First – Philadelphia
Nobody has caught the Phillies if Cole Hamels stays healthy. The defense up the middle is solid. Jamie Moyer deserves hall of fame consideration. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are the best double play combo in baseball.
Key Player – Hamels' there isn’t a lot of depth in the pitching staff and they can’t really take a hit to the big guy.
Second- New York Mets
Full Disclosure – I hate the Mets. But they are right there with the Phillies. It’s going down to the wire. When that happens I go with the team that’s been there and that’s the Phillies.
Key Player – Carlos Beltran, at 32 he may be the best player on this team and several (David Wright, K-Rod, Carlos Beltran and Reyes) are extremely good. Beltran needs to hustle in the outfield because a few outs either way could mean the season.
Third- Atlanta Braves
At the risk of really upsetting all 17 Florida Marlins fans I’m taking the Braves by a hair. The reasons are Henley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, they’re throwbacks to the steroid days with cast iron gloves. Those extra outs make a difference.
Key Player – Kenshin Kawakami, don’t bet against Japanese Imports, especially first year pitchers.
Fourth – Florida Marlins
The Marlins have great sticks. Some say enough power to compete. I say power is over-rated.
Key Player – Cameron Maybin, who may be the only Marlin comfortable in the field.
Fifth – Washington Nationals
I almost forgot they were in the league, but they have some interesting pieces. No bullpen and age in the middle infield hurts but guys like Anderson Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, John Lannan and Scot Olsen have the team going in the right direction. They could even break the cellar if someone in the bullpen steps up.
Key Player – Joel Hanrahan, he’s the most likely someone to step up.
First - Chicago Cubs
Joey Gathwright should start in CF. He won’t but he should. Fontenot and Theriot form a solid middle. The starting pitching is deep and formidable. The bullpen looks solid but the closer spot could be shaky.
Key Player – Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden. Zambrano seems to be outgrowing his britches and making decisions on everything including where the team should play. If he turns into a head case it could mean trouble.
Harden needs to stay healthy. Dempster needs some health too. And Ted Lilly quietly fills the lead lefty role. Zambrano or Harden struggle and moving those two up is a lot to ask.
Second – Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers starting pitching is the only question mark. Braun, Hardy, Hart, Fielder, Weeks, Kendall, Cameron and Hall are all strong fundamental players. The bullpen could rival the cubs with Trevor Hoffman.
Losing Sabathia and Sheets to free agency is just too much to overcome.
Key Player – Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo takes on a huge role in the rotation. He didn’t look ready in the spring.
Third – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals and the Reds should battle for third but the Cardinals have enough bats to push the leaders. Pujols, Ankiel, Greene are a solid core. There’s enough pitching and an interesting blend of youth and veterans.
They could compete.
Key Player – Skip Schumaker, the middle infield needs Schumaker to tie things together between Greene and Pujols. He’s moving from the OF; he makes the change and the Cards have a chance.
Fourth – Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have some nice young pitching. They have Alex Gonzales at SS and Brandon Phillips at 2b. Both are more bat than glove. Willy Taveras speed in CF can’t hurt. The bullpen could be good and with new catcher Ramon Hernandez calling a quality game who knows.
Key Player – Hernandez, he didn’t help the young staff in Baltimore much while he was there.
Fifth – Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates out of the basement? Why not. They have holes but Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, the LaRoche’s, Brandon Moss all look ok to good. The Rotation isn’t terrible. Karstens and Ohlendorf will have some ups and downs. Snell, Duke and Maholm can eat innings.
There’s not much in the bullpen but that’s a good start. Eric Hinske has a nasty habit of signing with winners.
Key Players – Whoever is asked to step up in the bullpen.
Sixth - Houston Astros
I like Bourn and Matsui in the middle of the defense. I don’t like I-rod and Tejada there. The rotation is only so-so despite Roy Oswalt. That could limit the chances for Jose Valverde.
Key Player – Tejada and I-Rod, I don’t think either has enough left and I blame the juice for the demise of both.
First – San Francisco Giants
Aaron Rowand would run through a wall in CF. He’s a gamer. Edgar Renteria is okay. Emmanuel Burriss adds speed at 2B. Randy Winn is a lot like Rowand. Fred Lewis is solid in LF. Nate Schierholz has a big Lefty Bat perfect for who-ever-has-naming-rights-this-week Park.
Ishikawa isn’t terrible. The bench has some nice vets. Pablo Sandoval at 3B, I guess it’s the best way to get him on the field. The Giants may have the best rotation in the National League. The bullpen doesn’t suck either.
Key Player – Barry Zito as the third Lefty a big second national league following a fine close to last season puts the Giants over the top.
Second – Los Angeles Dodgers
I’d like to put the Dodgers in fifth just because they signed Manny. I can’t. Matt Kemp, James Loney, Furcal, Hudson, Blake, Ethier and Martin are seven likable and able ball players. The Rotation is deep and the bullpen isn’t terrible.
Key Player – Closer Jonathon Broxton. The bullpen is deep enough to get him the game with the lead. He needs to hold it.
Third – Arizona Diamondbacks
I’d love to see the Diamondbacks rise up and win this division. They’re probably one starting pitcher shy. If Doug Davis has a big year that could change. The bullpen could use more than Jon Rauch, who is prone to problems with his mechanics.
Young, Drew, Upton, Jackson, Reynolds and and Byrnes are all fine players. Team players too, they just seem a little bit short of the top two.
Fourth – Colorado Rockies
The rockies have some pieces. You just don’t know what to expect from them. Ryan Spilboroughs has to play CF. That’s not good. But Ian Stewart in LF and Brad Hawpe in RF are pretty nice pieces and the reason they could surprise in the Double Play combo of Tulowitzski and Barnes.
They just don’t have enough in the starting rotation behind Aaron Cook.
Key Player – A big year from Todd Helton would go a long way. He’d provide someone they could move for more pitching.
Fifth – San Diego Padres
I love Eckstein. How could anyone not? The guy hustles like no one else in the game. Not enough. The corners are solid. Brian Giles is pretty consistent. Jody Gerut doesn’t seem to fit in CF. Young and Peavy are quality starters but behind them isn’t much and the bullpen really looks a mess.
Key Player – Heath Bell heads to the closer role with two saves in 14 save opportunities and eight minor league seasons under his belt. Even if he comes through its not going to help.
NL EAST – Philadelphia Phillies NL Central – Chicago Cubs NL West- San Francisco Giants Wild Card – Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers edge whoever comes in second in the central, while the east beats each other up.