And we are back.
The worst part of the sports year is over - the lull between the Super Bowl and baseball's opening day. I grew up on the Golden State Warriors, people, so the NBA isn't my favorite. I'm boycotting the NHL this year, and even if I weren't, hockey doesn't count until the playoffs.
And please don't ask me about my NCAA bracket.
OK, the baseball picks ...
Do you really need to ask? Seriously, people? Of course, the San Francisco Giants will win this division. The Dodgers may jack their payroll to the size of the national debt, but they still don't have the pitching. As brilliant as he is, Clayton Kershaw cannot pitch everyday, and Zach Greinke will be known as the right-handed Barry Zito by the time his six-year contract is done.
If All-Star teams worked, the Yankees would win every year, and we're seeing what's happening in the Bronx - the team is loaded down with lengthy, costly contracts and in decline, a portent for the Dodgers.
The Giants will trot out Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Zito in some order in their starting rotation. That's three Cy Youngs, kids, on the back of the starting five.
As for Lincecum, this is a big year. After last year's ghastly season (10-15, 5.18 ERA), he is in his contact year, and it wouldn't shock me if the Giants deal him to replenish their farm system. Either way, San Francisco rides its pitching to a division title, along with a lineup that scores enough runs behind reigning MVP Buster Posey, the ever-expanding Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and the emerging Brandon Belt.
The Diamondbacks will make some noise, but fade late. The Padres' biggest news will be when they trade Chase Headley, and the Colorado Rockies barely exist. (Don't bother emailing me. You know it's true.)
No Chris Carpenter, no problem. The St. Louis Cardinals seem to have the ability overcome injury after injury and free-agent losses. This is a good organization with a deep minor-league system. A good offense and a good-enough staff wins the Central. (Please remember that the Cards really should have gone to the World Series last year, except that the Giants avenged the ghosts of 1987, your sports editor's first postseason trauma.)
The Reds can hit, but can they pitch? The latter is questionable. The Pirates don't seem to be able to play 162 games, and the Brewers may have landed Kyle Lohse, but he can't carry a staff. Meanwhile, the Cubs will make it 105 years, and will finish last because the Astros moved to the AL West. (Note to self: Couldn't we just have moved the Brewers back to the Junior Circuit and then put the Royals in the American League West to leave each league with 15 teams?)
We make Copy Chief Ross Leonhart's day - and join the rest of Western Civilization - in picking the Washington Nationals to repeat. I feel that the Nats, though, did get their cosmic dessert in the playoffs last year for sitting Stephen Strasburg. (Could we please stop coddling pitchers?)
The Nats do need to watch the Braves. Atlanta is like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." It's never dead. Please remember how the Braves kept hanging around and made the Wild Card Game last year. Add the Upton brothers (Justin and B.J.) and they'll give Washington a run. (The Braves and Dodgers will be the wild cards this season.)
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins should rot in hell for trashing their roster one year after receiving a a taxpayer-finanaced stadium.
The Oakland A's were the feel-good story of 2012, but what everybody forgets is that they got hot late, while the Rangers folded. Lightning isn't striking twice here. The Angels should win this division, though their bullpen does not inspire confidence. The Rangers will pay for losing Josh Hamilton to Los Angeles of Anaheim near San Diego, but not quite as close to Oakland.
I'm still trying to figure out why the Mariners signed Felix Hernandez to a massive deal. (Of course, he's a great pitcher, but I see him dealt to a big-market team in a few years.) And I still do not know why the Astros are in this division.
Boy, did the Tigers under-achieve last year. I'm not just referring to their delightful crushing at the hands of the eventual World Series champions. Detroit won only 86 games during the regular season with that rotation and a 1-2 punch of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? (By the way, all stat geeks need to shut up. If you win the Triple Crown, you're the MVP.)
And while I apologize in advance to Ginger, who loves the White Sox and always badgers me in a nice way about this topic, the Tigers should repeat. The bigger questions remain about winning only 86 games, the closer's spot and a poor record against left-handed pitching.
This is also the Shadenfreude Division. The Yankees and the Red Sox stink. Oh, happy day. I'm actually OK with the Red Sox. I'm just sick and tired of ESPN shoving the "greatest rivalry in sports" down our throats. By the way, the best rivalry in sports is in the NL West.
The Yankees are a mess with A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter all starting the year on the disabled list.
The bigger question is - who among the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays wins this division? Toronto is now Miami North after the firesale and also picked up R.A. Dickey from the Mets. The Orioles seem too good to be true and the Rays are just always there. (Can you imagine if they could keep their talent?)
Let's make it the Jays with the Rays and the White Sox (for Ginger) as wild cards.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.
The crystal ball
NL West: San Francisco
NL Central: St. Louis
NL East: Washington
NL wild cards: Atlanta and Los Angeles Dodgers
AL West: Los Angeles Angels
AL Central: Detroit
AL East: Toronto
AL wild cards: Tampa Bay and Chicago White Sox
World Series: Washington over Detroit