Saturday, March 29, 2008

National League Predictions

Earlier today, I made my American League predictions, where I predicted the Indians would make the World Series. Now it's time to find out who I think they will be playing in my National League Predictions. Can the Phillies overcome their pitching and be a serious threat?

NL East
1. Mets
As much as I don't want to pick them, the addition of Johan Santana puts them over the top. Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, and he posted an ERA of 3.33 last year in the AL. That may dip below 3 now that he gets to face pitchers instead of DH's. The Mets lineup is also one of the best in the NL, although they have weaknesses at catcher and at the corner outfield positions. Jose Reyes is overrated, but he will still steal 70 bases and score a bunch of runs. David Wright is only going to get better, and their bullpen is adequate. It pains me to pick the Mets, but they won't win the division by much.

2. Phillies (Wild Card)
The best lineup in the National League will only be held back by suspect pitching. The rotation has too many question marks to be counted on: Will Jamie Moyer be able to keep it up at age 70? Is Kyle Kendrick going to have a sophomore slump? And, are they really going to pitch Adam Eaton every fifth day? If everyone is healthy, then the bullpen appears to be set. But, at what point will the bullpen be healthy? Brad Lidge is hurt, and Tom Gordon is one sneeze away from landing on the DL. At least we know the bats will produce. There are potentially 5 players that can hit 30 home runs in Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Pedro Feliz. Four of them could reach 100 RBI's. Rollins and Shane Victorino could each steal 40 bases. The only negative is there are too many outs at the bottom of the order. Of the players that will play most days, none of them hitting in the 5-8 spots in the lineup hit above .260 last year. The lineup will score a ton of runs, but there are too many all-or-nothing hitters. The Phillies will remain in contention all year, but finish a couple of games behind the Mets.

3. Braves
Everyone's favorite sleeper pick for the East is the Braves. Their offense should be good, with possibly the best 3-4-5 combination of hitters in the league with Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Jeff Francoeur, all potentially 30 homer/100 RBI guys in the middle of the order. But, like the Phillies, their pitching is suspect. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are a great 1-2 punch, but after that there are a ton of question marks that are similar to the Phillies' issues. Will Tom Glavine be able to keep it up at age 60? Can Mike Hampton bounce back from injuries to be effective? And, who the heck is Jair Jurrjens and can he really be counted on as the 5th starter? In the bullpen, they will be turning the closer duties over to Rafael Soriano, and he should be effective in that role. On the offensive side, they will be relying on Mark Kotsay to stay off the disabled list and play center field every day. Good luck with that. The Braves are good, but they will finish a few games behind the Phillies and out of the playoffs.

4. Nationals
It was tough to pick who will come in 4th in this division, as neither Washington or Florida looks to be any good. I'll go with the Nationals in 4th because at least they have a semblance of a pitching staff. Odalis Perez will be the Opening Day starter, which is a little scary, but they have some quality young pitchers after him, including Jason Bergmann and Shawn Hill. They even have an actual quality closer in Chad Cordero, although he should have been traded for prospects long ago. They don't have much offensively, although Ryan Zimmerman is a future star and Lastings Milledge should be fun to watch. They won't lose 100 games, but they won't come close to .500 either.

5. Marlins
Coming in last by only a few games will be the Marlins. They simply don't have the pitching to be a competitive team. Mark Hendrickson, who won all of 4 games last year, will be the Opening Day starter. Scott Olsen is the only name anyone recognizes from the rotation, and even he will be hard pressed to win 10 games. In the bullpen, Kevin Gregg will once again be the closer, but beyond him there isn't much. Offensively, it will revolve around the top of the order, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. Uggla amazingly hit 31 home runs last year, but his average dipped all the way down to .245. Ramirez is the real deal, and will be the best shortstop in the division this year. He can hit for power and average and steal a ton of bases. Look for him to carry the offense on most nights. He may be the only bright spot in a long year for Florida fans.

