- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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Call him Scout X.
Big league lifer. One of the best in the business. Has forgotten more about baseball than you and I will ever know.
Opening Day is April 4. Scout X is way ahead of you.
Can anybody beat the Yankees? I don't see how. I really don't see how.
Now with Javier Vazquez in the rotation, it gets even tougher. I know he's coming from the other league and his numbers are inflated, but he's going to make a difference. You're talking about CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Vazquez. It's hard to compete with that.
For me, Phil Hughes would probably be the fifth starter. Joba Chamberlain would be the set-up guy. I don't think Joba has the intellectual capacity to go through a lineup three times. I think you put him out there and let him blow everybody away for an inning or two.
Now the Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Dice-K, Tim Wakefield and John Lackey. And their bullpen is pretty darn good. I think they're good enough for a wild card. I don't see a second-place team in the other divisions being as good as Boston.
People are talking about Tampa, but I just don't think, at the end of the game, they can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Not yet, anyway. But starting-pitching-wise, this kid Jeff Niemann, they rave about him. And now's the time for David Price to go out and pitch. They watched his innings last season.
I don't pay to see games, but if I had to, I'd pay to see Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants. But if you give me the choice between Lincecum and Cain, I'll take Cain for the next six, seven years.
Cain can really pitch, man. Lincecum, he's a freak. He weighs 160 or so pounds. He's a max-effort guy with a bad delivery. Don't get me wrong -- he punched out 261 guys last year and he might pitch forever. But it's just that Cain pitches with such ease. He won 14 games last year with a 2.89 ERA. Lincecum won 15 with a 2.48. See what I'm saying?
My favorite pitcher in the National League is Arizona's Dan Haren. Love Dan Haren. He's a pitcher. He's got impeccable command. He's got the stuff. But he got no run support last year. If he would have been on the New York Yankees, he would have won 25 games.
And as much as I hate to say it, I'd pay to watch Manny Ramirez. I'd pay to watch him hit. Play left field? No. In a playoff game about three years ago, he's going toward the line -- there's a line drive -- he kind of stumbles and his hat falls off and it goes past the ball's path and the ball rolls into his hat. He's looking around for the ball. I thought I was going to die. That was at Fenway Park. But the guy can hit.
I'd pay to see Joe Mauer play. I'd pay to see CC Sabathia pitch.
A-Rod is hard to watch. He's such a phony. Hard to stomach. But he's a great player. A great player.
As far as the younger players, that's easy: Evan Longoria of the Rays. I like the way he plays the game. And Andrew Bailey, the closer for Oakland, has no fear. He's aggressive, works fast and throws strikes. I like his game very much.
Now if you're asking me my favorite guy to watch, it's the Kung-Fu Panda -- Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. Oh, is he funny. But he can rake. He can hit. He's so fat and he's so unorthodox. But he gets the barrel of the bat to the ball. You cannot teach somebody to hit like that.
They list him at 5-11, 235, but it was more like 270 last season. And still he hit .330 and 25 [home runs] and 90 [RBIs] -- in his first full year in the big leagues and in that ballpark [AT&T Park].
Seattle had the best offseason, but I still think the Angels are the class of the AL West. The Mariners had a lot of money to spend, but I'm not absolutely convinced about their offense.
But they've got King Felix [Hernandez]. If Cliff Lee is healthy and they get Erik Bedard back in June, they're going to be a tough one-two-three. If they get to the postseason, they're going to be tough to beat with that rotation.
Even though I think the Angels are going to win that division, I don't see them getting past the wild card. They've got to play Boston every year.
In the NL East, Philly wins, but I'm worried about Brad Lidge.
The Mets are a poorly put-together team. And the Nationals need to be careful with Stephen Strasburg. He's a special talent -- as good as it gets -- but I wouldn't let him start the season in the big leagues. I saw him give up 10 earned runs in a Fall League game. Gave up a salami and a three-run homer in one inning.
He's got a fresh arm because he hasn't pitched a whole lot. But pitching is fragile, especially power pitchers like that.
