While we're still in the early days of spring training, it's never too early to start making predictions for the upcoming season.
Today, we'll start with the National League, predicting each division winner (and throwing in two predictions for the wild-card spots, as well).
It may be boring to some, but I'm sticking with mostly chalk. While I don't doubt there will be some surprise team that will shake up the league, I only see one team that failed to make the postseason last year cracking October play this season.
Let's find out which team that is.
NL East: Washington Nationals
I know fans of the Atlanta Braves will be yelling, "But we got the Upton brothers!" and folks in Philadelphia will be reminding everyone that they still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but on paper there isn't a more balanced team in the National League than the Nationals.
Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will both be Cy Young candidates this season, and the staff is five-strong. Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano will hold down the back end of the bullpen. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman all rake.
When you find the weakness on this team, please let me know.
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds
The Reds are another team with few weaknesses. The addition of Shin-Soo Choo will bolster a lineup already boasting Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.
The pitching staff is stacked, and converted reliever Aroldis Chapman could end up becoming the ace of a staff already comprised of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey.
Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall are a questionable duo at the back end of the bullpen, but if Chapman struggles, he'll return to the closer role.
Oh, and the Reds play excellent defense. Their 86 errors were the second fewest in the NL last season, and the team's .985 fielding percentage was tied for second best in the league. The Reds don't look terribly sexy on paper, but they generally do all of the little things well and will repeat as NL Central champs.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
With all due respect to the repeating World Series champion San Franciso Giants, the Dodgers are absolutely stacked this season.
Atop the rotation, the team boasts Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett. The lineup includes Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier. This team will rake.
Do I wonder that this team will morph into the West Coast version of the Boston Red Sox? Yes. Am I betting against the Giants with a serious level of apprehension? Absolutely.
But on paper, it's simply too hard to ignore this Dodgers squad. I'm expecting very big things for them this year.
I don't think the Braves will best the Nationals in the NL East, but this team is too balanced and talented to miss the postseason.
Adding the Uptons alongside Jason Heyward gives the team the most athletic outfield in baseball. They're a fundamentally sound fielding squad (the Braves had the fewest errors in the NL last year), the lineup is stacked, the starting pitching is solid and the bullpen is the best in baseball.
I like the St. Louis Cardinals, but no Chris Carpenter is a major blow. This team's age is going to catch up to it this year.
The Phillies have major questions in the lineup that will plague them all year. The Arizona Diamondbacks have solid starting pitching but a questionable lineup. The Milwaukee Brewers have a solid lineup but questionable starting pitching.
Nope, I've got to stick with the defending World Series champion Giants for the other Wild Card. With their starting pitching and bullpen, they'll always be competitive, and Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval give them just enough bite offensively.
They just seem to win games. Don't expect that to change in 2013.
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