Looking back on the 2008 baseball season, who would have thought the Tampa Bay Rays would not only make an appearance in the playoffs, but also compete in the World Series?
With less then 40 days to go until the beginning of the 2009 season, what better time then now to look at five teams you may have written off before they even had a chance to shoot off those opening day fireworks?
New stadium? Check.
New bullpen? Check.
Same core of great hitters? Check, check, and check.
Of course the hitters are going to produce. With Delgado, Beltran, and Wright dropping nearly 100 bombs last year there's no reason not to expect they'll do it again.
Whats different? The best one-two bullpen punch in baseball. With the addition of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, those late-inning late-September games should no longer slip away from the Mets.
Also, look for Freddy Garcia to make a comeback in 2009 in the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
With the White Sox losing Javier Vasquez (200 strikeouts) and the only sure thing in the Indians starting rotation down to Cliff Lee (Fausto's ERA ballooned to nearly 5.50 per game 8-7 record in 22 games), don't be surprised to see the Twins come out on top in the AL Central.
The Twins (with the exception of the Red Sox and New York Money Pits...er, Yankees) might just have the best starting five in the league. And when you add a healthy Joe Crede to the mix, they now have a hitter who can protect Morneau.
Yes, C.C. Sabathia is now a Yankee. And while you Brewer fans laid in bed and wept, Yovani Gallardo knew that all was not lost.
He knew that Braun, Cameron, and Hart would return. By themselves they drove in close to 300 runs last season.
He also knew that Prince Fielder with his 34 homers from last year would report to spring training in the best shape of his career.
And, unlike the rest of us, Gallardo knew that with a one- or two-run lead in the ninth, his Brewers can always count on the all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman, to slam the door shut on the opposing team.
So listen to the future of your pitching staff, Brewer fans. There is life after Sabathia.
And come this October while the Yankees are spending billions of dollars trying to figure out just how to bring Ruth and Mantle back from the dead so they can once again win the East, your Brewers will actually be in the playoffs.
I had to throw a long shot in this, so I might as well make it a very long shot.
Let's look at a couple things. Two big additions in the offseason in Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria. Expect Edgar to add at least 140 hits and drive in 80 to 90 runs.
If the Big Unit and Barry Zito can have a resurgence, they, along with Tim Lincecum, could be a nightmarish triple threat for opposing managers.
Not to mention Brian Wilson is coming off a season where he converted 41 saves in 47 save opportunities. Randy Winn is also coming back from a career year.
The front office was shaken up. A new manager was hired. And right off the bat they made a a great move and brought an icon back where he belongs.
Not only will Ken Griffey Jr. be a force in the lineup (20 homers and 100 RBIs easy), but he'll also be a clubhouse leader.
There's tons of young talent ready to produce at a big league level. Look for Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement to have break out seasons.
Adrian Beltre will add 25 homers and Ichiro will be Ichiro.
On the mound, Felix Hernandez will continue to pitch well (an understatement). Bedard seems to be poised for a comeback. Brandon Morrow is another young player hoping to make an impact. Upper 90s fastball? I'll take it.
And don't sleep on Carlos Silva. He dropped 30 pounds in the offseason.
Not to mention a solid bullpen (Ryan Rowland-Smith) and great defense up the middle in Betancourt and Lopez give the Mariners a much better look than they've had in a while.
Will this team be the '09 version of the 2008 Rays?
We'll see in eight months.