Sports Column

If you did not wake up around 6 a.m. yesterday morning, which I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through, you missed the first official game of the season between the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. The baseball season has begun, and I can not wait for the slate of Opening Day games Monday. Let’s forget about the ongoing investigation of steroids in baseball for awhile and enjoy what has always been known as America’s Favorite Pastime. As usual, there are plenty of storylines surrounding the 2008 season.

In the National League East, the New York Mets might have added the pitching that could win them the division if the team can stay healthy and not choke in September. Two-time CY Young winner Johan Santana comes from Minnesota as the elite starting pitcher in the game and will give the Mets some well-needed balance to go with their offense. Look for David Wright to put up big numbers again and challenge for MVP.

The road will not be easy for my Mets, as the Phillies and Braves should be hanging with them all the way through September. Philadelphia’s offense is very potent with Howard, Utley and Rollins, but can Cole Hamels and Brett Myers carry the rotation into the playoffs? I’m not sold on Philadelphia’s pitching, and I think the Braves are another year away from being the powerhouse they were throughout the 90’s and into this decade. I know it might sound biased, but I think the Mets will win the NL East.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a young team that started to come together last year and will only get better in 2008. Led by offensive powerhouse Prince Fielder and a cast of young-yet-raw starters, the Brew Crew packs a punch that the Cubs will have trouble dealing with in the NL Central. These two teams are the frontrunners in the Central, and I doubt we will see the Astros or Cardinals contend for the division.

The best division in the National League, in my honest opinion, has to be the Wild West. With Joe Torre at the helm in Los Angeles and the additions of Andruw Jones and Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers are a legitimate playoff contender. I think the Dodgers have a better all-around squad than the Padres and Rockies, but they will not surpass the mighty Arizona Diamondbacks, who sport the best pitching duo in baseball in Brandon Webb and Danny Haren. The Dodgers finally have a manager who does not fold like a lawn chair in September and is my pick to win the Wild Card.

Now to the intrigue of the American League, where the Red Sox, Tigers and Angels look like the favorites to win their divisions. Boston has all the pieces to put together a championship repeat with its surplus of starting pitching and offense, but watch out for Detroit. The Tigers have the best offense in baseball with Sheffield, Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera hitting 3-5 in a monster lineup to go along with potential CY Young-winner Justin Verlander (I’m sticking to it).

The AL Wild Card could go to any of five or six talented teams. The Evil Empire has a very young pitching staff which will only get better over time, but I don’t think that time is now. Watch for the Blue Jays to beat out the Yankees in the Al East standings and have a better shot at the final playoff spot. Toronto is a serious Wild Card contender with four strong starters barring injuries (see Roy Halladay) and the Cleveland Indians are once again a strong squad with depth, but my surprise pick to win the Wild Card is the Seattle Mariners. The addition of top-tier starting pitcher Erik Bedard transforms them into a serious threat in the AL, and they will have no trouble closing the show with J.J. Putz on the mound in the ninth inning. It might be a stretch, but I like Seattle.

Bold Predictions: Mets, Brewers, D-Backs and Dodgers (wild card) in the NL; Red Sox, Tigers, Angels and Mariners (wild card) in the AL

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