5. San Diego Padres – The team’s ownership is in disarray, and that never bodes well for a team. They have a legit ace in Jake Peavy, but they’ve been trying to trade him and probably will. There just aren’t enough pieces here to compete.
4. Colorado Rockies – This team is headed in the wrong direction after their NL Championship of two years ago. Their hitters will put up the usual good Colorado numbers even without the departed Matt Holliday, but as usual, the pitchers will be even worse.
3. San Fransisco Giants – Last year, they were relieved to finally be free of the distraction that Barry Bonds caused. The problem was, without him, they didn’t have much of an offense. They have last year’s Cy Young Award winner in Tim Lincecum, but I see him taking a slight step back this year, and that means the Giants can’t compete. There is the possibility that over-the-hill former Cy Young Award winners – Randy Johnson and Barry Zito – will have big comeback years, and that would give the Giants a fighting chance.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks – Their starting rotation is probably the best in the division, and that should allow them to be in the mix for most of the season. What will cause them to fall short is the lack of a truly threatening hitter in the lineup. At some point, you have to score runs.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – They hope that Manny Ramirez can do what he did for them last year over a full season. The man is an amazing hitter, but do they have enough pitching to get the job done? Probably, as I think guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf come through for them.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates have been bad for quite some time now. And while they may not compete for a playoff spot this year, I do see the possibility of improvement if their pitching staff can pitch up to their capabilities. So maybe they’ll even be able to finish about .500 which they haven’t done for about 17 years. But probably not.
5. St. Louis Cardinals – Many people might look at the Cardinals and say “They’ve got Albert Pujols, the best hitter in baseball. They’ll be good.” But I don’t think they have enough around Pujols to be winners. I’m not impressed by their pitchers at all, and I can’t see Ryan “Jordan” Ludwick repeating his performance from last year.
4. Cincinatti Reds – The Reds pitchers all seemed to have disappointing years last year. Hence, the team had a disappointing record. I think they’ll bounce back to some degree, but sadly they don’t have the hitting to be a contender.
3. Houston Astros – On paper this team has a lot of star power. With Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, and Roy Oswalt on board, you’d think they’d be a lock for the postseason. I don’t see the total being equal to the sum of the parts though. I also think that Oswalt will have a subpar year after pitching in the World Baseball Classic, and without him, they don’t have enough depth.
2. Milwaukee Brewers – Everyone is going to point to the losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, and assume they won’t compete, but I see them staying in the hunt all year. Prince Fielder should have a huge year, and I still think the pitching staff led by Yovani Gallardo is talented. They won’t make the postseason again, but they shouldn’t collapse either.
1. Chicago Cubs – I have this feeling that this may actually be the Cubs’ year. Sure, they collapsed badly in last season’s playoffs, but in recent years, we’ve seen a lot of teams break long championship droughts (Red Sox, White Sox, Phillies) and maybe, just maybe the Cubs can do it. They definitely have the talent. I think they’d be better off not clinching the playoffs so early this year, as they coasted into the postseason, and couldn’t seem to get the fire back. I think they build off that disappointing performance and bring home a championship.
5. Florida Marlins – They were an early surprise last year, but faded down the stretch. People seem high on their starting pitching, but the problem with promising, young pitching is that sometimes they suffer growing pains. Hanley Ramirez is an excellent player, but I don’t think the rest of the lineup will do enough.
4. Washington Nationals – After an abysmal performance last year, I think they may rebound a little. I actually expect the lineup to be decent. With so many outfielders on the roster, at least a few of them have to be able to hit, right? The starting pitching has some talent, but is young enough that they’re going to have some nights where they get beaten up pretty badly. One thing that might help is improving their defense which was horrendous at times last year. It may be a stretch to even pick them for fourth, but hey, why not have some optimism?
3. Atlanta Braves – After their long run of division titles, many media members automatically assume that the Braves will be contenders every year. But they really haven’t even come close the past three years, and I don’t think this year’s team is much better. The lineup is anchored by the declining Chipper Jones and the overrated Jeff Francoeur. The pitching staff could either be a pleasant surprise or blow up completely.
2. New York Mets – So they blame the collapse of the past two years on the bullpen. And they go out and get two star closers to anchor the bullpen and assume that everything else will be the same and they easily win the division. But blaming their collapse solely on the bullpen is being short sighted. It takes an entire team to collapse. And considering they’ve done so two years in a row, there may be some definite issues with some of their players. Still, I do think they have enough on the team to win the wild card. But if it comes down to a close race, does anyone have any faith in them?
1. Philadelphia Phillies – I’ll go into more detail later. And while a lot could go wrong, this team does possibly have the best core of in-their-prime talent in the league. So I’ll pick them to win the division again.