Best player in the National League is Albert Pujols. Best player in the American League is Joe Mauer. Not too hard there.
The best pitcher, to me, is Sabathia. He's a monster, that guy. Nothing stops him. He's a left-hander, which gives him the edge.
Roy Halladay is right up there. The Phillies will love him.
And like I said, I really like Lincecum and Cain. Cain has four pitches he can command, and he's big -- 6-3, 230.
When I look for breakout players, I look for good, young players who have some experience who are on good clubs, with good players around them.
I think the Dodgers win the NL West. Great bullpen. But three of those guys -- Jonathan Broxton, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso -- combined for more than 200 games last season. That's a lot. There's been studies done about productivity for relievers after they pitch in 70 games the year before. The drop-off is pretty good. So that's a concern.
I think the Cardinals win the NL Central.
I think the Cubs have a chance in that division. They've got some underachieving guys who have had great years in the past. I think anything's possible in that division, except with the Pirates, who have no chance.
But when I think of Carlos Zambrano, I think of a guy with great talent, but below-average command of his emotions. Flighty. His 2009 season wasn't that bad, but he only threw 169 innings for a guy making $19 million.
Randy Wells pitched really well for the Cubs. I guess he found out this spring he needed glasses. I wouldn't give them to him. I wouldn't change a thing.
Their most consistent guy is Ted Lilly. [Cubs GM Jim] Hendry took a lot of grief for that signing, but Lilly's won 15, 17, 12 in the last three years.
But I think the Cardinals win because of Pujols, Matt Holliday and their starting pitching. Ryan Franklin does it with mirrors as a closer, but he gets them out. A lot of people don't like him, but he gets the job done. That's all that matters.
The AL Central is a tough call. At first I'd say Tigers, Twins and then White Sox.
I mean, you knew the Tigers were going to sign Johnny Damon. The White Sox weren't going to pay that kind of money [$8 million]. [Tigers owner Mike] Ilitch doesn't give a crap. He'll sell some more pizzas.
Detroit's starting rotation has some question marks, but I like Max Scherzer. People don't like his delivery, but I like his stuff. Nasty stuff. He's poised to do some things.
Justin Verlander is a guy I should have mentioned before. One of the class pitchers of the league. Rick Porcello is 21 years old. Armando Galarraga got worn out last year, but he has good stuff. Jeremy Bonderman is coming off an injury.
I like the rookies in their lineup: Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. And Miguel Cabrera is a monster.
But the more I look at it, I'll go with the Twins. The starting rotation is OK, but those four guys in the bullpen -- Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan -- are nails, man. That's the best bullpen in the American League. Mijares? Left-handed hitters have no chance against him.
So if the Twins are ahead after six innings, they've got a good chance to win with that bullpen.
I think Orlando Hudson is going to bring a lot to the Twins. He's probably the best defensive second baseman in baseball. Denard Span is a Twins prototype player. He hits .311, steals 23 bags and walks 70 times. And Michael Cuddyer carried them late last season. Good lineup there.
They have less question marks in their rotation and they've got the best bullpen in the league. That's a good combination. Two MVPs (Mauer and Justin Morneau) in the lineup helps, too.
So change it to Twins, Tigers and then Sox.
Phillies in the NL East, Dodgers in NL West, Cardinals in the NL Central. NL wild card is Colorado.
In the American League you've got the usual suspects: Yankees in the East, Twins in the Central, Angels in the West, Boston as the wild card.
In the NLCS, I'll take the Cardinals and the Dodgers. I can't take the Phillies because Lidge scares the hell out of me. Because of his inconsistency, they're vulnerable late in the game. In a playoff situation, the closer is in there every night.
I think Broxton, even though he blew a lot of saves last year, has a chance to be special. He throws 100 mph, and he's got the best grade you can have on a slider.
In the ALCS I've got to go with the Yankees and Boston.
Cardinals win the NLCS and the Yankees win the ALCS.
Yankees win the World Series.
When the season's over, show me my picks again. I want to see how I did.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.