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2008 AL Central Predictions

1. Tigers — Just look at their lineup, OK? I dare you, DARE YOU, to find a better offense in the game. They’re simply stacked. Even if they get two-three injuries, they’ll be good enough to withstand it. And I really think their pitching staff has underachieved; they’re much more talented than what they’ve shown. This offense is going to win games. Lots of ‘em. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … the Cy Young year Jeremy Bonderman is bound to achieve.

2. Indians — They’re really solid all the way around and certainly proved it last year, coming within a win from the World Series. Travis Hafner is due for a bounce-back year and should be able to carry them to the playoffs. Their staff is solid, the lineup is solid, their bullpen is pretty good — there isn’t much not to like about this team. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a left fielder.

3. White Sox — It was like Murphy’s Law for these guys last year — everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Dye, Pierzynski, Thome, and Konerko can’t possibly be worse. Outside of Bobby Jenks, the bullpen would have a tough time being worse. They have holes at third and left, but they should be OK everywhere else. Check that: I cringe at the thought of Nick Swisher patrolling center field all year. They’re due for a turnaround season. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a lifetime contract for Ozzie. He’s too entertaining to ever be fired.

4. Twins — I don’t care if they got back Harmon Killebrew and Dan Gladden — you can’t improve by trading away the best pitcher in the game. That leaves a gaping hole in the rotation that was already weak last year. They have lots of talent on offense, but their middle infield is so weak they can kill rallies just being in the stadium. I still think Delmon Young will be a star so that offense has some good pop. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a hundred million dollar payroll so they could have kept their studs together.

5. Royals — They’re so cute, and they’re trying so hard, you really want them to do well. And actually, they’re not that far off from competing if guys like Teahen, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon develop. I like that they’ve bought some players the past few years like Gil Meche and Jose Guillen, makes them more competitive. They also have the best closer you’ve never heard of — Joakim Soria. Still, they don’t have enough big guns to compete. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … the Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa from ’03.

2008 AL West Predictions

1. Mariners — Any offense that begins with Ichiro at the top is already off to a good start. Richie Sexson will be back to his old self, while Beltre, Ibanez, Johjima, and Vidro will be solid but not spectacular. The Erik Bedard trade puts them over the top; it really sets their rotation up nicely. With everyone bumped down a spot, they match up well starter for starter with any rotation. Their bullpen is solid and anchored by J.J. Putz. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … Adrian Beltre of ’05 — the one they bought.

2. Angels
— I low-balled them last year and I have a preoccupation with tempering my expectations. Hopefully it works again. Truthfully though, I am seriously worried, if not downright pessimistic at the outlook of this year’s team. You simply can’t lose Kelvim Escobar for the year and expect to just move on without him — he’s an All-Star (damn well should have been). You can’t have Lackey on the shelf for well over a month and be able to survive. With one down for a limited amount of time they could survive. But without either of them out for a significant amount of time, they won’t be able to hold off Seattle — Mariners have just improved too much. I love the right side of the infield and think Kendrick and Kotchman will shine this year. I know the Angels have a lot of “depth” problem is, you can only play nine guys at a time. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a new shoulder for Escobar.

3. A’s — The offense is so bad they’d give the Giants a run for their money. Their pitching is pretty solid even without Dan Haren. And you can always trust that Beane knows what he’s doing. He’s reason enough for me to think they’ll finish third. Their bullpen is actually pretty good, and Rich Harden and Joe Blanton could be a great 1-2 punch, especially if Harden maintains his health. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a time machine to fast-forward three years when they’ll actually be good.

4. Rangers — I like Kason Gabbard, but outside of him, I’m not a fan of their pitching. Pitching in that park doesn’t help, but hey, you don’t see Cole Hamels complaining, right? The bullpen’s pretty bad, and there’s too much patchwork in the outfield. They’re well past their days of being a big-hitting team. Their only bat left is Michael Young, and his power is declining. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a do-over on the Chris Young/Adrian Gonzalez trade.

2008 NL East Predictions

1. Mets — Easily the most complete team in the NL, thanks in large part to the addition of Johan Santana, no coincidence. I thought the trade of Milledge yielded better returns than most critics gave them credit for. Reyes, Wright, and Beltran are good enough to carry the team even if Moises is banged up and Delgado isn’t back to old. I think Pedro has enough moxie to contribute, and I love Oliver and El Duque as 4′s and 5′s. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a bonafide ace a new pair of Prada shoes!

