After Mr. Nelson's AL predictions yesterday, it's time to get into my NL predictions:
1. New York Mets
Despite all the hype about the Phillies, I still see the NL East as New York's to lose. They have the offense and a strong bullpen. With a 3-4-5 of Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Carlos Delgado and a great leadoff hitter in Jose Reyes, the Mets have a pretty impressive line-up. Also, they made one of the better offseason signings, giving Moises Alou a one-year contract with the departure of Cliff Floyd. Definitely an upgrade. As for the bullpen, the Billy Wagner-Aaron Heilman-Duanar Sanchez combination is pretty impressive and adding a young, potentially good arm like Ambiorix Burgos is a solid move. I admit that the rotation isn't very impressive, as Tom Glavine is 40, Pedro Martinez is hurt, Orlando Hernandez could well be 50, and Chan Ho Park hasn't been good since Barry Bonds hit number 71 off of him. Nonetheless, they have the advantage in the NL East.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
Seems right now that the Phillies are a trendy pick to win the division. I'm not sure they have the talent to do so, but I think the Phillies will probably win the Wild Card. It will be a close race. The Phillies have a pretty good 3-4-5 too with Chase Utley, Pat Burrell (the real exemption), and Ryan Howard. And Jimmy Rollins is a pretty good leadoff hitter. But the Phillies don't have the same depth in their lineup. Likewise, their rotation isn't all that great. Freddy Garcia has been getting progressively worse, Adam Eaton was never very good, Jon Lieber is old and all-too hittable, and Brett Myers has legal troubles south of Ron Artest. Okay, to be fair, Myers is pretty good, Cole Hamels can be special if he doesn't get hurt, and Jamie Moyer is still around. But there isn't much advantage there over New York. And all you have to say about the Philly bullpen is they have the great Antonio Alfonseca.
3. Atlanta Braves
The days of Atlanta winning titles every year are over. It is, in fact, likely that the franchise may be headed in a downward spiral. They may, however, still be decent in 2007. They still have some pitching in John Smoltz, Mike Hampton, and perhaps Tim Hudson. They also have some hitting in Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones (one last year), Brian McCann, and the no-walk superstar Jeff Francoeur. But, there just isn't enough on the Braves to be more than a .500 team. And they'll probably be worse than that.
4. Florida Marlins
The Marlins young team surprised many last year, but Flordia pretty much only lost this offseason. They lost their manager Joe Girardi, who was largely credited with their surprise run. To be technical, they did add Aaron Boone, but a veteran third baseman who hits .251/.314/.371 isn't that useful. Unless he's on the Twins. The Marlins have a ton of talent, with reigning Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez to go along with Josh Johnson, Anibel Sanchez, and Jeremy Hermida. They also still have Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. That's a ton of good talent. But I'm not sure they'll be too great this year. It will probably be another year before they really compete.
5. Washington Nationals
What a sad team. This squad includes fantastic players like Dmitri Young, Christian Guzman, Travis Lee, Ron Belliard, Michael Restovich, and Tim Redding. Basically, it s a team of rejects. Not much hope here, as the minor system is pretty dry. They have Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero, John Patterson and Ryan Church. Those are some good young players, but there isn't a team here.
1. Chicago Cubs
The series of signings the Cubs had this offseason added up to $300 million. And it wasn't really well spent. The Cubs will probably win the NL Central, but mainly because most of the teams aren't very good. Chicago signed Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Cliff Floyd, Mark DeRosa and Wade Miller. Soriano is a good player, but not worth his $136 million mega-deal. Likewise, Lilly and Marquis were not at all worth their contracts. The only really good sign was re-upping Aramis Ramirez. There is enough hitting here, with Soriano, Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Michael Barrett, and Matt Murton. DeRosa is nothing special, but plenty of utility players got way too much money this offseason. (*Cough* *Cough* Gary Matthews Jr.) A Zambrano-Lilly-Marquis-Miller-Marshall/Hill rotation won't be great, but it will be better than the others. Just don't expect a championship.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
They are the reigning World Series champions, but they didn't get any better this offseason, whereas the Cubs added a lot of players. The Cards are a team with the league MVP Albert Pujols (he should just be given the award each season, as he should of last year) and a perennial Cy Young candidate in Chris Carpenter. And a 3-4-5 of Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds isn't too shabby. But the other players aren't great. The rotation will include a hurt and past-his-prime Mark Mulder, Kip Wells, and Braden Looper, who is not a very good reliever, let alone starter. Just not a great team here.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
A good up-and-coming young team. Like the Marlins, they should be in contention in 2008, but they aren't quite there yet. Obviously, if Ben Sheets is healthy all year, they'll have a pretty good rotation with him, Chris Capuano, Jeff Suppan, and Dave Bush. They also have plenty of hitting and positional talent with Prince Fielder, Bill Hall, Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy. Lots to be excited about. But it will be another year, as they don't have quite enough depth or much of a bullpen.
