For the first time since 1995, the New York Yankees head into a season without having played postseason baseball the year before.
And they enter April without perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Alex Rodriguez, whose dizzying offseason included criticism from a past manager, admittance that he used steroids, and hip surgery in March that will sideline him until at least mid-May.
Yet several national prognosticators are picking the Yankees to win their first World Series since 2000. Online betting site bodoglife.com has installed the A-Rod-less Yankees as the 2009 favorites, a 5-1 bet to win it all.
Strange times indeed in baseball.
The Yankees' offseason spending spree that yielded them pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) is responsible for the renewed faith in the Bronx Bombers.
Buy it - to an extent. Pencil the Yankees in as the American League wild card, assuming they can get past the Tampa Bay Rays in the East. But they won't make it to the AL Championship Series.
And, to further rankle Yankees fans, their archrivals will be hoisting the World Series championship trophy again in 2009.
Here are the annual playoff and awards predictions and a few other baseball tidbits to get you primed for the coming season.
American League playoffs
The Yankees edge the Rays to get to the playoffs but have to go to Anaheim to face the West-winning Angels. Los Angeles takes it in five games. The Central-winning Cleveland Indians get ousted quickly by the East-winning Boston Red Sox, who then dismantle the Angels - yet again - in the postseason. The Red Sox win in six.
National League playoffs
The defending champion Philadelphia Phillies must travel to Los Angeles as the league's wild-card representative. And, unlike in 2008, the Dodgers are victorious. They face the East-winning New York Mets, who break the hearts of Chicago Cubs fans everywhere by capturing the divisional series playoff in five games. The Dodgers sweep the Mets and head to the World Series against the Red Sox.
2009 World Series
Manny Ramirez goes back to Boston to terrorize his old club, but it is the Red Sox who get the last laugh. They beat the upstart Dodgers in six games, and John Smoltz captures another World Series ring and then retires. Jason Bay is named Series MVP.
* Grady Sizemore, outfielder, Cleveland. The Indians underperformed last season as a team, but Sizemore, 26, established himself as one of the best leadoff hitters in the game with a 33-homer, 38-steal season. He's only getting better, and the Indians should contend this season.
AL Cy Young Award
* CC Sabathia, left-hander, Yankees. Yes, this is the obvious choice. The Yankees will be in the playoff mix this year, and Sabathia is as intimidating as any pitcher in baseball. Expect his first 20-win season and second Cy Young Award.
AL Rookie of the Year
* Travis Snider, outfielder, Toronto Blue Jays. OK, so the Orioles' Matt Wieters is a leading contender for this award, but Snider is a pretty impressive prospect, as well. And he's expected to start the season with the Jays, giving him a couple of months' head start on Wieters and Tampa Bay's David Price.
AL Manager of the Year
* Bob Geren, Oakland Athletics. The A's have enough talent to make a run in the AL West, and Geren has the full support of Oakland management.
* Alfonso Soriano, outfielder, Chicago Cubs. Injuries have limited him to 244 games the past two seasons, but when healthy he is still a top hitter. With the Cubs the favorites to win the NL Central again, Soriano should be in the MVP talk.
NL Cy Young Award
* Johan Santana, left-hander, Mets. He's waiting to win one in the NL, and New York's bullpen should protect more of his leads this year.
NL Rookie of the Year
* James McDonald, right-handed pitcher, Dodgers. After an impressive postseason, McDonald has put himself in position to start early for Los Angeles. Pitching in that home park should certainly help.
NL Manager of the Year
* Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds. The Reds could be the surprise of the NL, and Baker will get the credit for getting a lot out of their young talent. It would be the fourth time he gets the award.
ones to watch
Old faces in new places
* The New York Yankees' $423.5 million men, Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett, are charged with getting the Bronx Bombers back to the playoffs.
* Milton Bradley, the much-maligned but highly talented outfielder, cashed in on an All-Star year with the Texas Rangers to be the potential missing piece for the Chicago Cubs' eternal championship chase.
* Outfielder Raul Ibanez, an underrated player on mostly inferior teams, joined the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. He'll replace Pat Burrell, who signed with the other World Series team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
* Right-hander Derek Lowe was rumored to be headed back to Boston but instead ended up in Atlanta to start Opening Day and anchor a new-look Braves rotation.
* Outfielder Adam Dunn will give Washington Nationals fans something to watch as their club attempts to rebuild. He has hit 40 or more homers in each of his past five seasons.
AL hot-seat manager
* Joe Girardi, Yankees. Girardi got a free pass last year when the Yankees sat out the playoffs for the first time since 1993. But now that the Steinbrenner family went on a spending spree, another down year could doom Girardi. Is that fair? No. Is that New York? Yup.
NL hot-seat manager
* Manny Acta, Washington. Acta has compiled a 132-191 record in two seasons with a woeful Nationals team. He has the right attitude for the rebuilding effort and has president Stan Kasten's support. But his option for 2010 hasn't been picked up, and a slow start could make him vulnerable.