This year's races seem harder than usual to figure -- possibly because the truncated 1981 season with its extra round of playoffs left us wondering which teams were really best. So conceding that it's strictly a guessing game, I'll venture that none of last year's division champions (Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, and Oakland) will repeat; that the 1982 winners will be Houston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and California; that the Phillies and Brewers will advance to World Series; and that Philadelphia will win it all. National League West
Houston. The Astros won this division in 1980 and lost out in a close playoff last year. Their batting order never looks too impressive, but they always scratch and claw their way to enough runs to win a lot of games, and over a full 162-game season their superior pitching should enable them to prevail.
Cincinnati. The Reds had the best record in baseball last year but were excluded from the playoffs by the split-season system. This year's team is a lot different, especially with the entire 1981 outfield playing in New York, but there's still enough pitching and overall talent to contend once again.
Los Angeles. The Dodgers also have strong pitching plus solid hitting, but it's unrealistic to expect Valenzuela to repeat his 1981 performance (especially with his late start) and the other clubs may be just a tad hungrier now.
Atlanta failed to fulfill its 1980 promise last year and is in against clubs that have more talent. San Francisco has traded away virtually an entire starting rotation and will have to rebuild. San Diego is nowhere as usual. National League East
Philadelphia. The Phillies have made wholesale changes -- unusual for a team that won the World Series a year earlier and came within a whisker of getting into the league championship series last fall. The talent core of Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, etc., is still there, however, while the newcomers should strengthen the pitching.
Montreal. The Expos have been the division's most consistent team for three years, and now they have the confidence of champions as well, but they still can't match Philadelphia's talent unless time picks this year to catch up with Rose and Carlton.
St. Louis is the best of the others. New York appears improved, but even a 1- 2 punch of Foster and Dave Kingman can't overcome its other problems. Pittsburgh looks like a team on the downward swing. Chicago is rebuilding but has a long way to go. American League East
Milwaukee. The Brewers won the second-half title and carried the Yankees to five games in the playoffs despite getting sub-par years from several of their big offensive guns. Relief ace Rollie Fingers may be hard pressed to duplicate his MVP season, but if the rest of the team plays up to its potential, he may not have to.
New York. Many observers, including some rival managers, seem ready to award the title to the Yankees now. The N.Y. pitching does look awesome, as does the entire team, but even all that talent isn't always enough to overcome the interference of the owner, and this could be one of those years.
Baltimore. Earl Weaver, who claims this is his last year managing, says his formula for winning is ''pitching and three-run homers.'' He has the pitching, so the answer to how the Orioles do will depend on how frequently his hitters come through when he puts in one of his famous calls for ''Dr. Longball.''
Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland all have enough talent to be troublesome for a while, but also enough holes that it's unlikely any of them will still be in the battle at the end. Toronto, as usual, is out of it. American League West
California. With Reggie Jackson and third baseman Doug DeCinces joining a lineup that already includes Rod Carew, Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, and Rick Burleson, Manager Gene Mauch has a batting order that will be hard to stop. The other side bats too, of course, but this crew will score so many runs that even the Angel pitchers should be up to the task this time.
Kansas City. The Royals have been by far the division's best team over the past half dozen years, and they'll be ready to pounce if the Angels lose too many 12-10 games.
Texas and Chicago have been building strong teams that look almost ready to challenge, but not quite as good as the top two.
Oakland. The A's had things their own way last year, with a weak pre-strike schedule practically handing them the first half title while the short season let them get away with a pitching staff that is high on quality and short on depth. This is the year of reckoning.
Minnesota is hoping that moving into a new stadium will give its team a boost , while Seattle manager Rene Lachemann tried to get his club in shape this spring by hiring 5 ft., 98-pound Theresa Scanlon to lead it in aerobic dancing every day, but unfortunately both teams still lack a more important ingredient for winning games - good players.