Monday is baseball's Opening Day, and should be a national holiday, but Sunday is the first regular season game of this 2009 journey.
While Atlanta plays Philadelphia in ESPN's annual opener, and Milwaukee and San Francisco wait until Tuesday, everyone else opens up on Monday.
Last year saw the sudden, unexpected, and awesomely fun rise of the Tampa Bay Rays to prominence. Heading into this season, the big question among fans is whether they can do it again.
Well, people also want to know who will shock the baseball world this year. We already addressed that. Now, it's time for bad predictions ahead of Monday's games.
For starters, let me take a stab at the six divisions. We'll start in the National League because that's where the Brewers reside, and them's my boys.
3. New York Mets
The Phillies have some injury concerns, as Chase Utley is out until summer, and young stud pitcher Cole Hamels' elbow acted up during the spring. I love Florida's young pitching, but can their defense improve enough for them to contend? The Mets melted down ... again ... last year, losing the Wild Card to the Brewers on the last day of the season. Atlanta has some solid young players, but their pitching is a huge question mark. Washington tried to make a free-agent splash with Mark Teixiera, but "settled" for the big bat of Adam Dunn.
1. Chicago Cubs
3. St. Louis
As much as I dislike the Cubs, there's no doubt they're the best team in this division. They have the bats and the arms to sail back into October so they can choke in the playoffs again. Milwaukee should be a Wild Card contender if the hitting gets better. They'll need to do that, as the pitching will drop off remarkably. The Cardinals should be more consistent offensively, but the pitching staff is a mishmash. With a tight budget restricting their spending, the Astros will probably suffer, at least a little bit. Outside of the Cubs, I think Cincinnati has the best pitching in the division. They're trying to restructure the offense to include a bit more speed, and they haven't come close to replacing the production they got from Dunn. With a ton of young players and big-time questions surrounding the pitching, it's hard to see Pittsburgh winning more than 70 games.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco
5. San Diego
There are some questions about the Dodgers, but they have enough pitching and defense to win a very weak division. If San Francisco had more punch, they'd be a serious threat. No one has better young pitching than the Giants, and the addition of future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson was perfect for this staff. Colorado should be better than last year, and I love the young players they got from Oakland for short-timer Matt Holliday. Like Houston, Arizona really tightened the budget over the winter, and they don't have enough talent to compete. San Diego is in a similar boat. They just lack talent right now. The one great player they have - Jake Peavy - is a short-timer.
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay
The Red Sox take the pennant with more balance than anyone else. They have the rotation, the bullpen, and an offense free of Manny distractions. While Brian Cashman spent a lot of money on talent this winter, how much better did he make the Yankees? C.C. Sabathia is plenty fine as the big-time pitcher, but the A.J. Burnett signing reeks of "Our young pitchers aren't ready" desperation. Tampa Bay needs to improve offensively before they'll be able to stick with the big two. Not saying 2008 was an aberration, but the Red Sox and Yankees are just too good offensively. Baltimore will be better, but not nearly good enough. Toronto seems to be sinking into a rebuild. That's sad, considering they weren't all that good to start with.
2. Kansas City
4. Chicago White Sox
This is the toughest division to pick, but I'll take the Twins, even though they enter the season banged-up. Not many teams have enough pitching depth to overcome an injury to their projected Opening Day starter, but Minnesota is one of them. Can they hit? Well, they'll hit enough. Kansas City is my pick to be baseball's surprise team. They have quality young pitchers lined up behind veteran Gil Meche in the rotation, and these guys can hit. The Indians will be better than last year's disappointment, but a lack of firepower dooms them for a .500ish season. Chicago is too old in some places, and simply not talented enough in others. The Tigers need to get rid of some big-time money they're spending and rebuild around their stable of young pitchers.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
Even without K-Rod, the Angels are a rock-solid team capable of running away with the West again. Oakland got Holliday from Colorado, brought back Jason Giambi, and signed Orlando Cabrera to jump-start a horrible offense. If this team hits, they'll win games with the pitching Billy Beane has put together. Texas needs to improve defensively, but that won't matter much if their pitchers don't stop getting lit up like Christmas trees. In Seattle, former Brewers scouting ace Jack Zduriencik takes over as general manager. Yes, they brought back Ken Griffey, Jr., but it's likely the Mariners will go the route of building through solid draft picks and a farm system that will rival baseball's best.
MVP - Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
Cy Young - Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year - Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida
Manager of the Year - Fredi Gonzalez, Florida
MVP - Mark Teixiera, 1B, Yankees
Cy Young - C.C. Sabathia, Yankees
Rookie of the Year - Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
Manager of the Year - Trey Hillman, Royals
NL Wild Card - Milwaukee
AL Wild Card - N.Y. Yankees
NLCS - Dodgers over Cubs
ALCS - Twins over Red Sox