1) New York Mets
Teams from Philadelphia usually do not win too much, and they have won the division in dramatic fashion the past two years.
Although I would love another Mets meltdown, I cannot predict the Phillies for a third year in a row, and no other team looks to stand a chance right now
With Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran leading a potent hitting attack and Johann Santana at the head of your staff, you can forget about how badly they collapsed the past couple of years.
Who knows, maybe another year of experience under their belt will help them finally win the National League East.
Honestly, who wouldn’t want to have to rely on Livan Hernandez or Fernando Tatis in a big situation? Not to mention Francisco Rodriguez has lost his fastball the past couple of years, and it is only a matter of time before he starts getting hit, and JJ Putz is a mental case right now, who may not be much help.
2) Philadelphia Phillies
The likely winners of the National League East for a third consecutive season, unless they sign Gary Sheffield to sit on the bench. That will not end well for them.
I know that whenever Sheff leaves a team they come out and say that he is a great guy, great teammate, and yadda, yadda, yadda, but I do not buy it for a second. That could possibly be their biggest weakness.
They have three potential M.V.P.s mixed with a bunch of solid players. The same could be said about Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge, mixed in with a bunch of solid pitchers.
There really is no reason for this team not to return to the playoffs, but, hey, they are from Philadelphia.
3) Atlanta Braves
They are definitely not the Braves of old and do not pose any threat to the top two teams in the division. But they will finish around .500 with a solid core group, which only got better with Garret Anderson’s arrival.
Chipper will be Chipper and strike fear in the opposing pitcher as he drives in over 100 RBI and hits well over .300.
They also may have the gutsiest starting rotation in the league with Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez, and Tom Glavine. Unfortunately, guts do not always mean wins, and all three have seen most of their talent diminish.
You really can never count out a Bobby Cox team.
How many times did they not have the most talented team yet win the division anyway? It was at least the last five seasons or so that they won the division.
4) Washington Nationals
This team could surprise a lot of people.
They have talent all over the field led by newly acquired Adam Dunn and with the continued development of Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge, to go along with consistent veterans Christian Guzman, Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman.
The biggest questions for the Nats is obviously with a young, inexperienced pitching staff which is relying on Julian Tavarez—who looks like Freddy Krueger on a bad day—and Daniel Cabrera—who has yet to grow up himself—for veteran leadership.
That is why they find themselves in fourth right now.
5) Florida Marlins
Hanley Ramirez is wasting his career away in Florida, where they are just happy to win more games than the Heat every year, which may be a lot closer this year than in previous years.
They just have to rely on to many players that are good bench players on most teams to play everyday, not to mention the worst fielding second baseman in the history of baseball, but at least he can hit better than most in history too.
Ricky Nolasco won 15 games last season, and they do have a lot of young kernels waiting to pop, not to mention it has been six years since the last time they have played Cinderella and made a run to the World Series.
But Popcorn does not always pop and they don’t have the big veteran names they had in years past.
1) Cincinnati Reds
This may seem weird, but this team may not have enough offense to win.
The pitching will be there for the Reds. They have four starters who can all be very good if Aaron Harang bounces back and Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto continue to mature.
The offense is good, although it lacks the name recognition of a couple of years ago. Jay Bruce is really good and will continue to improve and so will Chris Dickerson and Joey Votto to help return this team to the prominence it showed in the late 80s and early 90s.
2) Chicago Cubs
By far the best team on paper; they may be too good for themselves.
They have all-stars all over the field led by Alfonso Soriano, Derek Lee, and Aramis Ramirez, to go along with second year players Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto, this team will not find itself looking for runs.
When your No. 2 and 3 starters are coming off 17-win seasons, and if not for injuries, we could have probably thrown Carlos Zambrano in the mix as well.
The bullpen is strong with many veterans, like Luis Vizcaino, Aaron Heilman, and Neil Cotts, and young talent in Jeff Samardizija, Carlos Marmol, and closer Kevin Gregg.
So what is the problem with the Cubs? Well, I see two.
The first is obvious: They are the Cubs; they always lose eventually. Second, how long into this season do you think it will be before Milton Bradley and Lou Piniella get into a fist fight in the club house?
3) St. Louis Cardinals
The pitching staff is weak and really relying on Chris Carpenter to return to his dominant form and for all five starters to pitch deep into ball games to help make the transition for their first time closer Jason Motte that much easier.
Luckily, for the Cardinals they can hit, and will have to with their staff. With Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Scot Schumaker surrounding the NL MVP Albert Pujols runs will come.
So, I am predicting many 10-8 games in their future.
4) Milwaukee Brewers
Similar to the Cards, Milwaukee can hit, with power coming from Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the middle of the order, speed with Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall, and a little of both with JJ Hardy.
However, they are hoping for more with less, when it comes to the pitching staff. They lost their two best starters—well one definitely, the other is still up in the air—and their closer, and have not replaced anyone of the three.
