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National League Preview

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This is prediction season, and while I don't follow the NL nearly as closely as the AL, I figured I would offer my predictions for the "other" league.

And my predictions were not impacted by the thrashing the A's took at the hands of their cross-Bay rivals today.

I'll start with the NL West, which was unquestionably the worst division in baseball last season.

NL West

This division could be a toss-up. The Arizona Diamondbacks could be a tempting pick because of all their young players. But there was a reason I was so upset that Paul DePodesta was let go last year. He had an amazing amount of injuries to deal with and a never-ending parade of bad luck. The Dodgers made some good deals this offseason (Mueller comes to mind) and some questionable ones (Furcal's contract comes to mind). But overall, I think that team is poised to take the division. Their rotation is still questionable and not deep, but it doesn't have to be in the West.

As for the Giants, this team is old and creaky but could possibly have one more run left in those ancient bones. I think much of the season depends on Barry Bonds because, and excuse me while I be Mr. Obvious for a second, Bonds is the biggest difference maker in baseball, steroids be damned. If he can play a good majority of the season, the Giants could very easily take the NL Worst.

The Padres have taken a step backward after winning the division last season. They were able to keep Giles and Hoffman, but the rotation is a patchwork rotation at best. That might work fine at Petco, but you play half your games on the road.

And the Rockies continue to be the Rockies. No disrepect intended, but this team seems somewhat adrift. They have Barmes and Helton on offense, but little else. Why, oh why, can't the A's have a team like this in the AL West?

This is the way I see the division finishing:

  1. Dodgers: The team hasn't improved dramatically, but it can't go through a season of injuries like it did last year, can it?
  2. Giants: Could be the D'Backs if the young kids get an early chance and the Giants experience the injuries you'd expect.
  3. Diamondbacks: So much young talent, it's worth drooling over. Remember, this team finished second behind the Padres last year and they only appear to have gotten better.
  4. Padres: From first to fourth in the blink of an eye. But watch Josh Barfield, who made fan fave Mark Loretta expendable. He's been tearing up the Cactus League this year and has won the starting second base job.
  5. Rockies: Should we start the free Todd Helton Club? He could go down as one of the best players to play for a below-average team since maybe Dale Murphy?
NL Central

This division is fascinating. From the Cubs, who seem to be an elbow ligament away from contending for it all to the Cardinals who are perennially at the top of this group to the Astros who fell short of winning a World Series last year. Roger Clemens decision has a huge impact on this division. If Clemens decides to retire, the Astros lose someone who was quite possibly the best pitcher in baseball last year, Chris Carpenter be damned.

But the Cardinals and Carpenter still have a strong rotation with Mulder and Marquis. They also are getting Scott Rolen back. The question with this team is, did the team adequately replace Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders with Juan Encarnacion and Larry Bigbie? I'm not sure, but the Cardinals look like they might have enough to get by as long as Pujols stays healthy all season long.

The Astros look like their fortunes can rest on Roger Clemens coming back to the team. They do have Ensberg, Biggio and Chris Burke on offense, but the rotation seems thin after Oswalt and Pettitte. The good news is that Pettitte seems to have put his injury-plagued 2004 season behind him, pitching 222.1 innings, the most in his career. Can Brandon Backe improve?

The Cubs look like they're going to start another season with Prior and Wood having health issues. Like the Astros, the team needs to try and keep its head above water while waiting for their two aces to get healthy. But then again the team does have Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the lineup. Lee was just remarkable last year in one of the best single seasons in recent memory. The Cubs bullpen has been really good this spring with the addition of Howry, Eyre and Dempster continuing to be solid.

Milwaukee has become a trendy pick this year with good reason. They finished .500 last year. They still have Carlos Lee, Brady Clark and Geoff Jenkins. They have Fielder and Weeks. They brought in David Bush from the Toronto Blue Jays who has had a remarkable spring. But the fortunes of the rotation rises and falls with Ben Sheets. Here's hoping he is healthy as possible this year.

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will probably battle it out for the bottom of the division. Although not many people know that the Reds actually led the NL in runs scored last season. The problem is that their pitching was just awful. With Brandon Claussen, Aaron "Big Show" Harang (remember him?) and Bronson Cornrroyo, they may be able to cut down on the runs allowed. Is this the year that Austin Kearns finally puts it all together? Dealing Wily Mo and the Mayor Sean Casey will at least guarantee that Kearns is in there every day when he's healthy.

Pittsburgh has a rising star in Oliver Perez, but they have put a lot of fill-in players in other positions like Casey, Randa and Burnitz. I recently read somewhere that Pittsburgh has had 13 consecutive losing seasons. The quality of their division and the weighted schedule likely means it will be 14. You've got to feel for loyal Bucs fans.