2. Braves
— For some reason I see this team and I can’t get away from the fact that I really like it. 3-6 they have a difficult stretch of hitters, and I think everyone in their lineup presents a difficult out. They won’t give away many at-bats at the plate, and they won’t give you many extra outs when they’re in the field. Injuries can plague their pitching staff, but I think they have enough depth to carry them. And did I ever tell you that I love John Smoltz? If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a full season from Chipper Jones.

3. Phillies
— They sure have some monsters on offense, and that park can turn Davids into Goliaths, but I’m still a doubter. Lidge is already laid up, Eaton won’t hold up, and Moyer’s finally going to be done. Their bullpen seems too weak to get it done, so I guess they’ll be banking on outscoring everyone, which is entirely possible. I don’t see them winning the division like last year, no last-week miracles. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a closer.

4. Nationals — They made some shrewd moves in the off-season, yes, shrewd — even by Jim Bowden’s standards. Problem is, you can’t have “I hope he turns it around” players at every single position. You need at least a handful of solid guys you can count on, and Ryan Zimmerman’s about the only proven commodity. They have good intentions, but I still think they’re too weak. And when Odalis Perez is your ace, you’re in big trouble. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a win on opening day to make the fans happy.

5. Marlins — Read what I wrote two sentences ago and replace Odalis Perez with Mark Hendrickson. Enough said about this team. They were headed in the right direction two years ago, but their rotation fell apart when Anibal Sanchez got hurt, and Scott Olsen went crazy. Any rotation counting on innings from Rick Vanden Hurk is in big trouble. Their offense isn’t as solid as it used to be presumably because they lost Miggy. They won’t be too far from the Nats. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a notice of contraction.

2008 NL Central Picks

1. Cubs — I’m not as in love with the offense as I think other people are, but Soriano, D. Lee, and Aramis are enough to keep them going. Their starting pitching is their strong point and quite deep, with Hill and Marquis giving them the edge on most 4s and 5s in the league. The Kerry Wood experiment can work for a few months and then it’ll be time for Marmol to take over. He should be ready. I think this team has holes (notably up the middle: C, 2B, SS, CF), but they’re strong enough to take the division. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a new manager.

2. Brewers
— Their offense is simply badass and is the best in the division. It might even be good enough to make up for the way they kick the ball around the yard on defense. There aren’t many stats to measure how bad they were in the field, but I’ll tell you — they were pretty terrible. Their staff is solid, and I really like the additions they made to the pen with Gagne, Riske, and Torres. And finally, at long last, it will be the year of Rickie Weeks! If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a rover, lord knows they could use the extra defender.

3. Reds — I like what they did this off-season… and it has NOTHING to do with the hiring of Dusty Baker. Their glaring weakness recently has been their pen, and they addressed it by signing Cordero and adding Affeldt. Those two additions give me more confidence in their chances of improving. I’m not wild about Cueto and Volquez in the rotation and figure they’ll be out of it before long. The offense is more than solid, and this will be the year Edwin Encarnacion emerges. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a larger ballpark to boost the confidence of their pitchers.

4. Astros — Their offense is somewhat daunting when you consider the heart of the order; Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are sluggers, while Hunter Pence might be on his way. Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton can pull their weight, and they no longer have three automatic outs 7-9 in Adam Everett, Brad Ausmus, and the pitcher. They have a solid ace in Roy Oswalt, but the dropoff after that 2-5 is bigger than the Grand Canyon. I like their off-season moves, but the pitching is just too weak. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a number two starter.

5. Cardinals
— They probably have the most complete and deepest rotation in the league … if you could count the DL. Unfortunately the stats pitchers rack up in the training room won’t help them. Albert Pujols and Adam Wainright are about the only good things they have going for them. Pity the manager who has to deal with that bullpen mess. I can’t envision this team doing much — they’re weak offensively and they don’t have a good staff. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … Dr. Frank Jobe.

6. Pirates — They have some bright spots, most notably on their pitching staff, but when you have to search as hard as I am to find the positives, it’s not looking good. Their rotation is better than some of the other teams in the division, with Snell and Gorzelanny starring at the top. Their pen could be worse, and Bay, LaRoche, and Nady are decent sticks, but there isn’t enough their. Worst part is, there probably isn’t more than one guy on the team who wants to be there. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … blindfolds. For the fans.

