Write Like Nobody’s Reading: the Deuce of Davenport 2012 National League Preview
Opening Day snuck up on me this year — did you know they played two games already in Japan? Does anyone really think those games count? What’s the over/under on A’s fans that know their team is already 1-1? 900? Works for me.
Anyway, last year was pretty great: the last day of the regular season was incredible. The playoffs followed suit as David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals sent Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa out of Missouri in style. The off-season continued to follow suit as the Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim threw around millions like drunk college kids on loan disbursement day. Can 2012 possibly live up to last year’s hype? I think it can.
Just like the last few years, NL today, AL later in the week. Teams described in predicted order of finish (* denotes Wild Card winners). Holy crap, it’s baseball season.
There are a lot of pundits picking the Miami Marlins of Florida to win this division so naturally, I’m predisposed to find reasons not to like them. Nonetheless, there just aren’t. The team is damn good with or without a healthy and focused Hanley Ramirez. The guess here is he and perpetual headcase Carlos Zambrano will warm up to new manager Ozzie Guillen and actually show up to play. If they do, the Marlins are a very dangerous team. Don’t be surprised if Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton finishes in the top three of the MVP voting. Josh Johnson has Cy Young talent and leads a deep rotation. The Marlins’ one weak spot is in the bullpen, but that can be addressed come July 31.
I am hesitant to do this, but I really think the Philadelphia Phillies* could find themselves struggling to lock down a playoff spot this year. With the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, one can never believe the Phils are out of it, but their lineup is from hunger: Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins will have to put up MVP-type numbers until Ryan Howard and Chase Utley finally return. When they do, no one knows exactly how effective they will be. In the immortal words of Steve Spurrier, this team is gonna live by how well they “pitch and catch.” Given the ages of Lee and Halladay, as well as Hamels’ pending free agency, you wonder if this is the last shot for this group.
To me, the Atlanta Braves are one of the saddest stories in baseball. Throughout the 90′s and early 2000′s they dominated the National League but couldn’t win more than one World Series or fill their brand new stadium. After Ted Turner sold the team, the franchise floundered as it cut payroll and lost its own trio of Hall of Fame aces to free agency. While there was some promise for this group in 2010, that was quashed by the departure of Bobby Cox, the rapid decline of Chipper Jones, and the halted development of super prospect Jason Heyward. I like this Braves team, but they don’t have the pitching to keep up with Philadelphia or the offense to match Miami. If Heyward can’t revert to 2010 levels, they’re dunzo.
Everyone but Thomas Boswell knows the Washington Nationals are good, but not great. Unfortunately, they play in a rough division. They have the arms to compete, but their offense will likely sputter. I am guessing Bryce Harper will be patrolling Georgetown in an obnoxious SUV by the first week of June, but not a moment sooner. Sidenote: does anyone ever wonder how well Steve and Harper get along? At some point, will Steve drill Harper in the head with a fastball because of how annoying he is? I’d like to see that feud. Anyway, the Nats will take a nice step forward in 2012, but their sights are on next season.
Ah, here we are: last place in the division. Sandy Alderson has done an admirable job undoing Omar Minaya’s damage, but the New York Mets have a lonnnngggg way to go. Maybe if their owners don’t get sued this year they can actually make some progress. David Wright is a great trade deadline sleeper candidate, especially for a team like the Phillies who could use another bat and have one to move in prospect Dominic Brown. Mets beat writers would probably pitch a fit, but come on, they ain’t contending anytime soon.
Hard to believe the St. Louis Cardinals could lose a Hall of Fame manager and first baseman and still come back as the favorites to win their division, but well, here we are. Cards GM John Mozeliak knew re-signing Albert Pujols might be tough, so when Pujols left St. Louis for Anaheim, Mozeliak moved fast: by bringing in Carlos Beltran on a very team-friendly two-year deal and locking up stud catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year deal, the Cards will stay competitive for at least the next few seasons. Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday lead a solid attack that could prosper given a full year of David Freese and a healthy Allen Craig. Unfortunately, the health of aces Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright will linger over this team for the entire season, which could derail a really great story.
