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March, 2009

A lot of San Francisco Giants fans seem to be particularly optimistic this spring that the reigning NL Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, along with five-time winner Randy Johnson, can help lead their team back to the top of the diluted National League West and into the World Series.

But the offensively-challenges Giants declined to add any hitters other than an aging and fading Edgar Renteria, and their starting pitching may be a bit overrated. Can Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum carry this team into the postseason by themselves?

The Dodgers saw a whopping 17 players from their 2008 roster file for free agency in the offseason. Generally speaking, the focus of their offseason was to pull as many of those players back into the fold rather than scour other teams' free agent lists. But realistically, the entire Dodgers offseason was devoted to signing one of those free agents in particular: Manny Ramirez. While the re-acquisition of Ramirez was indeed very necessary, there may not be enough talent surrounding him for the Dodgers to repeat in the NL West.

The Angels were one of the biggest over-achievers last season, winning 101 games with a Pythagorean Projection for 88 wins, but they have made some moves to improve upon last season’s run output. The key for the Angels will be health. No fewer than six Angels face injury issues headed for opening day.

Sound familiar? Different year, same story for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners must all prove that they are capable of taking away the AL West from the Angels, and once again, it doesn’t seem likely.

For some reason, year in and year out, the Minnesota Twins manage to do well, and for some reason, year in and year out, the baseball viewing public is surprised. And it shouldn’t be surprising; this is a team that makes good trades, drafts well, and plays bona fide talented players every day.

Will the Twins surprise everyone yet again in 2009?

People seem to forget that the Colorado Rockies were National League champions just two years ago, before a plague of injuries derailed their 2008 season. The trade of Matt Holliday, acquisition of Jason Marquis, and maturation of their younger players give the Rockies a depth on both sides of the ball that they have never before enjoyed in their 16-year history. This depth will thrust them into contention for the NL West title.

1989 was Ken Griffey Junior's first season with the Seattle Mariners. While the hype surrounding him was great, few would have predicted that Griffey would hit 398 homers in 11 seasons with the club. 20 years later, after a nine-year divorce that was more problematic for Griffey than it was for the Mariners, the Kid is back in Seattle.

Unfortunately, in 1989, Griffey hit .264/.329/.420 and the Mariners finished in sixth place with a 73-89 record. The only one of those marks that Griffey or the Mariners figure to improve upon in 2009 is the sixth-place finish, and that's because there are only four teams in their division.

The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays showed the baseball world that being one of the worst teams in baseball and drafting high year after year eventually should bring you success. Thus, the Royals can no longer complain of inherent difficulties in the business side of baseball.

Last season was the first out of the AL Central cellar for the Royals since 2003. Unfortunately, the Royals probably lost a lot of sympathy points around baseball as the team that finished behind them, the Tigers, did so with an enormous payroll filled with superstars. Once again, more evidence that the business side of the game is not inherently predisposed against the Royals.

So, how close are the Royals to having their years of high drafting come together in 2009? Let's take a look.

The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies feature an excellent mix of young, exciting baseball players coming into their primes, players currently enjoying their primes, and veterans with experience. This is also a team with talent coming out of its ears. There is nothing to dislike.

So find out why Asher still doubts that the Phillies will win the NL East.

The 2009 Pirates are going to make history. Nothing can stop them. This team of destiny is going to sport a losing record for the 17th consecutive season, the most ever for a major league franchise.

But you already knew that. The real news is that there is actually a good chance that the streak will end before it hits 20.

When John Dewan's Fielding Bible was published early in 2006, it easily represented the biggest leap forward in defensive metrics ever. Three years later, in The Fielding Bible Volume II, Dewan has gone the extra mile, not only converting his legendary Plus/Minus rating into runs saved, but also accounting for other defensive contributions not covered by the Plus/Minus system. The result is a book that you cannot afford to be without if you want to analyze the game of baseball.

The 2005 White Sox improved by 16 games over the 2004 iteration by solidifying the back of their rotation, getting career years from several members of the bullpen, ditching expendable sluggers in favor of a bona fide leadoff man, replacing a catcher-by-committee with a solid veteran, and tinkering with their middle infield.

What's this got to do with the 2009 Cincinnati Reds? Everything. Sit down, crack open a beer, and try not to fall off your chair in amazement as you read about the parallels between the two clubs.

As early as last November, a Jake-Peavy-to-Chicago trade being near completion were reported across the country. Fans and analysts instantly wrote off the Padres as being in one of their infamous rebuilding years and pegged them for triple-digit losses, if not the worst overall record in baseball.

Then a funny thing happened, or rather, did not happen. Jake Peavy remains in San Diego, yet no one has altered their prediction of utter doom for the San Diego Padres. No one except Keith, that is.

The Cleveland Indians are quite the enigma.  Last year, they went 37-51 (.420) prior to trading the best starting pitcher in baseball and 44-30 (.595) thereafter.  They seem to alternate between overachieving and underachieving every year, both as a team and as individual players.  Asher is underwhelmed by their starting pitching and personnel decisions, and finds the 2009 squad lacking in excitement.

Asher was one of many to fall hook, line, and sinker for the 2008 Detroit Tigers despite bigtime questions about their pitching and defense. While it seems like they've made changes in all the right places - upgrading at catcher, replacing Edgar Renteria with Adam Everett, adding pitching depth, and putting Brandon Inge back in the starting lineup where he belongs (at least on defense) - that pitching staff is still crazily inconsistent and hard to get excited about.

With Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera, and Jason Giambi added to the 2009 payroll, Mark Ellis signed to an $11 million, 2-year extension, Eric Chavez still due to make $26 million over the next two seasons, and Nomar Garciaparra reportedly on the way, the Oakland Athletics are spending money like we haven't seen in years. Unfortunatley, this does not necessarily mean that the team will take a step forward this year, writes Richard in his 2009 Oakland A's Team Preview.

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