This isn’t a list of who I think will be the best teams in 2008. It’s a list of the teams I think will be the most fun to watch, from as objective a standpoint as possible. The teams at the top of this list have something that the French call…I don’t know what. The teams at the bottom? Not so much.
1. Yankees — They’re playing their final season in Yankees Stadium. They’re trying to win with a ton of young pitching. They’ve got A-Rod gunning for a fourth MVP award, while dodging steroid accusations. Giambi is trying to prove that he can be useful, even without the drugs. Abreu is in a contract year and, by all accounts, is taking the game seriously for the first time in his life. And the new Steinbrenners have thus far been wonderful, magical chips off the old block.
2. Nationals — Dukes. Dmitri. Milledge. Lo Duca. All on the same team. Washington will be many things, but not boring.
3. Cubs — The Red Sox and White Sox have both broken their curses. This could be the Cubs’ year. I saw the Cubs play the White Sox in Tucson this spring and I have to say, Cubs fans are the best. They’re super loyal and they walk around wearing t-shirts that say things like, “1989 NL East Champions,” like anybody cares that they were the second best team in the NL 20 years ago. One girl, who couldn’t have been any older than 19, came up to my friend, who was wearing a Yankees jersey, and started berating him and the Bombers, cursing up a blue streak and accusing New York of buying all their championships (as if current Cubs ownership isn’t trying to do the same). Then she asked him — nay, ordered him — to buy her a beer.
4. Tigers — It’s going to be fun to watch these guys hit. But can they pitch? It’s a safe bet that Verlander is going to get his wins. How well Bonderman pitches (particularly in the first inning of games, where he’s been atrocious) will probably determine whether this team goes the distance.
5. Indians — The Tribe had a big year in 2007, buoyed by strong seasons from C.C. Sabbathia and Fausto Carmona. Can C.C. keep carrying the load? Will Hafner rebound from a so-so year?
6. Diamondbacks — This team confounded experts last year, winning the division despite the fact that they gave up more runs than they scored. This year, Arizona’s young guns are a year older and ready to show that last year wasn’t a fluke. Plus, they added Dan Haren.
7. Dodgers — Will Torre play the young guys (Ethier, Kemp, Loney)? Or will he stick with the veterans (Nomar, Pierre)? The answer to that question could decide whether the Dodgers make the postseason — and whether Jeff Kent’s head explodes.
8. Mets — They’re trying to rebound from an epic collapse. Running Johan Santana out to the mound every five games should help. Also, will David Wright finally get his MVP Award this season? He should have won last year.
9. Phillies — The Phils won the NL East last year. They have not one, not two, but THREE MVP candidates, as well as one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game (Cole Hamels). And they’re still not the favorites to win the division. But don’t tell them that. Jimmy Rollins thinks this year’s team could win 100 games and manager Charlie Manuel thinks they could break a team record for most runs scored.
10. Red Sox — They didn’t do much this offseason. But, then again, they didn’t have to. Will Manny have a big contract year? Will Beckett stay healthy? Will Jacoby win the Rookie of the Year? Will Schilling’s diet work? If the Sox win the World Series this season, they will officially achieve dynasty status. But with injuries to J.D. Drew, Beckett and Schilling there are already a lot of question marks.
11. Reds — They’ve got a shot at the postseason, provided they get big contributions from rookies Bruce and Votto. Only problem is, one half of that duo is currently toiling in AAA. Will the Reds stay afloat long enough for Bruce’s midseason call-up to matter?
12. Rockies — They went to the World Series last season on the strength of an otherworldly hot streak. Nobody’s picking them to get there again in 2008. Will they prove the skeptics wrong? Will Tulo suffer a sophomore slump (He’s hit six homers so far this spring)? Will Halladay win the MVP?
13. Braves — Do Chipper and the gang have one last playoff run in them? We’ll find out. As a Phillies fan, I’m legitimately scared of this Braves team. But Atlanta fans will have to learn how to eat with their feet, considering they’re going to have all their fingers crossed hoping Hampton, Smoltz and Chipper stay healthy.
14. Brewers — They’re bound to make the playoffs one of these years, right? Now that Prince is a vegetarian, I say they’re a lock. Also, it’s going to be awesome watching Ryan Braun play defense for an entire season in the bigs.
15. Cardinals — They’ve got Rick Ankiel and (for the moment) Juan Gonzalez, plus Pujols’ elbow is going to tear any day now. This team is full of intrigue — though more than a little light on talent.
16. Rays — They have this year’s leading AL Rookie of the Year candidate. Problem is, they just sent him to the minors. The Rays are probably a year or two away from winning the East, but they can make things interesting.
17. Giants — The Giants will be bad. But will they be historically bad? When Bengie Molina is your cleanup hitter, you know it’s going to be a long year. I think this team can lose 110 games.
18. A’s — The experts have picked the A’s to tank. The computers have picked them to finish first. Who will be proven right? If the A’s win the AL West, Billy Beane can start writing his Hall of Fame induction speech.
19. Mariners — They traded future star Adam Jones for strikeout machine Erik Bedard. And they signed groundball pitcher Carlos Silva. But the real question is how long will they leave Jose Vidro at DH? He sucks!
20. Angels — They said they needed to get some protection for Vlad in the lineup, so they went out and signed Torri Hunter. As protection goes, that’s right up there with jumping up and down after sex.
21. Rangers — The ONLY reason they’re this high on the list is I’m super psyched to see if Josh Hamilton will carry his hot spring into the regular season. I saw this guy play in spring training. He tagged-up and went from first to second on a flyball to center and I swear I’ve never seen anybody move so fast. Plus he has tattoos.
22. Padres — At some point this season, they could have a rotation featuring Peavy, Young, Maddux, Prior and Wolf. That would be fun.
23. Astros — Ed Wade is out to prove his critics wrong. Unfortunately, there is virtually no chance that Houston will win the Central, but Hunter Pence is an exciting player. And I’m really curious to see if Jose Valverde can repeat last year’s dominance.
24. Marlins — Another year, another rebuild. But the Fish still have some exciting young players. They probably won’t win the East, but they’ll make it interesting. Look for a breakout year from Scott Olsen (followed by an SI story where he expresses his disdain for all the Jews, Cubans and gays in Miami).
25. Twins — Delmon Young finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and then got traded. Will he finally learn to be a more patient hitter? Will Francisco Liriano return to form? Will Morneau put together an MVP season? Will Mauer stay healthy? So many questions.
26. Royals — They hired a manager straight out of Japan. Plus, they’re bringing back the powder blue unis!
27. White Sox — Kenny Williams thinks his team can win the AL Central. He’s pretty much the only one. Chicago’s other team should have started rebuilding two years ago.
28. Pirates — Jason Bay will have a big year. He knows he’s only going to get traded if he builds up his trade value. And he wants to get traded. Wouldn’t you?
29. Blue Jays — They’re also bringing back the powder blue unis. And they’ve got David Eckstein.
30. Orioles — They are going to finish in last place. It’s going to be ugly.