Here are my quick predictions for this season:

NL East
Phillies
Braves (wildcard)
Marlins
Mets
Nationals

NL Central
Brewers
Cardinals
Reds
Cubs
Pirates
Astros

NL West
Giants
Rockies
Dodgers
Padres
Diamondbacks

AL East
Red Sox
Yankees (wildcard)
Rays
Blue Jays
Orioles

AL Central
White Sox
Tigers
Twins
Indians
Royals

AL West
Rangers
Athletics
Angels
Mariners

NL Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (picking Halladay just seemed too easy at this point. Plus he and Cliff Lee could take votes away from each other)

AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander, Tigers

NL MVP
Albert Pujols, Cardinals (contract year, he could be ridiculous)

AL MVP
Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

NL Rookie of the Year
Freddie Freeman, Braves

AL Rookie of the Year
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays

Number of HR for Jose Bautista
28

Last but not least on the divisional prediction train is the American League East and National League East, the power divisions where you will find the past three World Series champs.

AL EAST
1. Yankees
2. Rays
3. Red Sox
4. Orioles
5. Blue Jays

There’s plenty of evidence of how accurate Baseball Prospectus projections are each year, which is why I was surprised to see them rank the Yankees in third place with 91 wins. I used to scoff at the experts predictions of the Yankees in first place after signing most bats in each offseason in recent years. Pitching always seem to be what they lacked. Well that changed prior to last season when they were able to land CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. Not surprisingly a world championship followed. And Brian Cashman did not rest on his laurels this winter as he went out and traded for a cornerstone center fielder Curtis Granderson and another stellar starter Javier Vazquez. This team has tons of pitching now, so I’m not sure what Baseball Prospectus sees to put them in third. There’s nowhere to go but down I guess? You could look at the increasing age of stars like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera and come to the conclusion that age has to catch up to them sooner or later, but these guys seem to improve with old age and have given no reason to assume 2010 is the year they suddenly fall off the mark. BP was also off on the Yankees record last year by eight wins, so I think that happens again the Bronx Bombers continue to dominate.

This division has some other teams too, and that’s the problem for Boston and Tampa Bay. There’s no question this division is loaded at the top, and quite possibly could hold the three best teams in the American League. Only two can make the playoffs though, and there’s the problem. So who else will get in? I like the Rays to do it in 2010. The Rays had the World Series hangover and stumbled to 84 wins and a third place finish. They upgraded in the offseason by added a closer in Rafael Soriano while not losing much to their core. They have the talent to stick with New York and Boston and are poised to make a run this year back to the postseason.

The Red Sox were busy this offseason bringing in starter John Lackey, CF Mike Cameron and 3B Adrian Beltre. Lackey is a solid pickup, but I’m concerned about the lost of Jason Bay to the Red Sox lineup. With David Ortiz another year older after already struggling through a slump last year, I’m not sure where the power of Bay’s 36 homers will come from. One thing this team has going for them is they are incredibly deep throughout the roster.

Then there’s Baltimore and Toronto rounding out the AL East. Baltimore will be an improved team and could actually surprise some teams this year, but playing in this division makes any major run into contention very difficult.

NL EAST
1. Phillies
2. Braves
3. Mets
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

The Phillies are in the midst of putting together a National League dynasty no one has seen since the ’42-’44 Cardinals when they rolled to three straight World Series appearances. If only the Phils would have held onto Cliff Lee to pair up with Roy Halladay, picking a champion would have been easy. I still do not understand that move at all, but despite my objections to their offseason move, the Phillies are still the cream of the crop in the NL East. It’s scary to imagine that Halladay could actually be a better pitcher in the National League. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if Hamels has a bounce back season, they could run away with the division. Halladay, Hamels and a loaded lineup is enough for me to crown them.

Jason Heyward fever has officially hit Georgia, hell all around the league. The Braves super prospect should make things fun for Bobby Cox’s “final” season as the Braves can definitely make things interesting in the NL East. Furthermore, if Tommy Hanson can avoid a sophomore slump and Heyward is as good as advertised, this team will give the Phils fits and compete for the wildcard all season.

