It's what we've all been waiting for. It's what's going to keep some of us busy for the next seven months.
That's right, it's Major League Baseball. And it means the return of my favorite team: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Last year was a rocky road for the blue crew. After a great start, they ended up sitting on top of the division for most of the season until the older players had a falling out with the younger players.
Consequentially, that caused a clubhouse rift that would result in a fourth place finish in the National League West. Shortly thereafter, Manager Grady Little resigned and GM Ned Colletti brought in former Yankees skipper Joe Torre.
The Dodgers made quite a few offseason deals to try and get them over the hump in 2008.
Andruw Jones was the biggest acquisition. Jones had a bit of an off year for the Braves in 2007, which unfortunately for him happened to be his contract year. The Dodgers were willing to take a chance on Jones for three years in hopes he would return to his former self.
Another big acquisition for the Dodgers is pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who is a big name pitcher in the Japanese market
With all of that said, the 2008 season should be a good one for the Dodgers. They've got a lot of strong arms in the rotation and the bullpen.
Brad Penny, as always, is a question mark. Will he have a typical year, playing well before the All-Star Game and poorly after it? Or will he finally piece it together and be lights out for all of 2008?
Derek Lowe is in his contract year. He has made clear, however, that he will not let cash distract him this season.
Chad Billingsley is starting to emerge as the ace the Dodgers thought he would be. He will be the third starter in the rotation this year.
Kuroda will fill the fourth slot, and he will likely stabilize this rotation. If he works out as well (as the Dodgers expect him to), they've got a good chance to win four out of every five games they play.
The number five spot is the only question mark in the Dodgers rotation this year. Jason Schmidt is still recovering from the surgery he had last June.
So for the first month or two of the season, Esteban Loaiza will fill the fifth spot. Loaiza was off and on last year, sometimes dazzling and other times fizzling. Look for the same sort of results in 2008.
When it comes to relief pitching, the Dodgers should have one of the better bullpens in 2008. All of their relief pitchers from last season are returning.
Takashi Saito is one of the big reasons Dodgers will have the edge over the competition in 2008, as Arizona dealt away closer Jose Valverde in the offseason.
Jonathan Broxton will maintain his set-up role, and will likely be learning from Saito on how to close out games. That way, Broxton can take over once Saito retires.
Joe Beimel is the lefty specialist for this group, and the team seems to have forgiven him for his drunken tirades right before the 2006 playoffs. Scott Proctor is the Dodgers' middle relief guy, but Joe Torre seems to overuse him.
Hong-Chi Kuo was thought to be destined for great things when he started a game against the Mets in September of 2006. He was lights out, and the Mets couldn't figure him out.
Since then, however, a number of injury issues have kept Kuo from being a reliable part of the pitching staff.
The offense, which looks great this year, should be a major force in the league. Jeff Kent decided to come back instead of retiring and, along with Andruw Jones, gives the Dodgers an excellent one-two punch in the heart of the order.
All-Star catcher Russell Martin should have another great year. Many expected a sophomore slump for Martin in 2007, but they couldn't have been more wrong. He was overplayed last year, but he has vowed to take more off days to be ready when October comes around.
James Loney and Matt Kemp are the two new guys and both should blow up into 20-30 home run hitters this season.
Rafael Furcal is in his contract year, and most players will play harder in their contract year to increase their offers for new contracts in the offseason. So Furcal should ignite this offense along with Juan Pierre, who has moved to left field for Jones.
The third base position has been a huge question mark since the end of the 2004 season when Adrian Beltre departed for Seattle.
Nomar Garciaparra or Andy Laroche was expected to play there this season, but both suffered serious injuries in Spring Training, which leaves Laroche out for two months and Nomar day-to-day.
As of now, the opening day starter at third base looks to be Tony Abreu. Who? Here's to hoping Garciaparra can play sooner rather than later.
Finally, we've made our way to the bench. The bench looks to be decent this season. It features a lot of rookies and not many proven Major Leaguers.
Highlighting the bench will be Delwyn Young, an outfielder with some serious power. Expect him to have the most pinch hits for the team this year.
Jason Repko is the other bench outfielder and he hopes to have a year in which he plays the entire season. He's been plagued with injuries for most of his Major League career.
Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu are the backup infielders. Abreu looks to get some Major League experience at third base with Nomar and Laroche succumbing to injuries.
Jeff Kent also is day-to-day after suffering from hamstring injuries at the beginning of March. He is still not returning to action.
As as far as opening day goes, it appears Chin-Lung Hu will start at second base. Gary Bennett is the backup catcher, and should see more playing time than any other backup catcher in recent Dodger history.
That rounds out the expectations of each active player on the roster this season. As you can see, they should be a force in the National League West, threatening to go deep in the playoffs. Their rotation is deeper than most in the National League.
I predict that they will finish the season with a record of 97-65, beating the Cubs in the divisional series in four games and taking out the Mets in six games in the Championship series. Expect the Dodgers to play in the World Series this year.
Their opponent? The Detroit Tigers. This one can go either way and I predict that it will take seven games to decide our new World Champion.
In the end, I think it will be the Tigers who win this season. They've gotten too good this offseason and their team is a little deeper than the Dodgers' is.
But, with all of that said, losing in seven games in the World Series would be nothing to scoff at.
Look out for a big year in L.A.