4. Houston Astros
Unless Roger Clemens decides to join the Astros, they just won't have much of a chance. Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman are a couple of baseball's better players and Brad Lidge has a chance to be one of the better closers if he bounces back. There isn't much past those guys though. The Astros also lack a great minor league system and their lineup isn't balanced. There just isn't much chance they'll compete. And, although it will be great to see Craig Biggio get 3,000 hits, he isn't a great player anymore.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Wayne Krivsky hasn't built much of a team since taking over last year. In fact, he made some of the worst trades in recent memory, giving up young players like Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns, and Ryan Wagner for bullpen parts. I like Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo isn't bad (sorry, but last season was definitely a fluke), but you can't tell me former Twins Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse are inspiring. There isn't much of a bullpen here, despite Krivsky's trades, with no real closer, and the lineup has holes that standout, like Juan Castro and Alex Gonzalez.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Well, Pittsburgh fans can be comforted by their winning hockey franchise, with young stars Sidney Crosby and Eugene Malkin. As for the Pirates? There isn't much hope on the horizon. Jason Bay is great young slugger and there are a couple good pitching prospects here with Zack Duke and Ian Snell. Expect over 100 losses. Too bad, since they have such a nice stadium.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers basically have it all. They have a good bullpen, a solid rotation, good hitting, and some good prospects as well. The rotation of Jason Schmidt-Brad Penny-Derek Lowe-Randy Wolf-Brett Tomko is potentially one of the best in the majors. If all of the pitchers are on, it may be the best. The craziest part is that Chavez Ravine is one of the best pitching parks around. The Dodgers also have a bullpen with Takashi Saito, Jonathon Broxton, Yhency Brazoban, Chin-hui Tsao, as well as potential starters Chad Billingsley, Elmer Dessens, and Mark Hendrickson. In other words, they are loaded. Oh yeah, they have hitters like Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, James Loney, Andre Either, Russell Martin, and Luis Gonzalez.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are another team with some great young talent. Young stars include Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, and Conor Jackson. They also have Justin Upton in the minors. As for pitching, they have 2006 Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson, Doug Davis, and Livan Hernandez. The pitching isn't great and the bullpen has mostly inexperienced youngsters, retreads, or guys like Jose Valverde, who was awful last year. There is a chance they could win the division or the Wild Card this year, but I think it will be another year or so before the Diamondbacks truly contend.
3. San Diego Padres
The Padres do have a very good bullpen with Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith, and Trevor Hoffman. And Chris Young and Jake Peavy are two stellar young pitchers. However, Greg Maddux and David Wells are a little old to contribute too much. And Petco Park constantly stifles the offense of the Padres. They have some good hitters in Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff, but not enough.
4. Colorado Rockies
This choice surprises people, but the truth is the Rockies have one of the best minor league systems in baseball and a ton of talent ready to blossom at the majors. Catcher Chris Iannetta and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are pretty impressive young stars. Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday had stellar years last year. Too bad the pitching isn't too great right now, as offseason signings included Brian Lawrence and LaTroy Hawkins. Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis aren't bad, but it will be a while before the Rockies do very much.
5. San Francisco Giants
Maybe this surprises some people too, but the Giants just don't have very much going for them. Most of their players are closer to death than the average American. I'm sure people want to talk about their rotation, but although Matt Cain is good, he's also inconsistent and still raw, as he showed last year. Noah Lowry hasn't been amazing so far and Barry Zito is getting paid as an ace when he's maybe a number two or even number three starter at this point. Russ Ortiz? Brad Hennessey? Terrible. Hitting? Sure, they have Barry Bonds, but probably for one more year. But they have no one besides him. Ray Durham had a good year last year, but he's unlikely to repeat that at age 35. Pedro Feliz and Lance Niekro can't walk to spare their life. Randy Winn has no power. Ryan Klesko was done years ago. Rich Aurilla's season last year was certainly a fluke. I suppose the David Roberts signing wasn't bad, as he's a young 34.