2008 MLB Preview: National League
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National League East (predicted order of finish and record)
Philadelphia Phillies (89-73) - The defending division champs come into 2008 looking to wipe away their postseason memories of 2007, but they do so with one of the most potent lineups in the National League, featuring the reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins, the great bats of Howard and Utley, as well as a number of other veteran pieces. The pitching could be suspect at times, but as long as it's up to par, the Phillies should win the East handily.
Atlanta Braves (87-75) - The Braves creep closer back to their former status atop the division, but may have a few too many deficiencies to reach that plateau ever so quickly. Atlanta's lineup is loaded from top to bottom with a mix of veteran bats and young stars, highlighted by Jones, Teixeira, and Francoeur. This team, with their veteran staff, won't win the division, but should stay in the running for a Wild Card deep into September.
New York Mets (84-78) - New York acquired the ace they wanted in Santana, and though their team is built to win right now, the Mets appear to be a team that will struggle to stay healthy, and after the brutal meltdown of 2007, may not have the mental makeup to contend in 2008. Though Beltran and Wright could probably carry the offense pretty far, the voids in both the lineup and bullpen make a playoff berth a bit too much to ask for this year.
Florida Marlins (76-86) - Contrary to popular belief, the Marlins are a team on the rise rather than on the decline. Florida's roster is laden with one talented young player after another, most notably shortstop Hanley Ramirez. However, the rotation and bullpen are just not experienced enough to compete successfully at this point. In a year or two, this should be one of the most competitive teams around, but no contention for the 'Fish' in 2008.
Washington Nationals (69-93) - Whether it's Montreal or Washington, this franchise suffers the same fate once again, even after overachieving last year. The team is revamped, and has nothing to show for it but a bunch of hyped prospects that haven't amounted to much (see Milledge, Dukes). The only sources of promise for Manny Acta are his bullpen and his slick-fielding man at the hot corner, Ryan Zimmerman.
National League Central (predicted order of finish and record)
Milwaukee Brewers (90-72) - Winning this division isn't saying much anymore due to its recent slide into mediocrity, but the 'Brew Crew' can hit with anyone regardless of affiliation, mostly because of young slugger Prince Fielder and the up and coming power bat of Ryan Braun. Milwaukee doesn't have as much pitching as several other N.L. contenders and that could be scary come playoff time, but their bullpen should be effective, backed up by this talented monster offense.
Chicago Cubs (87-75) - The Cubbies are a second example of a team looking to rid themselves of their 2007 finish with another good regular season in 2008. Chicago's lineup is almost as good as that of Philly or Milwaukee, but behind Zambrano, there isn't a proven winner in the rotation. They do have a fairly good bullpen and one of baseball's best generals in Piniella, and though there may not be many great reasons for such, it seems as if the North-Siders will fall short in 2008.
St. Louis Cardinals (81-81) - The fate of the 2008 Cardinals is highly dependant upon their injury situation. They will be fine if Pujols stays healthy and both Carpenter and Mulder can return to form. On the other hand, this is a team that could go downhill very quickly. Their lineup isn't deep at all, and the same could be said for their pitching staff as a whole. St. Louis is aging quickly and it's not getting any better, closing their window for N.L. contention.
Houston Astros (76-86) - The Astros didn't get any worse in the offseason, in fact they have a new middle infield with Tejada and Matsui, along with a new stopper in Valverde. Their lineup is actually pretty good, with the likes of Berkman, Lee, Pence, etc, but their rotation is ghastly behind Oswalt. Unless they can improve this staff in a rapid fashion, it looks to be a long season for the Astros, a different result from their recent past.
Cincinnati Reds (74-88) - Cincinnati is a team that's done nothing to fill the voids in the starting rotation, and until that changes they will be destined for the latter half of this division. The offense is average with slugger Adam Dunn and Brandon Phillips, who flies under the radar like no one else in the game. That said, if they can get good seasons from some starters other than Harang, the Reds might be able to make some noise under new manager Dusty Baker.
Pittsburgh Pirates (67-95) - For the past decade, the Pirates have consistently been the biggest waste of time in the sport, and that trend appears to continue into to 2008. Their lineup is dreadful with the declining Jason Bay, and though their rotation still has a pretty good upside, this team can't hit a lick or get anything done pitching-wise on a constant basis.
National League West (predicted order of finish and record)
San Diego Padres (92-70) - Baseball's best division should be won by the Padres. Many are suspect of the lineup, which isn't at all that bad, but they can stay afloat with their current offense because of their shutdown pitching, which is second to none in baseball. The reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy and the underrated Chris Young are only two of six solid starters that Bud Black can throw out there, along with a bullpen that should be dominant at the end of games. Don't sleep on San Diego.
Los Angeles Dodgers (90-72) - Bringing in Joe Torre should help alleviate the age gap that destroyed the Dodgers down the stretch last year, plus this team has too much to fall short once again. Their lineup has a number of productive bats up and down, now featuring Andruw Jones, and their rotation is in the same class as San Diego's. Their bullpen is also very good, and if healthy, the Dodgers will challenge for the division crown or a Wild Card at the very least.
Colorado Rockies (86-76) - The defending N.L. Champions look to get back to the promise land of 2007, but will have to keep up in the ever difficult N.L. West to do so. Offensive production is always consistent at Coors, with Holliday, Atkins, and Hawpe. However, their rotation is a bit suspect with no true ace that can win in a big spot. They made it work last year with a similar roster, though it might be a bit too much for Colorado again.
Arizona Diamondbacks (82-80) - The division goes as deep as four teams over .500, with the D-Backs rounding it out, featuring a very young team and an improved rotation. Haren and Webb can match any pitching duo in baseball, though the staff drops off tremendously after them. I don't like their lineup as much as others do, due to the fact that it doesn't feature a proven veteran that can get it done when it matters.
San Francisco Giants (72-90) - The Giants start fresh after the Barry Bonds era, but it doesn't look good for the immediate future. The team is an absolute mess as far as this season is concerned, with an ancient lineup, featuring the newly acquired Aaron Rowand. The starting rotation isn't bad if Barry Zito can live up to his contract, but there are just far too many question marks for the Giants in 2008.
All National League First Team
C - Russell Martin, Los Angeles
1B - Albert Pujols, St. Louis
2B - Chase Utley, Philadelphia
SS - Hanley Ramirez, Florida
3B - Chipper Jones, Atlanta
OF - Matt Holliday, Colorado
OF - Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
OF - Alfonso Soriano, Chicago
SP - Jake Peavy, San Diego
SP - Johan Santana, New York
SP - Brad Penny, Los Angeles
RP - Trevor Hoffman, San Diego
RP - Takashi Saito, Los Angeles
All National League Second Team
C - Brian McCann, Atlanta
1B - Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
2B - Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
SS - Jose Reyes, New York
3B - David Wright, New York
OF - Carlos Beltran, New York
OF - Carlos Lee, Houston
OF - Adam Dunn, Cincinnati
SP - Brandon Webb, Arizona
SP - Dan Haren, Arizona
SP - Chris Young, San Diego
RP - Billy Wagner, New York
RP - Jose Valverde, Houston
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