Mariners expected to win it all as Houstonian columnist Kevin Jukkola makes his 2008 picks

The 2008 Major League Baseball season begins with many fans anticipating the impact off-season acquisitions will have on their favorite teams. All of the activity makes it almost impossible to identify a clear favorite in any division, but I will, nonetheless, give it a try with my predictions for the 2008 Major League Baseball season.

American League East1. Boston Red Sox2. Toronto Blue Jays3. New York Yankees4. Tampa Bay Rays5. Baltimore Orioles

Analysis: This could be a very tight three-team race for most of the season, but my belief is that the Red Sox will prevail in the end after Curt Schilling comes back from his injury on the strength of their relentless lineup and the experience garnered from last year’s run to a World Series, along with a true ace in Josh Beckett. The Blue Jays have improved by picking up shortstop David Eckstein and third baseman Scott Rolen and may have the best starting staff in the division, but injury concerns around their team cloud their otherwise bright future.

American League Central1. Detroit Tigers2. Cleveland Indians*3. Kansas City Royals4. Chicago White Sox5. Minnesota Twins*-indicates Wild Card

Analysis: This pick makes me nervous because I always take pride in relying on pitching when it comes to assessing the favorites in each division and the Indians have the best of the group, while the Tigers may have the worst bullpen in the American League. Detroit, though, has the best offense in baseball, reminding me of those Yankees teams from a few years back who would slug their way to the postseason only to get bounced quickly by a team with superior pitching in the playoffs, which makes me lean toward picking the Tigers. The Indians look like a team built better for the postseason and will make it there as the Wild Card above teams from other divisions because of their ability to beat up on the three weaker teams at the bottom of the division.

National League East1. New York Mets2. Atlanta Braves*3. Philadelphia Phillies4. Washington Nationals5. Florida Marlins

Analysis: The Mets became the favorite in this division the minute they traded for Johan Santana, widely considered the best pitcher in baseball, making their starting staff competitive with anyone in the league to go along with a fine lineup, hopefully allowing them to forget the awful collapse at the end of last season. The Braves now have five legitimate starters, after getting Mike Hampton off the injured list and Tom Glavine as a free agent, to go along with a relatively young, potent lineup and are in a division that allows them to earn the Wild Card by beating up on the bottom two teams.

National League Central1. Chicago Cubs2. Milwaukee Brewers3. Cincinnati Reds4. Houston Astros5. Pittsburgh Pirates6. St. Louis Cardinals

Analysis: This might be the tightest race of all with the Brewers and Cubs battling until the last day, but the starting pitching of Chicago will overtake the excellent young hitting of Milwaukee, allowing them to claim this division. The Reds could be this year’s surprise playoff team if their young pitchers step up, while the Astros’ starting pitching will kill them all year long, even as their offense is stroking.

National League West1. Los Angeles Dodgers2. Arizona Diamondbacks3. San Diego Padres4. Colorado Rockies5. San Francisco Giants

Analysis: The Dodgers received a huge credibility boost when Joe Torre became their manager, along with their additions of Hideki Kuroda to the pitching staff and Andruw Jones to a previously mediocre lineup, while the Diamondbacks’ hopes took a hit when they heard that Doug Davis will miss approximately a month after undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer. After already counting on injured pitcher Randy Johnson to fill out their starting rotation, losing Davis might be exactly the kind of thing that costs them the division, even though their young hitters should get better.

Other Predictions:American League Most Valuable Player: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

National League Most Valuable Player: David Wright, New York Mets

American League Cy Young Award Winner: Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners

National League Cy Young Award Winner: Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs

Playoff PredictionsAmerican League Championship Series: Seattle Mariners over Cleveland Indians, 4-3

National League Championship Series: New York Mets over Atlanta Braves, 4-2

World Series: Seattle Mariners over New York Mets, 4-3

Now there is only one way to settle the dispute of who is truly the best: Play ball!

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