Sunday, March 30, 2008

National League Preview

And now to the National League:

East Division

1. New York Mets : This is a tough division to call. After collapsing down the stretch, the Mets were just a game back and added Johan Santana at pretty much no cost to their Major League roster. The problem with the Mets is the injury bug, which has come out swinging in Spring Training. They really don't have the depth to handle a large amount of injuries to their position players. If all goes well, they are the favorites in the National League, but I'm not sure that it will.

2. Philadelphia Phillies: Last season's divisional champs will be in it again. They've got most of the cast returning, and figure to get a bit more stability out of the rotation, although I doubt Kyle Kendrick can repeat his role as an above average innings eater. If injuries continue to strike the Mets, this becomes the Phillies' division.

3. Atlanta Braves: Like the Mariners and Blue Jays, these guys seem to be a popular pick, and I'm not quite sure why. Yes, a full year of Teixeira should be a boost to the rotation and young stars like McCann and Francoeur stand to take step forward. I have serious doubts about the glaring hole in center field, where Mark Kotsay will attempt to step in before inevitable back problems take their tole. The likes of Brandon Jones and Josh Anderson don't instill much confidence either. I'm also not nearly as high on Yunel Escobar as many. He seemed to have extreme luck on balls in play last season, and had an inordinate amount of at bats against left-handed pitchers. As an everyday player, the .279/.340/.399 line projected by PECOTA seems about right, and is well below what is implied by many pundits.

4. Washington Nationals: They've done a fine job reloading their system in the past couple of years, but still are a couple of years away from elite status. The pitching looks pretty bad right now, and frankly with a new, less cavernous park, it may actually be exposed this year.

5. Florida Marlins: A team that doesn't want to win won't win. It's as simple as that. Here's a team trotting Mark Hendrickson out as it's opening day starter. Jorge Cantu, Alfredo Amezaga, and Mike Rabelo figure to be everyday players.

Central Division

1. Milwaukee Brewers: A team with a solid young core is a year older, has deeper pitching, and has addressed their two biggest defensive holes. This team has the highest upside of any in the division and the depth to deal with injuries. A full year of Gallardo (after he returns from the knee injury) and Braun will be a big help. Manny Parra should also go a long way in bolstering the rotation, and the bullpen has plenty of options in case any of them fail.

2. Chicago Cubs: The defending champs are getting picked a lot for a reason completely unrelated to how good of a team they actually could be. Apparently because they won the World Series 100 years ago, that somehow means they will win it this year. While that's an incredibly stupid reason to pick a team, they appear to be a solid team. Fukudome and Geovany Soto figure to bolster the lineup, while the rotation seems to have stayed pat. Can Carlos Zambrano avoid the injury bug again? Can Rich Hill and Ted Lilly repeat stellar seasons? The Cubs should be a quality team this year. I just think the Brewers will be better, but the Cubs should do enough to grab the Wild Card.

3. Cincinnati Reds: There's a big drop-off between the Cubs and Reds. The Reds have a ton of young talent getting ready to bloom, with Joey Votto stepping in at first base, Johnny Cueto joining the rotation, and the likely continued improvement of Edwin Encarnacion. Look for Jay Bruce to be a key component of this team down the stretch as they fight for .500.

4. St. Louis Cardinals: Things went south quickly for the Cardinals last year, and the trend appears to continue, as the neglected farm system has provided them with an empty pipeline of talent. That's not completely fair, as stud Colby Rasmus appears ready to burst onto the scene this year. The pitching looks desolate after Adam Wainright, and the team appears ready to waste at bats on the likes of Cesar Izturis and Adam Kennedy. If this Albert Pujols elbow injury is anything that requires him to miss a lot of time, things could get ugly, although last year's off-the-field ugliness is tough to beat.

5. Houston Astros: A complete overhaul of the team probably won't be enough, as new GM Ed Wade was incredibly busy this offseason running his new team in circles. It's hard to see much improvement with the Astros this season, and the farm system is bone dry. Perhaps they could sneak up to third place if Miguel Tejada returns to his old self and Hunter Pence takes another step forward, while somebody in the back of the rotation takes a step forward. A lot would have to go right for that to happen though.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates: Not much improvement in the Steel City appears likely this season. Ian Snell and Tom Gorzellany already took their steps forward. What the Pirates need is some top flight talent coming through the system. Does anybody else think that Littlefield wasted his pick on Daniel Moscos and acquired Matt Morris as sort of a goodbye present, knowing he was likely to be let go after the season?

NL West

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: This one is close. The Diamondbacks profile similar to the Mariners, in that they were a team who was outscored last season despite the winning record and went out and grabbed an ace. The main difference is the young core in the Arizona lineup that should improve this season. The likes of Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, and Chris Young all should take big steps forward this year. Also, the bullpen appears to be just as deep and strong as last season, even without incumbent closer Jose Valverde.

2. Colorado Rockies: After an amazing run last season, I've got the Rockies returning to earth a bit. You have to like a lot of the young talent, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales appear to be question marks at this point. The Rockies should contend this season, but may need to get hot again in September to make some noise.

3. San Diego Padres: I know that this is starting to look like last season's division results. Between injuries and demotions, the Padres have some holes in their lineup to start the season, and that may be just enough to keep them from catching Arizona. The pitching is overrated in that massive park. They should be in the race down the stretch.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have a ton of talent, but a General Manager intent on blocking that talent. If Juan Pierre gets less than 200 at bats, it could mean the difference between fourth place and the division title. This projection takes them at their word that Pierre will be the starting left fielder. Look for Clayton Kershaw to come up for the second half of the season and provide a spark similar to the one that led the Twins to the 2006 division title.

5. San Francisco Giants: Yuck. That's all you can say when looking at the lineup. Brian Sabean is at the top of my list of GM's to get the Ax. Even with a rotation including studs in Cain and Lincecum, and underrated Kevin Correia, and and overrated and overpaid Barry Zito, this team should lose 100+ games this year, especially with the added disadvantage of the unbalanced schedule.

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