Cleaning out the locker

By Pat Murphy

Few things signal the beginning of spring quite like baseball. Spring training began Wednesday with opening day April 5. but there’s no time like the present to breakdown the divisions and predict who will be post season-bound in 2009.

The NL West was by far the weakest division in the National League in 2008, and likely won’t be much better in 2009. The Padres will be the worst team in baseball, and the Rockies and Giants don’t figure to do much, which will leave the division to either the Arizona Diamondback or the L.A. Dodgers. The Dodgers won the division by two games last season thanks largely to the midseason acquisition of Manny Ramirez.

The past few years, the NL Central has been a battle between the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. However, both the Brew Crew and the Cards suddenly have weak starting rotations, which will be no match for the Cubs’ three ace rotation. The Cubs potentially have as many as eight all-stars on their roster and should have no problem running away with the division.

The NL East will look similar to 2008, when the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets finished atop the division. In ’08, the Phillies rallied against the Mets and went on to win the World Series. The Mets bullpen was their weakness in 2008, however Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz corrected this problem when they signed, making the Mets nearly unbeatable when leading after the 7th inning. It is because of this solidification of the bullpen that the Mets will take the division.

The L.A. Angels won the AL West by a staggering 21 games in 2008, and the rest of the division hasn’t done much to improve over the offseason. Seattle has some good top-end starting pitching, but no offense or bullpen. Texas has an excellent offense, but terrible starting pitching, and the A’s added Jason Giambi and Matt Holiday, but have a very young, untested starting rotation. The Angels lost Francisco Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, but still have an excellent offense, solid starting rotation, and exceptional bullpen.

Last year 162 games weren’t enough to decide the AL Central as the Twins fell to the White Sox 1-0 in a one game playoff. The White Sox made no big moves and lost Orlando Cabrera and Joe Crede. The talented but injury-prone Crede was picked up by the Twins, who figure to win over 90 games as their young starting rotation continues to improve.

The powerhouse AL East was topped by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, who went from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 last year. The Yankees struggled in ’08 and consequently went on an unprecedented $423 million spending spree. The Yankees, Rays, and Bo Sox are all too good to bet against. The Red Sox have better bullpen depth than the other two, which will allow them to win the division. On paper, the Yakees are better than the Rays, but an injury to any one of New York’s key players would make things even more interesting.