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Monday, February 20, 2012
W roundtable: Spring means baseball

By espnW

A.J. Burnett
The Yankees traded A.J. Burnett to the Pirates over the weekend, much to the delight of at least one fan.

Pitchers and catchers reported over the weekend which means spring and baseball are right around the corner. Predictions or wishes for the upcoming season?

Yankees ready to go

By Amanda Rykoff

As a Yankee fan, all of my wishes, hopes and prayers have already been answered. GM Brian Cashman (in the midst of a stalking scandal and a divorce) pulled the trigger on a trade that brought the Yankees stud pitcher Michael Pineda from the Mariners. He also added solid free-agent starter Hiroki Kuroda to the rotation. And A.J. Burnett has been traded to the Pirates. Can someone pinch me to make sure I'm not dreaming? Thanks, Pittsburgh! I actually think the deal makes sense for the Pirates and A.J. will pitch much better in the National League. I'm still thrilled. I'll miss the pie, but I won't miss the yelling and cursing at the TV.

It also doesn't hurt that the Red Sox have new management, a new bullpen and their fans are already in midseason grousing form. The Yankees finished with the best record in the American League last year and though they aren't any younger, and do need another bat to replace Jesus Montero, they are still the team to beat in the East. But look out for the Rays with their outstanding starting rotation and a healthy Evan Longoria. Even with some holes in the offense, the Rays can win with pitching.

I would also like Major League Baseball to make its announcement about the extra wild-card team. We're six weeks away from Opening Day and don't know if the extra playoff team will be in place this season or next. Commissioner Bud Selig said he expected to have the new 10-playoff team system in place this season, pending the resolution of scheduling issues. I'm prepared to accept the inevitable (if it doesn't happen this season, it will happen in 2013), but the sooner baseball can make the decision, the better.

As long as we're talking about playoffs and predictions, here are some others from around MLB:

• Bryce Harper will make the team out of spring training and the Nationals will contend for the NL wild card.

• Even with one of the best starting rotations in baseball, the Phillies will struggle with age and injury.

• The Pirates will finish over .500 for the first time since 1992.

• Jose Bautista will be the first player to lead the majors in home runs in three straight seasons since Mike Schmidt in 1974-76.

• Joe Mauer will hit a home run at Target Field.

• Yu Darvish will be the American League Rookie of the Year.

Let's play ball!

New era for Cubs

By Sarah Spain

Three weeks from now I'll be sitting on the lawn at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., watching the Cubs take on the Mariners. I'll be one day removed from winter weather in Chicago, so the hot desert sun cooking my tank-top clad shoulders will be almost as exciting as my first ballgame of the year. As usual, I'll be torn between the reality that is Cubs baseball and the naive hope that always accompanies a fresh start.

I can already see the naysayers rolling their eyes at the thought of Cubs fans being optimistic about a team that hasn't won it all in more than a century. But listen people, this isn't just any fresh start; this season marks the beginning of the Theo Epstein era. Those fans who, like me, see their Old Styles half full, believe Theo's championship years in Boston and his forward-thinking approach to statistical analysis will mean some series changes on the North Side of Chicago. His "Cubs Way" might finally be the right way, even if it takes a few years.

So, while I'd like to say I'm hoping for a championship parade in Chicago this fall, I'll settle for the transformation of this team, step by step, into a contender. And pitchers and catchers reporting is the first step.

Hope is Nats Town

Melissa Jacobs

As a Washingtonian, I live in the worst-performing sports town in the country. The Redskins are a disaster. The Wizards are worse than that. The region's only saving grace has been the Capitals, but that's hockey. The Nationals, who have been in D.C. since 2005, have basically existed to play gracious host (mostly too gracious) to the bevy of teams that cater to the region's transient population much more than they do. But that changes this season.

The Nats finally head into the season with a legitimate chance to make some noise in the NL East and squeak out a wild card. It all starts with pitching, and the exciting return of Stephen Strasburg who has been out with Tommy John surgery since 2010. The team also added starters Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, as well as reliever Brad Lidge. Its farm system is exciting and deep, headlined by the phenom outfielder Bryce Harper who could very well be the Opening Day right fielder.

The Nats clearly play in a mostly tough division and a wild card or division championship are not obvious, but I will make two predictions: 1) They finish over .500. 2) More fans buy tickets this year because of an actual interest in the team and not their opponents or proximity to the Ben's Chili Bowl line.

Posey returns to Giants

By Michelle Smith

Here in the Bay Area, this baseball fan is looking forward to the return of Giants catcher Buster Posey.

Posey is one of the game's most appealing young players and his season-ending ankle injury last May was not only gruesome, but it could easily have threatened his blossoming career.

But Posey reported to spring training this weekend in Arizona, caught bullpen sessions for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and got strict instructions from manager Bruce Bochy that he is not to block the plate on plays at home.

He's swinging the bat well, getting stronger every day and giving Giants fans a lot to look forward to come April.