Sunday Night, April 1, 2007
Hello again, here are my thoughts and predictions for the National League teams. (this is part 2 of my projections. My American League Predictions were posted earlier this evening. I will be updating my Twins Player Projections on Monday morning, so be sure to stop back for those.)
National League Central
1.) St. Louis Cardinals
The 2006 World Series Champion Cardinals should be solid again. Last year, they won just 83 games to win this division. Example #86 of why the World Series winner does not necessarily equate to the best team. But, if a team can win its division and get to the playoffs, you never know. I think that the Cardinals can again win the division. The main reason is because they have the best hitter in the league (Albert Pujols) and arguably the best pitcher in the league (Chris Carpenter). But what surrounds those two players? Well, I would like to see a full year of a healthy Scott Rolen to see what he is still capable of. Jim Edmonds is far from 100%, but he is playing. Home-run or nothing at this point in his career, and that includes the very little that he still can provide defensively. Chris Duncan was incredible for the Cardinals last year with the bat, showing lots of power. He's not much defensively though. So Taguchi could get plenty of time. Preston Wilson will be the primary RF until Juan Encarnacion comes back. Yadier Molina was not only one of the worst hitting catchers in baseball last year, he was one of the worst hitters period. And, up the middle, you've got David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy. Both are 'scrappy' guys which means that they can't do anything well. However, neither really makes any mistakes to hurt their team either. Beyond Carpenter, there are questions. Kip Wells has never met his potential, but I really do believe that he will be solid. Anthony Reyes is finally getting a chance, and I think that he will be just fine. Adam Wainright was a starting pitching prospect for a half-decade with the Braves and then the Cardinals before pitching out to the bullpen last year. Well, he is being given another shot in the rotation. And finally, former Mets closer Braden Looper is going to be starting. That should be very interesting because he has never started before. Also, don't forget that Mark Mulder should be back later this season. The closer, for now, is Jason Isringhausen which automatically makes us question his health. The bullpen was the team's strength last year, but two of those guys are now in the starting rotation and Josh Kinney recently had Tommy John surgery. It will not be an easy year for the Cardinals.
2.) Milwaukee Brewers
Like the Cleveland Indians, the Brewers are the pick to make their move in the National League. Some even have them winning the division. You know what, there is a chance, and that starts with their starting pitching. They could have the best rotation in the division. It starts with Ben Sheets, who has missed significant time each of the last two seasons. Chris Capuano was an All-Star last year. Jeff Suppan left the Cardinals to join the Brewers. Claudio Vargas is a #4-type pitcher, and that is what he will likely be with the Brewers. Dave Bush will also be in the rotation, and he can strikeout hitters. I think that Francisco Cordero will come back with a solid 2007 season, providing stability at the end of the pitching staff. The rest of the bullpen is full of question marks including which Derrick Turnbow will we see? I was surprised that Jose Capellan was sent to the minors. The Brewers also have several quality bats. I think that Prince Fielder is the best. The burly 1B can hit for average and should only add more power. This has to be the year that Rickie Weeks stays healthy and puts it all together. I would guess that by the end of the year, he will move from the leadoff position to the #3 spot in the order, ahead of Fielder. Billy Hall is making the move from the infield to centerfield this year where his numbers won't look quite as impressive. JJ Hardy needs to stay healthy and provide that defense up the middle. Because of Corey Koskie's post-concussion issues, Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell will split time at 3B (although Ryan Braun probably deserves the nod). Look for Corey Hart to put up strong numbers in RF, and the combination of Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench will cover LF. A little talked about offseason trade brought catcher Johnny Estrada to the Brewers, and I think he will have a strong season in Miller Park.
3.) Chicago Cubs
The Cubs spent a lot of money in the offseason, including on manager Lou Pinella. First, they resigned Aramis Ramirez to a long, big-money deal. Then they gave a nine-digit contract to Alfonso Soriano. Then they signed Mark Derosa. Then they added Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis. And, I would expect to hear in the next 24 hours that they have agreed to a long-term deal with Carlos Zambrano. Hey, remember back in the days when some people thought that Zambrano was their third best pitcher? That's funny. Talent-wise, it would be easy to put the Cubs at the top of the division, but let's not forget that this is the Cubs. An OF of Matt Murton, Alfonso Soriano and Jacque Jones is strong. Cliff Floyd will share time with Murton in LF, and I don't think that it will take too long for Felix Pie to make his debut in CF (which would likely be determined after a trade of Jones or Murton took place). The corner infielders should be very solid. Ramirez is very good, and Derrek Lee should be fully recovered from his 2006 injury that cost him much of the year. Derosa will be at 2B with Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno at SS. Michael Barrett (who with one punch last year became my hero) will again be the primary catcher. Zambrano will lead the starting staff with Lilly and Marquis behind him. Rich Hill has been waiting for a rotation spot for two years. He deserves it and he will strikeout a lot of hitters (and walk a bunch too). Wade Miller will start the season as the team's #5 starter. Mark Prior will begin the season in Iowa, which I think makes a lot of sense! If he proves himself healthy (and good again), he will be back up. Of course, Ryan Dempster as closer is something that will likely be critiqued, but the rest of the bullpen is solid, particularly Bob Howry and Scott Eyre. In reality, there is little reason to believe that this club is not playoff caliber, but again, it is the Cubs.
