30. Washington Nationals: Outfielder Elijah Dukes is primed for a breakout, possibly even 25 home runs, but it won't be near enough for the Nats. They have no pitching depth, as John Lannan, who was 9-15 in 2008, will be the Opening Day starter. In addition to that, the Nats have problems getting the big hit. Outside of Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and potentially Dukes, the Nats get nearly no offensive production. I expect this team to win anywhere from 65 to 75 games.
29. Pittsburgh Pirates: The city of Pittsburgh has a way of keeping it even. The Steelers win the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Panthers advance a long way in the NCAA Tournament, and then there's the Pirates. The Pirates haven't had a winning season in ages, and I expect the losing era to resume this year. The Pirates have some pitching talent, with Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Karstens, but it's not nearly enough.
28. San Diego Padres: The Padres are weak offensively. Besides Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff, the Friars don't get much consistency offensively. Chris Young and Jake Peavy are good arms in the rotation, but they won't have enough support on the other side. In addition to that, Pads legend Trevor Hoffman is now a Milwaukee Brewer and I expect this Padres team to win anywhere from 67 to 70 games.
27. Texas Rangers: The lineup for the Texas Rangers is flat out scary. Even with the departure of Milton Bradley, it can still slug with the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rangers lineup consists of Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and other proven offensive players. The Rangers also have the No. 1 farm system in baseball. However, they have a horrible rotation, probably the worst in the majors. Because they play in a weak division, I think they can win 80 games if lucky.
26. Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers were a team that suffered from the bidding wars in baseball. They lost CC Sabathia to the Yankees, who signed a seven year, $161M deal with the Bombers and Ben Sheets left the Brew Crew and is currently a free agent. The Brewers will have to depend on Yovani Gallardo, who will enter his first full season in the majors as the Brewers ace. I expect big things out of Gallardo, but his support in the rotation is poor.
25. Toronto Blue Jays: Don't you sometimes feel horrible for Roy Halladay? The ace won 20 games last year, and could've won many more with any other team. The Jays had a putrid lineup last year and they will need to come up with more production next year, as AJ Burnett also left to sign with the Yankees; a five year, $82M deal. That means the Jays will have to rely on inexperienced starters besides Halladay. One word: Bad.
24. Colorado Rockies: Most would put this team lower. However, it's very encouraging that Jeff Francis, Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki are back and healthy. We saw what they can do when healthy. I'm putting the team low because they haven't yet proved anything, as the season hasn't officially started, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Rockies won a weak NL West division.
23. Seattle Mariners: If the 3, 4 and 5 starters can pitch 5-6 innings on a consistent basis, the Mariners may be the new Tampa Bay Rays. In short: I don't see it. The Mariners will be relying on inexperienced guys, like Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow. Also, the Mariners farm system isn't so bright (24th in MLB), so it's unlikely there will be a savior. I expect improvement, but not vast. The offense is a worry, as Raul Ibanez departed.
22. Baltimore Orioles: Last year, the Baltimore Orioles finished 68-93, last in the American League East. The O's improved the nucleus of their time over the offseason, adding Cesar Izturis, Koji Uehara, Ty Wigginton, Felix Pie, Rich Hill and Ryan Freel, along with others. Like the Mariners, I expect the O's to improve, but not in a vast way. I expect the M's to win anywhere from 73 to 78 games and I expect the O's to fare the same.
21. Houston Astros: With Pudge Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman, this lineup definitely has the potential to beat some teams up. However, it's the pitching that worries me. Roy Oswalt is almost a given to win 15 games, and he likely will. However, the Astros don't have much pitching depth besides the vet. Wandy Rodriguez could return to form, but there's nothing else besides Roy and Way-Rod.
20. San Francisco Giants: The Orioles, Reds and Giants are two teams that I think will be great in three to five years. The Giants, like the O's, have a tremendous farm system. They already have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain on the club and have Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. I think Lincecum, Posey, Bumgarner and Alderson are the future of this club, which is why they will be a division winner soon - but not in 2009.
19. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds are another team I think will be at the top of the NL Central soon. They have a great pitcher when healthy in Aaron Harang and two young, exciting pitchers to support in Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. The Reds have some great young offensive talent, with Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion. Their great farm system and good nucleus of players on the club now will carry them. But, like the Giants and O's - not now.
