The division picks were Boston, Minnesota and Oakland, with New York coming in as the wild-card. I think the Twins run a step behind this group when it comes to playoff competition. They need one more big-time arm in the rotation and that's tough to get on a small-market payroll. Oakland is also small-market, but while they are less balanced than Minnesota overall, they have extremely good starting pitching, and if those arms got hot, could make a deep run into October. If we sit here right now, I'd give the A's an edge over the Yanks in a potential Division Series matchup. However, even if the playoffs shape up exactly like this, it's not the rosters of Opening Day that will meet in October. New York is certain to make improvements at the trade deadline, especially having money to burn in the aftermath of Cliff Lee's turning them down. As such, Fox Sports gets its dream and the Red Sox and Yankees meet for the American League pennant for the first time since their epic 2003-04 battles. Boston then brings it home and moves on t the World Series.
MVP is a tough call. My default vote in this league always goes to Joe Mauer. Anyone that can give you that kind of offense at the catching position has huge value. But he won't have a monster year everywhere, and if the season plays out as predicted it probably means Kevin Youkilis had a great year and I think he picks up the award. For the Cy Young, I go with C.C. Sabathia. The big lefthander really should be in the discussion as an MVP candidate. If we assume the Yankees are going to hit, they're going to close games in the eighth and ninth inning and are going to have problems at the back-end of the rotation, that means a big year from the big guy is essential to putting them in the playoffs. If it plays out this way and they make it, that's a good definition of an MVP. But given the silly bias against voting for pitchers, Sabathia would have to really stand out.
Philadelphia, Milwaukee and San Francisco are the division picks, and Colorado nips Atlanta at the wire to take the wild-card. The Phils and Giants both stand a cut above the rest of the National League and they look very even. But I'm going against the chalk here and leaning San Francisco to return to the World Series. Both teams are a little long in the tooth in the everyday lineup, but Frisco has younger arms, a deeper bullpen and at least two young hitters in Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. They'll be fresher in October and win another pennant. If Milwaukee gets in, they could be an X-factor in a short series. When you have a 1-2 starting punch like Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke you can match up on the mound and hitters like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee are the types who can win a series for you.
Albert Pujols is always the man to beat for the MVP award. Last year Cincinnati's Joey Votto did just that, as his team beat out the Cards and Votto took him the honor. I think Albert will be a little distracted by the contract talk and might have to settle for a year where he struggles to a .390 OBP and a .575 slugging, as opposed to his usual numbers in excess of .400 and .600. My choice for the award is Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitizki, as long as he stays healthy. Great bat, great glove, great range and a park that will drive up his numbers. The Cy Young is an open race and you can almost draw a name out of a hat in Philly and San Francisco and come up with a contender. But I'm going to take a flyer on Chicago's Matt Garza. I think he's going to find ripping through NL Central lineups a piece of cake after dealing with the AL East these past three seasons in Tampa Bay. He gets to 20 wins, the Phils and Giants' starters split the votes on the East and West Coast and Garza wins a closely contested race.
The final call for the World Series? Boston's the team to beat and while I am a Red Sox fan (please note that this was the case eight years prior to 2004, so don't lump me in with bandwagon jumpers), I think even an objective reading of the situation merits making the Sox the favorite to win the whole thing.
All of these topics and more are discussed in my podcast over at Prime Sports Network. I'll be appearing there each Wednesday at 4 PM ET throughout the season to talk baseball and we yesterday Greg DePalma and I went over preseason predictions. Scroll down the page to find the show under Dan Flaherty. Enjoy and look forward to seeing everybody here at RealClearSports and at Prime Sports Network throughout the season.
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on March Madness and baseball's spring training.