National League Preview

Steve O Speak

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Florida Marlins

5. Washington Nationals

The Philadelphia Phillies look poised to make their third straight trip to the World Series. Trading for Roy Halladay gives the Phillies one of the 3 best pitchers in the game. Though trading away Cliff Lee was still a bit of a head scratcher, and made the Halladay trade more of a lateral move. Top to bottom the Phillies have the best lineup in the National League, and should have no trouble taking the East. The Braves, Mets and Marlins will all be fighting for the 2nd spot (and quite possibly the Wild Card), with Atlanta likely to come out the victor in that race. The Braves will have a bit of a revamped bullpen, and a deeper team then last year. Also, top prospect Jason Heyward should make a nice impact this season and give the Braves the power bat in the outfield they’ve been lacking. The Mets just don’t have the talent right now as they are currently constructed to win the East. They will pretty much have to gut the farm system if they are to make the trades needed to put them over the top. The Marlins are a young team on the rise still and could always put it together. The real question with them is if they add additional talent or trade away what they have. Cantu will be a free agent, and Uggla and Ross will be in their last arbitration year next season. All three are likely trade targets during the season giving their impending free agency/price tag. The Nationals like usual will be bringing up the rear. They probably won’t be the worst team in the league this year, but could be close. They are another team that could sell off some top players during the season, though luckily for them they should have a much stronger pitching staff by June to soften the blow.

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Milwaukee Brewers

3. Cincinnati Reds

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

5. Chicago Cubs

6. Houston Astros

This is the year things get turned upside down in the NL Central. St. Louis should win this division easily. They have two ace pitchers and two of the best bats in game. Unfortunately, they don’t have too much else in their lineup, which is why I don’t like them as a serious World Series contender. The Brewers are a very good team, but lack a true ace in their rotation. I think they will need to add at least one more starter, to make a Wild Card run, but if they do they should be a dangerous team in the playoffs. The Reds are my surprise team this year. They have perhaps the best starting pitching depth in the majors and that doesn’t even include Edinson Volquez who will miss most of the season with Tommy John surgery. They have a very good lineup, with one big hole in left field. A deeper bullpen and bench could help them as well, but the Reds have the ability to make some major trades during the season if they are competitive. The Pirates should find their way out of the cellar this season, with a stronger young team that should get some mid-season improvements, in the way of some young prospects. There could still be some trades made of some of their veteran players, but I wouldn’t expect the fire sale we saw last season. The Cubs I think are in trouble, and could be a huge bust this season. They are a very old team and I don’t think their players will age well this season. I’d expect a drop off from a couple of their top guys which could lead to disastrous results. I think the Astros are pretty much in the same boat as the Cubs, though they have even less Major League talent and don’t even come close to having the talent the Cubs have in the minors. It’s going to be a long haul for the Astros and the best thing they can do is start to move some of their veterans to get younger.

NL West:

1. Colorado Rockies

2. San Francisco Giants

3.Arizona Diamondbacks

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

5. San Diego Padres

The Rockies look like they will take the West this year, despite losing a few key contributors. Their deep farm system allows them to handle a few defections, so don’t be surprised if the Rockies don’t miss a beat. They have a very good lineup which is a great balance of offense and defense, and finally have a pitching staff that can survive in Colorado. It should be a close race, but I like them down the stretch. While any of the top 4 teams will be competing for this division, I think it will come down to the Rockies and the Giants. San Francisco has an elite pitching staff that has always carried them far. This year their offense will be more than just Sandoval, which should at least give them the chance for a Wild Card run. The Diamondbacks are a very much improved team, with a good everyday lineup and a quality pitching staff. The real question for their success is how soon does Brandon Webb come back and how effective will he be? If he can return to form for the majority of the year then the Diamondbacks could be a good sleeper team, if not they will likely fall to 4th in this division. The Dodgers had a bad off season where a number of key contributors were lost without getting anything in return.  They still have a very talented everyday lineup, but their bench took a hit. If any of their starters get injured for a significant time it could be a big problem. The Dodgers biggest question will be how their starters will hold up, last season they had plenty of depth in their rotation and it was a major strength. Now that rotation looks like their biggest liability and there isn’t anyone I’d count on beyond their top two guys. The Padres are in serious rebuilding mode and this season could get ugly in the short term if they trade Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. While those are the right moves for long term success, San Diego could be looking at this season’s worst record.

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