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National League Preview

For a long time, the American League was clearly a superior league to the National League. Of course, this sort of thing goes in cycles, so we all knew it would turn around at some point. The funny thing is that many of the experts thought it had turned around a few years back when there was all sorts of young talent in the Senior Circuit. Guys like Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp had emerged in the meat of some the National League’s best lineups and all the talk was that the talent shift had begun and the National League would soon become the premier league while the American League sat back and watched. There’s a very easy explanation for the American League’s dominance over the past 15 or so years. Well, there are two. One is that there is just more money in the American League. The other is that the smarter minds in baseball just happened to work in the American League.

Well, things have begun to change. It sort of correlates with the young players who came up in the middle of the decade, but it also coincides with National League teams willing to spend money and the smaller market teams going out and getting some fantastic baseball minds. There’s way more to the explanation than that, but I think the two leagues are somewhat comparable now, though I’d still give an edge to the American League for at least a year or two. Not that it matters, but the National League finally won an All-Star game for the first time in quite some time last year and appear to be on the upswing. There’s tons of talent, a few very good teams and the potential for a couple of truly great teams.

In the National League Central, it appears to be a three horse race among the Brewers, Reds and Cardinals. No disrespect to the Cubs, Astros and Pirates, but they’re just not good enough. The Cubs have serious issues that stem from bad contracts. The Astros are finally starting to rebuild even if they aren’t doing it in the best way. And the Pirates are the Pirates, though they do have some young talent. I’d put them about a year and a half behind the Royals in their rebuilding efforts. The Cardinals, of course, lost Adam Wainwright to season ending surgery early on in spring training, but I’ve learned not to count them out often. Any team with Albert Pujols has a shot. The Reds won the division last year and have some solid young talent, but teams who take a big step forward often take a step back the following year. And the Brewers acquired two very good starting pitchers to team with Yovani Gallardo and a potent offense.

There are some concerns regarding Shaun Marcum’s arm and Zack Greinke broke a rib playing a pickup basketball game. People were very concerned about Marcum’s velocity in one of his spring starts, but I believe it was Keith Law who said that it was right in line with his average velocity last season. Greinke is expected to miss at least three starts, though they’re saying it could be more. Even if he misses six, he’ll still be around for enough of the season to have an impact on the Brewers and lead them to a division title. That offense is just too good. The Reds are good and they’ll have a whole season of Aroldis Chapman, and the Cardinals are always a threat, but I just think Milwaukee has too much talent.

Moving to the National League East, this is a division that I have had a lot of trouble handicapping. The Nationals will almost assuredly be better, but until Strasburg comes back, they’re not likely to make a ton of noise. The Mets are in such disarray that it’s almost impossible to count on them for anything, though they have a ton of talent. They also have a ton of non-talent. The Marlins are always talented and are the real sleeper in this division. I could see them winning anywhere from 75 to 93 games, which is a huge gap. They’re just tough to read. The two teams who everybody expects to be at the top of the division are the Phillies and Braves. After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee and forced Cole Hamels into the fourth starter role, it was pretty much decided that they would win the East and the National League and get to a third World Series in four years. A funny thing happened on the way there, though. They got a little old.

So the Phillies have amazing starting pitching, but their offense is a mess right now. Ryan Howard is on the decline right as he begins his ridiculous contract. Chase Utley is out for an undetermined amount of time. Jimmy Rollins is trying to rebound from one of his worst seasons. They lost Jayson Werth to free agency. Placido Polanco has an injury that he’ll play through, but nobody knows how serious it is. And their bullpen has a chance to be explosive, but not in a good way. Let’s put it this way, the Phillies are really going to have to pitch. The Braves, on the other hand, are a much more complete team. Of course, their offense is pretty dependent on staying healthy with Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward making up a big portion of the offense. Their addition of Dan Uggla to go along with Jones, Heyward, McCann and rookie Freddie Freeman are going to make them tough to beat. I’m going to go off the beaten path and pick the Braves to win the division and I have the Phillies as the Wild Card.

Onto the West, this looks to me to be a two team race between the Giants and Rockies. I love what the Padres did last year, but with Mat Latos out to start the season and Adrian Gonzalez on the Red Sox, I just don’t see how they can keep pace. The Dodgers have the feel of an 82 win team while the Diamondbacks are working their way out of a hole and won’t get out until at least next year. The Giants look pretty darn good to me even if Jonathan Sanchez’s control problems of the playoffs seep into the regular season. They have Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner, which is an excellent front three. Their bullpen is deep and if they allow Brandon Belt to start the year in the Majors, their offense will be difficult to stop as well. I think Sandoval will have a big bounce-back year as well. The concern for the Giants is their defense, which might be rough around the edges with Sandoval, Miguel Tejada and an aging outfield.

The Rockies, on the other hand, have all the tools to be the best team in baseball. Their starting rotation isn’t terribly deep, but it’s pretty good. Their offense is excellent and their bullpen has a chance to be one of the very best in baseball. I don’t put Troy Tulowitzki on the Albert Pujols level yet, but I do feel that any team he’s on has a chance to compete. Add in Carlos Gonzalez and a really nice supporting cast, and they have the feel of an excellent team. Jim Tracy is their weakness, though, which is why I think I have to pick the Giants to repeat in the West. The only thing that has me hesitating about that decision is that teams who reach the World Series have a bit of a regression the next year because their pitchers threw so many innings the previous season. Still, they’re my pick, but it’ll be a close division race.

Tomorrow we’ll look into the American League. I don’t want to give anything away, but I don’t have the Royals winning the Central.

  1. Patrick
    March 29, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The Reds are good on paper, yes, and they did make it to the playoffs last year, but never underestimate Dusty Baker’s ability to destroy arms.

    • March 29, 2011 at 11:14 am

      Was this post up early enough for your liking?

      • Patrick
        March 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        Actually it was. Keep up the good work.

  2. Steve Renner
    March 29, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I really like the Diamondbacks to contend a little longer this year, the problem is though that I hear they have a weak farm system and the momentum might fizzle out into next year.

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