The Weekly Tail ‘Gater – 2007 National League Preview

Mike Nanna

New York should win the East and the pennant. The Mets have question marks in their pitching staff and bullpen, but the offense will surpass last year’s production if Jose Reyes and David Wright keep improving. The starting rotation concerns are overblown because Pedro Martinez is coming back this summer and Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are poised for breakout seasons under pitching coach Rick Peterson’s watchful eye. The Mets bullpen should be strong with or without Duaner Sanchez.

The Phillies’ starting rotation is loaded with Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia and Cole Hamels forming an intimidating threesome. However, the Phils’ offense is their strength. Boppers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will be driving Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino home all season. Their bullpen scares me a little however, which could be their undoing late in the season.

Unfortunately for the Hot-Lanta boys, Chipper Jones can’t stay healthy and the pitching staff, outside of John Smoltz, is questionable. When compounded with the likelihood of a sophomore dip from Brian McCann, an injury to Mike Hampton, and the worrisome strikeout rates of Jeff Francoeur, the Braves look like they are a few years away.

After exceeding expectations last year under the tutelage of Joe Girardi, the Marlins head into the season with new manager Fredi Gonzalez after Girardi clashed with management. While the Marlins’ talent is undeniable, the injury to starting pitcher Josh Johnson hurts them as does the loss of the 2006 NL Manager of the Year. These fish won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, so expect a 90-loss season.

Washington Nationals – Ewww. 100 losses is the minimum for the Nats this season.

The Cubbies have all the talent in the world to win the Central this year and are absolutely stacked from top to bottom. Their offense could score 900 runs and the pitching has a chance to be dominant (Carlos Zambrano + contract year = Cy Young). How many home runs can Alfonso Soriano hit in the Friendly Confines? 50? 60? This might be the year that Steve Bartman finally gets his salvation if these baby bears actually live up to their billing.

St. Louis, the worst team to ever win a World Series, will have a lot of trouble defending its title this year. Any team with Braden Looper in its rotation has reason for concern. Don’t expect David Eckstein to hit like he did in the World Series all season long. 83 wins is not winning the division this year. Without any marked improvements, the Cardinals might not even make the playoffs this season.

Cincinnati got lucky when it gobbled up Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 draft, but don’t let this man’s spring stats fool you. He won’t be the difference for the Reds this year; the bullpen and young starters will. If a legitimate closer emerges and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion continues to develop, the Reds might surprise some people. This team should be a prime spoiler in September with starting pitchers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo forming the most underrated duo in the league.

The Astros spent $100 million on outfielder Carlos Lee and traded for starter Jason Jennings, but they just don’t seem to have done enough. In such a power-laden division, their starting pitching is a little weak and closer Brad Lidge will continue to struggle. I see third baseman Morgan Ensberg bouncing back in a big way and Lee hitting 40 homers, but pitching will let Houston down.

Milwaukee has the horses to make a run at a division title, but much of that depends on starting pitcher Ben Sheets’ health (a very risky proposition) and the continued development of its young players. While I think infielders Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder are primed for big years, the Brewers’ starting pitching will have trouble keeping them in games and staying healthy, which should lead to a mediocre year.

The lowly Pirates are slowly making improvements with their under-the-radar acquisition of first baseman Adam LaRoche, which was one of the best moves of the off-season. However, reigning batting champ Freddy Sanchez has a knee injury and the talent level is still pretty low. A last-place finish is still likely despite improvements.

Los Angeles oozes playoff potential and will win the West with a strong starting staff, deep bullpen, and a pesky lineup. If Jeff Kent rebounds from an off-year and young players such as Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Russell Martin continue to develop, this team is a legitimate World Series contender. With a perfect blend of strong pitching, youth, and experience, the Dodgers should be the class of the NL West this year.

A posh early season World Series pick, the D-Backs are full of talent and expectations and will win the Wild Card. That is usually a good sign to stay away, as most stylish early season picks fizzle. With that said, I think the Diamondbacks will be legitimate contenders as long as their young offense lives up to their billing. The rotation definitely has the depth of a playoff-bound team and their below average bullpen isn’t terribly different from other contenders.

Every year the Giants seem to be in the thick of things despite a dearth of talent and a festering sore sitting in the middle of the dugout named Bonds. This is the year that ends after losing ace Jason Schmidt to the Dodgers and failing to make any moves of substance. Starting pitcher Matt Cain should be impressive, but he will be the lone bright spot surrounded by a fading group of former stars.

The Padres seem to have gotten the idea that accumulating Giles’ brothers while not making any significant improvements makes sense for a major league baseball team. In all seriousness, second baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is promising and their rotation is strong, but the lineup lacks the pop to make any real noise.

The Rockies, while talented as ever, simply doesn’t look like a playoff team. Since they play in Coors Field, they can never be taken seriously because attracting quality pitchers to Denver will never be a real possibility. While I see first baseman Todd Helton bouncing back from an off-year and outfielder Matt Holliday emerging as a true superstar, the pitching simply isn’t there.