It’s hard to break down the Mets 2009 season other than a complete lost season. The Metropolitans were decimated by injuries throughout the entire season and never found any momentum. This season has to go up for them, right? I mean, you can’t get much worse than the amount of lost games they had from their stars. I think a healthy Jose Reyes and Johan Santana and recently-signed slugger Jason Bay will do wonders for this team to a 10-15 plus game turnaround.

The Marlins will hover around .500 as they always do, but won’t have enough fire power to match talent with the Phillies or Braves. And then there’s Washington, who will be improved (which isn’t saying much from a 59-103 season) but are basically just counting down the days until Stephen Strasburg arrives in the show. As a Pirates fan, I know how that goes when the fans pay attention to the games in the farm club almost as much as the big league games.

That’s it for the division outlooks. We are just a short weekend away from the 2010 Opening Day!

Moving right along with the 2010 outlook, I’ll take a look at the National League Central and American League Central divisions—always fun divisions to try to predict in March.

NL CENTRAL
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Cubs
4. Brewers
5. Astros
6. Pirates

It should be clear that this is the Cardinals division to lose. If the Cards aren’t sitting on top of the NL Central come October, then something when drastically wrong in the injury department. St. Louis took the division last year by 7.5 over the games in 2009. In their 2010 projections, Baseball Prospectus has the widest gap between first and second place with the Cardinals predicted eight games ahead of the Cubs. And why not? The Cardinals were able to hold onto Matt Holliday in the offseason, who could have a monster year hitting in the same lineup as Albert Pujols for an entire season. Pujols is coming off a 47 homer, 135 RBI season with a ridiculous OBP of .443, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again because all he’s done in his career is put up superstar numbers. On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter look to be in the prime of their careers as they finished 3 and 2 in the running for the Cy Young in 2009, respectively.

The rest of the division is sort of spinning its wheels with the exception of the Reds, which could be a surprise team this year. The Reds threw a lot of money at Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman with hopes that he can be another piece in what could become a solid rotation. Joey Votto is on the cusp of taking the next step to the elite hitters while Jay Bruce needs to rebound for this team to challenge the Cardinals. I still like them in second place, but the 2-4 teams can be group in any order as they could all be within a couple of games of each other at season’s end. I’m not sold on the Cubs this year considering they weren’t very good last year, so I’m predicting a step back from them with guys like Alfonso Soriano appear to be breaking down.

The Brewers have two studs in the lineup in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but the rest of the starting nine is a bunch of a question marks. Can Braun and Fielder carry this team back to the postseason? As for the Astros, I think they will end up in last place (at least I hope), but they always seem to perform better than my expectations every single year so I have no idea what to expect from them. I have the Pirates in last place and will have more on that in a separate Pirates preview post later this week.

AL CENTRAL
1. White Sox
2. Twins
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

I thought about this one for a while—Twins or White Sox? This AL Central will be another tight race, which is what we have come to expect from this division. Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit will once again come down to the wire, but as much I hate to write it, I think the White Sox will this division title.

I’m high on the Twins lineup, their moves this offseason and their pitching staff, but when it came time to make a decision the loss of Joe Nathan stood out for me. To think that a closer committee can fill the kind of production and consistency that Nathan provided the Twins over the years is illogical. This is a huge loss and can’t be overshadowed. And the White Sox will pitch, they have plenty of capable arms in a rotation stocked with the likes of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd plus the bullpen is solid as well.

In Motown, there was a lot of attention paid to the Tigers cutting payroll especially with the Granderson trade, but I think the Tigers could actually be better this year than in 2009. Max Scherzer is primed for a breakout season in his third season and teamed with ace Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, this could be a formidable rotation for years. A couple of questions I have with the Tigers is starting two true rookies (Austin Jackson in center field and Scott Sizemore at second base. Only four teams in MLB history have made the postseason with a rookie starting in CF. The numbers don’t lie, it’s just hard to win with rookies starting especially one that is slated to lead off and play center field. They will definitely be in the hunt though.

