Here we go.
National League East (predicted order of finish and records)
Philadelphia Phillies (96-66) – The two-time defending league champions are the clubhouse favorite to do it for a third time, not to mention that no team is a bigger favorite to win their division. Their offensive arsenal may be the best in all of baseball, led by Utley, Howard, and two players that gave them unexpectedly huge seasons in Werth and Ibañez.
They also acquired one of the best starters in baseball, Roy Halladay, who will be able to toy with National League lineups. Though their starting pitching behind him and bullpen are both a bit shaky, they’re too good to let this one slip away.
New York Mets (85-77) – This win total may be a bit too generous for a team with as many question marks as New York, but when healthy, no team blows away the Mets on a position by position basis. Reyes and Beltran should return fairly soon from injury, and will complement the ever-consistent David Wright, and the great new acquisition, Jason Bay. There’s no way to justify their lack of progress in terms of starting pitching behind Santana and the bullpen in what was a dormant offseason to say the least, but this division is another one that seems to be a big toss-up after a clear-cut division leader.
Florida Marlins (82-80) – The always scrappy Marlins are nothing to brag about coming into 2010, but they do present a nice collection of young talent, headed as always by superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez. They struggle keeping up with big market teams within the division because of lack of financial resources, but simply make the most out of what they have each and every year.
Like several other teams, a slow start may lead to a managerial firing and a fire-sale, but Florida always plays spoiler and makes hay for divisional opponents even in a year where they may not be on pace to win many games.
Atlanta Braves (80-82) – It used to be the case that the Braves would be a lock to win this division and cruise into the playoffs, but no longer does that hold true with what is a somewhat shaky Braves roster, especially with their look at the start of 2010.
We will see if the hype comes to surface with the great young prospect, Jason Heyward, and it better since this lineup seems to have no punch behind McCann and Jones. They also traded away their ace, and though their rotation does have some solid youngsters in it, this eclectic collection of players has all the makings of a team that will hover around .500 all year.
Washington Nationals (65-97) – There’s no question who the last place lock is in the NL East once again. A poor spring training squelched a lot of the hype and expectations coming into this season, which is always key for a young team.
By far, they have more holes than any other team in this division, especially in the pitching department, even if they get production out of the young phenom, Stephen Strasburg. Several good hitters will make their offense somewhat respectable, and even though this might be the best Nationals team in a few years, that isn’t saying much for this perennial doormat.
National League Central (predicted order of finish and records)
St. Louis Cardinals (92-70) – With what they’ve done with this team, the Cardinals have ensured that they will be competitive for a number of years to come. They present some of the best 1-2 combinations in the National League with Pujols and Holliday in the lineup and Carpenter and Wainwright in the rotation.
In a division that they ran away with last year, not too many other teams improved, as the Cards will definitely continue their winning tradition. Also, motivation should be in excess after a miserable postseason showing last season. Expect St. Louis to be a certain division winner in 2010.
Chicago Cubs (88-74) – As they continue to disappoint year after year, I’m still convinced that the Cubs have way too much talent to come up short, whether it be in the regular season and the postseason. I like their lineup, especially after a great bounce back year from Derrek Lee, and their rotation features both balance and depth.
At first glance, it looks like a group that has been clumsily put together, but they do feature a nice group of consistent veterans. There’s always that “Is this the year?” pressure in Chicago, in what might be a nice one where the Cubs will contend for both the division and wild card.
Milwaukee Brewers (84-78) – The Brewers have done their best to plug some of the holes left by players who have departed for better teams and bigger contracts, but this team still doesn’t give off the same contending vibe that it did two seasons ago when they reached the playoffs.
Their superb offensive tandem of Braun and Fielder are still young and only getting better, and though their lineup isn’t stellar around them, they seemed to have brought about an heir of respectability in a division that won’t be incredibly tough to contend in. They can’t win this division, but will stay in the hunt all season long.
Cincinnati Reds (79-83) – Can anyone tell me what this craze is about? All I see here is two good hitters, one good pitcher, and maybe another one on the way. They’ve had nine straight losing seasons, a trend that will undoubtedly carry on here in 2010, as the Reds might be baseball’s least-noticed bad team (the Astros are also in that discussion). Their fate may turn around if young lefty Aroldis Chapman is all he’s hyped up to be, but the question marks are far too prevalent for the Reds to be any good this season.