18. Florida Marlins: Personally, I believe Fredi Gonzalez is one of the best managers in Major League Baseball. He's carried the Marlins, a rebuilt team of youngsters, to prominence. Last year, they even won 84 ballgames. Being that they are in an NL East that features the World Champion Phillies and always dangerous Mets and Braves, I don't expect the Marlins to contend. But it'd be disappointing if they didn't break the .500 mark.
17. Kansas City Royals: Of all the candidates to become this year's Rays, the one team that everyone ignores is the Kansas City Royals. Last year, they improved to 75-87, encouraging if you've seen the recent firepower of Royals baseball. I think they have an encouraging nucleus, with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler leading the offense and Brian Bannister and Zach Greinke topping the rotation. I think they can contend in the AL Central, but I'm not about to count on it.
16. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are talented enough to be 16th on this list. They have a good ace in Justin Verlander and a sleeper in the middle of the rotation in Armando Galarraga. The Tigers improved their putrid bullpen by bringing in former Diamondbacks closer Brandon Lyon. As far as the offense goes, don't get me started. They have Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, etc. They can win the division with ease, but it's all a matter of health.
15. Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have a proven rotation, with Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. All three are very consistent starters when they are on, which they were most of last season. The only concerns for the club is the backend of the rotation, which consists of fading stars in Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon. The Sox will need to find a younger duo or get consistency from Contreras and Colon. We all know they can hit.
14. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals lost veteran starting pitcher Braden Looper to free agency, who signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the team still retains its nucleus, with Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus, Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter. I think if Carpenter can stay healthy, they can win a lot of games, possibly a Wild Card berth. When Carpenter is healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the best - if not the best - National League pitcher.
13. Cleveland Indians: Last year, the Indians were disappointing. They finished just 81-81 a year after the great 2007 season. They lost CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona was inconsistent all year long, as Cliff Lee stepped it up in the staff, winning 22 games. If the Indians are healthy, they can be the favorites for an AL Central that contains five teams who could all be above .500 this season. I think the Indians will finish .500 and perhaps win 90 games, but I think with the tough AL Central they play in and the tough AL they also play in, it's going to be tough for them to make the playoffs.
12. Minnesota Twins: This rotation has the most potential of any, and it has executed thus far in their careers. I think Francisco Liriano has a shot at winning Cy Young, now that he's healthy and looked like his 2007 self in Spring Training. They have a great bullpen, manned by closer Joe Nathan, one of the best in Major League Baseball. The Twins have never had huge home run totals, but they do have timely hitting, led by catcher Joe Mauer and designated hitter Jason Kubel.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks: As if their pitching staff needed to improve even more, the Diamondbacks signed free agent starting pitcher Jon Garland over the offseason. While Garland isn't the best pitcher in the majors, he is dependable and rarely - if ever - misses time due to injury. While the Diamondbacks don't have a legit .300 hitter, they have some good hitters, like Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, Eric Byrnes and Justin Upton.
10. Los Angeles Angels: The Angels were stung over the offseason by the losses of Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. However, the Angels did add another power hitter and closer, with Bobby Abreu and Brian Fuentes. Abreu and Fuentes aren't quite Tex and K-Rod, but are still competent big league players, and will be fine stopgaps until the Halos farm system takes over. If the Halos get solid contributions from them and get the rotation production, there's no doubt they can win the AL West.
9. Oakland Athletics: Some may think I am crazy for having the Athletics ahead of the Angels. Justin Duchscherer is hurt. However, the A's have a solid nucleus of pitching on the club, with Dallas Braden, Sean Gallagher, Dana Eveland, etc. However, I believe the Athletics will finally have a consistent offense, led by the newly acquired Matt Holliday. They also now have Jason Giambi, who will DH and backup Daric Barton at first. Barton is primed for a breakout and improved as the year progressed. The A's also have a lights out closer, Brad Ziegler. With the weak competition in the AL West, I think the A's win it.
