Sunday, April 09, 2006

National League predictions.

I don't really have the time I thought I did, so these predictions are going to be short and sweet. If people thought there were a lot of potential contenders in the American League this season, the National League is incredibly more equalized. Is Bud Selig's parity mantra finally realized?

NL East:

1. Braves

Never bet against Atlanta until you lose the bet. Fielding a squad largely of young players, the Braves should still win the division on the backs of their youth movement, the "brothers" Jones, and their uncanny front office and coaching staff. They'll miss Mazzone, and hopefully Hudson figures out what's wrong with him (it better not be the shoulder). They've lowered payroll consistently the last few years, but their relative roster depth will help them this year more than it ever has, not to mention that every season they consistently best the Mets head-to-head. If you look at blown saves last season (KOLBBBBB), and the absurd rash of injuries, it's hard not to imagine the Braves being a better team this season than last.

2. Mets

With all the flurry of moves Omar Minaya made this offseason (including an essentially one-sided romance with Boston over Ramirez) the Mets became one of the "it" teams of the offseason. While their lineup is certainly bolstered (David Wright should NOT be hitting fifth), the Mets pitching will ultimately doom them. Pedro's durability is a big question, and beyond him the rotation is extremely thin. The bullpen in comparison is average, and while Wagner is a welcome improvement over Looper, the Mets pitching staff won't be consistent enough to carry them over a full season. Too much hinges on aged arms. Also, can someone please tell Randolph to hit Reyes 8th? Thank you.

3. Phillies

Philadelphia, like the Mets, lacks the pitching depth that keeps a roster afloat over 162 games. They have some intriguing bats on their squad (Abreu, Utley, Howard and Burrell are all excellent), but Brett Myers is not an ace pitcher. Ryan Madson should probbly be in relief on this team too, I'd even consider handing him the closing job over Tom Gordon. I feel like the Phillies' window closed about two seasons ago, and they need to build a credible rotation to supplement some of the excellent hitters on their squad.

4. Marlins

All that talk about 100+ losses was an exaggeration. The Marlins 1) have some incredibly gifted prospects 2) have Miguel Cabrera 3) have Dontrelle Willis. Expect them to play spoiler this season and be in title contention in another 3 years or so.

5. Nationals

Last year was a fluke. Get this team an owner and a rudder.

NL Central:

1. Cardinals

People say this is a weaker team than last year, and, well they're probably right. However, Scott Rolen did miss the balance of the season, and early looks show him hale and hearty. No one else in the NL can field 3-4-5 hitters on par with St. Louis, and their pitching staff is very deep and retooled in all the right ways. You give St. Louis two leadoff hitters who get .370+ OBPs, and Pujols wins the Triple Crown. Eh, he could win it anyway.

2. Cubs

Chicago really needs a bullpen, if only so that Dusty Baker stops running his starters into the ground. If Wood and Prior come back from their ailments, this team begins to look almost as intimidating as they did a few years ago. Their bullpen is still a mess waiting to happen, and like the last couple of years it's going to be a serious sore spot for this team. Serious wild card contender.

3. Brewers

The NL Central is tight as always, and decent arguments could be made for anyone but Pittsburgh to win the division. But this is the year the Brewers go over .500 and finally emerge as an NL force. They have some great young players under development who are finally being handed the wheel. The Brewers season however will come down to Sheets, if he regains his should've-been-Cy-Young-over-Clemens form, we may be talking postseason. If not, the Brewers will still be a thorn in the National League's side and this squad is only getting better.

4. Astros

If Clemens returns and is back to his "old" self, then the Astros might make another serious run. The feeling here though is that if he comes back, it will be to whoever can pay him the most, and I don't think Houston has the capability to match Yankee/Red Sox/Mets dollars at this point. Houston has some absolutely spectacular players (Lidge, Oswalt, Berkman, Ensberg) and I love the Astro bullpen in general, but this team lacks the depth to survive until October. It's unfortunate to see injuries wracking what's left of Jeff Bagwell, but Craig Biggio is still putting up strong numbers year-in and year-out.

5. Pirates

They seem to have a plan put together. Keep Jason Bay happy at all costs and keep developing those pitchers.

6. Reds

Remember when Ken Griffey Jr. traded himself to the Reds and it looked like the glory days were back? The Reds are in for a long season, here's hoping Adam Dunn and company pick up some hobbies to maintain their sanity. The lineup is actually one of the more gifted in the National League, but the pitching staff is maybe the worst in baseball.

NL West:

1. Giants

The NL West is so equally awful you could essentially take the team names out of a hat and you'd be just as skilled at picking a winner as anyone else. I'll take the Giants because of their improved rotation, and in the best interests of chaos Barry Bonds will have a healthy and controversial season. When he plays, the Giants are a completely different team than when he doesn't.

2. Padres

Jake Peavy gets almost no respect around the majors. Some day he will. The Padres have some good pieces and could win the division, but they're just as likely not to. Will Hoffman be worth the investment health-wise?

3. Diamondbacks

Arizona is a team in transition while they undergo a management and team-philosophy overhaul. Expect the national commentators to be yukking-it-up about their young talent more and more as the year goes on. Again, this is another division contender, but an unlikely one.

4. Dodgers

The Dodgers came out of nowhere to sign Furcal and they also largely undid the changes Moneyballer DePodesta did in his incredibly short stint as GM. Will it pan out this season? Possibly. If Gagne returns from his latest surgery even close to what he used to be, this team looks well anchored from a pitching perspective. They're going to be even more offensively challenged than the last two seasons, and all New England eyes will be tuned in to see if Nomar ever regains his old stroke and health. That's a recurring theme, the Dodgers seem to have division-caliber pieces but they're injured all the time. I picked them to win the West last year, so I'm probably going to be wrong about them again this year.

5. Rockies

There's nothing I could really say besides read John's article on what ails the Rockies.

NL MVP: Pujols. The best. I don't really see anyone close unless Derek Lee gets even better, Helton hits .400, or Cabrera takes the Marlins to the playoffs. Bonds could probably hit 74 home runs and still not win MVP at this point.

NL Cy Young: Peavy/Oswalt/Sheets. Zambrano?

Wild Card: Miracle $105 Million Mets! The Cubs and Phillies might be close, and I'd love to see the Brewers capture it over their more expensive brethren.

There really isn't anything crazy that could happen in the National League that would surprise me. Unless the Rockies, Nationals, Pirates or Reds make the postseason. How close is Bonds going to be to Aaron at the end of September???

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