Baseball season is upon us again and with it comes warm weather, afternoon games on ESPN and renewed hopes for every major league franchise. Here is a rundown of each NL team’s outlook heading into the 2008 campaign.
1. New York Mets (Pennant Winner) – The biggest trade this off-season came when the Mets acquired SP Johan Santana from the Twins for (let’s be serious) almost nothing. The Mets now have a potent one-two punch of Santana and a healthy Pedro Martinez, with the up-and-coming John Maine as the third starter. If superstars SS Jose Reyes, 3B David Wright and OF Carlos Beltran perform as expected, then New York will avenge last year’s late-season collapse.
2. Philadelphia Phillies (Wild Card) – The Phillies made the playoffs for the first time since 1993 last year and have a chance to get back this year. Philly will look to its trio of talented infielders (SS Jimmy Rollins, 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley) to lead the offense and will count on third-year SP Cole Hamels to be their ace. But I have a feeling this team’s success will fall on the shoulders of their enigmatic second starter, Brett Myers.
3. Atlanta Braves – The Braves are a solid club with studs 1B Mark Teixeira and 3B Chipper Jones at the corners and SP John Smoltz on the mound. But the team is aging rapidly and injuries will surely play a factor down the stretch, especially in the starting rotation.
4. Washington Nationals – It will be nearly impossible for the Nats to keep up with the three previous teams. Their
offensive firepower is
limited and the pitching staff is unproven. The team’s only bright spot is the bullpen, led by closer Chad Cordero.
5. Florida Marlins – After trading away two of their best players in 3B Miguel Cabrera and SP Dontrelle Willis, the team boils down to one man this season: Hanley Ramirez. The phenom shortstop is the only thing standing in the way of a 20-142 season.
1. Chicago Cubs – The Cubs get my nod for the NL Central title because they are a complete team. Their rotation, led by righty Carlos Zambrano, should fare well and their bullpen is solid. On the offensive side, OF Alfonso Soriano, 1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez represent the core of a talented unit. Could this be a 2004 Boston-esque season?
2. Milwaukee Brewers – Milwaukee struck gold with its two young stars last year in 1B Prince Fielder and 3B/OF Ryan Braun; the Brewers will also look for 2B Ricky Weeks and SS J.J. Hardy to complete a stellar infield. The real question is whether ace SP Ben Sheets stay healthy? I say no, leaving Milwaukee to fight for a Wild Card spot.
3. Houston Astros – The Astros have some great ballplayers on their roster such as SP Roy Oswalt, 1B Lance Berkman, SS Miguel Tejada and OF Carlos Lee. Unfortunately, the majority of the remaining players are very weak and the pressure will fall squarely on the big names to perform.
4. St. Louis Cardinals – With the exception of Albert Pujols and possibly 3B Troy Glaus, the Cardinals are a young and unproven unit. Starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, along with closer Jason Isringhausen, highlight a run-of-the-mill pitching staff.
5. Cincinnati Reds – Armed with standout OF Adam Dunn, solid 2B Brandon Phillips and breakout star SP Aaron Harang, the Reds are optimistic for the upcoming season. But I still feel that they need one more reliable hitter to contend for the playoffs – unless you think Ken Griffey Jr. can actually stay healthy.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates – Pittsburgh has sat in the basement of the NL Central for the past 15 years. Look for them to do the same this season. OF Jason Bay is aging and lefty Tom Gorzelanny is a sub-par number-one starter, leaving little hope for Pirates fans.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers are loaded with talent this year and possess a pitching staff, led by SP Brad Penny, which is capable of making a run deep into the playoffs. Picking up OF Andruw Jones was a good move, and look for him to flourish in a lineup alongside SS Rafael Furcal, C Russell Martin and fellow outfielders Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp.
2. Colorado Rockies – After their miracle run to the World Series last year, the Rockies will have to work hard to repeat as NL champions. Their offensive capabilities are unquestionable with OF Matt Holliday, 1B Todd Helton and SS Troy Tulowitzki among others, but there is still the nagging question of successfully pitching 82 games at Coors Field.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks – The Diamondbacks have a great starting rotation led by Brandon Webb, newcomer Dan Haren and Randy Johnson. However, Arizona does not boast enough offensive firepower to get them back to the NLCS.
4. San Diego Padres – Much like the D-Backs, the Padres have strong pitching but offer little help on offense. Starter Jake Peavy is an amazing pitcher, yet he can only do so much for a lineup featuring a starting outfield whose combined age is 101.
5. San Francisco Giants -Where to begin? Despite some young pitching talent in starting pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Linnecum, nothing remains of the talented team that represented the NL in the 2002 World Series. I’m sorry, but OF Aaron Rowand is not a player to build a franchise around.