a little extreme, but we'll just blame whatever errors I make on luck, or the World Baseball Classic. Go watch baseball! Enjoy the 2009 season! I know I will.
Jonathan Hahn '10 is ready to get heckled in his Rays gear.