Opening Day is here

When you’re either out of the house or asleep for 45 of the 48 hours in a weekend, it’s hard to find time to write. So in order to post my season predictions before the season starts in earnest, I’ll have to go with the Cliff Notes version. I’ll be out at Shea today, so this is the best I can do right now …

NL East
Braves (wild card)

I’m doing it. I’m not taking the easy way out and putting the Braves at the top and saying it’s theirs until someone comes along and knocks them off. I’m going with my heart as much (if not more than) my mind and saying these Mets have not only the talent and the pieces, but the focus to fulfill the lofty expectations many have put on them. After the top two, I think the consensus is the bottom three will finish in this order unless one team plays way above its head or completely tanks.

NL Central

The Cardinals are in a similar position to the Yankees — they didn’t get any worse, but no one in their division did enough in the off-season to overtake them. I struggled with second place. Sports Illustrated elevated Milwaukee to that spot, but I didn’t consider it myself, so I didn’t want to just rip it off from them. I do agree that they do have the deepest pitching in the division, at least as long as Sidney Ponson is part of St. Louis’ rotation — or until he proves he can be a contributing member of said rotation. The Cubs, as we’ve so often said these past few years, have the talent, but can they keep everyone healthy? It’s been trendy to compare this year’s Pirates to last year’s Brewers, but Pittsburgh is going to need the young pitching to make great strides for that to happen. Cincinnati could finish last in the league in ERA, even with Colorado in the league.

NL West

At this point, Los Angeles appears to have the best pitching in the division, but San Diego is going to come close. The Dodgers, however, have a better offense — assuming J.D. Drew and Nomar Garciaparra can stay in the lineup. But the Padres have issues of their own, with Mike Cameron and Ryan Klesko already disabled and Mike Piazza playing the part of a 36-year-old catcher. I’ll forever be down on the Giants so long as half the roster meets the age requirement to live in a retirement community. Arizona made a great leap last year, but it’s going to take a step or two back. The pitching’s weaker and the lineup is younger. Colorado at least has a beautiful city to call home.

AL East
Blue Jays
Red Sox
Devil Rays

As I mentioned before, no one has done enough yet to overtake New York, unless Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi also picked up a set of pinstriped voodoo dolls. The Yankees’ pitching is too old to take them too far, though. Pitching is why I put Toronto over Boston. I’ll be impressed if the Sox get to October without a rash of injuries. I’m excited for the changes in Tampa Bay, and I think the team is excited too. I think that means something in the end. Though not without its stars, Baltimore is a mess.

AL Central
White Sox

Doesn’t seem too hard to peg this one, but in saying that, I’ve probably jinxed the Twins to a free-fall and elevated the Indians to the top. Or something like that. Chicago retooled and didn’t lose any key components from its World Championship team, so you can’t pick against them. Cleveland has to avoid the fallback that hit surprising young teams like Texas and Kansas City in previous seasons, when they each reverted to their familiar ways in the year after they made a surprise run. Minnesota’s lineup just can’t keep up with Chicago’s or Cleveland’s and Jim Leyland may just make enough of a difference in Detroit to make the Twins pay. I just feel bad for Kansas City. There aren’t enough fountains in the city to wash away the pain and embarrassment.

AL West
Athletics (wild card)

I can’t decide between Los Angeles and Oakland. I’m torn. It’s close. But because the A’s had more turnover in the off-season, I’m reading that as a slight edge for the Angels, who may get off to a better start because of the familiarity factor. Of course, Oakland will go on a 26-2 run in August that will make up any ground that sits between the two teams. Texas needs to find pitching and it didn’t help when San Diego fleeced the Rangers in the Chris Young-for-Adam Eaton (and other pieces) trade. In Seattle, it’s all about whether Felix Hernandez can reach his team-mandated max of 200 innings (spring training included) without getting hurt.

Happy Opening Day.

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