2008 NL West Predictions

1. Diamondbacks — The best got better acquiring a front line starter like Dan Haren. Their bullpen is weaker without Jose Valverde closing games, and overall it should regress from their stellar performance last year. On the other hand, their offense will improve with the young guns performing closer to their expectations. Overall, they have too much good pitching, defense, and an offense that will be improved to be beaten. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a power hitting first baseman.

2. Dodgers — Their offense is much improved just for the simple fact that they have the youngsters up to begin the year. Adding Andruw Jones was a boost, but Juan Pierre is the weak link in left and shouldn’t be taking away ABs from Ethier or Kemp. Furcal will turn things around and the pitching staff is solid enough to keep them over .500. They make too many fundamental mistakes such as poor baserunning and this will cost them a few games. They’ll come up short because outside of Saito, they don’t have a hitter or pitcher that will wow you. You need a few of those to make the playoffs. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a compass.

3. Rockies — It took the September from heaven to make the playoffs. Before that, they were around a .500 team. I give their offense tons of credit and think Corpas is money in the pen, but I have a hard time envisioning Ubaldo, Franklin Morales, and Mark Redman being as lock-down as they were late in the year. They’re still a good team that will win games but won’t replicate last year’s run. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … a picture of the World Series trophy, cuz they’re not sniffing that again.

4. Padres — The appeal with this club is the pitching. But everyone’s a year older (notably Maddux and Hoffman), and everything went right for Peavy last year (probably won’t this year). They still have a good staff but it’s not good enough to carry that horrendous offense the way it did last year. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Khalil Greene, they’re punchless and they’ll struggle to score runs. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … Brian Giles of ’99.

5. Giants
— When Rich Aurilia (de-roided) and Dan Ortmeier are manning the corners, you’re in deep trouble. This offense is bad. Really bad. Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn would be good 6-7 hitters, but they’re not middle/top of the order guys which is where they’ll be. Zito, Lincecum, and Cain are excellent assets, and I like Kevin Correia, but man, this team is just brutal. They’ll have a stranglehold on last place for sure. If I could give them one thing, I’d give em … Greg Anderson’s phone number.

What is Shaq’s Problem?

Honestly, I don’t get this guy. Maybe he’s like Gary Sheffield or something where he always needs an enemy as motivation to stay focused. Because for some reason Shaq can’t be traded to a new team without getting in some parting shots on his old team. That’s why I don’t understand how the dude got off these completely unprovoked words towards his former team:

“I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys. We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I’m actually on a team again.”

Was that really necessary, Shaq? Pat Riley, who is about the last person I’d be defending at this point, actually is justified in calling it sad that Shaq is still attacking the Heat. I would completely agree. Jorge Sedano at 790 The Ticket in Miami says Shaq is the handles breakups more unprofessionally than any other athlete. I might have to agree.

This is the same Shaq whose first words upon receiving the NBA championship trophy with Miami was to rave about Riley, calling him the best coach he’s ever had — a blatant slap in the face of Phil Jackson. It makes you wonder why Shaq would use such a great, beautiful stage to bring down someone from his past rather than just talk about the present. These comments were yet another example of Shaq making unprovoked attacks that only make him look bad. Honestly Shaq, just keep it to yourself, we’re tired of this business already.

Florida vs. Ohio St in the Title Game?

With everyone’s focus being on the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Games coming up, everyone may have lost site of the tournament that really matters. That’s right, well before the Final Four matchups take place, the real title game will have already been played — that of the ever-important NIT. Coming up on Tuesday, both Florida and Ohio St. will be hosting semifinal games of the NIT. These squads have been running through their respective competition throughout the tournament and seem destined to meet for the right to be crowned the 66th best team in the country. No, this isn’t a slight at either program, it’s just a fascinating nugget shared on-air by Todd Wright Wednesday evening.

How crazy would it be for both Florida and Ohio St. to meet in three straight national title games? Just because it’s the NIT doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. They met in both the basketball and football title games recently with Florida winning both games. Could this be the year Ohio State bucks the trend? Could be. I think this also means a few other things. One, it shows how difficult it is for elite programs to rebuild after losing lots of talent. Secondly, it shows that both schools have strong programs with good coaching; even if they couldn’t make the cut for the NCAA tournament, they’re still proving they can win in tournament play. Now all that’s left to be seen is which one doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I’m guessing they both make it.