The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | The 2008 baseball season gets underway officially in the middle of the night, (early Tuesday morning Pacific time) as the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox play a two-game series against the rebuilding Oakland A’s in Tokyo, Japan.
Boston will be every bit as strong in 2008 as they were in 2007 even though they are likely to be without starting pitcher Curt Schilling for a good part of the season. The Sox are still the team to beat, but there will be no shortage of challengers. Long time nemesis, the New York Yankees, may not even be at the top of that list.
Four American League teams immediately come to mind as being the major challengers to Boston. The Yankees may rank behind Cleveland, Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels.
Cleveland nearly eliminated the Red Sox in the playoffs last season and every bit as strong entering 2008. The Detroit Tigers, AL champs just two seasons ago, made one of the most significant offseason trades when they acquired third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-handed starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins for some highly prized prospects.
The Angels are a well balanced, well managed team that has won at least 92 games in three of the past four seasons and are the clear favorites to win the AL West.
Their biggest challenge should come from Seattle where the acquisition a few weeks ago of starting pitcher Eric Bedard from Baltimore gives the Mariners one of the best one-two tandems with rising star Felix Hernandez.
When the long 162-game season is complete the expectation is that Boston, Cleveland and the Angels will be the division winners and Seattle will emerge as the Wild Card. That means the Yankees’ long streak of making the playoffs will end at 13 seasons in the first year under Manager Joe Girardi.
The National League East shapes up as the three-team race with the New York the best on paper.
Philadelphia has a great offense but questionable pitching while Atlanta has an offense that is good but not as good as Philly’s and a decent pitching staff that is not as good as New York’s. The Mets should win the division by at least six games.
Some 100 years of frustration may finally end for the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908. They could win the NL Central by default as St. Louis has major issues both at the plate and on the mound. Milwaukee made great advances in 2007 and may fall back a bit in 2008. Cincinnati is poised for improvement, while Houston is in a season of transition. Pittsburgh is still a season or two away.
The NL West could be a four team race once again though San Francisco is on the cusp of making a run with their developing starting rotation. Arizona seems to be the team to beat, especially after getting right-handed starting pitcher Dan Haren from Oakland.
Ultimately look for the Mets, Cubs and San Diego Padres to win their respective divisions and for the Dodgers to edge Arizona and Philadelphia for the NL Wild Card.
Next week: Forecasts for the 2008 season and weekend picks.