Baseball season begins April 4, so it’s time to predict the outcomes for every team in the NL. Look for your favorite squads and compare your picks to mine.
I’ve ranked the teams based on their predicted finish for the 2010 season. I’ve also ranked each squad’s batting and pitching on a letter scale, with a short explanation following.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley anchoring the Phillies lineup, Philadelphia should once again be considered the favorites coming out of the NL East.
The Philly outfield (Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth) is one of the best in baseball, and Placido Polanco is an upgrade over Pedro Feliz at third base. If Jimmy Rollins bounces back from a so-so season, this could be the year the Phillies win it all.
On paper, the Phillies’ pitching staff looks to be amongst the best in the bigs.
Roy Halladay should continue to be a Cy Young candidate, and J.A. Happ exploded onto the scene last year as a great young arm. The rest of the rotation poses major questions, however.
Cole Hamels might be the 15-5 ace from 2008, or the 10-11 average pitcher that self-imploded in the 2009 postseason.
The bullpen looks even shakier, with Brad Lidge coming off two offseason surgeries and his worst season as a closer. If Ryan Madson can provide some support and Hamels returns to form, everything should go according to plan in Philadelphia. That’s a big if though.
Nate McLouth and Brian McCann headline a powerful group of hitters who will likely send a high volume of homers out of Turner Field. Speed is virtually non-existent in the Braves lineup, though, and that’s a big issue entering the season.
Rookie Jason Heyward will need to show all the hype is well deserved in the outfield. Chipper Jones’s health will also be key if the Braves want to make a run at the Wild Card or even division crown.
The Braves quietly aligned one of the best rotations in the NL. Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson are proven veterans certain to hit double-digit wins by season’s end. Jair Jurrjens finished 2009 with a 2.60 ERA, and youngster Tommy Hanson could be the most consistent player on the pitching staff by season’s end. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito will split reliever duties, and should do so effectively.
For the past few seasons, the Mets were the sexy pick to win the NL East and even the World Series. Each of those seasons, New York collapsed and failed to make the postseason. This year, the bar needs to be set much lower.
The Mets have a talented group of hitters, but injuries may cut into that talent pool considerably. Jose Reyes continues to struggle with leg issues, Carlos Delgado is gone, and Carlos Beltran will be out until at the earliest May.
Still, David Wright is one of the most dynamic players in baseball, and the addition of Jason Bay should eliminate some of the pressure he felt last season.
Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez single-handedly save the Mets pitching staff from utter disaster. After those two studs, it’s complete chaos in the rotation and bullpen, which is known for blowing game after game the last two seasons.
Mike Pelfry, Oliver Perez, and John Maine all struggled with control problems last season and ended up with very high ERAs. The Mets desperately need that trio to return to their younger, more dominate form.
The Marlins will be one of the fastest teams in MLB, and with Hanley Ramirez on the roster, anything is possible from a run-production standpoint. The other youngsters remain the key issue here. If they can hit the ball consistently, the Marlins are the dark horse team in the NL East. An increased batting average for Dan Uggla would help big time.
Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are two pitchers with plenty of talent and great stats from years past. The rest of the rotation is shaky and extremely young, which usually is a foreboding sign of trouble.
Look for Leo Nunez to have a surprisingly good season as the closer in Florida.
Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are perfect players in the three and four spot of any lineup. In fact, both players could end up as all-stars this season.
Everyone else in the lineup is a bit too old (Pudge Rodriguez) or a bit too inexperienced (Ian Desmond). The potential is there for one of those inexperienced players to break out, but it won’t take the Nationals out of the basement of the NL East.
Until phenom Stephen Strasburg is called up, there won’t be much to cheer about pitching-wise for the Nationals. When John Lannan is your ace, it’s going to be a long season.
Sorry, Nats fans.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Cardinals have a great chance of emerging out of the NL and competing for a World Series. As long as Albert Pujols is in the lineup, St. Louis is a threat to score runs.
Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are top-tier compliments to the best player in baseball, and will pose a major problem for opposing squads.
Colby Rasmus’s development will be a key storyline to watch. The Cards need him to raise his stats from last season, and they also need third baseman David Freese to replace Mark DeRosa.
Having one Cy Young candidate usually bodes well for a team, and the Cardinals possess two (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright).
Assuming Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse play around the status quo for a third and fourth pitcher in the rotation, the Cardinals should be fine.
Ryan Franklin was spectacular last season, and has a chance to expand on his performance this year.
The Cubbies won’t end their World Series drought this year, but have a good enough lineup to compete for a Wild Card spot.
Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez will anchor the three and four spots in the batting lineup, with Alfonso Soriano still acting as a dangerous producer.
Marlon Byrd is going to be the x-factor for Chicago. He has to play better than Milton Bradley and be much less of a headache.
Look for Geovany Soto to rebound from a disappointing season and play like he did in 2008, which will be a big lift for Chi Town.
With the exception of Randy Wells, the Cubs have a very predictable pitching staff, and that’s not such a bad thing.
From spots one to three, the Cubs have double-digit win pitchers lined up and ready to go. Wells should expand on his great rookie season, and Tom Gorzelanny is a solid fifth option.
Carlos Marmol played well as the closer last year, and will have the job full-time this year. Jeff Samardzija in the bullpen will provide an extra boost.
Hitting in the three spot, Joey Votto is primed and ready for a breakout season. Expect over 30 homers and close to 100 RBIs, along with an All-Star game appearance for the young first baseman.
The Reds were hoping Jay Bruce would be ready for the cleanup role, but he struggled with his batting average and suffered a tough injury. He needs to prove himself this season if he wants to unseat Brandon Phillips for the fourth spot in the lineup.