4.) Houston Astros
From the sounds of it, Houston remains one of two (and maybe three) teams that Roger Clemens would continue his career with. However, he is going to wait to make a decision for another month or so. It is pretty important that the Astros stay in contention until then, to give themselves a chance against the Yankees. Pitching will definitely be the issue for the Astros. Roy Oswalt is among the best, but after that, there is uncertainty. How will Jason Jennings perform outside of Colorado? The rotation is filled out by Woody Williams, Wandy Rodriguez and Fernando Nieve. Of course, you want question marks, look no further than the Astros closer situation. They will again begin the year with Brad Lidge as their closer. Dan Wheeler is a backup option. Chad Qualls is another good bullpen arm. With the bats, the Astros have a pretty strong 3/4 combo in Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. Combined, they will likely hit 85 home runs. Craig Biggio is about done being productive, and you have to believe that is why Mark Loretta was brought in. Chris Burke is being handed the CF job, and Luke Scott and Jason Lane will split time in RF (combined, I am sure they will hit close to 40 homers). Adam Everett still can't hit, but he really is good with the glove.
5.) Pittsburgh Pirates
Some seem to think that the Pirates could make a marked improvement in 2007. Others see them as the worst team in the league. I think I would say closer to the latter, although they clearly have done some good things. The key to which team the Pirates will be is likely directly tied to the three young left-handed arms of Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm. Ian Snell puts up very good strikeout numbers, but he needs to cut down the walks. And, taking a shot with Tony Armas Jr makes a lot of sense as long as he can stay healthy. Saloman Torres is the Pirates closer after years of bullpen work. Lots of questions after that. The Pirates do have some bats. Obviously Jason Bay is one of the better hitters in the league. Freddy Sanchez will start the year on the DL, but he won the NL Batting title last year. Adam LaRoche hit more than 30 homers last year for the Braves and the Pirates got him for a lefty reliever. Nice move! Xavier Nady, when healthy, has shown a lot of hitting ability. Jose Bautista takes over at 3B (with Sanchez moving to 2B) with Jose Castillo headed to the bench. Jack Wilson, the team's no-hit, decent-field SS, pretty much forced that move. Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit will do a nice job behind the plate. To me, Chris Duffy had better start the season well in CF because I think 20 year old Andrew McCutcheon is very close to being ready to take that job!
6.) Cincinnati Reds
Wayne Krivsky took over as the Reds GM right before last season, and he went on to make approximately 18 million trades. He continued to work over the offseason, trying to build a winning franchise. I really believe that he is the right guy to do that for the Reds, but I also think that they need to move backwards before moving ahead. Pitching wins, right? Well, Krivsky extended the contracts of his top two pitchers, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, both very deserving. However, after that, the Reds rotation includes the likes of Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse and Kirk Saarloos. Those guys are saving the space for huge pitching prospect Homer Bailey. The Reds bullpen is a bit of a mess too with David Weathers and Mike Stanton getting the late innings. Todd Coffey and Bill Bray give the Reds some good bullpen help. Ken Griffey Jr will head to RF to make room for the quicker Ryan Freel in CF. Adam Dunn is another one of those one-dimensional players with a lot of power. He could be traded in an attempt to build the future of the organization. Alex Gonzalez is, in my opinion, the best defensive SS in baseball, by far, so I don't mind him getting that three year deal. He hits enough to not worry about it. I think that this is the year that Edwin Encarnacion becomes a star (it's usually that second year, isn't it?). And, finally, we should see what the real Brandon Phillips is. After a surprising breakout season last year, what will he do? The biggest story, in my opinion, of the spring was that of Josh Hamilton. The former #1 overall pick who was out of baseball for several years due to his substance abuse, was a Rule V pick who was traded to the Reds. He had to make the team (and still has to stay on the roster all year) to stay with the team. He had an incredible spring. Obviously we hope he has completely overcome his demons as he can be a great role model for so many others in this country who fight such demons.