Houston Astros (75-87) – The team that never rebuilds may be starting to lean that way with a crop of young position players and pitchers surrounding the veteran mainstays like Berkman, Lee, and Oswalt. They’ve brought in a new manager in Brad Mills, to develop a new culture and essentially start from scratch with this organization.
I could be wrong, but I don’t even think this is one of those years that the Astros hang around and fade late, like they usually do. There isn’t exactly a bulk of talent here for this team to really depend on, so I guess the focus has to be on the future for this once proud franchise.
Pittsburgh Pirates (64-98) – Though they’re usually in the mix for this moniker, I think the Pirates have finally done it. They are indeed the worst team in baseball. After another year filled with trading away solid pieces, the fan base’s mutiny is not too far away (if they even care anymore).
I like their young outfield star, Andrew McCutchen, but around him is absolutely nothing, and the same can be said for the starting rotation. I wish there was some hope for the Pirates and their fans, but unfortunately Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell aren’t coming back any time soon. This is a disaster.
National League West (predicted order of finish and records)
Colorado Rockies (89-73) – After another magical late-season run and postseason appearance, the Rockies are not a team to rest on their laurels coming into this season, where they will win the National League West. They have never entered a season with higher expectations and the sky is the limit for this Rockies team, led by great young shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Their pitching is rebuilt and led by Jimenez and De La Rosa, as GM Dan O’Dowd has done a tremendous job is forming a young nucleus, and turning this team from a mediocre one every year to a perennial contender, this year being no exception.
San Francisco Giants (86-76) – A team that has floundered through offensive futility over the past few years may do the same this year, but this Giants team looks to have better balance and certainly just as good of pitching as the teams that have taken the field for them over the past few years.
Obviously, they bring back the two-time defending Cy Young in Tim Lincecum and a few other good starting pitchers, but there’s little reason to believe that their offensive production will be any better. This group won’t return the postseason to the Bay Area as their postseason drought will unfortunately reach seven seasons.
Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78) – These Dodgers, who have been outclassed in each of the past two postseasons, come into this season having made absolutely no improvements to last year’s team. They do possess a number of attractive young players in Kemp and Ethier, but looking up and down this lineup (and rotation), it’s full of misfits and retreads.
Their pitching rotation looks to be miserable, but this will be assuaged a bit by their good bullpen. Los Angeles’ veteran presence will certainly win them a number of games in any fashion, but this team has the strong scent of an aging, disappointing mess.
Arizona Diamondbacks (77-85) – Remember when this team was going to be a juggernaut in three years? I do, but never believed it. They certainly have some nice young players, most notably Upton and Reynolds, but even though their rotation might flourish at some point, their veteran ace, Brandon Webb is already on the disabled list.
They might be able to make things interesting in what looks to be a predetermined three-horse race in the NL West, but Arizona has not nearly enough leadership, managerial savvy, or experience to break the .500 mark in what will be another lousy season.
San Diego Padres (71-91) – It’s easy to forget that the Padres played won a lot of games late last season, showing hope for the future, but not hard to figure out that this team has too many young players and not nearly enough talent to move forward before they take a few more steps back.
They still retain star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but he very well might be traded before long. For as many youngsters as they have, none are considered can’t miss prospects, as the Padres figure to be big-time sellers at the deadline once again. There’s not much here, but if they play loose, they might be able to hang around.
All National League First Team
C - Brian McCann, Atlanta
1B - Albert Pujols, St. Louis
2B - Chase Utley, Philadelphia
SS - Hanley Ramirez, Florida
3B - David Wright, New York
OF - Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
OF - Jason Bay, New York
OF - Jayson Werth, Philadelphia
SP - Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
SP - Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
SP - Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
RP - Francisco Rodriguez, New York
RP - Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles
All National League Second Team
C - Yadier Molina, St. Louis
1B - Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
2B - Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
SS - Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
3B - Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
OF - Matt Holliday, St. Louis
OF - Raul Ibañez, Philadelphia
OF - Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
SP - Johan Santana, New York
SP - Josh Johnson, Florida
SP - Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
RP - Ryan Franklin, St. Louis
RP - Heath Bell, San Diego