The Monk promised a baseball preview, and so I'm going to deliver. Although this comes after the start of the season, the fact is no team has played even 4% of its schedule (all six games or less). Every team has run through its rotation once. And if current pace holds, the Yankees will be one of the worst pitching teams in history. In other words, nothing major has happened yet. So on with the show.
Starting in the National League, The Monk has little disincentive to stray from the division winners from last year: Mess, Cards, Pads/Dodgers.
The East should be the Mets' to lose -- they have the best hitting, some starting pitching with Maine, Glavine and whatever patchwork Willie Randolph can put together between now and the return of Pedro (it helps that the division is both weak-hitting and all pitchers' parks other than Philadelphia), and strengthened the relief with the addition of Scott Schoenweis. If Ambriorix Burgos keeps the ball in the yard, the Mess have a good end-game. With Beltran, Wright, Delgado and Reyes, the team has plenty of talent both at the plate and in the field. Honestly, although it pains me a bit to say so, the Mess should win the NL. Remember, starting pitching deficiencies, or even deficits viz. the opponent, can be overcome in the playoffs ('06 Cards, '02 Angels, '00 Yanks, '97 Indians, '96 Yanks). Simply stated, if starting pitching were the sole determinant of what team would win the World Series, the Braves would actually have been the team of the 90s, and not just posted such a hollow and disproven boast on their '95 World Series rings.
Best of the rest: the Braves and Phils can compete for a wild card spot if . . . for the Braves, they get some decent hitting and Tim Hudson begins to look more like the A's star he was in the early '00s; for the Phils, the team needs to get past its bluster (no Jimmy Rollins, you're not the team to beat) and its mental issues; after all that team certainly has hitting talent (Utley, Burrell, Rollins and Howard counts as TWO boppers in one) and the addition of Jamie Moyer can help the younger pitchers develop. Eighteen games or so for each of these teams against the Nats helps in their quest to land a playoff spot.
No chance: the Fishies and the Nats are no-hopers. The Marlins are too young and their owner is preternaturally stupid for firing Joe Girardi. The Nats may be a reincarnation of the '03 Tigers.
[UPDATED] The Central should have been less interesting than the media makes it, but between the original posting early this afternoon and this update, The Monk learned that Chris Carpenter's elbow is pretty bad off. The Cards underachieved during the regular season last year but improvement may hinge upon Carpenter's hinge -- if they get 27+ starts from him, they'll stand a good chance of winning the division; less than that and they stand a good chance of not making the playoffs. With the Astros losing Pettitte and still relying on Lidge, the Brewers a complete cipher, the Cubs an up-and-down mess and the Reds still hampered by that ballpark (no, the Pirates don't count), there is no reason that the team with the best manager and player cannot compete. The confidence boost for the Cards' stopgap pitchers during their postseason in '06 (Wainwright, Reyes) only helps after offseason losses of Suppan and the expendible Marquis. But not since the '98-99 RedSawx has one team's fate rested as much on the arm of one starting pitcher as the Cards' fate rests upon Carpenter.
Best of the rest: this is a mess. Any of the Brewers/Astros/Reds/Cubs can either knock off the Cards if they have an exceptional season and the Cards stumble or rise up for the wild card. I think the Nats factor still strongly favors a wild card coming out of the NL East because the Nats are putrid, but the Pirates actually have some talent (Bay, Duke, LaRoche) and are closer to the skill level of the rest of the division than the Nats are to the East. The Brewers will depend upon Sheets' health and for Jeff Suppan to prove that his success is not solely due to Cards' pitching coach Dave Duncan; the Astros take a step back by effectively exchanging Pettitte for Jason Jennings, they need the Rocket to land there this summer to compete; the Cubs have one ace and two serviceable starters (Zambrano, Lilly, Marquis), which makes them competitive for a wild card spot; the Reds have the worst rotation of the group, the most offense and the most questions -- if only Homer Bailey hadn't honked in spring training . . .
No hope here . . . the Pirates. But at least the team is improving.
The West is perplexing. The Padres improve from last year because they'll have Greg Maddux for a whole season and still have the biggest ballpark advantage of any team in the NL. The Dodgers improve because they have a healthy Brad Penny and added Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, but they lost JD Drew and the addition of Juan Pierre means less OBP, less pop and less defensive acumen in the outfield. The DBacks look about a year away unless Randy Johnson really can become his old self (and don't think being in the NL doesn't help). The Rockies should be decent, but the division should require 90 wins for the winner and the Rocks are not a 90-win team. The Giants are so old they make the Yanks look sprightly. Even though the Dodgers did the most in the offseason, I think the Pads will win -- pure hunch, but Bochy has pulled more difficult tricks out of his hat in the past (see: winning NL pennant in 1998).
Best of the Rest: Dodgers and Snakes -- those two are the best bets for potential wild cards and or other division winners. The Dodgers have health issues with their starters, the Snakes COULD be the next "Great Young Team" like the '03 Marlins or they could flop like the '06 Indians.
No hope . . . the Giants lack pitching, hitting (other than a certain large-headed leftfielder) and are geriatric.