Now that I've finished previewing every team in Major League Baseball and the dust appears to have cleared in terms of late free agent signings, I'll give you my stone cold locks for the 2009 playoffs accompanied with a dark horse candidate for each division.
AL East: The Boston Red Sox will win this division in a tight race with the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. I don't think either of these teams is far away from the other.
Dark Horse: The Rays defy all odds again and repeat.
AL Central: This is a wide open race unlike anything we've probably seen before so it's hard to single out a team. My money is with the Chicago White Sox because of what I've seen from the rotation so far in spring training and doubting the fluke hypothesis. Even if the older players falter, i.e. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, it won't matter. They are no longer the most talented on the players before the season starts anyway. I do think the Minnesota Twins will push them to the brink for the second straight season.
Dark Horse: The Kansas City Royals are an easy choice here because of the well-rounded offense and young (perhaps up-and-coming) pitching staff. I also like what Trey Hillman has done so far as manager.
AL West: For the 300th year in a row it feels like you can't pick against the Los Angeles Angels and this year is no different. This team is loaded with a great rotation and a well-rounded lineup that was fine even before first baseman Mark Teixera came and subsequently left.
Dark Horse: There should be no surprise that the Oakland A's are the likely pick for most people to challenge the Angels for a division title. The A's added a bunch of nice pieces during the offseason in shortstop Orlando Cabrera, designated hitter Jason Giambi, utility man Nomar Garciaparra and of course, superstar outfielder Matt Holliday. If the pitching staff can take the next step, they should be neck and neck with the Angels till the end.
AL Wild Card: Depending on what team finishes second in the AL East, that's my choice for the Wild Card winner. My guess is that the Yankees take the cake based on the gluttonous spending that occurred this offseason. This, in turn, makes the Rays the best team ever not to make the playoffs.
Dark Horse: Again, I'm tapping the A's as a dark horse candidate for the very same reasons I picked them as a potential team to topple the Angels.
NL East: Looking past the AL East, the NL East is the toughest division in baseball. Nearly all the teams outside of Washington are talented enough to make the playoffs and there's a good chance two playoff teams come out of this division. My pick has to be the New York Mets because I can't see them choking three times in a row after securing a lights out bullpen finally.
Dark Horse: The Florida Marlins may not be the most talented or expensive team out there but I really like what manager Fredi Gonzalez has done so far. Hanley Ramirez, abliet a terrible shortstop, is one of the best players in baseball right now and center fielder Cameron Maybin is on his way to superstar-status as well. Who says the fish can't create a little magic again.
NL Central: Hands down, barring something totally epic, the Chicago Cubs will go to the playoffs for the third straight year. There's simply no logic that could explain how the Cubs won't win the division and nobody should even be close to them.
Dark Horse: If there is one time that could catch the Cubs by divine interaction it would the Milwaukee Brewers who, despite having lost the majority of its pitching staff, still have the lineup to carry them to a second place finish if not more.
NL West: For the second year in a row, picking against the Los Angeles Dodgers would be foolish. Manny Ramirez is back and hopefully motivated to put on another show fitting for Hollywood. The pitching staff is young but chock-full of future stars. The lineup is deep and well-rounded.
Dark Horse: If the San Francisco Giants can stay close to the Dodgers in 2009, perhaps it can add some pop to its meager offense at the trade deadline. The pitching staff does enough that it can keep the team above water.
NL Wild Card: While there's no distinct reason as to why the Philadelphia Phillies won't repeat as World Series Champions, I certainly think the Mets have way too much at stake to lose out on another division crown, thus making the fightin' Phils the default wild card winner.
Dark Horse: The Arizona Diamondbacks shocked a lot of people by winning its division in 2007 and the team is very young and loaded with raw talent despite missing out on the playoffs in 2008. There's no reason to think the Diamondbacks can't bounce back in a big way in 2009.