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2010 MLB Predictions

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Fans, we've just about made it. The Red Sox and Yankees kick-off the 2010 Major League Baseball season in just one day, and I personally cannot wait. My own team, the Blue Jays, might be headed for a year of agony, but that doesn't stop me from feeling like this is going to be an exciting year around baseball. Many division races seem tighter than they have in years, with there really only being one division I can point to with a clear favorite.

To all baseball fans out there, good luck to your teams in 2010, and most of all, enjoy the season! With that in mind, here are my predictions for the division winners, wild-card teams, and playoff results for the upcoming year - however wrong they are certain to be.

National League East - Philadelphia Phillies: When I mentioned that only division had an obvious favorite, this is the one I was talking about. The Phillies have only improved heading into 2010, with a full-season of Roy Halladay primed to be far more valuable than a third of a year from Cliff Lee. They also upgraded at third-base with Placido Polanco, are expecting massive things out of Cole Hamels, and the bullpen should be more stable as long as Brad Lidge does not repeat his season from hell. About the only offensive knock you can place on this team is that Raul Ibanez may regress a bit from his 2009 performance, but even with that, this team looks head-and-shoulders above the rest of the NL East. The Braves will pose a threat, but ultimately do not seem ready to overtake the Phillies.

National League Central - St. Louis Cardinals: The NL Central may be the weakest division in baseball, and that means that a bunch of teams in this division can rise to the top if things go their way. From the forefront though, the team with the best chances for things to go their way is the one with the best stars and the best core, and that is the Cardinals. With Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter and Wainright, the main thing the Cardinals need to hope for is good health. The Cubs, Brewers, and Reds all have talented teams (as I discussed a few weeks back, the Reds are one team that could surprise a lot in 2010), but ultimately, it will take more things going right for any of them to win the division than it will for the Cardinals.

The rest of my predictions for the NL, AL, Wild Card teams and playoffs are after the jump...

National League West - Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are one of those rare teams right now that have a bunch of established, star-level big league talent, with a bunch of youngsters ready to help this team become dominant. There is always a chance that things do not come together as planned this year, but with the Dodgers having a poor off-season, this seems to be a shot for the Rockies to emerge. A look around the Rockies depth chart shows either established above-average players or guys with shots at being all-stars at nearly every position. They should be anchored by MVP and Cy Young candidates Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jiminez, and improving seasons from Ian Stewart, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler would make this team a force in 2010, and for many years to come.

National League Wild Card - Atlanta Braves: In the last year of Bobby Cox as manager in Atlanta, the Braves may be on the verge of taking a Disney-like run to the playoffs. They will need strong performance from young players, as Tommy Hanson will need to perform like an ace, Jair Jurrjens will try to battle his control problems to match his 2010 results, and Jason Heyward will need to hit the ground running. If they can though, with a strong offensive team around the diamond, with Troy Glaus, Yunel Escobar, Chipper Jones and Nate McLouth, the Braves should be in a strong position. The Dodgers, Reds, Brewers and Cubs will all factor in here, but the overall pitching depth of the Braves puts them a slight-bit ahead of the bunch in my books.

American League East - Tampa Bay Rays: I had switched this around in my head for days leading up to writing down my predictions, but in the end. I had to go with the Rays here. Like always, it will take more things going right for the Rays then it will for the Red Sox or Yankees to win out in the division, but I just think the potential of this Rays team, in so many areas, makes them look incredibly strong. Their offense will need a lot of things to work in their favor, but if they were to, I think the Rays may have the best offense in the division. Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett will need to repeat their 2009 seasons, BJ Upton will need to return to form, and they will need a strong performance from one of their catchers (Navarro or Shoppach), but if they were, you really see a situation where more top-level players surround their field than even the Yankees. The pitching too, is just overflowing with potential aces. Even if a few of the offensive performers do not quite match their potential, the team has a loaded farm system at the higher levels, and guys like Sean Rodriguez, Desmond Jennings and Reig Brignac can play enough positions that they should be able to fill needs well. 

When most people talk about the Yankees-Red Sox debate at the top of the AL East, Red Sox optimists point to the quality of their expected defense. The truth is, in my books, that the Rays defense looks just about as strong. This team is loaded with athletically gifted performers, most of which are known for at least solid defense. On top of everything, the Rays may be in a position to have their hands forced this year. With Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena potentially off the books after the year, this seems to be the year the Rays can take chances. They can go out and acquire a top player at the trade deadline, knowing full-well that they can cut costs next year if need be. It seems almost impossible to bet against the Red Sox and Yankees after the off-seasons they had, but the best I can say is that this AL East race, with three unbelievably talented teams, may be one of the best division races in recent memory.

American League Central - Minnesota Twins: Like the National League Central, this is just not a great division, and it sets the bar for winning lower than with some of the other teams discussed. This race should come down to the Twins and White Sox, and the differences between the teams make for interesting comparison. The Twins look like a team with average pitching, hoping to get a boost from Francisco Liriano, but could have a great, great offense. If JJ Hardy lives up to his standards of two seasons ago, the Twins will have one of the best one through seven lineups of any team outside of the AL East. With stars in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span, plus solid contributors to play hit before and after them in Orlando Hudson, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, the addition of Hardy to this team works out to make a top-level offense. The White Sox come with more question marks. They have an offense that could be great, if young players develop as expected and Alex Rios returns to form, and a pitching rotation that falls along the same lines if Jake Peavy is the anchor they hope for. In my books though, the question marks that make up the White Sox just make it too hard to bet the solid-looking Twins.

