1. Philadelphia Phillies 93-69
They're the World Series Champs. They're my back-up team, they still have one of the best lineups in baseball, and assuming they get past the whole Cole Hamels arm scare of the last week or so, and Jamie Moyer comes even close to the magical season he put up last year at age 45, they'll be fine in the rotation. I've picked them to win this division every year since 2004. I've been right 40% of the time. I'm going for it again.
2. The Atlanta Braves 89-73
They've put together a solid rotation of innings eaters with their free agent additions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez, and Kenshin Kawakami of Japan. Throw in Jair Jurrjens and his impressive rookie year last year, and anything positive they might get from Tom Glavine, and Atlanta should pitch as well as it usually has. The lineup is lacking severely in power, especially When Larry Wayne Jones spends his usual month on the DL, but they have some nice players like Yuniel Escobar and Brian McCann, and I like Kelly Johnson at second base. I do think its hilarious how far Jeff Francouer has fallen since SI declared him "The Natural" back in '05. He royally sucks now.
3. New York Mets 85-77
Let's see, I nailed the Mets record and position in the standings perfectly last year when everyone was screamin OMG SANTANA OMFG!, so what do I find about the team this year to hate? They've admittedly fixed that awful bullpen by adding K-Rod and JJ Putz, but what about the rest of the team? Johan Santana's still as good as it gets, but Oliver Perez is wildly inconsistent, good thing they gave him $36 million (and they've already complained this spring that he's overweight). John Maine's never impressed me, but Mike Pelfrey has good stuff. They've basically given Livan Hernandez their fifth starter job (and they said Oliver Perez was overweight?). You have to be impressed by a guy who can win 13 games with an ERA over six, like Hernandez did last year. Or you don't. How about the offense? Delgado had a nice year last year, but a lot of people thought he was done before that, and he will turn 38 this year. In the outfield Beltran's still a stud and I still haven't gotten over how badly Hendry botched that situation in 2004, but Ryan Church is nothing to fear, and they've handed the left field job to a kid with a .796 career OPS in the minors, though he did impress in a call-up last year. Who's backing the kid up in case he falters? Fernando Tatis?? Fernando Tatis is still alive? I thought he died after he killed Chan Ho Park's career and exiled him to Texas with two grand slams in one innig. Brian Schneider couldn't hit his way onto the '62 Mets, and he won't help this year's. David Wright's still not as good as Aramis Ramirez on offense or defense, and they're just hoping Luis Castillo dies so they can find a real second baseman. Jose Reyes is only slightly less overrated than New York's other shortstop. To top it all off this team's still in the hands of Jerry Manuel, whose lifeless managing of the White Sox led to the myth that Ozzie Guillen's "fire" somehow inspired them to a World Series. This team will fail again.
4. Washington Nationals 80-82
Last year I bought into the "talent" they had on offense and thought that with an outfield consisting of some combination of Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, and Wily Mo Pena, and a healthy Nick Johnson, who was great in '06, or a healthy Dmitri Young, who had a great '07, would, along with their new ballpark, inspire this team to 83 wins. Then literally every player I listed above either got injured, posted numbers below their career averages, or did both, and the team lost 102 games. I also overlooked their strategy of having a 5 man pitching rotation that included 0 good starting pitchers, which, had I noticed it, I would have considered to be a bad idea. But this year I still think Ryan Zimmerman will break out, I still think Elijah Dukes is extremely talented even if he's by all accounts a total f&%kwad, and Lastings Milledge will cash in on at least Some of that talent. They added Adam Dunn and they're smart enough to put him at first, which should lead to him actually Producing more runs than he allows. They added a starting pitcher who isn't a complete and total abomination in Scott Olsen, and John Lannan, their ace, actually had halfway decent numbers given the talent around him. I won't grant them a winning season, but this team could actually Not be a total embarassment to the game of baseball this year.
5. Florida Marlins 77-84
The guy who used to write at this site before he took his own life after realizing that the University and state of Iowa are irrelevant in almost every possible way, is/was terrified of this year's Marlins, based on his irrational fear that since the Marlins more or less held the same fire sale/rebuilding process after their 2003 championship that they did after their 1997 championship, now that 5 seasons have passed this is the year they'll put it all together and win the damn thing again. I'm not buying it, though this team still has a core of talent that could be scary if they had the payroll to make moves in-season. They have a lineup full of high power, low OBP guys like Jorge Cantu ( .327 OBP, 29 homers), Jeremy Hermida (.323, 17), and Cody Ross (.316, 22). They also have one of the game's greatest players in Hanley Ramirez, who sadly signed an extension until 2014, thus putting away my fantasy of him playing short for the Cubs. Dan Uggla's glove may be made of wood, but he can hit, and may end up on the trade block as he's yet to be offered a multi-year deal. Catcher Jeff Baker was impressive in 61 games as a rookie last year, with a .299/5/32/.392/.447 line. The ace of their starting staff, Ricky Nolasco, continues to make us fill with bloodthirsty rage at Jim Hendry and Juan Pierre, their #2, Josh Johnson, is excellent when healthy, which he rarely is, and between Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad, and lefty Adam Miller they have great talent in the back of the rotation. Their bullpen is weak outside of closer Matt Lindstrom. There's definite talent here, but I don't expect a third title until they can spend money.
