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2012 MLB National League Preview

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I can feel it in the air. The greatest season of all, baseball season, is about to get underway. Hope springs eternal for every club, players have dreams of triple crowns and postseason heroics. All the teams begin with a blank slate, and for at least one day the Orioles and Astros will be tied for division leads. As we age, we realize that Christmas Eve is really for the children in your life. The anticipation fades and the realization that presents don’t magically put themselves under the tree sets in. One thing that will never fade is the feeling true baseball fans get when they enter the ballpark for the first time in a new season. The park may be brand new or 80 years old; it feels new, it feels fresh, it feels like home. With less than 24 hours until the children in all of us get to return home again, allow me to present my American League preview. Whether you agree or disagree, be thankful that we all get to witness the beauty and grandeur of the world’s greatest game.

Predicted Order of Finish for 2011 National League East

Rank

Team

Finish

Comment

1

Philadelphia Phillies

 

 

91-71

 

1st in NL

 

While not as good (on paper) as last year’s Phillies, they are still the class of the National League. The 1-2-3 punch of Halladay, Lee, & Hamels is the best in baseball. Despite having Ryan Howard and (more importantly) Chase Utley sidelined with injuries, they should still win more than their fair share of games and defend their NL East crown.

2

Florida Marlins

 

86-76

 

T-3rd in NL

The Marlins are a solid team that seems to be going after a title a little differently than in the past, by trying to build a lasting team rather than buying an unsustainable one. Full disclosure: the whole buying a title thing worked out alright for them…twice. Still, the Marlins have an excellent lineup 1-5 with some solid contributors filling it out. The question marks are Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes. If they can stay healthy, they will have a legit ace and the best fire-starter in baseball. If he cannot, their staff is middle of the road at best. I don’t expect Heath Bell to be anywhere near as good as he was with the Padres, but he is still in the upper-eschelon of closers.

3

Atlanta Braves

 

 

 

86-76

 

T-3rd in NL

I went back and forth over who I liked to be runner up in this division. In the end I put them both at 86-76. They got bonus points for choosing Tommy Hanson to start the opener instead of Dontrelle Willis 2.0, Jair Jurrjens. I really like their lineup. I think Heyward will have a nice season and Freddie Freeman will have a moderate breakout season. Beachy is as underrated as it gets, Minor is nice, Hudson is as solid as it gets, and the back end of the bully is among the best in baseball. After really thinking about it, they could win 90 this season.

4

Washington Nationals

 

 

82-80

 

9th in NL

The Nats are this year’s trendy pick to make a run at the playoffs. I think they are a couple years away from serious contention, but will make good strides this season. They have a great top 2 in the rotation with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson are nowhere near as good as they are made out to be, but they are solid #3-#4 options. The top of the lineup aside from Ryan Zimmerman is a little green and will go through some growing pains. They should get a big boost when Bryce Harper gets the call, although I still think they should’ve left him at catcher. It will be interesting to see just how serious they are about Strasburg’s innings limit if they are in the middle of a pennant race.

5

New York Mets

 

 

70-92

 

15th in NL

David Wright is still a very good player. I’ve always heard that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So… again… David Wright is still a very good player. The rest of the team cannot say the same about themselves. The lineup is bad. The rotation is counting on Johan Santana… if this team doesn’t lose 90 it can be considered a successful season.

 

Predicted Order of Finish for 2011 National League Central

Rank

Team

Finish

Comment

1

Cincinnati Reds

 

 

86-76

 

T-3rd in NL

This team will go as far as their rotation takes them. Latos and Cueto should be solid, even if Latos is making a move from spacious Petco to The Great American Smallpark. The final three in the rotation, Leake, Bailey, and Arroyo all project to have WHIPs in the 1.35 range (not good for those not in the know). On the bright side, aside from Aroldis Chapman, there aren’t any superstar arms for Dusty Baker to ruin and they do have Joey Votto, who I project to win his 2nd MVP. They also have enough power to be able to win some slugfests. The NL Central is definitely up for grabs and I think the Redlegs will get it done… barely.

2

St. Louis Cardinals

 

 

 

86-76

 

T-3rd in NL

The surprise World Series champs prepare for 2012 without the best player in franchise history, Albert Pujols. Also gone is the author of every book ever written on overmanaging, Tony LaRussa. The good news is that this team is still good. If Carlos Beltran can stay healthy will help partially offset the loss of Pujols. They will also need David Freese to take the next step in his development and hope that Adam Wainwright shows no ill effects from his TJ surgery. It looked as though Chris Carpenter would be back, but I think anything they get out of him would be a bonus. As for the rest of their rotation… I am definitely not a fan. I think Lohse regresses in a big way while Garcia and Westbrook provide solid innings-eating, but nothing spectacular. The good news is that future ace Shelby Miller is waiting in the wings, but probably is still a year away. This is a winnable division and they have the pieces to win it (although I think they will regret how they handled Colby Rasmus and forced him out of town), but I wouldn’t expect anywhere near last season’s success.

