Who knows what team is going to finish on top when it is all said and done, but these are the best teams in the land as it stands today:
1) Chicago Cubs - They might have a history of losing, and they have been a popular preseason pick for the last few years only to eventaully fall short of the fall classic, but on paper this is clearly the best team in the NL and arguably the entire MLB. The heart of the order (Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, and Bradley) is as dangerous as any in the game, Soto is a top 5 catcher, and Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot are the most underrated middle infielders in the NL. The Cubs rotation featuring Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster, and Ted Lilly, if they can stay healthy, could be a formitable post-season staff. Don't forget about the 1-2 punch of Marmol and Gregg in the back of the pen to close down the game.
2) Tampa Bay Rays - I think it's safe to say the Rays aren't going to surprise anyone this year. They are returning every starter from last year's World Series squad, plus they've added Pat Burrell in right field and have a totally healthy Carl Crawford (who Buster Olney has predicted will win the AL MVP award in 2009). The rotation in Tampa is so solid that they could afford to send down David Price to start the year in the minors. The bullpen which sported the best ERA in the AL last season has for the most part returned as well. The only question facing the Rays is can they outlast the other two contenders in the AL East.
3) New York Yankees - No secret here, the Yanks had a huge off-season and that has given them the potential to grab the #1 spot in the power rankings sooner than later. The two biggest concerns going into the season for New York have to be the Burnett's injury plagued past and the health of Jorge Posada, who could see more time at DH than catcher this year. The knock of the Yankee's lineup is that they are getting old...but the fact is that they aren't dead yet. With All-stars at positions around the field, look for the Yanks to go big this season.
4) Boston Red Sox - The reason the Red Sox are behind both the Rays and Yankees is because they have so many question marks. Is Varitek going to kill them at the plate? Can Penny, Smoltz, and Wakefield fill in the back of the rotation? Is Jed Lowrie going to hurt them at shortstop? Even with all of these nagging issues, the Red Sox are returning the core of their ALCS losing team from 2008, and with potential ace Jon Lester, as well as Beckett and Matsuzaka, fronting the Sox rotation, Boston has as good a chance as any at taking the AL East crown.
5) Philadelphia Phillies - Even without a third baseman, the Phillies still have the best infield in the game. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins hardly need support in the lineup to score runs, but they are accompanied by Shane Victorino and new-comer Raul Ibanez who are looking to grab a second straight WS title. The rotation for the Phillies is the major question mark. Hamels is a top 5 starter in the NL, but can Moyer, Blanton, and Myers repeat the success they had in 2008? If not, then the Phillies may find themselves finishing behind the Braves and Mets in the powerful NL East.
6) Los Angeles Angels - The Angels probably have the best overall staff from front (Lackey) to back (Arrendondo, Shields, Fuentes). It is hard to say that your team is going to struggle scoring runs when you have Vladamir Guererro, Bobby Abreu, and Torri Hunter batting in heart of the lineup, but other than those three sluggers the Angels are full of question marks. Are we going to see the Chone Figgins of 2007 or 2008? What can Mike Nappoli contribute as a full time catcher? Aybar? Morales? Rivera? The Angels are good enough to win the AL West, but keep the 6th spot in the MLB power rankings? Question mark.
7) New York Mets - They have the ace in Santana. They have the top young studs in Reyes and Wright. They have a the powerful veterans in Delgado and Beltran. Now they have a top 5 closer/setup man combo. All that's left is for the Mets to put it all together and they will be untoucable in the NL East. Putting it all together, however, has been tough for the Mets of late, but look for them to break out in a big way in 2009.
8) Arizona Diamondbacks - For some reason the Dodgers and Giants are heavy favorites to take the NL West, but the Dbacks have better starting pitching than either club and their lineup is far better than San Fran's with the potential of being this year's Tampa Bay young-hitter break out squad. With Young, Drew, Jackson, and Upton beginning the season as potential all-stars, it is very possible that these guys run away with the NL West (Sorry Dodger fans...Manny will break your heart, just wait).
9) Minnesota Twins - It is one of the biggest mysteries in baseball: the Twins always win. Ask someone to name four players on the twins and they will get as far Mauer, Morneau, and Nathan before giving up. But the fact remains: this team, through smart hitting, great fielding, and constant hustle, knows how to win. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Fransisco Liriano front a top of the line, young rotation and youngsters by the name of Span, Gomez, and Casilla will all help to get the Twins to the top of the AL Central.
