It’s time to tackle my predictions for the Juior Circuit (National League). I should not be so harsh on the NL, although the league has been clearly inferior to the AL in recent years, There are some very talented players and improving teams in the NL. Due to my inherent east coast bias, lets start here.(Once again last years records in parenthesis)
The Mets (Terry’s Mets) came excruciatingly close to making the playoffs this past season. In one move, Omar Minaya fixed everything that was wrong with the Mets. Johan Santana represents salvation from the agony of last years collapse. Santana heads up a rotation that is among the elite in the league. Pedro Martinez is healthy and looks strong and effective this spring. John Maine has quietly become one of the better pitchers in the league. If he wore pinstripes and had a rediculous name that sounded like a Star Wars character, he would be a phenomenon too. Oliver Perez is as physically gifted as Santana, boasting a fastball that touches 95, and a filthy slider, the only thing holding him back seems to be, him. The fifth spot is a question mark at this point, but with a rotation 1-4 as strong as this, the fifth starter is a bonus.
The Mets have a very good lineup, albiet a left-handed heavy one. The top four is as good as it gets in the NL. Reyes, Castillo, Wright and Beltran are all very good hitters with speed and aside from Castillo have power. I have a good feeling (man does that sound like Willie “I went with Mota cause I had a feeling in my gut” Randolph) that Ryan Church is going to be a positive contributor to this lineup. Carlos Delgado continues to be a mystery.
The Mets Bullpen is strong. Billy Wagner is getting older, but has added additional pitches, as his fastball has lost velocity. Aaron Heilman is one of the better set up men in the NL. If Duaner Sanchez can return to anything close to what he was in 06, the Mets will be very strong after the 6th inning.
I see this team winning the division, fairly easily.
The Phillies won the division last year only to be swept out of the playoffs by the NL champion Rockies. The rotation beyond Ace Cole Hamels, and president of the He-Mans-Woman-Beaters-Club Brett Myers is a question. Kyle Kendrick showed promise last year. Jamie Moyer is 88, and Adam Eaton is terrible.
The Phillies 1-4 are as potent as the Mets, and just about any other team in the league. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard will ensure that the Phils score a ton of runs.
With Brad Lidge going down with a knee injury, the bullpen has become more of a question than it already was. Tom Gordon will open the season as the teams closer. Beyond Lidge and Gordon there are few proven effective relievers.
The Phils will challenge for the Wild Card, but will not be much of a threat to the Mets.
The Braves have recently become the hot pick among the baseball writing community. I guess they all feel that they owe it to Bobby Cox after all these years and only one championship. Terry, however feels that this team lacks the pitching depth both in the rotation and the bullpen to challenge for the division. Tim Hudson is talented. Tom Glavin is old, he will give the Braves 200 innings, but that will come with at 4.50+ ERA. John Smotlz is a year older, and is going to start the season on the DL. Mike Hampton hasnt been healthy since he signed that rediculous contract with the Rockies. Chuck James is average, and beyond that the Braves have question marks like Jo Jo Reyes and Jair Jurrjens.
The Braves strength is their linup. Yunel Escobar is very talented. Mark Teixeira, Chipper Jones, Jeff Francouer, and Brian McCann are as strong as anyone. Kelly Johnson was suprisingly productive last year. Center field and Left field are problem areas for the Braves with the departure of constantly smiling, (the only player in the history of Major League Baseball to hit 50 HR, and have a BA less than .260) Andruw Jones.
The Braves Bullpen is anchored by Rafael Soriano, whom the Braves stole from Seattle for Horacio Ramirez two years ago (and who walked David Wright in the 9th inning, when Wright had a 20+ game hit streak on the line). Beyond Soriano the Braves are not very deep.
This team will be productive in a relatively weak NL East, but does not have the guns to compete with the Mets and Phillies.
The Nats were suprisingly competitive for a team that was expected to lose 100 games last year. The problem continues to be Starting Pitching. GM Jim Bowden continues to make head scratchers for roster moves (keeping both Nick Johnson and signing Dimetri Young to a long term contract). The Nats look to struggle again this year with a starting rotation that is centered around Odalis Perez, and has a spot for Churchville Chili great, and MCC grad Tim Redding (you remember him, the NY kid who got a shot with the Yanks in a start against the Sox, and didnt make it out of the first inning).
The lineup has some productive players (Johnson, Zimmerman, Austin Kearns). The additions of Lastings Mill(Thrill)age from the the Mets this offseason in exchange for Brian Schiender and Ryan Church, and Elijha Dukes should ensure that at the beat writers should have pleanty to talk about off the field. There are many holes that need to be filled, and pleanty of oppertunity for young players.
