MLB – National League Season Preview

30 Mar

The major league baseball season gets underway on Thursday, and after last season’s shocking World Series win by the San Francisco Giants, just about every team, not just the big spending high-rollers, have championship dreams going into the new year. Today we’ll preview the National League.

NL East

The Philadelphia Phillies would most likely have been the favorites to win this division anyway. Then they went out in the off-season and signed pitcher Cliff Lee, who they had traded before last season to acquire ace Roy Halladay. Now the Phils have the strongest starting pitching staff in the majors seen in a long time, drawing comparisons to Atlanta’s staff of the 1990s and Baltimore’s of the 1960s. They are without a doubt the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series this year. The loss of outfielder Jayson Werth, a clutch hitter, in free agency can’t be overlooked, and the Phils didn’t really replace him . Also, Chase Utley will start the year on the disabled list, so the Phils may be scratching for offense early on. Still, they should win this division easily. The Atlanta Braves will play for a manager other than Bobby Cox for the first time since 1990, and stars like Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Martin Prado make them the most likely challenger for Philly. The New York Mets have a new manager in Terry Collins, and showed signs of coming on last year behind youngsters like Ike Davis. They need big years from veterans like Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Jason Bay to compete with the rest of the division. The Florida Marlins are always a pesky team in the division and always play competitive baseball, despite losing players to free agency every year. However, manager Fredi Gonzalez is now in Atlanta, so the Fish look headed for a down year. The same goes for the Washington Nationals, who made a big splash in free agency by signing Werth but will be hard-pressed to overcome the loss of young pitching phenom Steven Strasburg.

NL Central

The Cincinnati Reds came out of nowhere last year to win this division, and with manager Dusty Baker and reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, are the favorites to repeat. Tony LaRussa’s St. Louis Cardinals are always a threat, but the club has had injury troubles with their pitching staff which may hold them back. Still, any team with Albert Pujols in their lineup is going to be dangerous. The other teams in this division, the Cubs, Astros, Brewers and Pirates, are also-rans, although the lowly Pirates have some intriguing young talent, led by outfielder Andrew McCutcheon, and a new manager in Clint Hurdle who has a history of getting the best out of average rosters. Milwaukee, uncharacteristically, went out and traded for an ace for their pitching staff – Zach Grienke – and have some big bats in their lineup. They are even being looked at as a dark horse to win the division by some, but I can’t see that happening.

NL West

The San Francisco Giants won it all last year with solid pitching and timely hitting from a lineup made up of mostly journeymen and castoffs, so to me they have the look of being the ultimate one-year wonder. Their closer, Brian Wilson, will start the 2011 season on the DL so the Giants’ opponents won’t have to “fear the beard” for awhile anyway. The Giants may have trouble repeating as NL West champs, let alone winning the Series again. The San Diego Padres gave them a strong run before folding at season’s end, but the loss of Adrian Gonzalez from their lineup will hurt. The biggest threat to the Giants should be the Colorado Rockies, who have a potent lineup and the pitching to match San Fran’s. The Los Angeles Dodgers figure to be rejuvenated under new manager Don Mattingly and should make some noise in the division also, but the Arizona Diamondbacks are in major rebuilding mode and appear to headed for the division basement again.

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