After five long months, the highly anticipated 2009 Major League Baseball season has arrived. Last season, we saw the Tampa Bay Rays go from being worst in the league to World Series runner-ups, the re-emergence of Josh Hamilton and the Philadelphia Phillies win the City of Brotherly Love’s first championship since 1983. With several marquis division races to watch, the upcoming season looks like another classic.
The reigning American League Champion Rays have gained the necessary experience and confidence to make another run for the AL East title. However, the Red Sox are well-prepared to give the Rays a steep challenge. Veteran leadership and young pitching will carry Boston through the summer and into October.
Then there are the New York Yankees, who signed three of the top four free agents on the market, spending an astronomical amount of money in the process. Despite this investment, there is one huge $275 million question mark: Alex Rodriguez. The slugger-turned-cheater recently underwent hip surgery, and his return is at least a month away. When Rodriguez finally steps on the diamond, he and his teammates will be inundated with distracting questions regarding his steroid use. It seems the Red Sox will slightly edge out the wild card-bound Rays. Sorry, Yankees fans, but you can’t buy happiness.
In the AL Central there are four teams with a legitimate shot to capture the division title. The reigning champions, the Chicago White Sox, will rely on a mixture of young and veteran talent. Nonetheless, the Cleveland Indians are the team to watch. Despite being a relatively young team, the Indians have finally assembled the right group of players to reach the top spot. As for the Minnesota Twins, it’s pretty safe to say that they will be in contention even with a bunch of no-name pitchers. My pick, however, is the Indians.
Over in the National League East, the recently dubbed “choke artist” New York Mets are finally ready to return to the top of the NL. They seem to have figured out what it takes to win games with a revamped bullpen and some young proven talent. Johan Santana will lead a question-filled starting staff in the highly contested NL East. The Phillies and Atlanta Braves must watch out, because this is the Mets’ year. Even with tough division foes, the Phillies will return to the postseason for the third straight campaign by capturing the NL wild card.
This off-season, we experienced yet another instance of “Manny being Manny.” The slugger held out for more than four months before he decided to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even in his late thirties, Ramirez will abuse NL pitching. With a strong supporting cast including potent bats, speed and solid pitching, the Dodgers shouldn’t have trouble capturing the division title.
So to recap: Red Sox, Indians, Angels out of the AL West, and Rays. Out of the NL: Mets, Cubs from the Central, Dodgers and Phillies. Brace yourselves, fans, because we are in for a real treat this season.
Jim Mancari is a Mets fan. That explains why he didn’t pick the Phillies. E-mail him at email@example.com.