National League East
1.) Philadelphia Phillies
I know a lot of people are picking the Mets and some picking the Phillies. I am going with the Phillies because I believe that they have a much better combination of offense and pitching. Offensively, many say that it all starts with Ryan Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, and they aren't wrong. But Chase Utley is a huge force in this offense, and Jimmy Rollins is not only the vocal leader, but he backs it up with his play. For as much grief as Pat Burrell receives, he does provide power and run production. Aaron Rowand proved his toughness a few times last year on defense, and if healthy, he is fine offensively. I do think that Wes Helms was a very nice addition to the team. And, I'm happy to see Shane Victorino get an every day job. The weak spot on the roster right now is at catcher. Rod Barajas can't hit, yet they gave him $2.5 million. Carlos Ruiz has 'career-backup' written all over him. Chris Coste played well behind the plate during their playoff question last year and he hit well over .300 with some power, yet he had to fight for a roster spot. (And yes, I am a bit biased). To the pitching, I think that the Phillies have two top-of-the-rotation starters. Brett Myers is very close, and he is ready for it. Cole Hamels came up last year midseason and showed signs of how dominant he can be. Freddy Garcia will start the year on the DL, but he will provide innings. Jamie Moyer is old, but he provides a different look than the other pitchers. Adam Eaton got a ridiculous amount of money considering he's done nothing throughout his career, but if healthy, it would be interesting to see what he can do. And having Jon Lieber as the 6th guy is nice! Tom Gordon is an excellent closer, but he is fragile and they need to be careful with his usage. The question for this team comes if Gordon will be out for an extended period. Who becomes the closer, and how is the bullpen affected?
2.) New York Mets
The Mets had the best team in the NL last year despite very little pitching. They had a great lineup, but a lot of question marks in the rotation. Tom Glavine is over 40 (and needs just 10 wins for 300 - 9 after the Sunday night game). Pedro Martinez won't be back until midseason or late this summer. The last four pitchers in the rotation are Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey. Now, I think that Pelfrey will be a star, but will it happen this year? Billy Wagner at the end of games is right up there with the best. The rest of the bullpen is solid, especially Aaron Heilman, although I wonder how they warranted giving Scott Schoenweiss so much money for three years. Jose Reyes is the most exciting player in baseball. Speed, developing power, defense. He does it all. Carlos Beltran is another great all-around player. David Wright and Carlos Delgado are powerful run producers. Moises Alou is old, but will play well when he is in the lineup. How Shawn Green continues to make a few GMs think he is good is amazing to me. He hasn't been productive for so long. I think I would take my chances with Lastings Milledge. Paul Lo Duca doesn't strike out and that gives him some value. He hits for some average, but doesn't walk much or hit for any power. And finally, Jose Valentin did a very nice job last year for the Mets at 2B. He doesn't play great defense or have range, he won't hit for average, but he does have good power for a middle infielder.
3.) Atlanta Braves
The Braves are now trying to figure out the best way to get back to the division champion status that they enjoyed for 15 straight years before last year. Clearly they had one goal in mind to do that, and that was to add to the bullpen. They added Rafael Soriano from Seattle (for Horacio Ramirez), and then they got ripped off by the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez. But the bullpen is now stable! The starting staff will again be led by John Smoltz. Tim Hudson had a great spring, but he has been about average the last few years. I think Chuck James will have a very strong second season. Lance Cormier beat out Kyle Davies for the 5th starter job. Mark Redman will remain in the rotation until Mike Hampton comes off of the Disabled List. Andruw Jones can become a free agent after the season, so expect a big season. Chipper Jones remains productive when he is healthy. Brian McCann is arguably the best catcher in baseball, certainly the best in the National League. Jeff Franceour just might be one of those hitters that don't walk that can remain a powerful, productive hitter over a long period of time. It is a rarity, but it can happen. Replacing Adam LaRoche at 1B will be Scotty Thorman and Craig Wilson in some sort of platoon situation. Another platoon will occur in LF between Ryan Langerhans and Matt Diaz. Kelly Johnson comes back from a year off to take over for Marcus Giles at 2B. He is joined up the middle by the stabilizing Edgar Renterria.
