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What are the top storylines of 2008?

What are the top storylines of 2008?

Spring has officially arrived, and not a moment too soon.

After a winter of record snowfall, the Mitchell Report and Congressional hearings, at times it was easy to overlook so many other offseason events.

Like dealing aces. Johan Santana was traded by Minnesota to the Mets, Oakland sent Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks and Baltimore dealt Erik Bedard to the Mariners.

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The Tigers beefed up an already formidable lineup by adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria. The Braves welcomed back Tom Glavine.

Baseball made all kinds of headlines this winter, but now it is time for the season to start. Warmer weather has returned (in most cities) and baseball beckons. Time for the games, and time for a new batch of storylines.

Here are 10 to keep an eye on in 2008:

1. It could be, it might be ... it is! Well, we'll see.

A century has passed since their last World Series title, but the Cubs have significant reasons to be optimistic this year.

The defending National League Central Division champions have added outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to what was already a good offense. The Cubs should be stronger than the team that won 85 games last year and, if they are able to come up with a suitable leadoff man (perhaps Brian Roberts?), even stronger. In any case, the Cubs have the talent to go a long way in 2008.

Lou Piniella's team has pitching depth, a solid lineup and a bullpen with fewer question marks than most NL teams. It is easy to see why many observers have picked the Cubs to repeat as division champions. And why it could be their year.

2. Red Sox eye repeat: The Red Sox have a shot at winning a third World Series title in five years, which would cement their case to be crowned team of the decade. It certainly won't be easy.

Curt Schilling is on the mend, Detroit's on the rise, and the Yankees are still the Yankees. The Indians, Angels, Mariners and Blue Jays could prove to be legitimate stumbling blocks. And there hasn't been a repeat winner of the World Series since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.

3. Motor City roar: What can you say about a lineup that finished third in baseball in runs scored last year, then added Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones? How about: "Look out!"

The Tigers didn't stop there. Dave Dombrowski also added left-hander Dontrelle Willis, who came over from Florida with Cabrera, giving the Tigers one of the best rotations in baseball and a powerhouse team that should attract plenty of attention in the coming season.

OK, so they won't start the season with Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya. There's ample evidence to think the Tigers might win their second pennant in the three years in 2008.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

4. Start spreading the news: The New York teams are seldom far from mind, and as the 2008 season will be the last for the two New York stadia, Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, there will be added attention on the Big Apple this season.

Yankee Stadium will be the site of this year's All-Star Game and perhaps some playoff games. After that it will be replaced, so this is the final chance fans will have to say good bye to the "House That Ruth Built."

5. Santana, Martinez and the Mets: Johan Santana joins Pedro Martinez as the Mets try to put last season's fade behind them and reclaim the NL East title won by Philadelphia last year.

Getting the Big Two makes the Mets the favorites in many observers minds. With Santana and Martinez -- and a talented roster that includes All-Stars like Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright and Billy Wagner -- the Mets will be expected to win in 2008. If they don't, there will be repercussions.

6. Milestone watch: Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. is just seven home runs shy of career homer No. 600, while Boston's Manny Ramirez and Detroit's Gary Sheffield should reach 500 this season. Meanwhile, Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson, his back problems behind him, can reach 300 career wins if he can notch 16 this season.

7. The wild NL West: Colorado and Arizona, two NL West teams that played for the NL pennant last season, might be even better. The Los Angeles Dodgers, with new manager Joe Torre, and San Diego, which came within three outs of making the playoffs last year, should also be improved. With perhaps four playoff-caliber teams, the NL West should see another down-to-the-wire race in 2008.

8. Rays ready to rise: They haven't sniffed a winning season in the 10 years they've been in existence and the closest they came was a 70-win season and fourth place finish in 2004. But the Tampa Bay Rays have a lot of people talking.

With rising young stars like Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton the Rays have laid the foundation for what should be the franchise's best team yet. At the very least it should be a club capable of reaching .500 for the first time.

9. The top-heavy AL West: The Angels, with Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, and the Mariners, with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard anchoring a formidable rotation, are legitimate pennant contenders.

With all the attention on the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers and Indians, don't be surprised if one of the AL West heavyweights tops all in the race to the 2008 World Series.

10. Parity plays: Milwaukee rose last year to contention in the NL Central, finishing in second place for the first time since 1992. The Mariners came in second in the AL West, their highest finish since 2001. The Indians won the AL Central last year, their first playoff appearance since 2001.

Two years ago, Toronto finished second, the Blue Jays' best finish since winning the World Series in 1993. Injuries slowed Toronto's rise last year, but the Blue Jays have the team to make a playoff run in 2008.

Last year, 15 teams -- half of MLB's 30 teams -- were within six games of a playoff spot as late as Sept. 15.

Tighter pennant races and shorter deficits between first place and contenders have been the rule in recent years. Of course the Wild Card is a key factor, but parity has also played a part in leveling the playing field.

Last year, the Rockies and Diamondbacks played in the NLCS, just one year after both had finished tied for last place in the NL West, 10 games under .500.

Which team(s) will surprise in 2008?

As recent history has shown, just about anything is possible.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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