And now for an encore -- 1981 major-league baseball predictions

After correctly predicting all four division winners plus Philadelphia's World Series triumph last year, the only sensible thing to do is rest on one's laurels. I've never been accused of being sensible, however, so let's see what I can do for an encore. National League East

Philadelphia has won this division four times in the last five years. Now that the Phillies also have the confidence of world champions they have to be choice again.

The main question marks revolve around the veteran status of such key performers as frist baseman Pete Rose, shortstop Larry Bowa, and 27-game winner Steve Carlton.

Montreal. The Expos, while lacking superstar names of the Rose, Carlton, Mike Schmidt category, have enough all-around talent to make a fight of it -- as they've proved by taking the race down to the final weekend two years in a row.

St. Louis. After failing to live up to expectations the last couple of seasons, the Cards did some shuffling last winter. And unlike most managers, Whitey Herzog can't very well complain if the new players the general manager obtained for him don't work out --because he is the general manager!

The key acquisition was ace reliever Bruce Sutter, who averged more than 30 saves year over the last four seasons.

Pittsburgh. The Pirates are still a very good team, but this is a very strong division.

New York and Chicago are out of it. National League West

Atlanta. While most of us were keeping track of those red-hot pennant races last summer, the Braves were quietly improving from last place in 1979 to a respectable 81-80 fourth place finish. Furthermore, from June on they had the best record in the entire league.

The Braves have plenty of power, and they picked up another big bat by signing free agent Claudell Washington. Pitching is still the problem, but Gaylord Perry could help.

Cincinnati. The Reds have been the one constant contender in this division for a decade.

Houston. The victory of the light-hitting Astros last year says something about the overall weakness of this division. Pitching-rich teams are always dangerous in a short series (remember the old Mets), but unless the opposition is weak, they usually need a bit more for a full season. The Astros should be even stronger on the mound after adding Don Sutton, but unless they get more offense, they will have their hands full.

Los Angeles. After a losing record in 1979, the Dodgers rebounded and just missed the division title. This looks like a team with too many key players nearing the end of the trail, however, and even its once-potent pitching appears questionable now that both aces from the '70s -- Sutton and Tommy John -- are gone.

San Francisco and San Diego should trail. American League East

Milwaukee. Cecil Cooper hit .352 with 25 home runs and 122 RBIs last year; Ben Oglivie was .304, 41, and 118; and Gorman Thomas had 38 homers and 105 RBIs. And that's just for openers. Ted Simmons hit .303 with 21 homers for the Cardinals, and there's solid punch through the entire batting order. If Larry Hisle, after two injury-filled seasons, should regain his devastating form of 1977 and '78, it could be a runaway.

Pitching is the problem, but with this kind of hitting you don't need a staff of Cy Young Award winners, and Rollie Fingers is around now to nail things down in the late innings.

New York. Despite acquiring Dave Winfield and others, New York still can't match Milwaukee's offensive potential. The Yankees do have a big edge in pitching and experience, however.

Baltimore. The Orioles will go with basically the same team that won the pennant in 1979 and finished just three games behind New York last year. Like New York, they would benefit from a close race, where their pitching, defense, and experience would help.

Boston. The Red Sox could be a big surprise. Most people wrote them off after they lost Carlton Fisk to free agency and traded away Fred Lynn and Rick Burleson rather than risk losing them as well. But the players they kept plus those they acquired (including left-hander Frank Tanana and third baseman Carney Lansford) have looked good.

Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto. It's a long drop from the top four to these three. American League West

Kansas City. The Royals pretty much stood pat -- and why not? This has been by far the best team in the division over the last five years, and it ran away with last year's race.

California. Gene Autry's annual buying spree landed Lynn and Burleson, among others, but the Angels finished 31 games back last year, and that's a lot to make up.

Texas. The Rangers have some good holdover players plus high hopes for newly acquired left-hander Rick Honeycutt, but third place is probably their best hope.

Oakland. The A's will be hard-pressed to repeat their surprising second place finish.

Chicago. More punch this year (Fisk and Greg Luzinski), and more speed (Ron LeFlore), but it still looks like fifth place.

Seattle and Minne sota bring up the rear.

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