MLB Predictions 2012: Breaking Down NL Playoff Field

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIMarch 17, 2012

MLB Predictions 2012: Breaking Down NL Playoff Field

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    Though several National League teams have suffered key free-agent losses, many are still poised to compete for a playoff spot in 2012.

    While some clubs have stood pat in hopes of maintaining playoff-caliber teams, others have frantically added to their rosters in order to unseat an incumbent.

    There are 16 teams in three divisions vying for five postseason spots.

    Which underdogs have done enough this offseason to make a run and who at the top can hold them off?

    Here is the 2012 National League outlook.

Wild Card Winner No. 2: St. Louis Cardinals

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    The St. Louis Cardinals have lost their best player in Albert Pujols and manager Tony LaRussa.

    Yet the roster still looks stacked with the likes of Yadier Molina, Rafael Furcal, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran.

    The loss of Pujols will hurt, but the Cardinals still have the pieces in place to net a wild-card berth.

    Get in without Pujols? Yes.

    Win the World Series without him? That's a different story.

    Record: 86-76

Wild Card Winner No. 1: San Francisco Giants

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    Everyone on the roster is happy, star catcher Buster Posey returns from injury, a shortstop has been identified and the outfield just got younger without losing any talent.

    The San Francisco Giants are back.

    Are they better than 2010? We'll see.

    It all hinges on team chemistry.

    How will Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan mesh with this team?

    They're big league ballplayers, so they should be just fine.

    Record: 90-72

NL West Winner: Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Coming off of a 94-68 record last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are a nearly identical team in 2012.

    They appear to have a better pitching staff now than they did a year ago with the addition of Trevor Cahill.

    They may come back down to earth, but reality is not far from where they finished last season.

    The young roster led by Justin Upton and Chris Young should continue to improve at the plate. Adding Jason Kubel will also benefit the power in the lineup.

    The 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks could be similar to the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Days of flash and power followed by weeks of one- or two-run games.

    Record: 91-71

NL Central Winner: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Losing first baseman Prince Fielder will reduce the number of wins the Milwaukee Brewers accumulate in 2012.

    But like the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brewers still have a very talented roster with many of the same players returning.

    Ryan Braun no longer faces suspension and the Brewers have brought in Aramis Ramirez to man third and help fill the void Fielder left in the lineup.

    They won't run away with the division like last year, but they'll still get the job done.

    Record: 91-71

NL East Winner: Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies have all lost a power-hitting first baseman.

    Luckily for the Phillies, they'll get theirs back in the middle of the season.

    The Phillies just need to stave off their NL East opponents.

    With the pitching staff they possess, it shouldn't be too difficult.

    Facing the steepest drop off in wins, Philadelphia's rotation will still put them over 90 wins easily.

    Record: 93-69

What About the Rest?

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    Where does that leave the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers?

    The Cincinnati Reds have an amazing lineup, one that should dominate the NL Central soon. This year, they'll fall one game short of acquiring a playoff spot.

    The Atlanta Braves have too many question marks between the rotation, the health of Chipper Jones and the infield depth. They'll miss a wild-card spot by two or three games.

    The Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins have both gotten better, but aren't yet playoff contenders. The Nationals need more pieces and the Marlins need time to mesh with each other, at a new stadium and with a new manager.

    The Colorado Rockies should rebound this year but not enough to overtake the San Francisco Giants or Arizona Diamondbacks.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers will surprise many in 2012 and compete for a playoff spot until the final game of the season. Like the Reds, they'll barely miss.