3

Milwaukee Brewers

 

 

82-80

 

T-9th in NL

 

If you haven’t picked up on it by now. There are a LOT of average/slightly above-average teams in baseball these days. The Brewers are next in line on the list. They lost their best power hitter and 2nd best player in Prince Fielder and their best player was busted for steroids but got out of it on a technicality. Ryan Braun is still great, but it begs the question of how many intentional walks will he draw this year without Fielder’s protection? My guess is tons. Gallardo, Grienke, and Marcum can be called anything from very good/great, but one thing they can’t be called is reliable.  Marcum is the most consistent of the bunch, but they will need the two in front of him to pitch lights-out if they want to win even this mediocre division. Ultimately I think losing Prince hurts too much and they finish around the .500 mark.

4

Chicago Cubs

 

 

77-85

 

12th in NL

Starlin Castro should contend for his first of what could very well be many batting average titles this season. There isn’t much else to like in this lineup though. Soto has very good years every other year and he had a bad one last year… so he’s due. Soriano has bad years every year… so he’s due also. Who else is there? David DeJesus? Marlon Byrd? Darwin Barney? The Cubbies do have two pieces of the future rounding into form in Anthony Rizzo (if he can figure out left-handed breaking balls) and Brett Jackson (if he can figure out how to swing a baseball bat and not miss the ball). In the rotation, Matt Garza went from overrated to underrated. Ryan Dempster is rock-steady, Jeff Samardzija is the x-factor, and the rest is not worth talking about. All in all, just like every year, fans in Wrigleyville will be left waiting for next year.

5

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

 

75-87

 

13th in NL

Andrew McCutchen is on the verge of anonymous superstardom, but he can’t do it by himself. They need Pedro Alvarez to start playing like the #2 overall pick instead of a rec-league player in a 35 and over league. Jose Tabata is an interesting piece and Neil Walker won’t hurt you, but he isn’t exactly a guy you want batting clean-up either. Some rotations are hit or miss, the Pirates look to be 5 misses. When AJ Burnett comes back I think he and Bedard could have somewhat of a career rejuvenation, but they aren’t miracle workers. At the end of the day, the Pirates are making strides, but will endure their 20th losing season in a row.

6

Houston Astros

 

 

62-100

 

16th in NL

This team is awful, as if that wasn’t bad enough; they are being run even worse. They unloaded Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, and Roy Oswalt, but didn’t finish the job by dumping Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee. The sad part about it is that even though they dumped 3 of their best players, their farm system is still one of the worst in baseball. There is no hope on the horizon for the Astros… making matters worse, they are going to join the AL West next season, only to get their heads bashed in by the likes of the Angels and Rangers

 

Predicted Order of Finish for 2011 National League West

Rank

Team

Finish

Comment

 

1

San Francisco Giants

 

 

 

87-75

 

2nd in NL

The Giants still don’t have much offense to speak of, but luckily their have a fantastic top of the rotation. They need Buster Posey to regain the form he had before his season-ending injury. They also need a big year out of Pablo Sandoval or else they will really struggle to score. Thankfully this division is very winnable and Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner should combine for 50+ wins. Despite long periods of offensive ineptitude, I think they can find another 37 out of the remaining lot and take the West one last time before the Dodgers sign every free agent out there.

2

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

 

84-78

 

7th in NL

 

Clayton Kershaw has officially taken the torch from Roy Halladay as the best pitcher in the National League, if not Major League Baseball. Matt Kemp has also seen a 5-tools grow as he’s developed into a true 40/40 threat and one of the best players in the game. Aside from these two and Andre Ethier, there is a lot to be desired on this current roster. The remainder of the rotation is filled out with 4 veterans who are all above-average, but none would be confused with greatness. The lineup has a lot of filler, but Dodger fans have a lot to look forward to, new ownership looks like they will spend, spend, spend on free agents in the coming years.

3

Arizona Diamondbacks

 

 

83-79

 

8th in NL

 

For the D’Backs to have any chance of contention, they need another MVP caliber year out of Justin Upton and a little bit of luck. They have some decent pieces (including one of my favorite players (not sure why) Jason Kubel), but Upton is the only player on the team with serious star power. Arizona’s rotation is strong, although I highly doubt Josh Collmenter will be anything more than a one-year wonder. Luckily the D’Backs have a strong farm system so the big club will get some help in the very near future.

4

Colorado Rockies

 

 

81-81

 

11th in NL

Table setters Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro will ensure that Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have a chance to drive in a lot of runs. The addition of Michael Cuddyer and the future Hall of Famer Todd Helton help to fill out a very good Rockies lineup. They will score, but they may have some issues limiting the other team. Colorado lacks a bona fide ace. While Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz have the potential to be good, I just don’t think they have the pitching to get it done this season.

5

San Diego Padres

 

 

71-91

 

14th in NL

The Friars got a king’s ransom for Mat Latos, but they need the return to step up and pay off for it to be worthwhile. The good news is, that despite not having a true elite prospect in the system, they have the deepest in the game. They probably have 20 or so high ceiling prospects. While, the present is bleak, the future should be bright in San Diego either through development or offloading prospects for talent and going for it.

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