8. Atlanta Braves: The Atlanta Braves revamped rotation has fans hoping. Last year, they had Jair Jurrjens leading the staff, while this year, they have vets Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez manning it. Jair Jurrjens, a very successful youngster last year, is now in the back end of the rotation. The Braves get plenty of offensive production, mostly from Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. If Jeff Francoeur can return to 2006 and 2007 form, the Braves can win the NL East.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers: This is a team that would be 15th if Manny hadn't resigned that two year extension. However, he has, and the team is much improved. They were hit by the loss of Derek Lowe, but a full year for Manny in a Dodger uniform will definitely benefit these starting pitchers. Chad Billingsley is, of course, terrific. If Clayton Kershaw can live up to his potential, watch out. And Hiroki Kuroda showed tremendous poise last season. Young reliever James McDonald is a guy who can develop into one of the better set up men in baseball. Besides Manny, this team doesn't get much offensive production. But on most teams, Manny is enough,
6. New York Mets: Last year, the New York Mets, yet again - choked. Johan Santana powered them into contention, but, ultimately, their bullpen let them down. However, the Mets revamped their bullpen over the offseason, adding closer Francisco Rodriguez and set up man J.J. Putz. The Mets obviously have offense. They have a great shortstop-third base duo with Jose Reyes and David Wright. Carlos Delgado proved last season he still has something left in the tank. Whether he can repeat in 2009 remains to be seen. Carlos Beltran is a great center fielder. In the NL East, it's going to be tough for the Mets. I think they will win the Wild Card when it's all said and done, trailing only the Phils in the division because of the Phils lineup that is more consistent up-and-down.
5. Chicago Cubs: The Chicago Cubs were a very disappointing team last season. After finishing the regular season with a 97-64 record, they cruised into the playoffs, meeting a hot Los Angeles Dodgers team. The Cubs lost patheticly so in the postseason and the curse remained. The Cubs have a top of the line rotation, led by Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden. Their bullpen is fantastic as well, with Carlos Marmol and the newly acquired Kevin Gregg. The Cubs also have great production, with Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto and Derrek Lee. I think they will again win the Central, now they just have to show up in the playoffs.
4. Philadelphia Phillies: The World Champion Phillies didn't have to do much to improve their club a lot. Two words: Raul Ibanez. While Phillies fans love Pat Burrell, the great slugger who came through for them in the playoffs, Ibanez is a more productive hitter and despite JC Romero's 50 game suspension, the Phillies' bullpen is as deep as anybody's, with Brad Lidge, who was a perfect 41-for-41 in saves and Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre setting up games. I'm not going to say I expect the Phillies to win another World Championship, but I do expect them to win the NL East depsite the Mets improved bullpen.
3. Boston Red Sox: The Boston Red Sox are obviously one of the better teams in baseball. They have a tremendous rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, a tremendous bullpen, and of course, the powerful lineup. The Sox won't have Manny entering the season, which will look strange, but the Sox will get better fielding, attitude and great production from Jason Bay. He will benefit tremendously from a full year with Boston. If Brad Penny can rebound next year with the Sox after a putrid year with the Dodgers, that would be huge for Boston. I don't expect them to win the division or the Wild Card, as the Yankees and Rays play in their division.
2. Tampa Bay Rays: The American League Champion Rays could be primed for an offensive explosion. Evan Longoria is entering his first full season in the majors, which should be a huge one and BJ Upton is one of the more talented outfielders in baseball. The Rays will take the Longoria approach with David Price, who will start the season in Triple A. The Rays helped their offense by adding Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce, who both provide lots of power in the outfield. Burrell was a consistent home run hitter and with the inconsistency the Rays had at DH, he'll definitely help.
1. New York Yankees: Going into just about every year, the Yankees are the most talented team in baseball. If I'm a Yankee fan, I'd be upset if they don't win the World Series. They added CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett to add pitching and production in the middle of the lineup. The Yanks also got Nick Swisher, who can provide tons of power off the bench. I expect the Yankees to win the World Series with the talent they have. Along with CC and AJ opening the rotation, they have Joba Chamberlain entering his first full season and Chien Ming Wang back and healthy. Barring major injuries, I expect the Yankees to return to prominence.
Isaac Barrow is a senior writer for Bleacher Report, a writer for Fantasy Football Maniaxs, an editor/columnist for Sports Guys and occasionally broadcasts radio shows for NowLive, Blog Talk Radio and Lexy. You can find Isaac's podcasts with fellow Baltimore sports writer Lawrence Barreca here.
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