Not to be outdone by St. Louis, the Milwaukee Brewers lost their own All Star first baseman in Prince Fielder. Scrambling, they threw a bunch of money at Aramis Ramirez, tried to teach Mat Gamel to take a pitch, and prayed Ryan Braun’s suspension was lifted. Evidently, the baseball gods like “Affliction” t-shirts, so the Brewers were saved. I like the top of the Brew Crew’s rotation enough to think they’ll outlast most of their competition. Zack Greinke is still the “ace” of this group, but Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum round out a nice top three. Personally, I still think Greinke is capable of a season like the one he had in 2009. Maybe even better.
I’m not sure a healthy Ryan Madson moves the Cincinnati Reds much higher up in this division, but it couldn’t hurt. Shifting Aroldis Chapman back to the bullpen seems like a foolish move, given they spent all spring getting him ready to start, but hey, when you’re playing for this year or bust, I guess you take your chances. Am I the only one who doesn’t love the Joey Votto deal? Even if he remains productive into his 30′s (no given), the Reds are a small market team and would still need to lock-up Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. Something tells me this might not work out: teams that dedicate such a large percentage of their payroll to one player tend to live to regret those moves. Yes, even the Yankees (see Rodriguez, Alex).
Chicago Cubs fans must want to fast forward to 2015. Part of me would like to see Alfonso Soriano shut-up his detractors and put up another 40-40 season, but that’s not happening. And neither is the fantasy of a Cubs playoff run. I’m not buying the Jeff Smardzija reclamation story, but if he’s really a top-of-the-line starter now, the Cubs could hang around, just probably not for very long. If I were Theo, I’d schedule Eddie Vedder to throw out the first pitch 50 times this season.
Good for the Pittsburgh Pirates for locking up Andrew McCutchen to a very nice extension. Now, if they can just find eight other guys who are as good as him, they might have a chance. Ok, that’s not fair, but the Pirates are still pretty bad. There is talent in the pipeline, it’s just taking its sweet ass time getting there. Hi, Pedro Alvarez!
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.
Yeah, that about sums it up. Last winter, I had hoped ESPN’s Keith Law would up working for the Astros, but something tells me there’s not enough Shiner Bock in the State of Texas to make that job palatable.
The San Francisco Giants will always contend with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Baumgarner anchoring their rotation. The Giants won’t struggle because of their pitching: their offense is what really holds them back from being a slam dunk NL favorite. San Fran needs another comeback year from Aubrey Huff, a bounce back season from Buster Posey, a breakout campaign from Brandon Belt, and for Pablo Sandoval to back away from the buffet table. If they can pull this off, it could be 2010 all over again.
A few years ago, people were wondering what happened to the promising Arizona Diamondbacks*. After cleaning house and bringing in veteran GM Kevin Towers, the team is out to make 2009-2010 a distant memory and 2011 look like anything but a fluke. Instead of standing pat, Towers went out and traded for Trevor Cahill to help bolster a young, but experienced rotation. Led by Ian Kennedy, this team won’t need to score a lot of runs, but they can: Justin Upton is only getting better. Three of the Arizona infielders have serious power — if they can harness it, look out.
I’m not sick of the Jamie Moyer story just yet. Can he still pitch somewhat effectively at 49 years-old? Yes. Does it concern me he’s Colorado’s current #2 starter? A little bit. Remember the old refrain, “The Rockies have no pitching?” Well, it’s back. Oh, and Tulo: you want to be Jeter? Just shut up and play. Ubaldo ain’t worth it.
The Dodgers and Padres are similar in that they are both in Southern California, are trying to escape terrible ownership, and are pretty mediocre. The Dodgers have some exciting players in superstars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but there isn’t much else there to get excited about. If Dodger fans can get through this year, sweet relief will follow when Showtime comes to town. Hang tight.
The Padres aren’t as bad as they look: I think Yonder Alonso can hit and Cameron Maybin seems to be on his way to becoming a star-quality player. There are a lot of no-names in the rotation, but with that park they can at least be competitive. Sadly, an uncertain ownership situation will hinder this team until it’s settled. Maybe Larry Bird is interested?
NL playoff predictions to follow with Thursday’s AL preview.
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