4.) Florida Marlins
The Marlins were the surprise story of the 2006 season. Joe Girardi led the rookie-filled roster into playoff contention until the season's final month. Of course, after the season, he won the NL Manager of the Year Award a couple of weeks after he was fired. Anyway, all of those rookies from last year are now second year players. Expectations will be higher and it is interesting to see how they will do. In some cases, they will continue to improve. In other cases, they could take a step back. Hanley Ramirez was the top rookie, nabbing the NL Rookie of the Year award. The shortstop should continue to progress. Dan Uggla had an All-Star rookie season at 2B. Many expect him to regress greatly. I don't think he will put up the same numbers, but I don't' think he will fall too far. Josh Willingham moved from catcher to LF, played solid defense and hit well. Mike Jacobs hit over 20 homers. Jeremy Hermida was disappointing last year, as he was expected to contend for rookie honors, and he will begin this season on the DL. Alejandro De Aza spent last year playing CF for the AA team. He could steal some bases for the team after winning the CF battle. Joe Borchard continues to get a chance with the Marlins and could do well in RF. Miguel Olivo remains the team's catcher, a big role on a young team. Obviously Miguel Cabrera is the team's best hitter, and one of the best in the game. Obviously Dontrelle Willis is the team's ace. He needs to develop more consistency. Scott Olsen is another lefty who throws hard and gets a lot of strikeouts. Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter as a rookie last year. Sergio Mitre will be the number four starter. I would expect Ricky Nolasco to get another chance in the rotation at some point this year. The team just acquired closer Jorge Julio last week, and he should solidify the back end of the staff. Matt Lindstrom will be the backup plan but it makes a lot of sense to give him a year in a set up role.
5.) Washington Nationals
The Nationals are bad. I mean, really bad. Like, worse than the Royals bad! Despite having the solid Chad Cordero as their sure-thing closer, you have to wonder how many chances he will get. The Nats starting staff is very questionable. John Patterson is the ace, but when is he healthy? Shawn Hill is their #2 starter. He has nine starts and 45.2 innings in his career. Matt Chico is their #3 starter. The lefty went 9-2 last year, at AA. Jason Bergman is the four starter and he has seven career starts. Jerome Williams, the long-time prospect of many teams, will be the 5th starter. Ryan Wagner, Ray King, Micah Bowie and Rule V pick (and former Twins farmhand) Levale Speigner will be in the bullpen. Ryan Zimmerman highlights the team's offense. He drove in over 100 runs last year, but who will he drive in this year? Nook Logan? Felipe Lopez will move over to 2B to make room for former Twins SS Cristian Guzman. Nick Johnson is, of course, hurt for at least half of the season, so he will likely be replaced by Dmitri Young. Austin Kearns will be in the Nationals outfield for the next couple of years at least. Ryan Church will be in LF. Brian Schneider is a solid backstop, although he wasn't great with the bat last year. Poor Manny Acta!
National League West
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers
This might be the most difficult division to pick, but I am going to go with the Dodgers. I would feel a lot better about that selection if the Dodgers would just trust some of those young players they have developed. For instance, instead of signing Luis Gonzalez for a year, why not trust the young guy (Andre Ethier) who hit .308 with 11 homers last year in about 400 at bats. Instead of giving the incredibly overrated and bad on-base percentage leadoff hitter Juan Pierre five years, and $55 million, why not give the CF job to Matt Kemp and his upside. Instead of going with retread Brett Tomko as the 5th starter, why not go with Chad Billingsley? Instead of giving Nomar Garciaparra a two year contract to play 1B, why not give the job to James Loney? Andy LaRoche is not far from being ready at 3B, but will they stick with Wilson Betemit? Who knows? So, how do I pick the Dodgers number one? Well, the guys I mentioned above (with the exception of Pierre) are actually good. Rafael Furcal will begin the season on the DL, but he's solid. Jeff Kent is old, but still can be above average for the position. Russell Martin had a solid rookie season behind the plate. Jason Schmidt was an excellent choice for the Dodgers to go after with their money. Randy Wolf was brought in and if he can stay healthy, he should be just fine too. You know what you'll get out of Derek Lowe. Brad Penny is the question mark. He started the All-Star game for the National League last year, and by season's end, he was out of the rotation. Takashi Saito took over the closer role halfway through last season and excelled. Another young guy, Jonathan Broxton, will be the top setup guy.
