SI.com's resident experts provide explanations for their 2009 preseason predictions.
1. Explain your World Series title team
Tom Verducci: Mets.
The Mets are loaded with players in their prime years and double-sealed their fatal leak of last season, the bullpen, with Frankie Rodriguez and J.J. Putz.
Jon Heyman: Cubs.
They're due. And so am I. They have the best and deepest starting rotation, serious firepower in their lineup and a solid bullpen, as well. And no kidding, their luck has to change sometime.
Ted Keith: Yankees.
In CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett the Yankees have managed to significantly upgrade the strikeout potential of their pitching staff. Add in Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte the Yanks boast an experienced and talented first four in the rotation that is as good as any in baseball, and is a perfect fit for postseason play. The offense should be fine, but with so many aging players their window might be closing a little bit, and you know they'll make any move necessary to ensure that they don't miss a second consecutive postseason.
Cliff Corcoran: Red Sox.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and made it to the seventh game of the ALCS last year. They have a core of players who are either in their prime or approaching it (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson, of whom none is older than 30). In the offseason they added a lot of high-upside depth (Rocco Baldelli, John Smoltz, Takashi Saito and Brad Penny, to which I'd add top rotation prospect Clay Buchholz, whom I expect to rebound impressively). I think the Sox will squeak by the Yankees in the ALCS and make quick work of their NL opponents.
David Sabino: Rays.
The funny thing about the defending AL champs is that no regular player had a career year in '08. This season Carl Crawford is healthy again, Pat Burrell has been added to an already potent lineup, Evan Longoria keeps getting better and despite beginning the year in the minors David Price will extend an already deep rotation, which will mean an already solid bullpen won't be taxed. Joe Maddon & Co. have executed a rebuilding plan to perfection and this is the year it all comes together.
Albert Chen: Rays.
They may not win 97 games again, but the Rays are improved from last year. They'll get 20-25 starts out of Price, the bullpen's deeper and the defense will be better. Not to mention Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton all had down years.
Lee Jenkins: Cubs.
The Cubs have a true No. 1 starter, depth in their rotation, depth in the bullpen and the National League's most potent offense with the addition of Milton Bradley. They also have the resources to help themselves at the trading deadline, perhaps with Padres ace Jake Peavy, whom they nearly acquired over the winter. First-round flameouts in the past two years do not suggest that the Cubs are cursed. They suggest that the Cubs are close.
What is your sleeper team for 2009?
Tom Verducci: Braves.
They lost 90 games last year, so they could have one of the biggest win improvements in baseball -- though they haven't bridged the gap on the Phillies and Mets.
Jon Heyman: Cardinals.
No team with Albert Pujols can really be considered a sleeper team. And that probably goes for Tony La Russa, too. They always outperform and have proved that they can overcome mediocrity to win the World Series, which isn't an easy thing. It doesn't hurt that they had a great spring, either.
Ted Keith: Reds.
They have a wealth of quality young players, both in the rotation (Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto) and in the lineup (Jay Bruce and Joey Votto) and play in a division that's wide open, aside from the Cubs. They haven't even had a winning record since 2000, but anything less than that in 2009 will be considered a major disappointment.
Ben Reiter: Marlins.
They could have a top-five pitching staff, led by Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson, both of whom were terrific after the All-Star break last year. The offense remains powerful, even after trading away first baseman Mike Jacobs (32 home runs). Fredi Gonzalez's young crew might still be a year away from contending with the Mets and Phillies, but they should improve on last season's surprising 84-77 record. How about a Rangers-Marlins World Series in 2010?
Albert Chen: Tigers.
Cincinnati and Kansas City both have the potential to surprise, but I think the Tigers will be the team that goes from worst to first. I like what they've done to improve the team defensively (they have the best left side of the infield with Brandon Inge and Adam Everett) and this year the lineup will live up to expectations.
Joe Lemire: Braves.
Odd for a recent powerhouse to be considered a sleeper. The overhauled rotation will give Atlanta quality and quantity innings, but there are, of course, questions. Can an injury-prone bullpen (here's looking at you, Mike Gonzalez and Peter Moylan) consistently produce? Can Jordan Schafer provide a necessary top-of-the-lineup spark? And will a non-traditional lineup (i.e. no big bopper) score enough runs via situational hitting to compete with the Mets and Phillies? Or, alternately, can Jeff Francoeur recapture his rookie season magic with his new approach and stance and be that feared No. 3 or 4 slugger? If the answer is "yes" to all or most of those questions, the Braves could challenge their northeastern rivals.
Lee Jenkins: Marlins.
Every few years Florida's young players cycle through, and with Cameron Maybin at the head of the list this season, the Marlins have the stuff to be this year's Rays.
Which division champion was the easiest to pick?
Tom Verducci: Angels, AL West.
The A's don't have enough established pitching to push them for six months. The worst-kept secret in baseball is that in the AL West you only need to be better than three teams to go to the playoffs, and often one or two of them aren't even close to winning.
Gennaro Filice: Cubs, NL Central.
The Cubs easily took the Central in 2008 and then distanced themselves from the rest of the division even more with a few positive offseason additions (Milton Bradley and Kevin Gregg). Truth be told, they could have the best offense and pitching staff in the Senior Circuit. Don't blow it, Cubbies ...
Cliff Corcoran: Cubs, NL Central.
The Cubs won the NL Central by 7.5 games last year and should win it by more this year now that the Brewers are without aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Milwaukee could compensate for one of those losses with a strong season from 23-year-old Yovani Gallardo, but the Brewers still don't have a solution for the other. The only other team I like in that division is the Reds, who finished 23.5 games out last year and would do well to simply finish with a winning record for the first time since 2000.
Ben Reiter: Angels, AL West.
I'm not as sold on the Angels as many others seem to be -- it's never good when you're forced to start the season with your two best pitchers (John Lackey and Ervin Santana) on the DL -- but Oakland and Seattle could be awful, and Texas, I think, is still a year away. The Angels should run away with their fifth division title in six years, but I expect that run to end in 2010, when the Rangers finally add some pitching (in young prospects Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland) to their potent offense.
Albert Chen: A's, AL West.
Surprisingly, it was the A's in the AL West. I love Oakland's young pitching and Matt Holliday gives them the big bopper they needed. Meanwhile, the Angels have a ton of major issues in the rotation (with John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvin Escobar sidelined), the Rangers still don't have enough pitching (they're a year or two away), and the Mariners won't be able to score enough runs.
Jonah Freedman: Angels, AL West.
How do you pick against a team that has won its division four times in five years, never makes any major tweaks to a system that works and operates in what has become the easiest race in the game to call?