1. Chicago Cubs 93-69
It seems to me that the failed pursuit of Jake Peavy seems to have some Cub fans worried that he's somehow "the missing piece" that'll keep this team from winning. I constantly hear comparisons to the 2004 club that failed miserably under expectations, even though those comparisons would have been more applicable to last year's club, which, you know, won 97 games. The playoffs sucked but despite losing Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa (and for the love of God SHUT UP ABOUT IT), this team improved by ditching Marquis and adding a force in the lineup like Milton Bradley. There's some handwringing already over whether Rich Harden will be healthy, and some idiots (I'm looking at you, Paul Sullivan) seem to think Zambrano is a wildcard, but the fact is this rotation is as good it gets around baseball. It may not be the best, but it can stand up there with any of them. Sean Marshall will be an improvement over Marquis, and who knows if settling the ownership question will lead to some talent added over the course of the season. My gut still tells me Derrek Lee can rebound, and that Aramis Ramirez and Soriano still have a few good seasons left in them. Geovany Soto will hit 30 homers, damnit, and this team will score runs in bunches. Plus their division sucks. They will win this thing handily. After that? Who knows.
2. St. Louis Cardinals 85-77
I keep hearing from Cardinals fans and the ledge jumping Cub fans on how the Cards will sneak up on the Cubs this year. I'm not buying it. If Chris Carpenter can stay healthy after his SECOND Tommy John surgery, not to mention the 8 or 9 hundred times he's had ulnar neuritis, and Adam Wainwright bounces back from his injuries last year, AND Kyle Lohse repeats the career highs he put up in every major category last year, AND Todd Wellemeyer also repeats his breakout season, AND Joel Piniero somehow Doesn't suck, they have a chance at having a slightly worse rotation than the Cubs. Their lineup is feared for some reason, despite the fact that Troy Glaus is hurt and none of his replacements have impressed this spring, they can't find a second baseman (and Skip Schumaker has failed at converting), Khalil Greene is just plain bad, Rick Ankiel strikes out too much and is, dare I say, Wildly inconsistent, and Chris Duncan hasn't looked good since 2006. They're nothing to fear.
3. Milwaukee Brewers 82-80
They're counting on Yovani Gallardo to come back from a knee injury and magically become an ace, they seem to think Jeff Suppan's a major league pitcher, Manny Parra's a number three at Best, Dave Bush is...underwhelming, and is that Braden Looper? Oh that's neat. The lineup, as usual, has power but not much else. Fielder and Braun are undeniably frightening, but the rest of the lineup is worthless if the wind's blowing in. Corey Hart (.300), Rickie Weeks (.342), Bill Hall (.293), Jason Kendall (.327), JJ Hardy (.343), and Mike Cameron (.331), as you can see by the OBP's I put behind each, get on base so rarely that you'd think Ed Lynch signed them. They'll score runs in spurts, much like the 2004 Cubs, and they may even seem frightening on the one or two hot streaks they'll have this season, but in the end they'll be lucky to hit .500.
4. Cincinnati Reds 80-82
There is talent here. There really is. But above all else, there stands one man. One man completely incapable of recognizing or properly utilizing that talent. Joey Votto proved last year he was the real deal, and Jay Bruce did nothing in his 108 game stint last year to truly tarnish his reputation as one of the game's best prospect, and one would expect him to improve his .767 OPS from last year. After that, the lineup gets murkier. Edwin Encarnacion "put it all together," last year, and still Barely passed an .800 OPS. The shortstop position will go to Alex Gonzalez if he's healthy, or Jeff Keppinger if he's not, and neither is really that good. They seem to think Ramon Hernandez's .714 OPS counts as an upgrade at catcher, but sadly the Paul Bako/Dave Ross situation they had last year had a .681 OPS and nearly equivalent power numbers. Watching Willy Tavaras and his .308 OBP from last year get 500+ AB's in the leadoff spot will be priceless, and just in case he miraculously falters so badly that Dusty is moved to bench him (it won't happen, imagine every question being answered with "bench him? He's stolen almost 40 bases this year. He makes things happen, dude."), they're assuring everyone that Jerry Hairston is ready to take over. Jerry Hairston. This is the most beautiful job of cherry picking stats ever performed. Take a look at Jerry's line last year- .326/6/36/.384/.487/.871. Now his career averages- .260/7/45/.330/.370/.700. In case you were curious, I put every category in which Jerry posted a career high last year in bold. So guys just consistently put batting averages, OBP's, slugging %'s, and OPS's way above their career numbers up every year, right? Oy. As for the pitching? There's no denying Edinson Volquez's stellar season last year, or the talent of Johnny Cueto, but I think I've done a fairly decent job here of detailing Baker's handling of Volquez, and as for the veterans in the rotation, Aaron Harang(6-17, 4.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) and Bronson Arroyo (15-11, 4.77 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) both put up some awful numbers last year, even if Arroyo fluked his way to 15 wins, and Harang especially seemed dead after a stretch in which Dusty used him as a starter twice and for multiple innings out of the bullpen during a five day stretch last summer. As for the "superstar" that Homer Bailey was sure to become, his career numbers (4-8, 6.72 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, and a .316 BAA), seem, well, putrid. I just realized that I've written far more about the Reds than I did the Cubs. Perhaps I should try to hate Dusty just a little less. Or not.
