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Baseball swings again

Snow is still on the ground here - but never mind that, bring out the bats, gloves and pine tar and get to baseball already.

March 31 is a mighty early time to start a season, but they want an earlier finish and won't budge from 162 games, so we'll just have to cope. In a reversal from previews past, we'll start in the other league and the other coast, because the champs reside there...

NL West - Everything broke right for San Francisco to win it all. Expecting the same from the Giants is a tall order, and already there's troubling signs, like closer Brian Wilson's bum oblique, so there might not be a beard to fear.

Colorado gave megabucks to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to secure the future, and Gonzalez is actually worth it. San Diego will again lean on its arms to provide an encore to its surprising 2010 run, while two big names, Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson, take over in Los Angeles and Arizona, respectively. Needless to say, the Dodgers' path to contention is a lot shorter than the Diamondbacks at this point.

NL Central - No news here, really, other than the fact that Albert Pujols might leave St. Louis, Adam Wainwright is already gone for the season, Prince Fielder is set to bolt from Milwaukee and the Cubs championship quest is at 104 years and counting.

Given all that, Cincinnati, young and restless, has to feel quite good about its chances to repeat as it returns virtually intact. Too many clouds hang over the Cardinals, so the Brewers, with a win-or-else mentality, might give the Reds the best challenge.

Look out for the Cubs - in 2012, once Mike Quade's sound methods sink in. Houston is even more future-oriented, which is better than Pittsburgh's hopeless state as it slogs toward a 20th straight losing season.

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