Okay, the season has finally arrived, so here goes. We’ll do the National League tonight.
NL West: Los Angeles- Mannywood is the story, but they can pitch too. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw should only get better as they mature, while Hiroki Kuroda should win more games than his 2008 total of 9 if the offense gives him more support. His ERA, WHIP, on-base against and slugging against were all pretty good last year. Actually, Arizona and San Francisco may have better pitching, especially now that Derek Lowe left Hollywood for Atlanta, but neither’s offense is nearly as good. With Manny on board for a full season, watch for Andre Ethier, James Loney, and/or Matt Kemp to hit the 20 HR/100 RBI mark or more. If so, the rest of the NL better lookout.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs- Definitely still the best team in the division and possibly in the NL. At least, that’s until October begins. Milton Bradley and a healthy Rich Harden (okay, how often has that actually been the case?) could be the difference between another early exit and something far better. Kevin Gregg as closer seems like a question mark; his numbers in Florida were okay but he did have a bunch of spectacular meltdowns too.
NL East- Philadelphia- The Mets made headlines with the additions of K-Rod and J.J. Putz to solidify the bullpen. But their starting rotation is far too dependent on question marks like Oliver Perez (now making big money to boot) and Livan Hernandez. They should score runs with Reyes/Wright/Beltran/Delgado, and even Gary Sheffield could help out. But Philly has three MVP-caliber hitters, and at least this year, Raul Ibanez shouldn’t be too much of a downgrade from Pat Burrell (like the author in the linked article, I don’t trust him over the long-term though, and he does make the lineup a bit vulnerable to left-handed pitching). Their pitching is also strong, practically from top-to-bottom. Atlanta and Florida could both be in the mix with young but very talented lineups and rotations, but I just think the Phillies’ core players are all in their prime years, and they have been through too many battles over the past couple of years to give up the crown easily- both during the regular season and playoffs.
Photo source: Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times
Wild Card- Mets- I’m really on the fence about this, but I think the wild card will come from the NL East, and while Atlanta and Florida might have better pitching, I think the Mets can field and hit better than the other two. They could win quite a few 7-6 games (even though Citi Field should favor pitchers)- or descend into clubhouse cliques and bickering. If the new-and-improved bullpen holds leads as it should, I’ll bet on the former.
NL Champion- Phillies over Cubs- Cole Hamels once again stars in October, and this time the Phillies even get some good postseasons from Utley and Howard.
AL Predictions tomorrow.