American League West - Seattle Mariners: Until very recently, I would have gone with the Mariners and felt very confident about it, but that feeling is a bit weary now with Cliff Lee likely to miss potentially the first month of the season, and Erik Bedard a while away from playing. At the end of the day though, the Mariners still appeared to be the class of this division. The Angels have taken big hits, losing Chone Figgins, Vladmir Guerrero and John Lackey, and they will essentially need luck to fill those voids. While Hideki Matsui makes a solid replacement for Guerrero, if not a slight improvement, Brandon Wood will really need to live up to much of his potential to provide what Figgins did, while Joel Pineiro is unlikely to repeat his 2009 success. The Angels still look solid, but just are filled with way too many question marks to seem like a favorite in this division. The Rangers will be in the hunt too, but just seem like a case of it being a bit too early. With a very good young team and loaded farm system, they very-well may be the favorites in 2011, and many after that, but betting on them in 2010 just takes too many things coming together and too many young stars hitting the ground running. Plus, their offensive anchors right now, Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, have a lot of trouble staying healthy.

The Mariners on the other hand have the pieces there to win in 2010. Ichiro and Chone Figgins at the top of the order is going to be a nightmare for pitchers, and even guys like Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman, while not all-stars, should provide enough offense to cash in runs waiting around for them. This team will hit well - not great, but well. Pitching-wise, Felix Hernandez is one of the favorites to walk away with the AL Cy Young, and once Cliff Lee returns, the top of this rotation should be dominant. Factor in Erik Bedard down the stretch run, and risky pitchers in Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith being helped out by the Mariners incredible defense, and I think the Mariners have enough to win out in their division.

American League Wild Card - Boston Red Sox: When I started writing this post, the name in bold said New York Yankees, but as I started to write down my reasoning, I realized it just was not there. I think the Red Sox will be a bit better than the Yankees this year. Pitching-wise, these are both terrific teams, but I think the Red Sox have a rare mix of both the upside and stability over the Yankees. Jon Lester is another arm being looked at as ready to have a Cy Young-type year, and Josh Beckett and John Lackey both provide arms most teams would love to have as their ace. Simply, I think Lester should have a year on-par with what CC Sabathia provides, while I think Lackey and Beckett will be a much better two-three punch than Burnett and Pettitte (or Burnett and Vazquez). When looking at the youngsters in both rotations, Clay Buchholz has just had more success as a starter than Phil Hughes, which makes him a logical favorite when pitting them against eachother. The rotation spot I have not accounted for, whether it winds up being Daisuke or Tim Wakefield against Pettitte or Vazquez in a battle of number four starters, should fall on the Yankee side, but the rotation battle on the whole falls in the Red Sox favor.

Defensively, both teams will be good, but after the focus the Red Sox placed on it this off-season, it is hard to argue that the Red Sox look like they will catch the ball better in 2010. On the offensive side, the Yankees look like the favorites, as they do have the best offense in baseball, but I the Red Sox will hit much better than many fans think they will, and I think they will hit close enough to the Yankees to let their pitching and defense skills keep them a bit ahead of the beast behind them. This entire division will be a ridiculously close race, as you would expect if three teams jump to over 90 wins, but ultimately, as of today, I see it playing out with the result looking like the Rays-Red Sox-Yankees.

World Series - Philadelphia Phillies over Seattle Mariners: Once you get to playoff predictions, you have to note that it incorporates predictions you have already made, about team health and who rises to the occasion in 2010. That means in my world, Cole Hamels has met his expectations that scouts have set for him throughout the spring.

Anyone that watched the Yankees run away with the World Series last year saw just how valuable ace-level pitching is when winning a short series, with so many off-days that you can really on your top three starters to such a great extent. This year though, with the teams I have picked to make the playoffs, I think pitching will be the funnel for who has a good chance, while offense is the ultimate decision maker. In the AL, I think the Mariners have the top front of a rotation, and if they get to the playoffs, that means King Felix and Cliff Lee have lived up to their hype. As long as the offense hits enough, I think those two pitchers are better than any two the other playoff  teams will throw at them, and that makes the Mariners favorites in the AL. The NL is a bit more balanced, as three teams will have two top-level pitchers, if enough things go right that they find themselves in the playoffs. That should be the Phillies (Hallday-Hamels), Cardinals (Carpenter-Wainright) and the Braves (Hanson-Jurrjens). In that case, it has to come down to offense, where the Phillies are far above the rest of the pack, and should launch themselves into the World Series.

After all the drama of possibly seeing Halladay vs. Lee in the World Series, after both being involved in the same blockbuster trade this off-season, I think the Phillies are the favorites again for the same reasons as above. They have top-two starters that should provide great pitching duels, in which neither team is the favorite, but after that, the Phillies offense should give them the boost to pull away.

All said, if Hamels has reached his potential, Halladay dominates the NL like many expect he will, the bottom of the rotation provides enough stability, and the offense continues to be the class of the National League and competitive enough to battle with the best of the AL, the Phillies look to me like the favorites to walk away champions in 2010.