As far as the rest of the division is concerned, they’ll be on the outside looking in. I think the Indians will be better than most people expect to see. Grady Sizemore will rebound, Asdrubal Cabrera is primed for a breakout campaign and a couple of other young players in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta will have chances to stand out for the Tribe. The pitching will struggle and that will likely be the downfall of the Indians in 2010. The Royals will be improved and they won’t go into too many slumps with Zack Greinke on the mound every fifth day, but they just don’t have enough fire power to contend this summer. A positive sign for 2010 and the Royals future would be Alex Gordon to shrug off a disastrous, injury-filled 2009 season to break out and be the complete hitter the Royals thought they were getting with the second overall pick in 2005.

I’ve  been tossing around ideas of how I wanted to put together a proper preview to the 2010 season. But instead of doing an elaborate breakdown of each division in its own post, I’ve decided to take two divisions at once, list my predicted order of finish and talk about a couple of highlights in each division. Let’s start with out West with the NL West and AL West.

NL WEST
1. Dodgers
2. Rockies
3. Giants
4. Diamondbacks
5. Padres

The NL West is always a fun division to predict. It seems like it had a different winner every year until the past two years when the Dodgers have taken over. I think that trend will continue for the Dodgers third straight division title. The bums are loaded with talent especially with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier emerging as superstars in the league. Clayton Kershaw will take a step this year to become the team’s No. 1 ace that Joe Torre doesn’t think he has right now, and I see the Dodgers winning a tight race with the Rockies again.

The Rockies are close. I think their chances hinge on whether or not Jeff Francis can return from injury and be the front line starter Colorado needs him to be again. If Francis is healthy and exceeds expectations, the Rockies could definitely steal this division title.

The Giants will have the pitching to hang around with anyone thanks to the Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but I’m not sure there’s enough power in the bats to help this team turn the corner. As for the Diamondbacks, I fell for their potential last year and won’t do it again this year especially with Brandon Webb’s setback in spring training. Padres? Ah, not this year…their offense could be putrid.

AL WEST
1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. Mariners
4. A’s

The Rangers made a four-game improvement in 2008 and then significantly improved their game by eight games in 2009. I believe they are ready to take the next step, win the AL West and get back to the postseason for the first time since 1999. The reasoning behind this pick is twofold—1) the Rangers are loaded with hitting and will score runs sometimes at will, plus they currently own probably the top minor league system in the game that is close to taking over especially with the pitching staff. 2) Second part is the Angels had some key losses none bigger than John Lackey. I think the Lackey loss will be tough for the Angels to replace. Don’t get me wrong though, I think this will be an extremely tight division with three teams pretty much in contention down the stretch.

I like what the Mariners did in the offseason, and they seem to be everyone’s trendy pick at the moment. When you boast studs like Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation, that will draw attention. If both guys are healthy, the M’s won’t go on many long losing streaks which is why they will remain in contention all year. You probably couldn’t ask for a better 1-2 punch in baseball this season. The problem for me is the rest of that rotation especially when Lee is going to start the year suspended and now on the DL, you have guys like Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Erik Bedard. Like I said, the rotation gets thin quick. If Bedard can get his head on straight and pitch like the guy they thought they were getting in the Adam Jones trade, this team will be a surprise team. They have been in talks with Jarrod Washburn, who had a sub-3.00 ERA last year with Seattle before being dealt to the Tigers on his way to a horrible second half. At this point, Seattle needs to sign Washburn to provide some depth to the staff.

I said it would be a three-team race and that’s because I struggle to see how the A’s are going to score runs this year. And I’m not feeling the Ben Sheets project working out too well for Billy Beane…that has the potential to be a horrible signing at $10 million for 2010. The A’s do have some talent coming up (Michael Taylor, Chris Carter) that could see some time this year, but it’s too early to expect big things from this team in 2010.

UPDATE: Actually Bedard is out until at least July with a shoulder injury, so consider the Mariners rotation even thinner than mentioned above. Look for them to get a deal done with Washburn prior to Opening Day next week.