The way it works for me is, as the baseball offseason progresses, I start to formulate evaluations of what I'm seeing. Then I bounce those evaluations off industry folks whom I respect. Then I integrate that feedback with my initial instincts, and come up with my preseason predictions.

(That could be a case of TMI here at KDBI).

Far more often than not, I'm glad I listened. I remember that last year, I was fawning over the Marlins until a scout from another NL East club told me, "No, they have too many holes in their bullpen. The Phillies are still the best." 

This season, I liked the Brewers' offseason, particularly the hiring of Rick Peterson as pitching coach. Spoke with a front-office person from another NL team who strongly disagreed, asserting that the Cardinals were still the best.

Now, once again: It's ridiculously early: In what we'll perhaps make a weekly Monday thing, here are the standings at this point in 2009 (scroll to the bottom). Note that, of the nine "playoff teams" - there was a three-way tie atop the AL West - just one, the Dodgers, actually made the playoffs.

Yet even at this juncture, three teams have set off alarms for me: Two clubs I picked to make the playoffs despite personal doubts, and one team I reluctantly forecast to sit home in October.

1) I wondered if the Red Sox would struggle to score runs, but multiple baseball folks convinced me that their great pitching staff would take care of that. So far, though, at 4-8, Boston is underachieving. David Ortiz's horrible start makes the Sawx look old and, from a more pragmatic standpoint, leaves the middle of their lineup pretty naked. Victor Martinez is pretty much just as guilty as Ortiz when it comes to underperformance, and his problems behind the plate (opponents have stolen 13 bases in 14 tries) are just as alarming.

The new guys, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, aren't hitting much. And as Alex Speier points out in the above linked story, Cameron has struggled defensively, as well.

Reason for hope? Besides the obvious "track record" _ Jon Lester is off to a rough start _ there's also the fact that the Sawx will make big, in-season moves if necessary. If the Padres can't hang around the NL West, that Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston deal could actually happen.

2) On the flip side of the AL East, I loved the Rays and thought they could disrupt the Yankees-Red Sox hold on power, just as they did in 2008. Alas, I eventually chickened out because of concerns about their depth and their inability to make a high-impact, payroll-altering move during the season.And also because of the love out there for the Red Sox.

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Right now, though, Tampa Bay looks tremendous, as it goes for the four-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway this  morning. After all, we're understandably fawning about the Yankees, and yet the Rays are tied with them at 9-3.

Enough of the key lineup guys are hitting, and David Price looks ready to graduate into being a frontline starter. The only starting pitcher who has been subpar is James Shields, and there's plenty of reason to think he'll trend upward.

So what's the problem? The same concern - roster depth. Will their bullpen cost them games? We'll see. In any case, it's yet again a tribute to the Rays' baseball operations people that they can hang tough with the superpowers _ that no one would think of regarding them as an April fluke  even though they're spending about $90 million less than the Red Sox and about $130 million less than the Yankees.

3) The White Sox didn't impress any of us with their Juan Pierre acquisition over the winter, and I wondered if they'd score enough. But everyone loved that pitching staff. So I said what the heck and picked them to win the AL Central.

Alas, Gavin Floyd, Freddy Garcia and Jake Peavy all have struggled. Throw in that shaky offense, and you have your last-place, 4-9 White Sox.

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Reason for hope? Carlos Quentin probably can hit better, and A.J. Pierzynski definitely can, and even Pierre shouldn't be as awful as he has been, and my preseason MVP pick Gordon Beckham figures to warm up. And Peavy and Floyd, at least, should improve. On the flip side, though, Mark Teahen will slow down.

The key could be how well the Twins handle their injury bug and therefore create a window for others. Jose Mijares is already on the disabled list, as you can see in the linked story, and Nick Blackburn is ailing.

--Jon Heyman reports "Not yet" on Ike Davis joining the Mets, and sure enough, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports that Davis is starting at Triple-A today (thanks, Twitter). But it does appear to be a matter of days now for Davis to make the leap. Perhaps if Jon Niese can put up a good start tonight and keep the bullpen in check, tomorrow will be the day.

Why the Mets ever thought Mike Jacobs would be a viable option, even short-term, is beyond me. Maybe they were having too many 2005 flashbacks.

Better late than never, I suppose, and maybe Davis will fall on his face and prove he needs more time. Yet when you contemplate that the Mets have played mostly close games - they've scored 48 runs and allowed 49 - you can't help but wonder whether Davis could've made a difference.

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--The Mets lost again, but I guess you would count this as progress for John Maine.

--This is a key homestand for the Mets, Mike Vaccaro writes, and I agree.

--These are ridiculously tranquil times for the Yankees, as Joel Sherman and Tyler Kepner write. They're sure to encounter some turbulence along the way. Even the 1998 Yankees did so. But 1) they have crazy depth, and 2) they're not run by crazy people who will panic when that turbulence comes. So you should be feeling pretty, pretty good if you're a Yankees fan.

--Good story by Anthony Rieber about the new Yankee Stadium's evolution. It's not a homer haven anymore. What happened? We're not sure, but the real lesson - as always - is not to rush to judgment. For instance, 12 games into the season, you shouldn't be discussing teams that are disappointments.

(D'oh!)

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--While I was on "Sports Extra" last night, Duke Castiglione asked me what I thought of Andy Pettitte's Hall of Fame chances. I told Duke that I didn't think so, but that Pettitte could make it interesting by pitching a few more years.

I don't want to hear about his winning percentage. For each of Pettitte's 15 years in the big leagues, his team has finished above .500 (yes, thanks in part to him, but no one player makes a team). I prefer to look at his Wins Above Replacement, which measures him against his contemporaries using a multitude of statistics. At 47.1, Pettitte really isn't in the same class as guys like Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling or John Smoltz.

One interesting factor: Pettitte has made 40 postseason starts, throwing 249 innings. That's more than a full season's work. How much do we count that? Does that count as more than a regular season's portion of similar length?

That's a question I'll have to address when Pettitte's name comes up on the ballot. Or, perhaps, that's a question I'll never have to address, if the Hall revamps its voting procedures and dismisses the BBWAA.

--I'll check in later from Citi Field.

UPDATE, 1:16 p.m.: Well, Ike Davis never made it onto the field in Buffalo. He'll be a Met tonight. It's the right call. Should be a fun night.