The Curiously Long Deuce of Davenport National League Preview
Last October, I sat in an airport parking lot listening to the last few innings of the 2010 World Series. As Jon Miller described the final out, I turned down the volume knob on my car radio and contemplated the weirdness of the 2010 season. Seeing how all of the big guns had lost out to two scraptastic clubs like San Francisco and Texas, I assumed the likes of Boston, New York, Philly, and LA would barge into the off-season, checkbooks blazing. Finally, there might be some order restored…
Well, much like that time I thought it was smart to buy that old Honda Accord that smelled like Frank Costanza’s manzier, I was dead wrong. Boston might have emerged victorious in the off-season, but there are still major questions about whether their pitching staff will hold up. The Yankees shamelessly pursued Cliff Lee and ended up with 270 lbs. of Bartolo Colon. Philly got Lee, but they also lost three major pieces of their team to injury. The Mets and Dodgers might be broke by Opening Day. The Angels, well… we’ve already talked about their foray into the Vernon Wells business.
I thought about this baseball preview a lot. This time last year, I liked Boston-Philly. Up until a few weeks ago, I was worried how I might make that same prediction two years in a row. Thanks to a few untimely injuries and under-performing veterans, that might not be a problem anymore.
Just like last year, NL today, AL later in the week. Teams described in predicted order of finish. Get excited people, it’s baseball season.
In a division that used to be one of baseball’s best, the NL East has taken a major hit since the Phillies lost to San Francisco in the NLCS last year. Whether it was injury, player movement, or just bad book keeping, each of these teams took some hits this winter. Thus, the Atlanta Braves are the pick almost by default: they are the only team that can put out a fully-healthy lineup and starting rotation. I’m not going to fall for a Chipper Jones comeback story, but having Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and Brian McCann ensures a pretty good offense. If Freddie Freeman and Nate McLouth can provide anything, they’ll be fine. In the meantime, their rotation is stout: veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson anchor a solid rotation with an explosive bullpen.
The Phillies went into the off-season with a team that has made three straight NLCS appearances. Instead of taking their chances with the health of their veterans, they went out and signed Lee, giving them a rotation that rivals some of baseball’s greatest. That alone leads me to believe they can make playoffs… if everything else goes right. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Lee are each well into their 30′s, which seems ancient by today’s standards for pitchers. Even if the Big Four (Cole Hamels) makes over 100 starts, the offense will be missing some major pieces: the loss of Jayson Werth is illuminated by the mysterious injury to Chase Utley and elbow trouble to Placido Polanco. Dominic Brown was supposed to be this year’s Jason Heyward, but he’s hurt, too. If Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Howard have career years, they have a shot. Better keep those bullpen arms warm. That reminds me: All-Star closer Brad Lidge is out now, too.
If you are looking for a team that could make a surprise run into playoffs, you might take a look at the Florida Marlins. The pitching staff returns Cy Young candidate Josh Johnson who should get solid support from AL cast-off Javy Vazquez, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez. The lineup is young, but there’s a lot of talent there: Hanley Ramirez leads a group of kids that could scare some opponents in 2011. If super prospect Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez have big years, this team could make moves.
It’s going to be a rough couple of years for the New York Mets. They have the right guy in place to fix things, but unless Sandy Alderson can find a way to make money grow on trees, they’re a few seasons away from getting back to where they were in 2006-2007. Their perilous ownership situation only belies the lack of talent on the team. Seriously, check out that depth chart. Is that the pitching staff of a major-market team?
I want to have hope for the Washington Nationals, but it’s just not going to happen this year. Steve isn’t going to pitch until 2012 and the rest of the prospects, including Mondo, are at least a year or so away.
Last year, I went with the safe pick — and in a division that has more pin holes than a Barry Bonds butt cheek — I’ll stick with St. Louis. The lineup isn’t in the same caliber of those in season’s past, but it’s the best in a division of also-rans. I think Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus will both have monster years for vastly different reasons: getting paid and pissing Tony LaRussa off. Losing Adam Wainwright hurts, but the rotation should still be ok. If Chris Carpenter misses any extended period of time, though, best look elsewhere.
The Cincinnati Reds shocked the baseball world last year with their run to the division title and if injuries continue to strike their
competition, they could do it again. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are going to be a tough one-two punch for years to come. Just as exciting are their young arms: Aroldis Chapman gets all of the headlines, but Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood and Homer Bailey have a lot more upside than the rest of the arms in the division.
Ever since Milwaukee traded for C.C. Sabathia in 2008, I’ve had a soft spot for the Brew Crew. If Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum entered the season totally healthy, I’d have a hard time keeping them out of first. The lineup is still formidable, but beyond Yovani Gallardo there isn’t much left in the rotation or the bullpen. Greinke and Marcum will come back eventually, but there’s just not enough there to make a complete run to the playoffs.
Are the Chicago Cubs biding their time (and shedding salaries) until Albert Pujols becomes available? That’s about the only thing that’s worth getting excited about this year in Wrigley. Matt Garza will flourish now that he’s out of the AL East, but the rest of the staff is anything but reliable. Should Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano put together full seasons, they might have a shot at making some noise, but forgive me if I don’t have a lot of hope for cleanup hitter Carlos Pena to hit over .220 this year.
Maybe it’s because I’m tired of always seeing Pittsburgh lose, or maybe because some of their younger players are finally coming up, but I think the Pirates take a (small) step forward this year. They have some promising young talent in Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen, but the pitching staff needs serious help. Hell, I say this year they get a little of it.
Houston is terrible. Seriously terrible. I like their starters better than Pittsburgh’s, but I’m wondering how they’ll ever score any runs. When people talk about “WAR,” the “average player” they are talking about could roll out of bed tomorrow and start for Houston.
This division has two really good teams, two really bad ones, and one sandwiched inbetween. Pitching always wins, and while this division has a good amount of it, it’s not going to be enough to compete with the Giants. San Francisco’s pitching is just too strong, especially if Madison Baumgarner tosses the pill anything like he did in last year’s playoffs. The hitting is only slightly better than last year, but if they can win a World Series with Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe at shortstop, they can probably get pretty damn close with Miguel Tejada. A full season of Buster Posey and the possible promotion of Brandon Belt won’t hurt, either.
Colorado’s staff is nothing short of serviceable — Ubaldo Jimenez probably won’t start his season 15-1 as he did in 2010, but he’s an ace surrounded by a bunch of guys with sub-4.00 ERAs. Wait, we’re talking about Colorado, right? Nonetheless, it’s not going to be enough to compete with the pitching-laden Giants. The Rockies have a much better offense than their San Fran counterparts, which should keep them in the race for a playoff spot right up until the end of the season.
If San Francisco and Colorado harbor strengths on opposite sides of the spectrum, the Dodgers split the difference. The Joe Torre era is over in LA, leading to a number of critical questions: can Donnie Baseball extract the tantalizing talent that lies within Matt Kemp? Will James Loney ever reach the potential he exhibited in 2007? Is Andre Ethier a franchise cornerstone? These queries surround a team whose core has begun entering their (expensive) arbitration years. The pitching staff could be good enough to carry them deep into the playoff race, but will the financial problems caused by the McCourt divorce proceedings hinder them from adding an important piece come July 31st?
There’s not much difference between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres: they’re both in the process of rebuilding among a few bright spots. I just tend to like Arizona’s bright spots a bit more than San Diego’s. Actually, a lot more: I’m not sure the Padres will outscore the equally-awful Astros.
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