The Bullpen is suprisingly strong at the end of the game. Chad Cordero, John Rauch, and Luis Ayala (the only guy to get injured in the World Baseball Classic, which by the way, Terry is Jacked about next spring, We thought it was an absolute awesome event) should be fairly effective.
Man am I glad I dont live in Miami and cheer for this team. In typical Marlins fashion, they traded away the best young hitter in the game, and the only recognizeable face in their rotation, in Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis. The rotation is young, and injured. Scott Olsen is talented, but a head case, Josh Johnson is talented and hurt. Anibal Sanchez, is talented and hurt. The rest of the rotation is unknown quantities.
The lineup begins and ends with MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez. Dan Uggla hits for a low average and a ton of power. Mike Jacobs struggles against lefties. If Jorge Cantu can repeat his numbers of two years ago (28 HR 118 RBI in Tampa) he could be a pleasant suprise.
The Bullpen is loaded with live arms (many of which were imported from the Mets, thanks Omar). Kevin Gregg is the highest paid player on the roster. Tankersley, and Lindstrom are hard throwers.
Could this be the Cubs year. I know of at least one person who wouldnt know what to do with himself if one of his sports teams were to actually succeed. The Cubs look to have the pieces to make a run this year. The Starting Pitching is deep, with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Rich Hill leading the staff. Zambrano had an off year last year and seemed to be distracted by his contract situation (or by Michael Barrett’s fists).
The Lineup is deep and balanced. Theriot, Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Fukodome, and others are going to put up very good numbers (Terry is banking on Lee making an MVP run). Geovanny Soto gets a shot at catcher as a rookie.
The bullpen will be very strong if, and again I said if, Kerry Wood is finally able to stay healthy (Maybe Mark Prior was keeping him hurt, like the mom in “the sixth sense”, because he didnt want to be the only one hurt all the effing time). Carlos Marmol is a very talented young reliever.
The Brewers were an exciting, suprising team last year. If Ben Sheets is able to put together a season like he did between ’02-’04 (200+ innings, 150+ Ks) he should anchor as fairly strong staff. The recent release of Claudio Vargas opens a hole for youngsters (I called someone “youngster” again) Yovanni Gallard, and Manny Parra.
The Lineup features one of the best young hitters in the game, Prince Fielder. With Ryan Braun (who took over Shawn Green as the best Jewish player in the game), Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall around him, the Brewers should not struggle to score runs.
The Bullpen took a hit with the departure of Francisco Cordero to the Reds. Derrick Turnbow (and his steriod allegations) will be asked to fill the closers role. With veterans David Riske and Solomon Torres in set-up roles.
The Reds feel that they finally have the pieces to put together at .500 or better season and compete for the wild card. An infusion of young talented players (shockingly after Jim Bowden’s departure, see: Washington Nationals prediction) has left this team with a surplus of talented youth. The Rotation of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Belisle, Edinson Volquez, and Jonny Cueto should be solid.
The lineup should be solid. Adam Dunn (played by Will Ferrell in the film) kills the ball. The departure of Josh Hamilton (remember the five-tool, rookie of the year candidate who, if healthy could challenge for a triple crown), is a bit of a head scratcher. Brandon Phillips (whom Terry picked up off the fantasy scrap heap last year), has become one of the better offensive second basemen in the game(and and second rounder in fantasy).
The bullpen should be stronger with the addition of Francisco Cordero from Milwaulkee. There are some veteran relievers in set-up roles, including (former Met) David Weathers.
I cannot help but pull for this team. I need to get in touch with someone in training and development in the three rivers area. It seems as if every year they have five or six talented young pitchers, who for what ever reason fail to pan out (or in the case of Oliver Perez, post a 6.00+ Era, get thrown into a deadline trade for Xavier Nady, only to put up one of the better season in the NL last year). This year that group includes staff ace Ian Snell (Terry’s fantasy team), Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm, and Zach Duke. If these young men can out perform their expectations, the Pirates may be competitive after the break.
The lineup is built around all-star, turned bust Jason Bay. If Bay can repeat his numbers from two years ago, and forget about what he did (or didnt do) last season, the Pirates should benefit.
Closer Matt Capps was effective last year. Demaso Marte (if he isnt traded) gives the Pirates a veteran lefty in the pen.
If the Cardinals are able to tread water until the All-Star break, the potential return of Chris Carpenter (Tommy Johns) could be the shot in the arm this team desprately needs. In the mean time, Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Kyle Loshe, Todd Wellemeyer, and Anthony Reyes will be asked to hold down the fort.