Unless, they get really lucky and get good pitching regularly from somebody, it will be a huge step in the wrong direction for this up-and-coming franchise.
5) Houston Astros
After Roy Oswalt, their staff is hoping for a time machine with both Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to bring them back to 1999 when they were very good pitchers. While we’re at it throw Latroy Hawkins in there as well and then this team will be one of the best in the National League.
However, this is not Austin Powers, and we do not time travel yet, so the Astros are going to have to hope for the best with what they have.
On the bright side, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are still on their team and will find a way to drive in over 100 runs each without any help from the rest of their team. Also, Hunter Pence should continue to develop into a great power threat.
Also, Jose Valverde will be lights out as usual, which will help in the rare case this team has the lead, a.k.a. every time they play the following team.
6) Pittsburgh Pirates
I really hope one day I cannot put them in last place and keep a straight face, however, that day is not today, so they will stay in the cellar.
They have some potential at the plate with Nate McLouth, and Andy LaRoche returning. They also have some pop off the bench with Eric Hinske and Craig Monroe.
Also, Paul Maholm is a good starting pitcher, especially with the other four never panning out like expected.
Also, with John Grabow, Tyler Yates, and Craig Hanson, who I think could have a big year finally staying in the majors all the way through and not playing in big games, setting up the bridge to Matt Capps they may be able to win the close games.
However, they are still pipe dreaming at best this year.
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
They could hit all the way from one down to eight in the order.
Really, the only question Torre has to worry about is if leadoff man and shortstop Rafael Furcal will stay healthy. The highly sought after shortstop only had 143 at-bats last year, and hit an impressive .357 in that time.
But with the ageless Mark Loretta backing up virtually every position in the infield, that will help put Joe’s mind at ease.
The starting five and bullpen are good enough in the National League to win quite a few games with this offense.
Really, the only concern to have is whether or not Manny will be the Manny that Boston had last year or the one the Dodgers had.
2) Arizona Diamondbacks
They are young in all of the right places—everywhere but closer and starting pitching—and have a lot of promise to be a NL powerhouse very soon, maybe even this year.
However, a lot of their players are still too impatient at the dish and have very low averages.
If they do not start hitting out of the gates, expect Eric Byrnes to crack the starting lineup again. He is not nearly as talented as the young guys, but at least they could learn how to hustle everything out from him.
Closer Chad Qualls is closing in on his 31st birthday as well as his first opportunity to be a closer everyday. He only has 15 saves in his career, nine of which came last season, this would not concern me if it was not for the fact that Tony Pena can hit the high 90s routinely and is very good in the eighth inning.
Is Qualls closer material? Is Pena stuck in the setup role for the rest of his career? Those are a couple of big questions for the Diamondback front office to deal with.
They do have Tom Gordon, who has lost his stuff considerably the past couple of seasons.
3) San Diego Padres
I like their pitching staff, led by Jake Peavy and Chris Young to start and then going to Cla Meredith and Chris Britton, who I feel the Yankees should have given more of an opportunity to, and then closing the door with Heath Bell. (Hey Mets fans, wish you held on to this guy, huh?)
Bell is interesting because he has never closed before, which does not mean he cannot do it even though he has blown 12 saves in his career and only picked up two along the way, but I like his chances.
Their hitting will obviously be their weakness playing in a humongous ballpark and not having power hitters in their lineup—obviously Adrian Gonzalez is excluded.
They do have high average guys like Jody Gerut, if he stays healthy, David Eckstein, a rich man’s Eric Byrnes, and Brian Giles. (I was surprised to when I saw he is still in the league.)
4) San Francisco Giants
I almost picked the Giants to be a sleeper pick and then realized they are a poor man’s San Diego Padres.
They have good National League starting pitching with Tim Lincecum and Randy Johnson leading the way and Matt Cain pitching to an ERA under 4.00.
It weakens considerably in the bullpen until Brian Wilson, who saved 41 games last season.
Like I said, they are a poor man’s San Diego Padres, and you can really tell with their starting lineup.
Does anyone scare you? They have some name recognition, but the numbers are not there to support it.
Edgar Renteria was a great hitter, now, .270, 10 home runs and 55 RBI. Aaron Rowand is similar .271, 13 home runs, 70 RBI.
They do have some young talent like catcher/corner infielder Pablo Sandoval and Emmanuel Buriss to try to build off of, however I do not see their emergence coming this season.
5) Colorado Rockies
They lost their best player in Matt Holiday, and their ace, Jeff Francis, is still injured. Todd Helton is no longer Todd Helton and between Manny Corpas and Huston Street they have two closers who are only consistent at being inconsistent.
I could see a big year out of Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brad Hawpe and Garret Atkins are very good. Very young middle of the order guys to help them be the Astros without Roy Oswalt.