5. Houston Astros 72-90
I'll make up for the Long Long Reds article with a short one. They have one ace in Roy Oswalt and four schmucks of all ages (Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz). Their bullpen still has LaTroy Hawkins in it. Their lineup has only three spots that will provide adequate offense this season (left field- Carlos Lee, right field- Hunter Pence, first base- Lance Berkman), and no matter what Cecil Cooper thinks, Pudge Rodriguez will not lead them to a 90 win season.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates 68-94
Whenever I hear people talk about how hard it is to be Cub fan or a Red Sox fan before 2004, and they talk about the years and years of losing, I laugh. I'm 20 fucking years old. Chances are, you aren't old enough to have borne the weight of a century without a championship. Get over it. I will gladly take having been a Cub fan my entire life over being a Pirates fan in that same time period. This year will make for consecutive losing season number #17 for Pittsburgh. Unless you're impressed by the rotation (Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens), the veterans (Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche), or any of the kids other than Nate McClouth (Brandon Moss, Nyjer Morgan, Andy LaRoche, Ryan Doumit). I'll give you a hint- I'm not. At least they can look forward to the excitement prospect Jose Tabata will bring.
NL West1. Los Angeles Dodgers 90-72
I'm really getting tired of typing, and I've dragged these things out way too long, so I'm gonna cut these short. Dodgers Pitching- Good, but not great (Kuroda- OK, Wolf- Meh, Billingsley- Excellent, Kershaw- impressivo, 5th starter- Good luck. Bullpen- Awesome.) Lineup- (Russell Martin- Good, James Loney- Slightly above average, Orlando Hudson- overrated, Rafael Furcal- still good, but health is an issue, Casey Blake- Not. That. Good., Manny Ramirez- Awesome., Matt Kemp- Good, Andre Ethier- Very, very good.)
2. San Fransisco Giants 83-79
Pitching- So-So (Lincecum- the balls, Randy Johnson- hangin' in there, Matt Cain- also really, really good, Barry Zito-umm..., Jonathan Sanchez- talented? Bullpen- Oh God, that's a disaster). Lineup (Bengie Molina- Good, but old. Travis Ishikawa- not that good, but young, Kevin Frandsen- not that good, but young, Edgar Renteria- not that good, but old, Pablo Sandoval- maybe good, but young, Fred Lewis- pretty good, and young, Aaron Rowand- okay, but older and overpaid, Randy Winn- good, but really old.)
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 80-82
Pitching- Good (Brandon Webb- the balls, Dan Haren- good, but not ballsy, Doug Davis- CANCER survivor good, Jon Garland- better than Matt Karchner, Max Scherzer- isn't that the Nazi that lost to Joe Lewis? Bullpen- Not too shabby.) Lineup- (Chris Snyder- OK for catcher, Connor Jackson- Mediocre, Felipe Lopez- not good, Stephen Drew- very good, Mark Reynolds- like a white Jose Hernandez, Chad Tracy- good long ago, not anymore, Chris Young- highly, highly overrated, Justin Upton- Not good. Yet.)
4. Colorado Rockies 75-87
Pitching- Bad. (Aaron Cook- halfway decent, Ubaldo Jimenez- Spanish for Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Marquis- haha, hoho, hahaha, Jorge De La Rosa- pass, Greg Smith- who? Bullpen- Also Bad.). Lineup (Chris Iannetta- Really Good, Todd Helton- Really Old, Clint Barmes- Haha Bad, Troy Tulowitzki- Not as good as advertised, Garrett Atkins- he's still good, Brad Hawpe- very good, Ryan Spillborghs- passable, Seth Smith- might be okay?)
5. San Diego Padres 62-100
Jake Peavy- Please be a Cub. Adrian Gonzalez- Really Good. Everything else- Bad. Bad. Bad.