With baseball season due to start next week, I thought I should put myself on the line and make some predictions. I made my American League predictions yesterday. Today I'm going to take a look at the National League, and on Monday, I'll take an in-depth look at the Astros as they prepare to open the season against the Cubs.
So here's the National League. I list the teams by division, and by predicted order of finish in the division from first place to last.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST:
1. Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are the defending World Champs, and they have one of the best everyday lineups in baseball. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino make for a pretty awesome group. The bullpen is good, and Brad Lidge rediscovered his mojo last season. But any rotation that features Chan-Ho Park troubles me. Still, they're the class of the division and should easily win.
2. New York Mets: The Mets choked coming down the stretch again last season. Their big problem was the bullpen, and they signed Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to handle the closing and set-up duties. Johan Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball. David Wright is one of the best players in baseball. Jose Reyes is one of the most exciting players in baseball. But this is the Mets, and I still haven't forgiven them for 1986. So they choke it away to the Phils again.
3. Florida Marlins: The Marlins will scare a whole bunch of people - well, those not in Miami because nobody in Miami goes to the games. But they will scare a bunch of other teams. This team is young, and full of talent, and I think they'll produce the NL Rookie of the Year. In the end, though, they just can't catch the Phillies or the Mets.
4. Atlanta Braves: The Braves still have Chipper Jones. And Bobby Cox is still around pushing the buttons. The only problem is that he doesn't have as many buttons to push anymore. Years of neglectful ownership finally come home to roost as the Braves struggle for relevancy.
5. Washington Nationals: The Nationals made a big splash in signing Adam Dunn. Unfortunately, he can only do so much, and it appears that his only chance of ever reaching the post-season was with the D-Backs last season. The Nationals are going to finish in last yet again.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL:
1. Chicago Cubs: The Cubs return many of the same pieces that led them to the division championship last season. Closer Kerry Wood is gone, though. They're definitely the class of the NL Central and should win the division easily.
2. Cincinnati Reds: If any team is going to sneak up on the country like Tampa Bay did last season, it's the Reds. For years, the Reds have been a big offense, bad pitching team. But if everything comes together this season, it's possible that the Reds could end up with the best rotation in baseball. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are superb young offensive talents. I think the Reds put it all together this season and make the playoffs as the NL Wild Card.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: Last year was the season for the Brewers. In the off-season, they lost Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia. Trevor Hoffman was brought in to close, but he's starting the season on the DL. The big bats are still there, so this team will compete. But the pitching just isn't there this season.
4. St. Louis Cardinals: Just like Benjamin Linus, one should never count out the Cardinals. And if Chris Carpenter is actually healthy this season, the Cards will be improved. And Tony La Russa is still the best manager in baseball - keeping the Cards in contention for most of last year convinced me of that. But the Cards just don't have the talent and can't keep up with the rest of the division.
5. Houston Astros: The Astros way over-performed the stats last season. The team has two legit everyday NL players in Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence. Carlos Lee is a decent bat, but should only be allowed to play in the AL as a DH. And Roy Oswalt is great. But the team is depending on Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Wandy Rodriguez to all stay healthy. There are just too many questions on this team. Luckily the Pirates are around to keep the Astros from last place.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: Honestly, I can't think of anything positive to say about the Pirates. I don't think they'll be as bad as the Nationals. So I guess they have that going for them.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: The weakness of the Dodgers is the starting rotation. But the team can hit. The division will be close, but I think Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp lead this team to the playoffs.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon Webb and Rich Harden are two of the best pitchers in baseball. But the team has problems with scoring, and I don't think they helped things by letting Adam Dunn or Randy Johnson go. They stick with the Dodgers for most of the season, but don't quite catch them.
3. San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson. That is the making of a great pitching rotation. The team can't score runs, though. Luckily, playing in their big ballpark, and with their pitching, they might not need to score too often. The Giants don't compete for the playoffs, but they finish around .500 and are easily better than Colorado and San Diego.
4. Colorado Rockies: Two years ago, the Rockies were the Rays, surprising the baseball world and making the World Series. They were awful last season, and with Matt Holliday gone, the team promises to be worse.
5. San Diego Padres: The Padres have Jake Peavy. A good starter. They have Adrian Gonzalez, an offensive force at first. And that's about it. This is a bad team.
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS:
This time around, the Cubs beat the Dodgers, and the Reds will beat the Phillies. The Cubs will then beat the Reds to go to the World Series...where they will lose to the Rays.
Rookie of the Year will be Florida's Cameron Maybin.
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First Manager Fired will be Cecil Cooper.
Manager of the Year will be Dusty Baker with the Reds.
MVP will be Manny Ramirez.
Cy Young will be Tim Lincecum.