Five bold predictions for 2009
The Cubs will play in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1945
Manny's homeless status could actually enhance his MVP candidacy
The Yankees enter the year as the underdog in a loaded AL East
1. The Cubs will win the pennant
Carlos Zambrano was wrong in 2007. Ryan Dempster was wrong in 2008. And after consecutive seasons of hearing players predict the Cubs, the team that hasn't won a World Series in more than a century, would end that drought, manager Lou Piniella instructed his team to not make any predictions for 2009. That will let the rest of us make the predictions for him: For the first time since 1945, the Chicago Cubs will be playing in the World Series. Last year's squad rolled to 97 wins and the NL Central title but was swept out of the NLDS by an inferior Dodgers team. This year's team features the best offense in the National League and a pitching staff that specializes in missing bats. The Cubs return virtually every key part of an offense that led the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and finished second in batting average and hits. Their pitching staff not only topped the league in wins, but also in strikeouts and fewest hits allowed, while finishing second in runs allowed and ERA. They lost All-Star closer Kerry Wood to free agency, but replaced him with promising Carlos Marmol and, for insurance, imported veteran closer Kevin Gregg from the Marlins. There should be little competition from the NL Central this year, which will allow the Cubs to cruise to their third-straight division crown, gain home-field advantage in the playoffs and rest their regulars and their rotation for the only month that will truly challenge them: October.
2. Another big steroids name will be revealed
As much as everyone associated with the game -- from the players to the press and certainly the fans -- wishes the talk of steroids would take a backseat once the season begins, that hardly seems possible. Now that Alex Rodriguez's positive survey test has been revealed to the public, it seems increasingly likely that other players on the 104-name list will be outed. Throw in the ongoing legal proceedings involving Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the distinct possibility Jose Canseco isn't done talking and the recent revelations about trainer-to-the-stars Angel Presinal, and baseball is likely to be helpless as other bombshells explode during the season. The best hope is the damage is minimized by an on-field product entertaining enough to divert attention from the game's off-field ills.
3. Manny Ramirez will win the MVP award
Ramirez does not yet have a team, but rather than hindering him, his absence from a major league roster could actually enhance his candidacy. Once he signs, few players in baseball will be able to provide the instant impact Ramirez can, as witnessed by the way he jump-started the Dodgers after his arrival from Boston last July. In 53 games after relocating to Hollywood, Ramirez led the National League in batting average (.396), on-base percentage (.489) and slugging percentage (.743), while finishing second with 17 home runs, all the while spearheading the Dodgers' transformation from underachievers to NL West champions. For his efforts, he finished fourth in last year's NL MVP voting. If he plays with the same level of dedication he showed in two months in L.A., Ramirez, wherever he plays, will undoubtedly produce award-worthy numbers. Now all he needs is a team to do it for.