There is no doubt about it—The Philadelphia Phillies are definitely the favourites to represent the National League at the World Series. Adding Cliff Lee to an already dreamy rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels makes it seem like Philadelphia will go 162-0 this season.
The Phillies also have a powerful lineup to go with their Aces-high pitching staff.
Most Valuable Player candidate Chase Utley leads the offensive threat of the Phillies. Fresh off a injury plagued 2010, Utley is ready to make another World Series run.
Joining Utley in the offense is the powerful lefty first baseman Ryan Howard.
Howard is fresh off a 108 RBI season that was cut short in the National League Championship Series by the eventual champion San Francisco Giants.
Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez will also be back to avenge a disappointing finish to last season.
Being the hands down favorites this early in the season puts a Miami Heat like target on their back, as all of Philadelphia's opponents this season will be gunning for them.
But the Phils should be able to deal with that pressure and take the NL East crown deep into the postseason.
Minus the Phillies, and probably the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, the NL playoff picture is pretty foggy.
Reigning National League MVP Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds are probably the favorites in the Central, but with St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago chasing them, the NL Central crown is up in the air.
What about the wild card?
The National League is notorious for always having a tight race to the finish to determine who wins the wild card spot every year.
Usually it results in a playoff game to determine the winner, a la the 2007 NL Champion Colorado Rockies, who beat San Diego in a winner-take-all game. Colorado rode that momentum into the playoffs and eventually the World Series.
So who will be the Colorado Rockies of 2011?
No—they will be to beaten up by division rivals Chicago, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
Maybe, but their pitching staff will need to duplicate their surprising 2010 campaign. Ace Ubaldo Jimenez started off on fire, but ended poorly. He will need to be more consistent this season.
Matt Kemp will need to become a superstar overnight, and I don't believe all the hype behind their pitching staff.
Jonathan Broxton is the real deal though. If they can manage a lead, Broxton should shut the door.
The Dodgers will be in the hunt, but will lose out late in the season.
I like the addition of Dan Uggla at second, but Tommy Hanson is the most inconsistent pitcher I have seen in a long time. When he is on though, he is awesome.
Jason Heyward is going to have a monster second year, and Brian McCann is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. But an aging and/or unproven starting rotation of Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor has me thinking the Braves will need to add an arm to really challenge the Phillies and the wild card spot.
If they could actually keep their prospects, maybe. At least Steel town has the Steelers and the Penguins!
All of this uncertainty leads me to believe that the National League wild card winner will be surprise team who has a young superstar, solid pitching lead by one of the top 10 pitchers in the National League and a young, talented up and coming batting lineup.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the 2011 National League Wild Card winners—The Florida Marlins.
Why the Marlins you say? Well, it rests mostly on the shoulders of arguably one of the most talented player in baseball.
With the departures of Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu, this is truly Hanley Ramirez's team.
Florida will be depending on him to put up MVP like numbers. This includes new Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez. "I expect a lot from (Ramirez) this year, not only on the field but also off the field."
Rodriguez is looking for Ramirez to become the leader of this very young Marlins team. He is fully capable of doing so, and if he does what people expect he can do, he will probably contend for the triple crown.
Ramirez does have some help, as this Marlins roster is extremely underrated.
The ace of their pitching staff is fire baller Josh Johnson.
Johnson had a good 2010 going 11-6 adding 186 punch outs in the process. He will be looking to improve on this in 2011.
The rotation also includes newcomer Javier Vazquez.
Being labeled as "washed up" by many, after a poor season with the Yankees, Vazquez should flourish in Miami as the lights won't be as bright.
Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad—all terrific arms—round out what is one of the most complete starting rotations around.
The bullpen is also pretty good.
Leo Nunez and lefty Randy Choate headline it, and while these are not household names, both should be able to hold a lead.
The off season addition of John Buck brings a veteran catcher who will help guide the young arms of the Marlins.
Buck had a breakout campaign in 2010 with Toronto, hitting .281 with 20 long balls and 66 RBI.
Rounding out the Marlins lineup is second year outfielder Mike Stanton who is looking to break out in his first full season in the big leagues.
Chris Coughlan is also a stud out in left field.
Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison are not household names by any stretch of the imagination, but they are all solid bats and great fielders who will solidify the Marlins lineup.
At third base is rookie sensation Matt Dominguez. The Marlins first-round pick in 2007 is already considered big league ready defensively.
He does need to work on his offensive game, but a solid showing early in Triple A will have him at the hot corner for the Marlins very early in the season.
Year in year out, the Marlins trade away all of their young stars and they still find a way to compete in the NL east.
Going into 2011 this remains the same.
This offseason, Dan Uggla was dealt to Atlanta and earlier in 2010 Cody Ross was dealt to San Francisco where he became NLCS MVP.
The Marlins competitiveness seems to expire late in the season. Last year they were vying for a wild card berth until their play tailed off in the latter half of the season.
But 2011 is a new year.
This is the year where the Marlins won't just compete, they will get over the hump and win the 2011 National League wild card.
And who knows? Maybe the Marlins will repeat the 1997 and 2003 seasons and go all the way.
Because, as the Giants proved last year, all you need to do is get into the playoffs.
Then the rest will be history.
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