National League East – New York Mets
(Sarah: New York Mets)
I figured I’d get the obvious one out of the way first. I say it’s obvious not because the Mets are good, but because any pretense of impartiality would be absurd. The NL East is, in my estimation, one of two divisions in baseball in which four different teams could win it.
The Nationals are run by idiots, don’t spend money on players, and have one of the worst farm systems in baseball – their season is already over.
The Marlins have loads of young talent, and if it all comes together at the same time (like it did for them in 1997 and 2003) they can beat anyone. However, I think an 85 win season is more likely.
The Braves are improved over last year, and I relearned the painful lesson every year for my entire childhood that the Braves shouldn’t be counted out. They got Derek Lowe, and kept him from the Mets, and have enough bright spots from last year to put it all together in Bobby Cox’s irritating tradition.
The Phillies had a great year last year and return essentially the same team in 2009. However, I think it is fair to expect their bullpen to regress toward the mean this year, and the possibility that Cole Hamels gets Verduccied looms over their season.
Much to my chagrin, the Mets did not seize any of the myriad opportunities this offseason presented to upgrade the rotation. Omar does deserve credit for taking the Met’s biggest weakness last year (everyone in the bullpen not named Bill), and turning it into a strength with the additions of Fransisco Rodriguez, Joseph Jason Putz, and Sean Green. It’s easy to forget the Mets won 89 games last year, and I expect more in 2009.
National League Central – Chicago Cubs
(Sarah: Chicago Cubs)
Only the Angels won their division last season by a wider margin, and the Cubs don’t figure to have much competition this year either. They lost starter-turned-closer Kerry Wood, but gained last year’s MLB leader in OPS, Milton Bradley. I actually liked the Mark DeRosa trade, as I thought Chicago sold high on an overvalued player.
If the Cubs stay healthy, they will run away with this division. The Brewers got alot worse when they lost C.C. Sabathia. The Astros, Cardinals, and Reds have a shot at the division if it everything comes together, but in terms of personnel they all essentially tread water.
We should all be amazed by the most consistent team in all the land: the unflappable Pittsburgh Pirates. In baseball, consistency is key, and the Bucs have delivered a losing season for 16 years in a row. One might imagine that through some freak accident, some wild luck, some once-in-a-decade anomaly the Pirates would win 82 games. But no.
National League West – Arizona Diamondbacks
(Sarah: Los Angeles Dodgers)
I think I may be in the minority on this one, but I just don’t see the Dodgers winning this division. I think the loss of Derek Lowe will hurt much more than people think it will. Not to mention Brad Penny, Joe Beimel, Takashi Saito, and others. Their rotation simply got worse. I Love (with a capital L) Johnathan Broxton at the end of the game, but I don’t think that is going to make up for the shakiness at the beginning beyond boy-wonders Chad Billingsly and Clayton Kershaw.
Some people are picking the Giants this year. To me, this is a funny, funny joke. Their number 3 hitter, Pablo Sandoval, is 3 months younger than I am. Their cleanup hitter is Bengie Molina, who has been consistently a below league average hitter his entire career. I know Mike Piazza, and you, sir, are no Mike Piazza. Have you ever heard of number 5 hitter Fred Lewis? No, you haven’t. Don’t feel bad — nobody has. He played in 133 games last year, the most of his young career, and was a league average hitter. For comparison, the Mets haveÂ Carlos Beltran batting 5th, the Cubs have Aramis Ramirez, the Phillies have Raul Ibanez. Randy Johnson is 45, Barry Zito is still terrible, Tim Lincecum and his 5’11 160 pound frame are a leading candidate to get Verduccied after increasing his innings total by 81 last year. I don’t see this team as a playoff team.
The Padres stink.
The Diamondbacks didn’t really add too many big pieces this offseason (Jon Garland), and they lost some big ones (Randy Johnson,Â Orlando Hudson,Â Adam Dunn). But I’m still picking them. Why? Pitching. I love Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Jon Garland and Doug Davis aren’t great, but they could be good. The key to their season, I think, will be Max Scherzer. Scherzer pitched an outstanding 56 innings last season, compiling a 3.04 ERA. I would not be surprised to see even better results this year from Max and his 98 mph fastball. Combined with Webb and Haren, that would be a diverse and devastating front of the rotation. If the Diamondbacks get a decent showing from their young position players (Chris Young,Â Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton), who are all a year older, I think they will be the class of the division.
Stay tuned for American League predictions.