It is that time of year again. The time when every Major League baseball team believes they have a shot at winning the division and dreams of playing baseball in October. Well, except maybe the Pirates. So, from now until opening day, I will take you through my predictions for each division. Obviously, these aren’t the most in-depth, groundbreaking predictions ever made; I am not Peter Gammons. They are however, a little preview on how this baseball season could play out. Feel free to laugh at me or agree with me, either way is fine.

Chicago Cubs (89-73) – Just for the record, I am staying away from writing about all things that involve 100 years, anniversaries, curses, goats, fate, destiny and all the other hoopla. With that being said, I believe the Cubs are better than last year, but – there are some questions marks. First things first, someone smack Lou upside the head for his refusal to take Soriano out of the leadoff spot. He says that they will “Just keep talking about this and having a little fun with it.” Stop having fun with it and bat him down in the order, especially if his leg is only 75 percent or so.

Then we have the obvious, bullpen by committee. Some people hate the idea, some people love the idea, but at least Lou has had success shuffling closers in the past. Wood needs to stay healthy (I am going to Google that and see how many times that sentence has been written) but I think he will be effective as a set up man. Howry seems to be the front runner right now. We will also have to keep an eye out for Geovany Soto. While I am glad we went with the youth route, thinking Soto is going to catch 4 days out of 5 (130 games) and not suffer some sort of fatigue is ridiculous. Oh, and who is going to play center field?

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) – Chicago fans say the Cubs won the division last year; Milwaukee fans say the Brewers choked it away. With names like Fielder, Hardy and Braun, the Brewers will be fun to watch. The starting rotation is OK, but raises many red flags, mainly regarding Ben Sheets’ health and Jeff Suppan’s effectiveness. As far as their bullpen is concerned, I do not think Gagne will return to stud closer form, and that is going to cause some problems. Prince will continue to make Sports Center highlights for both his home runs and his sliding ability. All I can say is here we go again.

Cincinnati Reds (83-79) – This team is very hard for me to predict because they are going to have good pitching, plenty of offense but horrible defense. The starting rotation features Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo which is scary, if they both peak at the same time. Enter Dusty Baker. I feel like I am in a flashback with a solid pitching staff and Baker at the helm. The Red pitchers better insure their arms now because under Baker’s careful eye, they will pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch. You see where I am going there. The Reds need to find a way to minimize the defensive failings and let their offense and pitching shine through and see if Baker will be a fit. Stay tuned.

Houston Astros (80-82) – The Astros are a team I never feel comfortable with. You think they are out of the race, you start to relax and here they come with their late season shenanigans. There is no doubt this team will be able to hit, Berkman, Lee, Tejada, and Wiggington, that type of lineup is going to produce some runs. Will Tejada face a long suspension due to the Mitchell report? Only time will tell. Outside of Oswalt, their pitching staff is rocky. I think it will be a mix of games where the Astros score a billion runs and win and then the next night, they will give up a billion and lose. Without some sort of middle ground, I predict the a .500 season

Cardinals (76-86) – Well, they’ve got Albert Pujols…and, um who else do they have? Scott Rolen…nope, Jim Edmonds…nope. David Eckstein…he’s not there either. Outside of Pujols, this team is full of problems. Do they have a lead of man? Troy Glaus has been injury prone the past few years and strikes out an awful lot. What’s more, I think pitchers will be ready for Rick Ankiel this year. Pitching doesn’t look much better. Anytime your No. 1 and No. 2 starters are out until possibly the second half of the season, you have trouble. Wainwright and Looper might be decent, but our friend Matt Clement will have to pitch like ’03 form for this staff to have any success and seeing that he won’t even be ready for opening day, well that might spell trouble. When it is all said and done, this will be a rebuilding year for the Cardinals and they will end up on the flip side of .500. And they will be frustrating to watch at times, causing manager Tony LaRussa to drink, oh wait…

Pirates (70-92) – I don’t want to be snarly here but the Pirates just can’t seem to get it right or build a team with any kind of cohesive plan in mind. With that being said, Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez are bright spots, but if they don’t find a bat to protect Bay, he is not going to see a pitch all year. Catcher Ronny Paulino has to get back to his 2006 form. What else is there to say here? Veteran players are unhappy with management’s ineffectiveness and it looks like it will be another long season for the Pirates.

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