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2011 MLB National League Preview

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I can feel it in the air (along with the snowflakes that are currently battering my window). 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 Royals and Pirates 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 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 National 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

97-65

1st in NL

The odds on favorites to represent the National League in the World Series got even better in the offseason with the acquisition of Cliff Lee. The departure of Jayson Werth means that until Chase Utley and Dominic Brown return to health, the bottom of their lineup shouldn’t pose much of a threat to rival pitchers. However their 4 aces should provide a situation where 3 runs will win many ball games for the Phillies, and win they will.

2

 

Atlanta Braves

89-73

3rd in NL

Seemingly for the first time since baseball existed as a sport, the Braves will not have Bobby Cox calling the shots from the bench. That shouldn’t change the fact that the Braves are a very solid team. The strength in their lineup is easily highlighted by wonderkid Jason Heyward batting 6th. They feature a strong rotation and if either Jonny Venters or Craig Kimbrel steps up and wins the closer by committee job, they will have be the odds on favorites to win the wild card in the NL

3

 

Florida Marlins

81-81

T-9th in NL

The Marlins have the best player that casual baseball fans have never heard of in Hanley Ramirez as well as the most entertaining player on Twitter in Logan Morrison. If Mike Stanton turns into the 40 homer guy that he should, the Marlins will have the makeup of a strong lineup. Josh Johnson is an ace but I have serious doubts that he will make it through the season. Their bullpen looks like a mess, but the Marlins should be a .500 team with promise.

4

 

New York Mets

76-86

11th in NL

The Mets are broke. Not just on the field but also in the bank. The team is littered with big name players with big dollar contracts, who, judging by their injury riddled past won’t make it too far before breaking down again. If somehow the Mets can stay healthy, they still have to worry about a pitching staff that, flat out, isn’t very good. Aside from David Wright, there’s not much to be hopeful if you’re a Mets fan, but perhaps a new owner will be willing to eat all of the debt and take on this sinking ship.

5

 

Washington Nationals

73-89

13th in NL

A healthy Steven Strasburg takes the Nationals out of the cellar, but with him on the shelf and Bryce Harper not ready yet the Nats look destined for another 5th place finish. They are starting to look like a team on the rise and I personally like them bringing in Jayson Werth. Sure, they grossly overpaid, but how else are they going to get top free agents? Pairing him with 3B Ryan Zimmerman gives them the best 2-3 combination in baseball, now if they could just fill in the rest of the lineup…

 

Predicted Order of Finish for 2011 National League Central

Rank Team Finish Comment

1

 

Cincinnati Reds

87-75

T-4th in NL

Last year the Reds achieved a little quicker than they were ready for. It was apparent when their bats went silent in the Division Series and they posted the worst single series team batting average in MLB history. That said, the Reds bring back the same team that won the Central last year and aren’t so wet behind the ears. If their rotation stays healthy they could push 90 wins, but they have to bring it every night. They are now the hunted instead of the hunter.

2

 

Milwaukee Brewers

86-76

6th in NL

Despite their market size the Brewers aren’t afraid to take chances. They showed that in dealing for CC Sabathia and showed it again in the offseason in acquiring Zack Greinke. They have two premier bats in the middle of their lineup and when Greinke is healthy a very good starting 5. The Central could turn into a 4 team race and I expect the Brewers to be right there in the middle of it.

3

 

St. Louis Cardinals

84-78

7th in NL

Any team with El Hombre always has a chance to make noise. However, the loss of Adam Wainwright takes them from the favorite to another pretty good team with a shot at the playoffs. You know you will excellence get out of Matt Holliday and Chris Carpenter, but someone else needs to step up. It very well could be Colby Rasmus who will be a superstar if Tony La Russa ever treats him like one.

4

 

Chicago Cubs

82-80

T-9th in NL

Like most seasons the Cubs again enter the season with a talented roster and tempered expectations. No surprise for a team that hasn’t won a title in 100 years. Will this be the Cubs team that finally gets it done? In my mind they would need too much to break right for that to happen. They could push for a wild card, but at season’s end Cubs fans will again be waiting for next year

5

 

Houston Astros

67-95

15th in NL

The Astros aren’t without talent, they just don’t have enough to finish anywhere remotely close to .500 this season. Houston has a ton of holes both in the Majors and in their farm system so the future might be rough. However, the team may be in the process of being sold, hopefully to someone willing to open the wallet and spend. Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez are always worth watching, but they can’t do it all by themselves.

6

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

66-96

16th in NL

Andrew McCutchen is good, really good; so good that he doesn’t deserve to be on such a lousy team. The Pirates haven’t been competitive in two decades thanks to detatched ownership, terrible player evaluation and even worse drafting. Things have begun to shift under the watchful eye of GM Neal Huntington, but the Buccos are a few years away from .500. This will be another tough season in Pittsburgh, but looking at the bright side when the Pirates are in the field there will be quite a lot of souvenir home run balls for the fans to take home.

 

Predicted Order of Finish for 2011 National League West

Rank Team Finish Comment

1

 

Colorado Rockies

90-72

2nd in NL

Rockies detractors point out that aside from CarGo, Tulo, and Helton there are a lot of question marks in the lineup. I happen to think those questions will be answered in the positive this season. I’m a big fan of Colorado’s lineup. Chris Iannetta is running out of chances, but I think he’s a top 7 catcher bat waiting to happen. The 1-2-3 punch in their rotation is more than solid and has the ability to be great. Solid pen, good manager, 90 wins, and a division title.

2

 

San Francisco Giants

87-75

T-4th in NL

The unlikely World Series champs are back to defend their crown. They feature nearly the same lineup and pitching staff that got it done a year ago. So why then am I projecting that they miss the playoffs? Well, looking back a year ago, they played some stretches of pretty bad baseball. Added to that, they’ve had 5 months of everyone telling them how great they are and I question their hunger. Their staff is about as talented as it comes, and while I like Pablo Sandoval to have a big bounceback year, I don’t see their makeshift lineup catching lightning in a bottle again. They will be in the race but fall short.

3

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

83-79

8th in NL

Much like the Mets, the Dodgers are another big market team in financial crisis. That notwithstanding, the Dodgers have a great starting rotation headlined by the dynamic Clayton Kershaw and the potent middle of the order combination of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. Aside from that, they do have a lot of holes in the lineup and no money to fix them. If one of their big guys goes down for any length of time, the Dodgers are sunk.

4

 

San Diego Padres

75-87

12th in NL

Having your ace start on the DL isn’t the idea way to get a season underway. Luckily for the Padres, Mat Latos injury isn’t of much concern, yet. What will be a concern is a scrappy, yet punchless lineup. Their bullpen is arguably the best in the league, but if they can’t score runs, there won’t be any leads to protect.

5

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

71-91

14th in NL

I applaud Kirk Gibson for wanting only character guys on his team, but 9 times out of 10 talent wins. The 1-5 spots in the lineup don’t look bad, and Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy are nothing to sneeze at. The remainder of the team however is very iffy. If things go well, they could challenge the Padres for 4th, but if Stephen Drew’s injury is any clue to how the season plays out, 70 wins might be a high estimate.

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