The Reds will have one of the better rotations around, with veterans Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo at the top.
Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto should become fantasy-team mainstays by season’s end, and Edison Volquez (who is returning from injury) along with rookie sensation Aroldis Chapman could make a big impact too.
Closer Francisco Cordero is in store for another solid season, with a good bullpen behind him.
There’s nothing flashy about the Brewers hitting, but it gets the job done. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are two of baseball’s best, and Corey Hart is an above-average outfielder.
If Milwaukee can get some more of out Carlos Gomez or Alcides Escobar, they have a chance to beat out the Reds in the division.
Just like the Brewers’ batting, the pitching staff is solid but unspectacular. Yovani Gallardo is the gem of the pack, but after that, it’s all average starters who will hover around ten wins apiece.
Milwaukee fans will have to cross their fingers that 42-year-old Trevor Hoffman doesn’t breakdown. To his credit, he was an all-star in 2009.
The Astros outfield, consisting of Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn is a great combination of speed and power. Unfortunately, things go downhill from there.
The infield is chalk full of question marks. Lance Berkman has slowly taken steps backward over the last three seasons, a trend likely to continue this year. No one knows who will win the catcher job, and Tommy Manzella has no experience as the full-time shortstop.
Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, and Brett Myers make up an intimidating top of the order for the Astros rotation. The four and five spots are unknowns at this point, as Bud Norris is extremely young and Brian Moehler struggled in 2009 (8-12, 5.47 ERA).
Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones should expand on their breakout seasons from 2009, but there’s nothing else to be excited about here.
Ryan Dourmit is an above-average batter for a catcher, assuming he stays healthy. Considering how the Pirates blew up the entire team last year, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see “veteran” Akinori Iwamura dealt at the trade deadline for more AA and AAA players.
Charlie Morton is the only real bright spot in the rotation, and he will suffer behind a team unlikely to generate much run support.
Zach Duke and Paul Maholm are good for 10 wins each and an over-four ERA.
Closer Octavio Dotel is a solid option in the bullpen, but he has no one else to help him out as a middle reliever or setup man.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
The NL West has four legitimate contenders for the division title, so it’s going to be of vital importance that Manny Ramirez remain on the field this year. His bat coupled with Matt Kemp’s is enough to scare pitching staffs across MLB.
Bonus contributions from Andre Either and Russell Martin would go a long way in re-securing the NL West.
Clayton Kershaw is ready for his true breakout season, and might even be the ace of the rotation. Chad Billingsley is a great number two, and Vicente Padilla somehow revived his career for Joe Torre at season’s end.
Jonathan Broxton is one of the best closers around, and guys like George Sherrill are capable of effectively filling in for him or acting as setup men. The Dodgers have a bullpen to be envied.
San Fran went all out this offseason to improve their awful batting from 2009, and did a good job of replenishing. Freddy Sanchez, Mark DeRosa, and Aubrey Huff will help in vastly improving the Giants hitting.
Pablo Sandoval was simply spectacular last year, and his new batting buddies should help add some RBIS to his stat line.
And, of course, keep an eye on Buster Posey. He’s this year’s Matt Wieters, waiting in the wings at the catcher position.
Tim Lincecum is tough enough to face, and the Giants have the luxury of throwing Matt Cain on the mound the next day. Both players will contend for the Cy Young.
The rest of the rotation took a hit with the loss of Randy Johnson and Brady Penny, but Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez are quality pitchers not to be taken lightly.
Closer Brian Wilson surprised many with his great performance in 2009 (38 saves, 2.74 ERA). He needs to reproduce that success again.
Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds are superb batters, and Adam LaRoche was a nice addition as the cleanup hitter. If Stephen Drew and Conor Jackson can produce at a high level, life will be much easier in Arizona.
Catcher Miguel Montero has tons of upside and could produce big fantasy numbers.
The D-Backs will live or die on Brandon Webb’s return. If he’s anywhere near his former Cy Young form, Arizona instantly becomes a playoff contender.
Dan Haren is a top-five pitcher who will continue to strike out opposing batters this season.
The additions of Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy were huge, and should help keep Arizona in the race for the NL West title.
The bullpen poses a few problems. Chad Qualls is coming off a serious injury, and is expected to be the everyday closer. The other relievers will need to step up if Qualls isn’t at 100 percent.
The Rockies have a great balance of power, speed, and ability to get on base. Troy Tulowitzki finally lived up to the hype last year and can build on his impressive season. Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe still provide home runs, and Carlos Gonzalez along with Dexter Fowler will steal around 30 bases each.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a proven commodity, and Aaron Cook is a good ground ball pitcher. Jorge De La Rosa went 16-9 last year, but is unlikely to reproduce that win-loss ratio. The other spots aren’t too strong, especially with Jeff Francis returning from surgery.
Colorado can’t play for too long without closer Huston Street, who is set to start the season on the DL. Franklin Morales and Rafael Betancourt will have big impacts on the bullpen.
Adrian Gonzalez will continue to produce 40 homer/100 RBI seasons as long as he wears a Padres uniform (which may not be too much longer).
Tony Gwynn is a great contact hitter at the top of the lineup, and Kyle Banks is slowly molding into a slugger to be reckoned with. For the time being though, San Diego has one of the weakest lineups in baseball.
Jon Garland and Chris Young are proven winners at the top of the rotation. Kevin Correia is coming off a pretty good season himself, giving San Diego quality pitching in the middle of the rotation as well.
It’s doubtful that Heath Bell plays as well in the closer role as he did last year, but he remains a viable reliever. The rest of the bullpen played well in 2009, especially Joe Thatcher and Mike Adams.