As spring training gets started, I will go out on an early limb and make some predictions for the coming season.
1. Mets. The Mets should still be hungry after faltering at the end last year and missing out on the playoffs. They obtained Johan Santana to anchor their starting pitching staff, and he should prove to be an outstanding acquisition. Pedro is not the Pedro of old, but at least he is throwing now and should be ready to start the season, unlike last year when he missed almost the entire year. Their position players are almost all stars, and it is hard to pick them anywhere but first.
2. Nationals. Admittedly an idiosyncratic pick, but the Nationals have taken steps to get better, including the acquisitions of Lastings Milledge and Paul Lo Duca, and I look for them to improve.
3. Phillies. The Phillies have a set lineup, with a strength being the late relievers where Tom Gordon will set up for closer Brad Lidge. They made the playoffs lat year but could fall back a bit this year.
4. Braves. The Braves' starting pitching staff looks ancient, and the loss of Andruw Jones will hurt a lot, IMO.
5. Marlins. The Marlins traded away their two best players, and it is hard to see how they will escape the basement, though a hungry, young team can sometimes surprise.
1. Cubs. A sentimental pick here, but I like ace Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs' acquisition of Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome, and manager Lou Piniella, who is a proven winner.
2. Cardinals. The Cards have been a winner throughout this decade, and should bounce back from their sub-.500 season last year.
3. Brewers. The Brewers have almost their entire lineup back from last year, and newcomers Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron should contribute. Look for the Brewers to maybe finish higher than 3rd.
4. Reds. The Reds have new manager Dusty Baker, but little else to be reason for optimism that they can have their first winning season of the decade. I do, however, look for them to edge out the aging Astros for 4th place.
5. Astros. Biggio is retired, and the team just keeps aging. I like the Astros, but hard to be optimistic about their chances this year.
6. Pirates. Another year in the dungeon for the woeful Pirates.
1. Adding Andruw Jones and Japanese star Hiroki Kuroda and new manager Joe Torre should add up to a good year for the Dodgers.
2. Diamondbacks. I love the Diamondbacks and will root for them to succeed. Dan Haren's acquisition from the A's beefs up an already-great pitching staff.
3. Rockies. The Rockies return almost all of the team which had the incredible run at the end of the season last year to get to the World Series. However, it is normal to fall back a bit after such an incredible year, so it's 3rd for the Coors boys.
4. Padres. The Padres faltered late last year, losing the one-game playoff to the Rockies, so will still be hungry. Unfortunately for them, they play in a strong division.
5. Giants. The Giants will be better without the distraction of the Barry Bonds circus, but they just don't have all the pieces to fit together to succeed. In this division, last place seems to be their fate.
1. Red Sox. The Red Sox are poised to win another world championship. They return all the pieces from last year's team, and there is no reason to doubt them this year.
2. Yankees. I would like to pick the Yanks lower, but the rest of the division looks too weak.
3. Orioles. Strictly a sentimental pick.
4. Blue Jays.
5. Devil Rays.
1. The Tigers didn't need much more, but they acquired Willis and Cabrera from the Marlins, so they are ready for a great year.
2. Indians. Came within one win of reaching the World Series last year, and perhaps will be hungry enough to make it this year.
3. White Sox. Made some good off-season moves, but I'm not sold.
4. Royals. I like their new manager, and they could nose out the Twins for 4th.
5. Twins. After losing Santana and Torii Hunter, it seems they are left with a closer and little else.
1. Angels. Acquired Torii Hunter, and being one of my favorite teams I must pick them to finish first.
2. Mariners. Another of my favorite teams.
3. A's. A team in disarray, should be a down year for them.
4. Rangers. Perennially in the basement, why should this year be any different?
3/23/16 update. Looking at the results of the season, the Phillies won the NL East behind a monster year from Ryan Howard (48 HR's and 146 RBI's), and from closer Brad Lidge (48 for 48 in save opportunities). The Mets were a close second (only 3 games out), while my idiosyncratic pick of the Nationals went horribly awry when they finished last with only 59 wins.
In the NL Central, the Cubs did indeed win it, while the Cards slipped to 4th, though with a respectable 86 wins. The Pirates finished last as expected.
In the NL West, the finish was as predicted, except that the Giants and Padres were flip-flopped for 4th and 5th.
In the AL East, the Rays finished a surprising first, when I had them last. The other teams were pretty much as predicted.
The AL Central saw a similar result, with the Tigers finishing last instead of first. Cabrera did his part, but Willis was a complete disaster. Even though Willis was only 25 at the time the Tigers traded for him, he won no games in 2008, and only 6 total for the rest of his career! The Twins were also a surprise, finishing 2nd instead of last.
The Angels completely dominated the AL West, winning 100 games, while the Mariners were woeful at only 61 wins. The other two teams were mediocre, both finishing under .500.
An analysis of the results shows that I got 9 teams exactly right, was 1 off on 6, 2 off on 11, 3 off on 2 (Twins and Nationals), and 4 off on 2 (Rays and Tigers).