baseball icon*Baseball is finally here!

This is the first part of our breakdown – taking a look at the league, division-by-division.

Next week, we’ll pick the MVPs, Cy Youngs, Rookies-of-the-Year and give a World Series pick. So, in the words of The Joker … here … we … go:

The American League East is the toughest division to call – you could make a solid case for four different teams to win it – but we’ll go out on a very short limb and call this one for the Rays, who have an excellent starting rotation, the best manager in the game (Joe Maddon) and a dominant slugger (Wil Myers) waiting in the wings for a mid-season call-up. The Blue Jays, with their offseason acquisitions, should finish right behind them, while the Orioles should follow up their surprising 2012 success with a third-place berth. The tattered Yankees and the rebuilding Red Sox could be cellar-dwellers. How weird is that?

Detroit is the class of the American League Central, as the Victor Martinez comeback gives them even more firepower in a loaded lineup. Cleveland made some wise winter moves – good enough to bring them to second – and Kansas City’s kids might be enough to get them into third. Chicago is due for a fall-off, and Minnesota is years away from competing. This is not a great division.

Out west, Anaheim‘s fearsome lineup added Josh Hamilton to an order that already included Albert Pujols and Mike Trout; that should be enough to bring them a division championship. Texas still has enough left to take second place (and one of the Wild Card spots), while Oakland‘s 2012 success seems just a bit fluky. They’re a good – but not great – team. Seattle has some interesting pieces and could surprise a bit, but they’re still two or three years away from making noise. Houston is the worst team in baseball, by far.

On the other hand, Atlanta could have the best team in baseball, and certainly has the best team in the NL East. Their Heyward-Upton-Upton outfield is downright scary. Washington isn’t that far behind them – expect Bryce Harper to take a giant leap forward this year. The aging Philadelphia team still has enough talent to wheeze into third, while the decimated New York and Miami teams will battle for fifth.

Cincinnati has the most talent in the NL Central, but the always-surprising St. Louis team should be right on their heels all summer. Don’t be surprised if Cardinals rookie OF Oscar Taveras comes up to give the team a jump at some point in the summer. If Ryan Braun manages to avoid a suspension, Milwaukee should finish third; if he goes out for any length of time, Pittsburgh and budding superstar OF Andrew McCutchen could jump up a spot. Chicago has some young talent, but it’s not enough to get them out of the basement.

San Francisco doesn’t have the best lineup in the league, but man, can they pitch. The defending World Series champions should pick up another division crown. Los Angeles spent enough of Magic Johnson’s money to secure at least a Wild Card spot (though the Hanley Ramirez injury really hurts). Arizona’s trade of Justin Upton was positively baffling. They’re headed for third. San Diego has some intrigung pieces hanging around (Chase Headley, for one) but they’re no better than fourth. Colorado’s pitching is a mess, and should doom them to fifth place.