2.) Arizona Diamondbacks
Some want to pick the D-Backs to win this division ,but I actually think that they are a year away. Just too much youth to win it yet. That said, I think they have so much talent and will compete for much of the season. Brandon Webb is the "star" of the team after his NL Cy Young Award last year. Expect more big things from him. Once Randy Johnson comes off of the DL, he should be a solid 2nd starter, but nothing like he once was. Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis can provide a lot of league-average innings pitched. The fifth starter could be between Edgar Gonzalez and Micah Owings. Jose Valverde will again start the season as the team's closer. They also have Juan Cruz, Brandon Medders, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and former Twin JD Durbin in their bullpen. Orlando Hudson is probably their most veteran hitter. Great glove! Chad Tracy needs to bounce back from a subpar season, and I think he will. Eric Byrnes had a great 2006, but I think he will lose playing time as this season progresses. Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Young will be the every day CF. Scott Hairston will start the season as the RF, and stay there until Carlos Quentin comes off the DL. Conor Jackson is going to have a big year in his second full season. And Stephen Drew should have a great first full season. Although maybe none of his numbers will look amazing, I expect him to take a lot of walks and have a strong on-base percentage coupled with some power. Behind the plate, the team will go with Chris Snyder and prospect Miguel Montero. A lot of youth already, and guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Upton are probably not all that far away.
3.) San Diego Padres
In a pitcher's park, it is good to have a good pitching staff. Jake Peavy needs to show us what kind of pitcher he can be in 2007. 2006 was definitely a disappointment. Chris Young got it figured out last year and should only get better and better. Greg Maddux remains a solid, above-league-average starting pitcher and there is no reason to believe he can't continue to be. David Wells has issues, but he can be decent when healthy. Clay Hensley showed at times last year that he can contribute to the big league club. I thought that the Padres have been hurt the last couple of years by having one of the Giles brothers (Brian and Marcus). Now they have both of them and they could be the top two hitters in the lineup. Adrian Gonzalez just signed a four year contract extension, and it was definitely deserved. Kevin Kouzmanoff comes over from the Cleveland organization for Josh Barfield and should do a nice job at 3B. I think Termell Sledge will surprise and make that Adam Eaton/Akinori Otsuka for Chris Young, Termell Sledge and Adrian Gonzalez trade look even worse for Texas! Josh Bard and former Twin Rob Bowen give the Padres a solid catching combo. Khalil Greene, when healthy, is an excellent defender. Many like to pick the Padres to win the division, I just can't.
4.) San Francisco Giants
Speaking of teams with a lot of veterans. UGGH! Barry Bonds is set to make history, having now hit 7 homers in the spring. I am cheering for him. But he is not young at all and won't play every day. Omar Vizquel just can't keep this up, can he? Bengie Molina is not good, and he's now old. He won't age well and they gave him three years. Rich Aurilia is their 1B. Ray Durham at 2B. Pedro Feliz at 3B. Randy Winn in RF and Dave Roberts in CF. That's just an old lineup. They also gave Barry Zito far too much money. But, Matt Cain is young, and he is their best pitcher! But then Matt Morris and Russ Ortiz are both old and not all that good. Noah Lowry isn't too old. Armando Benitez is their old closer. Hopefully they will trade him quickly and get Tim Lincecum into the closer's role sooner than later. It's all on the veteran's old feet and shoulders and knees and arms. Do you know how close I was to putting them in 5th place?
5.) Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are another team that I appreciate because of how they are now putting their team together. Sure that albatross of a contract owed to Todd Helton will haunt them for a few more years, but outside of that, there are a lot of positives with this team. Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday are two of baseball's best hitters and not enough people know about them. Troy Tulowitski will do a nice job at SS. Even Kaz Matsui did a decent job after coming over from the Mets at midseason. Brad Hawpe is due for a breakout season. And it was really a nice job to replace Cory Sullivan in CF with Willy Tavares. And Chris Iannetta should do well as the most recent Rockies catching prospect. Brian Fuentes is an underrated closer. He has done well the last three years for the Rockies. He will be supported by the likes of Jeremy Affeldt and former Twin LaTroy Hawkins this year. There are question in the starting rotation, as always. It is time for Jeff Francis to take that next step. Aaron Cook is solid in Colorado. Rodrigo Lopez was horrible in Baltimore, imagine how he'll do in Coors. BY Kim could be traded. Taylor Bucholz and Jason Hirsh will compete, maybe throughout the year, for the fifth starter job. I think that this team could surprise.
NATIONAL LEAGUE SUMMARY
Division Champs - St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Card - New York Mets
NLCS Results - Phillies over the Mets
Feel free to discuss and disagree with anything above. Like I said, I will be back later today with my updated Twins player projections. Thanks for stopping by and have a great Monday, a great Opening Day!|
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