2009 National League Preview and Predictions

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2009 National League Preview and Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

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By Mike Ivcic

Baseball begins Sunday, and with that comes a season preview. It will be split in to two parts, with the American League to follow shortly behind this, the National League. For the Senior Circuit, the questions are many. Can the Phillies repeat? Will Many implode the Dodgers? Can Pujols carry the Cardinals? Will K-Rod “save” the Mets? How will Lincecum follow up his Cy Young? Who will be the dark horses? Who will be the disappointments? And, of course, everyone’s favorite yearly question – how will the Cubs screw it all up this season? Yes, baseball is here. Let the marathon begin!

NL East
1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Florida Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Washington Nationals
The Mets have been the most talented team in the division for the past three seasons, and should be for a fourth as well. Despite the collapse of the past two years, the Mets still have the best starting pitcher in the National League and an offense that scored the exact same number of runs as the Phillies in 2008. With the offseason acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, they should be able to avoid the end-of-game issues that plagued them last year. Meanwhile, despite the Phillies being the defending World Champions, they improved themselves the least out of any team in the division. The loss of Pat Burrell will hurt more than any Phillies fan wants to admit, and the signing of Raul Ibanez only makes what was an already left-handed dominant lineup even more so. Question marks still abound behind Cole Hamels in the rotation, Chase Utley is attempting to come back nearly 2 months earlier than expected from offseason hip surgery, and reliever J.C. Romero will miss the first 50 games with the drug-related suspension. The Braves made a big splash with the signing of Derek Lowe, but the Marlins are a deeper team and should be able to finish ahead of Atlanta thanks to a younger and healthier team. The Braves will be without Tim Hudson until at least the All-Star break, and with Chipper Jones’ annual trip to the disabled list coming up soon, it will be too much for a rebuilding team to overcome. Finally, the Nationals may have signed Adam Dunn, but he can’t pitch, so Washington will still struggle to compete in a division where wins are based upon pitching. Just ask Brad Lidge.

NL Central
1. Chicago Cubs
2, St. Louis Cardinals
3, Milwaukee Brewers
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
After a few years of the Brewers threatening the hierarchy of the Central, the fight has returned to the bluebloods of Chicago and St. Louis. The Cardinals probably don’t have enough to wrestle the division away from a ridiculously deep and talented Cubs team, but Albert Pujols and Co. do have enough to challenge for a Wild Card berth. The Cubs lineup with Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukodome and the rest, coupled with a rotation headed by Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano and an even deeper bullpen than last year should once again give the Cubs home field in at least the first playoff round. The Brewers will take a hit following the loss of C.C. Sabathia, but should also at least contend until September. The dark horse for the entire NL – not to rip off the worldwide sports leader – is in Cincinnati, where Dusty Baker knows what it takes to make the postseason and has a couple really good pieces (Brandon Phillips, Edison Volquez, Joey Votto) around which to build. The key for them is how well Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo can pitch to stabilize what has been an ever-revolving rotation. The Astros have been due for a fall for a while, and after the Miguel Tejada offseason circus and still very little to support Roy Oswalt in the rotation, this will likely be the year. Oh, and yes, the Pirates still play baseball.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
Manny resigning with the Dodgers leapfrogged an above-average team right back into contention again. They will miss the presence of Lowe at the top of the rotation, and they’ll have to fend off an improving division, but they’re the prohibitive favorites. The Diamondbacks have the best chance of supplanting the Dodgers, especially if someone can step up as a legitimate and consistent starter to fill behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Expect the Giants to also contend this season, based purely on a stellar young pitching staff with Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Their offense will be spotty, but if Barry Zito and Randy Johnson can contribute more than expected, San Fran could sneak into contention. The Rockies also have lots of good pieces, but the Matt Holliday trade will set the franchise back at least one year, while San Diego needs to either deal Jake Peavy and completely start over or actively participate in the free agent market and try to improve the team. They did neither this offseason, and until they do, the Padres will stare up at the other four teams.

NLDS – Mets (East) over Diamondbacks (WC)
NLDS – Cubs (Central) over Dodgers (West)
NLCS – Mets over Cubs

Final Analysis

In reality, the only teams that are really out of the playoff hunt before the season begins are the Pirates, Nationals, and Padres, leaving 13 teams with legitimate postseason hopes. Of the four projected above, LA will struggle to pitch in the postseason and Arizona will struggle to hit, as they did in 2007, leaving a Chicago-New York LCS. As mentioned above, the Cubs will find a way to lose, and the Mets offseason acquisitions will prove fruitful, as the organization finishes the decade where it started – in the World Series.

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