The last thing I wanted to do was pick the Cubs to win the World Series this year, but if I’m going to defend my BAT Award I can’t let sentiment get in the way. I have to make the logical choice.

And, believe it or not, this year, the logical choice is the Cubs. In any case, it’s logical enough that I’m not going to take the chance of missing out on calling the end of the Cubs’ century-long championship drought. Although I have a few conditions.

Basically, I’m sticking with my picks from last year in the pennant races. In the American League, I’ll take the Boston Red Sox to fend off the suddenly talent-rich — because they’re just plain rich — New York Yankees, who will squeeze out the defending AL champs the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild-card slot. Even diminished from last season, the Anaheim Angels behind manager Mike Scioscia should win the West in a cakewalk. That leaves the Central, and although I like the White Sox, and can easily see them winning the division and going deep into the playoffs if they get one last good year out of their veteran talent — especially pitcher Jose Contreras — I have to insist on the logical choice and pick the Cleveland Indians. Again, sentiment, Kerry Wood, and Mark DeRosa have nothing to do with it. Well, maybe a little. Yet Anthony Reyes is the reason I’m going with the Tribe. If he turns in a Gavin Floyd 2008 season, and I believe he will, the Indians will win. I’ll take the Bosox over the Yanks in the AL Championship Series.

Now, to the National League. I’ll take the Cubs to repeat as Central Division champs. There’s no one else to compete, not even the Saint Louis Cardinals with a repaired Chris Carpenter. I’ll take the New York Mets to win the East and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West — just too much talent on both teams to be denied — but then comes the hard part. The defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies won’t be bad. They’ll score runs in droves and should compete unless ace Cole Hamels goes down. Yet the team to watch — this year’s Rays — is the Florida Marlins, with good young pitching and talented young hitting. Don’t discount the Atlanta Braves, who have the mix of youth and veteran leadership to compete over the long haul. The East should be a dogfight, which means the Arizona Diamondbacks out West might actually sneak into the wild card by beating up on the weak-sister San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, and San Francisco Giants. Me, I’m going to take the Marlins as the wild card, just to be able to say I told you so.

Which brings me back to my choice of the Cubs to defeat the Dodgers in the NLCS — sweet revenge — and beat the Bosox in the World Series. (I had the finale the other way around last year.) What I really think is this: the team that pries loose Jake Peavy from the Padres will win it all. The Mets have more dire need in the starting rotation and more young talent to deal with. The Yanks, as ever, have more cool hard cash. Yet I believe if the Ricketts sale goes through, the new ownership will give Cub general manager Jim Hendry carte blanche to do whatever it takes to get the deal done. So, yes, I’ll take the Cubs to win the World Series, but with this proviso: watch Jake Peavy.