2010 National League Preview and Predictions

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By Mike Ivcic

Part two of the Ultimate Capper baseball preview turns to the National League, a league most seem to feel is inferior. Yet in the 2000’s, NL teams won four of the World Series championships (Arizona ‘01, Florida ‘03, St. Louis ‘05, and Philadelphia’08) and ended the final year of the decade with the best record they’ve ever had in interleague play. So, can they capture the first World Series championship of the new decade?

NL East
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
The Phillies have won three straight division titles, but believe it or not their window of opportunity is closing. They have this year and maybe next year, and that’s it – thus why they traded for Halladay, who gives them a better shot to win this year and next than Cliff Lee does. But Rollins, Werth, Hamels, Howard, Ibanez, Victorino, Moyer, Blanton, Romero, and Lidge all become free agents in one of the next two seasons, so they must win now. Meanwhile the Braves are building for the exact moment when Philly tails off, and Heyward looks like the real deal – the first proven star Atlanta has produced in the way of position players since the two Joneses. New York could be a longshot at the Wild Card if they can tread water until Beltran and Reyes return, but their entire rotation will have to pitch to better than career averages in order to compete. Florida will take a step back until they can move into their new stadium and gain some capital to lure a big-time free agent, and Washington is still looking for stable footing in DC, which might come sometime in May or June with the arrival of top pick Stephen Strasburg.

NL Central
1. Saint Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros
The safe bet here is obviously St. Louis, who should be able to run away with this division with a full season from Carpenter and Holliday. In fact, because of the unbalanced schedule and a weak division, the Cardinals will likely wind up with the NL’s best record. The question here is who will finish second and whether that team will be able to do enough to earn the Wild Card berth. The Brewers have plenty of offense in that lineup, especially the middle with Fielder and Braun, but the pitching staff is young and might not be ready for a full season of playoff-caliber baseball, thus why the Cubs should be able to grab second. They’ll need good performances behind Zambrano to reach the postseason, but still might not have enough to beat the Braves and Giants. The other three teams are playing for fourth, and Cincinnati has more proven talent than either Pittsburgh or Houston. The final race is to stay out of the cellar, and despite another losing season, look for the Pirates to leapfrog the Astros.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres
Speaking of window of opportunity, consider this the final year for the Dodgers. Manny could be gone after this season, and they’ve now lost Lowe and Wolf in the past two seasons. Relying on ace-like performance from Vicente Padilla could be a sign of bad things to come (they desperately need good years from Kershaw and Billingsley), but the lineup is still young enough with Ethier and Kemp as anchors to win this division. The challenge will come from the pitching-happy Giants, who can throw Lincecum, Zito, Cain, and Sanchez as a top four and rival any other NL team’s rotation. The Rockies will also be in the mix, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to play another year like they way they closed 2009 after Jim Tracy took over. Arizona is now rebuilding and needs Brandon Webb to become the Webb of old – if that happens, he and Haren could combine to vault this team into contention. Without Peavy, the Padres no longer have a face of the franchise, and Adrian Gonzalez can’t do it alone, leading to another last place finish.

NLDS
Saint Louis over Atlanta
Philadelphia over Los Angeles

NLCS
Saint Louis over Philadelphia

World Series
New York Yankees over Saint Louis Cardinals

Look for my weekly baseball column all season long, every Monday for the Ultimate Capper.

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