since 2001 and remain close until late September. Detroit and Chicago will both post-winning records (quite an achievement for Detroit, two years removed from the near record setting 43-119 2003 campaign).
The AL West will be up for grabs, between the Anaheim Angels, Seattle Mariners, and last year's upstart, Texas Rangers. The once perennial West power, Oakland, saw their four-year run as a playoff team (2000-03) end last year and will see their six year run as a playoff contender end in '05.
2004 winner, Anaheim, suffered some major loses in the free agent market but were able to make comparable replacements. Texas, much like Tampa, did not make large upgrades but were able to sign a few key veterans that will provide tremendous dividends if they make it to the September stretch run. Seattle made two huge acquisitions in the off-season, signing Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre to multi-year deals. The division is still the Angels to lose. Therefore, I am sticking with Anaheim.
The Indians, Rangers, and Mariners will still push the Red Sox for the AL wild card spot. Keep in mind that the Red Sox may suffer from post-World Series-itis and just be content with finally 86ing the Curse of the Bambino. The most interesting team in the AL to watch this year will be the Indians; the most surprising team will be Tampa.
Will the Atlanta Braves make it 14 straight NL East pennants in 2005? The New York Mets, Florida Marlins, and Philadelphia Phillies may have a hand in stopping the Braves streak. The Mets made the largest upgrades in signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, and the Marlins signed proven slugger Carlos Delgado.
I have to stick with Atlanta in the NL East and it would not be the least bit surprising if the wild card came from this division as well (see more on the NL East in next month's edition).
The St. Louis Cardinals are still the prime team to beat after their easy ride to the NL Central flag last year. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs will try and keep that from happening. The Cardinals have a large edge at the plate offensively but do not look to have the pitching depth of Houston or Chicago.
The logical pick would be St. Louis, the heartfelt pick (now that Boston is out of the tough luck club) is the Cubs, and the illogical pick would be Houston. I am taking the illogical pick and going with Houston, even thought they lost out on signing Beltran. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers will all vie for a fourth place finish.
The LA Dodgers spent the most money during the off-season but will not repeat as NL West champs. The Dodgers will have solid pitching but their offense will let them down. The flag will be between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. The Padres are the younger team and have a fast developing pitching staff. The Giants are more of a veteran team but still lack pitching depth. I have to favor the Padres but if it is close in September, the Giants will begin to have the edge. If Bonds falls prey to injury, the Giants are sunk. The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will fight for who finishes fourth.
The wild card race in the NL has been very competitive the last few years and this year should be no different (minus the three league leaders, eight teams have a legitimate shot at a wild card berth). The team to watch in the NL this year will be the New York Mets.