For the 2010 Opening Day edition of Extra Innings, we will preview the season’s divisional races and award contenders, though such predictions should not be taken too seriously. There are, after all, 2,409 games remaining after three days of the regular season.

Beginning in the AL East, the division features three of the top teams in Major League Baseball. If they play up to expectations, New York, Boston and Tampa Bay each have what it takes to win not only the division but also the American League and even the World Series.

In addition to being three excellent teams, each features a potential AL MVP candidate and starting pitchers who could make a case for the AL Cy Young Award in 2010.

With an improved pitching staff, plenty of offensive firepower and a better defense than New York or Tampa Bay, the Boston Red Sox will take the division title. Behind the two, the race will be close, but the Yankees will edge the Rays for the Wild Card.

According to one projection, the AL Central could be won with a .500 record. It seems hard to believe, but it certainly could be the only true five-team race in baseball this year. Yet, like the East, there are three favorites: Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota.

It’s hard to pick against the reigning AL MVP, but with a decidedly average pitching rotation and a huge question mark at the back of the bullpen, Minnesota seems poised to come up short in 2010. Conversely, Detroit, with an excellent young core, excellent 3-4-5 hitters in Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen and the division’s second-best pitching staff, is ready to reclaim the division.

Out West, the Seattle Mariners are a trendy pick to overtake the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season. This argument comes based on the Angels’ losses and Mariners’ gains during the offseason. Plus Oakland and Texas should be better in 2010 as well.

So, any one of the four teams in the West could win the division. But Oakland, Texas and Seattle just don’t have what it takes to outlast the mighty Angels. One of the three should give L.A. a run for its money, but the Angels, behind MVP-candidate Kendry Morales, will win in the end.

In the Senior Circuit, the NL East could provide two playoff teams, much like its American League counterpart. New York looks to be improved, but injuries will likely keep the Mets out of the playoffs yet again. Florida and Washington will also be well out of the playoff picture come September.

With the addition of Roy Halladay, the Phillies instantly become the favorite for a third straight National League pennant. As such, they will claim the division crown. But it’s hard to imagine Bobby Cox going out on a low note. With Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones leading the way, the Braves should claim the NL Wild Card.

In the Central, contrary to what you may have already read, it should be a three-team race for the division title. St. Louis’ one-two punches of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright on the mound and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday at the plate will take them a long way.

But it’s hard to imagine Carpenter and Wainwright duplicating their respective seasons of a year ago. Similarly, Holliday and Pujols will be good, but not enough to carry the Cardinals. That said, the Milwaukee Brewers, behind a slightly improved pitching staff, strong defense and one of baseball’s best offenses should edge St. Louis and Chicago for the division.

Finally, in the NL West, there should be yet another excellent divisional race between three teams. Los Angeles will be tough to beat yet again, though they will miss Randy Wolf, who had a career year for the Dodgers in 2009. With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, you can never count out the Giants, but offense will still be hard to come by.

But neither the Dodgers nor the Giants will win the NL West this season. Colorado, led by Ubaldo Jimenez, the hardest throwing starter in the National League, will finally eclipse Joe Torre’s team to round out the playoff picture.

In October, Boston will have little trouble eliminating Detroit, while the Angels will come up short against the Yankees, setting up ESPN’s dream ALCS matchup. Just as they did in the regular season, the Red Sox will knock out the Yankees for the AL pennant.

In the National League, the Phillies will knock out the Brewers for the second time in three years while the Rockies take out the Braves. In a rematch of their 2007 NLDS matchup, the Phillies will be victorious this time, reaching their third straight World Series.

For the second straight year, two East Coast teams will battle it out for the championship, with Philadelphia avenging last season’s loss to New York for its second title in three years.

On the individual front, the AL MVP race will feature the usual candidates, along with one new face. Morales, the Angels’ star first baseman, will narrowly defeat Mark Teixeira for the honor. In the NL, Prince Fielder will have a monster year as he looks to boost his upcoming contract negotiations, unseating Pujols as MVP.

As for the AL Cy Young, the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez will take the award, with the Royals’ Zack Greinke and Detroit’s Justin Verlander close behind. And in the NL, newly-acquired Phillies’ ace Halladay will run away with the award.

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson will take home the AL Rookie of the Year award, running away with the honor. Similarly, Braves right fielder Jason Heyward will dominate the field en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Jordan is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. Think he took too many safe bets in his picks? Is he too biased in his selection of the Brewers and Prince Fielder? Let him know at [email protected]