The Lineup is predicated on the production of Albert Pujols, if only his elbow can hold up better than his hair-line. Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel provide pleanty of power. Replacing Jim Edmonds in center may be an issue.
Jason Isringhausen appeared to have regained some of his previous “stuff” last season. His health and effectiveness are paramount to the success of the bullpen. There are not a lot of places to look if his is ineffective.
There is not a whole lot to say about this team at this point. Roy Oswalt is the one bright spot in a very dismal starting rotation. They do however have a guy named Wandy.
If Lance Berkman can bounce back from a very poor season last year, the Astros could put some runs on the board. With Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Rookie J.R. Towles who should be an upgrade offensively over Brad Ausmus, and a steriod free Miguel Tejada the Astros could put together a decent offensive season.
The addition of Jose Valverde gives the Astros some hope at the back end of the bullpen. The departure of Brad Lidge (who missed signifigant time recovering from whiplash, after watching home run after home run leave the park) to Philly should not be a big blow. The Bullpen depth beyond Valverde is a question.
How quickly things change? Just a few years ago, this division was the laughing stock of baseball as the very real possibility of a sub .500 team making the playoffs was faced. Now the West of the deepest, most talented and competetive divsions in all of baseball. If you take the top three pitchers from each team in the division and compare them statistically, the worst pitcher in that group is former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito (you know, the one the Giants signed to a 7 year, 156 million dollar contract).
The Dodgers trot out one of the stronger rotations in baseball. Brad Penny (who tends to dominate pre allstar break, and suck post), Derrek Lowe, and Chad Billingsley head up the staff that should benefit from a ton of runs scored.
The line up is deep and balanced (specifically if Joe Torre is aloud to ignore the front office’s mistake and bench Juan Pierre and his One Tool production, regardless of what Bill Plachke thinks, see http://www.firejoemorgan.com). A healthy Rafael Furcal followed by Russ Martin, Andrew Jones, Jeff Kent, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier should be very productive.
The Bullpen is deep and strong. The Closer Takashi Saito is steady. Jonathan Broxton struggled in save situations last year, but thrived in a set up role.
Perhaps the best one/two punch in all of baseball. Brandon Webb and Dan Haren are the aces of a stron pitching staff. Not only can they pitch, but Micah Owings is among the best hitting pitchers in the sport, and may see time in the outfield.
A young, fast lineup should play an aggressive style of ball. Light on Experience, Eric Byrnes is the veteran presence in this lineup.
The Bullpen is young and strong with potential closers Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, and Chad Qualls all competeing for the 9th inning job.
Last year’s league champions are going to have a hard time duplicating the 22-1 run they went on to get themselves into the playoffs. A young rotation headed by Jeff Francis is developing, Ubaldo Jimenez showed his capability in the playoffs. Aaron Cook is not flashy, but gets the job done.
The Lineup is built around MVP candidate Matt Holliday. Todd Helton, Garrett Adkins, Brad Hawpe, and Troy Tulowitzki are the nucleous of the offense.
The Bullpen came on strong last year when Manny Corpas unseated Brian Fuentes as the closer.
This team came within one Tony Gwinn Jr. Triple of the playoffs last year (imagine the irony). Jake Peavey will compete with Johan Santana for the mantle of best pitcher in the NL. Chris Young scuffled down the stretch last year, and the rotation beyon Maddux is a bit of a question mark.
The offense lacks pop. Adrian Gonzalez fell off after a tremendous start (and Terry’s fantasy team suffered for it).
The bullpen is not a given as it has been in years past. Trevor Hoffman (who gave up the hit to Mr. Gwinn) has seen his fastball start to look an awful lot like his changeup in recent years. Heath Bell (former Met, thanks Omar) is the primary setup man.
The starting pitching of the Giants is a real strengh. Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Kevin Correia, and Jonathan Sanchez would greatly benefit from some more runs being score. Matt Cain’s record last year was attrocious (once again proving that record means nothing when evaluating pitching).
The lineup has been imploded following the departure of the guy who broke the all time home runs record last year. Bengie Molina looks to be the cleanup hitter, if that tells you anything about the state of this offense. The addition of Aaron Rowand should add some toughness (if only that were help this team score runs).
The Bullpen is full of young pitchers, whom I honestly know nothing about. Many of the stats and facts that I pulled from in the article came right from my head, I know that much useless information about baseball, but I honestly know nothing about this bullepen. I know as much about this bullpen as our president knows about foreign policy, the economy, history, politics, or any other damn thing.
I will follow up with Playoff matchups, and season ending award winners soon.