10) Atlanta Braves - They are no Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, but Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Javier Vasquez front a very potent rotation down in Georgia. When the Braves were dominating the NL East they relied on quality pitching, but if they are to challenge the Mets and Phillies for the title in 2009 they are going to have to do it with the bats as well. That means Chipper Jones is going to have to stay healthy, Brian McCann will have to remain the best hitting catcher in the NL, and Kotchman, Schafer, and Escobar are going to have to live up to all of their potential.
11) Chicago White Sox - We all know that Dye, Quentin, Konerko, and Thome can pack a big punch, but the White Sox are going to have to rely more on the young bats of Ramirez, Getz, and Fields to fight through the crowd at the top of the AL Central. Bobby Jenks is a top five closer...but the fact is that he can't start in place of Contreras and Colon in the back of the rotation. If either of those two flop (likely) you could see the young arms of Jack Egbert or Aaron Poreda making their debuts, which could be a good thing for Chicago.
12) Cleveland Indians - So many questions, but so much talent. My preseason pick for AL MVP is Grady Sizemore and he could easily lead this tribe team to the playoffs. Lee and Carmona are a solid 1-2 in the rotation, and Kerry Wood will sure up their abysmal bullpen from a year ago. If Hafner bounces back and Martinez stays healthy, the Indians are going to be very dangerous.
13) San Diego Padres - My surprise team in the power rankings (will probably come back to bite me). I love Peavy and Young at the front of the rotation. Don't forget, this is the same team that everyone was picking to win the NL West pre-season a year ago. They still have a solid nucleus in Gonzalez as well as a load of talent around the outfield. When people don't expect a lot from them, the Padres are at their best. Watchout.
14) Detroit Tigers - After attempting to construct a team of all-stars in 2008 in hopes of returning to the World Series, the Tigers were miserable. But they have scaled back in 2009 and parted ways with the likes of Ivan Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. The 3-4 holes filled by Ordonez and Cabrera are some of the best in the game, but Detroit has major question marks following Verlander in the rotation, the back of the bullpen, and the left side of the infield.
15) Los Angeles Dodgers - They have the hall of famer in the middle of the lineup surrounded by great young talent, but not only is Chad Billingsly more of a #2 or #3 than an ace, but there isn't another arm in the starting rotation that you would really consider reliable. Kuroda, Kershaw, and Wolf all have different levels of potential, but I don't see this staff matchup with with the Webb/Haren, Lincecum/Cain, or even Peavy/Young combinations in the NL West. And we know the Dodgers aren't known for outscoring people...
17) Milwakee Brewers - They are going to go through some growing pains without Sheets and Sabathia, but I still like any club with Braun and Fielder manning the middle of the lineup to contend for a playoff spot...even if their rotation does look a little raggedy.
18) Toronto Blue Jays - Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball...too bad all he has to support him are Vernon Well and Alex Rios. Playing the the AL East, don't expect much from the Blue Jays (although the same was said about the Rays of 2008).
19) Florida Marlins - All the potential in the world. A few all-stars and an MVP candidate mixed in with potential studs. The Marlins have done more with less.
20) San Fransisco Giants - They've built a pretty solid rotation...but I'm not sure if adding Edgar Renteria to one of the worst lineups in baseball is going to make a difference.
21) Oakland Athletics - Improved the lineup dramatically with Giambi, Cabrera, and Holliday, the question is whether or not the young arms of Braden, Cahill, and Anderson can live up to the hype.
22) Cinncinati Reds - They have a few young studs in Dickerson, Bruce, and Votto, not to mention a decent starting staff...look for the Reds to turn a few heads in the NL Central.
23) Texas Rangers - Same old story. Amazing lineup, marginal arms. Are you going to bet the farm on Millwood and Padilla as your big 1-2 punch? And Kris Benson? I thought his arm fell off 3 years ago...
24) Houston Astros - Great talent in Oswalt, Berkman, and Lee...other than that it isn't looking like the Astros are going to get by the Cards and Cubbies. Ps...if Mike Hampton makes more than 10 starts I will be shocked.
26) Colorado Rockies - Dealing away Holliday spelled doom for the Rockies in 2009...you don't give up your best player if you think you have a shot.
27) Kansas City Royals - Decent young players...nothing too special though. If Gordon, Butler, and Jacobs break out they are still only going to be mediocre.
28) Seattle Mariners - They are already talking about who they are going to deal Bedard to at the trading deadline...and I'm tired of hearing talk about Beltre's "breakout contract season"...he's mediocre, get over it.
29) Pittsburgh Pirates - Who are they going to deal at the deadline this year for marginal talent?
30) Washington Nationals - If only Teixeira could have taken a hometown discount...