NL Central
1. Cubs

The Cubs are well-rounded, with solid hitting and pitching. Their rotation goes 6 deep, with Jon Leiber starting the year in the pen. Phillies fans will remember how good Leiber did in that role last year, but the Cubs rotation will nevertheless be good. When Rich Hill is the 4th starter, you know your team is going to contend. In the bullpen, they will hope that Kerry Wood can stay healthy enough to close a few games, but look for Carlos Marmol to get his chance as soon as Wood lands on the DL. The offense is good, but not great. Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez make a potent middle of the order, but they are relying on a number of unproven players at the bottom. Who knows what they will get from Kosuke Fukodome, Geovany Soto has promise but is unproven and Felix Pie is nothing worth getting excited about. The Cubs will win the Central because they have the best balance of offense and defense.

2. Brewers
The Brewers have so much young talent, they are a lock to be Central division contenders for the next decade. Rickie Weeks has a surprising amount of pop and tremendous speed and if he can improve his average he will be a star. Prince Fielder is another Ryan Howard, a huge lefty with tremendous power. Ryan Braun, while he is terrible in the field, put together an amazing rookie season, belting 34 homers and hitting .324. Corey Hart, Bill Hall and J.J. Hardy are all young up and comers who have the potential to hit 20 home runs. So why won't they win the division? Pitching. Besides Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers lack the starters to compete with the Cubs. They will need to win games 10-9 when guys like Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush are on the mound. And, are they really counting on Eric Gagne to close out games? Did they not watch him implode in Boston last year? With their young offensive firepower, the Brewers could win the NL Central for about a decade straight, but they need just one more year of seasoning.

3. Reds
Another popular sleeper pick to win the division, another team with too many holes to compete. Aaron Harang is the definition of underrated, and Johnny Cueto looks special, but the rest of their pitching staff is too inexperienced or ineffective to get the job done. Offensively, they feature the lousy Corey Patterson in the lead-off role, and continue to employ offensive stalwart Dave Ross. The middle of the order has a ton of power, with Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips all capable of hitting another 30+ homers this year. Their bullpen was also solidified with the acquisition of Francisco Cordero, so while I do think this team is improving, they just won't challenge for the division title.

4. Astros
What were they thinking hiring Ed Wade? Did they watch him destroy the Phillies with a series of boneheaded moves? He certainly made a ton of moves this offseason, including bringing in a cleaned up Miguel Tejada and former Phillie Michael Bourn, but the Astros will be lucky to sniff .500. The fact that they have Bourn penciled in at the leadoff spot is evidence enough that this team isn't any good. They have some serious power with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada, but those three are not getting any younger. Hunter Pence should be fun to watch, and he should score a ton of runs hitting ahead of the big boppers. Ed Wade completely re-worked the Astros bullpen, jettisoning long-time closer Brad Lidge and replacing him with Jose Valverde, but he did nothing to improve their weak rotation. Roy Oswalt is a force, but the rest of the starters are below average. Of course, Wade's dumbest move of all could have been signing Kazuo Matsui to a 16.5 million dollar contract.

5. Cardinals
Someone has to come in 5th place, so I guess the Cardinals will avoid the cellar. The Cardinals look shockingly bad on paper, with nothing on offense besides Albert Pujols, and no star pitchers besides Jason Isringhausen. Everyone else on the team is mediocre at best. Only three hitters hit as many as 20 home runs last year (Pujols, Troy Glaus, Chris Duncan), and they return only one pitcher with an ERA below 4.33, Adam Wainright. Their offense will feature Rick Ankiel hitting cleanup, and the always dangerous Skip Schumaker leading off. And can someone tell me how trading Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus straight-up is a smart move? I know they had to get rid of Rolen, but Glaus is a stiff at this point in his career. I feel bad for Cardinals fans, probably the best there are, that they have to watch this team all summer. Pujols should be furious that the team is wasting one of his prime years.