Here is how I see the division shaking down:

  1. Astros: I like pitching and I'm making the assumption that this team will get Clemens back by June. Throwing in Oswalt and Pettitte and that's one quality top three. I also think they have enough offense and a good enough bullpen to pull it out.
  2. Cardinals: I think the Cards will likely be the NL Wild Card this year. They have a good rotation, enough offense to get by and a good bullpen.
  3. Cubs: I like the Cubs, but only if their rotation gets healthy and with Dusty Baker running things I'm not so sure it will even last.
  4. Brewers: This team is in a tough division, but it's definitely a team on the rise. It has good bullpen and a solid offense. Unfortunately, it's got to deal with teams like the Astros, Cardinals and Cubs.
  5. Reds: The Reds have a great offense and with just an uptick in their starting rotation, they could very well compete for the division crown. Unfortunately, Arroyo on his own isn't going to get it done.
  6. Pirates: It's all about Oliver Perez. The guy is 24 years old and is going to be a great starter sooner rather than later.
NL East

Would it be lunacy to go against the Braves in this division? Probably. The Phillies have Utley and Howard. The Mets made a myriad of changes. The Marlins dumped their team. And the Nationals have the Soriano headache hanging over their heads.

The Braves have John Smoltz and Tim Hudson anchoring their rotation. The offense is going to be headed by Giles and Jones with help from guys like Francoeur and Langerhans. It's definitely a younger-skewing team. But that's what Schuerholz does. He continually replenishes so this team doesn't have a drop off. Kyle Davies and Horacio Ramirez will be important to the rotation filling it out after Hudson, Smoltz and Thomson. It doesn't appear like the team has the most solid bullpen around. And have people overstated the loss of Leo Mazzone? I guess we shall see.

The Mets went out and tried to buy success by getting Wagner, Delgado and LoDuca. They added these players to Beltran, Pedro Martinez and David Wright. But do they have enough to overtake the Braves? Possibly. Although I'm not sold on the Mets rotation. A lot rests on Pedro's big piggy.

The Phillies have such incredible young talent in Ryan Howard, who absolutely murdered pitching this spring and Chase Utley that it would be easy to pick them as the surprise in this division. But this team doesn't have much of a rotation behind Myers and Lieber. They do have a couple of promising young kids and they also have old A's four starter in Cory Lidle, but the rotation could hold this team back.

Oh Marlins fans, we've got to love you for your determination. You picked up a lot of young talent in this year's version of the fire sale, but there likely isn't enough surrounding Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to make this team competitive this season.

The Nationals have a solid offensive team with Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Soriano. This team is missing quality starting pitching outside of mammoth innings-eater Livan Hernandez, especially with the injury to Brian Lawrence.

This is the way I see the NL East:

  1. Braves: This team gets it done year in and year out. The Mets are improved in a lot of areas, but I just like the Braves rotation a lot more than the Mets. There's a chance Heilman will solidify things for the Mets, but for now, I've got to take the guys who've done it every year since color TV was invented.
  2. Mets: It's tempting to take the Phillies here just because you've got to love that right side of their infield. But the Mets do have a great closer, an offense that should have a rebounding Beltran, a good Delgado, a solid Wright and Floyd.
  3. Phillies: This team could surprise some, but the rotation definitely needs improvement.
  4. Nationals: This is a toss-up between the Marlins and Nats, in my opinion. But I think the experience of the offense along with Hernandez and Chad Cordero make them a better pick for fourth.
  5. Marlins: The Marlins have a lot of good young talent, but it usually takes time for those players to become big-time contributors. There are only so many Huston Street's in the world. Jacobs could be one of those players and Hanley Ramirez has had a solid spring.
If I had to bet on a team for the World Series, I'd favor the Astros to return there with Roger Clemens in the fold. If not, I could see the Cardinals being the National League representative. To me, the Astros have the best pitching in the NL with Clemens there and probably rested if he waits to come back until June. The Braves match up well with a lot of teams, but after watching the White Sox and their starting pitching mow down the competition last year, you have to favor the teams with the better starting pitching even if they have a mediocre offense.

Again, this is a fan's view from someone who doesn't follow the NL nearly as closely as the AL. But that's what this is for. Chime in, tell me what you think is going down in the National League.

I've added a poll below to see which team you think will be the NL representative in the World Series this year.

Poll

Who is going to win the NL pennant this year?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Cardinals
    (18 votes)
  • 1%
    Diamondbacks
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Giants
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Dodgers
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Phillies
    (3 votes)
  • 21%
    Braves
    (11 votes)
  • 21%
    Mets
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    Astros
    (1 vote)
  • 5%
    Cubs
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (3 votes)
51 votes total Vote Now