6. Pirates
We know they are awful, but how could they make no roster changes after winning 68 games last year? They didn't even try to bring anyone in or make any significant moves? Are they just hoping the team will get magically better? The sad thing is, the only reason this team has a chance to win 70 games is because they are in such a bad division. Imagine if they were in the AL East, they would be lucky to win 40 games. Jason Bay is their whole offense, and he hit .247 last year. They do have some interesting young pitchers, but few of them would make the rotation of any other team. Steelers season will come sooner than you think, Pirates fans.

NL West
1. Diamondbacks
This division was the toughest to predict, but Arizona will edge out the rest with their tremendous rotation. They feature the best 1-2 punch in the majors with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, and at the back end they have the ancient Randy Johnson who still can bring the heat and has something to prove. They have a strange offense; their lead-off hitter led the teams in homers (Chris Young, 32), while their cleanup hitter led the team in stolen bases (Eric Byrnes, 50), but they have just enough firepower to win a bunch of 3-2 games. Look for Conor Jackson to break out and raise his average above .300 and hit 20+ bombs. The D'backs will win the division on the basis of their stud arms, but only by a small margin.

2. Rockies
Don't expect another miracle out of the Rockies. This is a team on the rise, but last seasons run to the World Series was more a mirage than a trend. Their lineup remains potent, with MVP candidate Matt Holliday leading the way. The club has a good mix of players, with young stars Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitzki countered by grizzled veterans like Todd Helton. Their pitching is underrated, with a number of quality young arms carrying the load. Jeff Francis will continue to anchor the staff, and he should once again be a threat to win 20 games. They do have questions at closer, but between Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes, they should be fine. The Rockies are a solid up-and-coming team, but they are a few pieces away from being a perennial favorite.

3. Padres
Just like Arizona, the Padres feature a stellar one-two punch in their rotation, with Jake Peavy and Chris Young coming off great years. From there, though, there is a big drop-off. Greg Maddux is the third starter, and he is solid but unspectacular. Two former Phillies, Randy Wolf and Justin Germano round out the rotation, but neither is anything to get excited about. Offensively, the Padres don't put up a ton of runs, not that it's possible in their park anyway. Adrian Gonzalez might be the only guy to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs that no one has ever heard of, and Khalil Greene also had a strong, under-the-radar year. They feature another former Phillie at second base, Tadahito Iguchi, who should continue to be an average player. Their outfield is weak, with two aging stars, Brian Giles and Jim Edmonds, attempting to avoid injuries and father time. With their pitching, they will finish slightly above .500, but they won't be a serious threat to win the division.

4. Dodgers
What are they thinking giving Andruw Jones that huge salary? Do they realize he hit .222 last year and covers about half the ground in the outfield that he used to? The Dodgers don't have any major weaknesses, unless you count the fact they have no third baseman, but there really isn't anything special about this team either. Their pitching seems good enough, with Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, but are they really counting on Esteban Loaiza? Offensively, Russell Martin could be the best catcher of our time, but what are they thinking keeping Juan Pierre playing every day? They are an average team, and should finish around .500.

5. Giants
If not for the Orioles, this would be the worst team in baseball. Why in the world did Aaron Rowand actually choose to play for this team? Oh, right, they offered him a ton of money. I like Rowand and all, but when he is being counted on to be your cleanup hitter, you aren't a very good team. The team still features a cast of players that should have retired long ago dragging them down. Seriously, Rich Aurilia is going to play every day? At least they have some amazing young pitchers, like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, otherwise this team would be a total waste. Kind of like all the money they gave to Barry Zito.

Cubs over Phillies
Mets over Diamonbacks

Cubs over Mets

World Series:
Cubs over Indians
The Curse is finally over for the Cubs.

MVP: Chase Utley
He will continue the streak of Phillie MVP's.

CY Young: Johan Santana
Will find the NL much easier and dominate the league.

Agree or disagree with my predictions? Want to make your own? Include your thoughts in the comment section. Check back tomorrow for my Phillies individual player projections.

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