In the second part of my 2012 regular season predictions, I will tackle the National League. This time I am predicting teams I am much more familiar with. The Senior circuit is much more competitive and therefore a bit tougher to predict, I think so at least. Two of the three divisions are wide open with no clear cut favorite, or dominating club. Once again this is where I think the team’s will finish. How they will actually finish remains to be seen. The only projections I am using are the ones that are created within my own mind. So, without further adieu, let us see how I think the National League shakes down this year…..
The Phillies are still the team to beat in the NL East in 2012. However, injuries, and free agency has weakened them considerably. Despite that, the road to the division title still goes through Philadelphia. They still have a dominating rotation, minus Roy Oswalt, who has decided to sit on the couch until July, when he will shop his services to the highest bidding contender. However Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley comprise the best pitching staff in the league. There lineup has been significantly weakened. Big Nose Ryan Howard, is out until May at least, due to the achilles heel injury he suffered in the last at-bat of the division series last season. The Phillies will miss him the most. Raul Ilbanez left for New York, and the Phillies were unable to sign Ryan Madsen, so they inked Jonathon Papelbon instead, who was looking for a change of scenery from Boston, after that demoralizing meltdown game in Baltimore. However they still have Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco at third base, and Center fielder, “rat face” Shane Victorino. They won’t be as strong as they once were, but they still are the clear cut favorite in the east.
If Philadelphia falters, Atlanta, Miami, and Washington all could be right on their heels. I’m going with Miami for second place. They spent some major cash this winter. They signed Mark Buerhle to bolster the rotation. Heath Bell was signed to anchor the Bullpen, and Jose Reyes was also signed bringing his dynamic bat to the lineup at shortstop. This will force the Marlins to move Hanley Ramirez to third base, so we will see how that goes. Things were pretty bad last year for Miami, especially early in the season. As a mater of fact, things were so bad that, manager Edwin Rodriguez basically threw his hands up and said “that’s it! I cant take it anymore, I quit!”, and he walked out on the team. Why you ask? It might have had something to do with the Marlins losing like every game for three and a half weeks. Hey but Miami has a brand new closer, new shortstop and lead-off hitter, a brand new spanking stadium, and a new manager. Of coarse it will be most entertaining watching how resident tantrum thrower Carlos Zambrano gets along with Ozzie Guillen. Oh yes that should be interesting. Baby steps Miami.
Atlanta will be able to contend, but I just don’t see them getting to the playoffs. The main reason is they have too many injuries to the starting rotation. Tim Hudson, and Jair Jurgens, are their best pitchers, and are both question marks because of recurring injuries. Both could miss the beginning of the season. To make things worse, the team virtually stood pat this winter, only making minor moves, and getting rid of former Dodger Derek Lowe. They still have some good young pitchers, like Randall Delgado, and Mike Minor. The strength of the Braves lies in their Bullpen. Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, and Eric O’flaherty lead a group of power arms. The lineup is weak though. They will need a better year from Jason Heyward who suffered a sophomore slump, and their all-star hitting catcher Brian McCann needs to have another good year as well. If they can get their starting pitchers healthy, they have a shot.
Washington is headed in the right direction with some good young pitching prospects. They have guys like Stephen Strasburg (Hypesburg) , Jordan Zimmerman, and another guy named Ryan Zimmerman who hits pretty well at third base. They traded a package of young players to the A’s for starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who should improve the rotation. I think the Nationals are a couple of years away, but once these young pitchers develop, they could give the Phillies a run for their money.
The Mets do not figure to contend this year. They lost Jose Reyes, there most dynamic player, and they are going through their own ownership saga, with the Wilpons’. This season is the Met’s 50th anniversary in New York.
I can’t stand the Phillies to be honest with you. I could never forgive them for beating the Dodgers two years in a row in the NLCS. I also could never forgive Victorino for breaking up Hiroki Kuroda’s no-hitter a couple of years ago. I hope anyone else wins the east, alas sadly, there probably a shoe in for the playoffs.
The NL Central is an interesting division. Half the division should be competitive, and the other half is rebuilding. The division should be a dog-fight between the defending World Series Champion Caridnals, Milwaukee, and the Reds. The rest of the division will be non-contenders.
I’m going with the Cardinals this year. Despite the fact that Albert Pujols left, they still have a very balanced team of good pitching and productive offense. Adam Wainright will return this year from Tommy John surgery and will once again pair with Chris Carpenter.
The Brewers are coming off a winter in where they their first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency, and their right fielder Cory Hart will be out for the first month or so. Still they signed Aramis Ramirez away from the Cubs to play third base, and they still have a very good pitching staff. Plus they play so well at home, it is hard to count them out despite losing a couple of big bats. Oh and you know who, won his drug violation appeal on some technicality. Basically what this means is that he is allowed to freely do steroids throughout the year. Hmmm, I wonder who that is?
The Reds made some good improvements over the winter. They traded Edison Volquez and a bunch of prospects, for starter Matt Latos. They also improved their bullpen by signing closer Ryan Madsen. They still have a strong lineup, and should have some improved pitching.
The rest of the division doesn’t figure to be involved in the divisional race. The way the Pirates played last season before they went into the toilet, was commendable. However they are nowhere near competitive. And as for the Cubs and Astros? Well if there is one fan base I feel sorry for it’s Cubs fans. They have a new manager, and GM, and are trying to rebuild. The Astros will enter their final season in the NL Central. Starting in 2013 they will move to the American League West. The only bright spot for the Astros, is they can’t finish any worse than losing 106 games last year.
Now I finally get to my division, the NL West. There is no clear cut favorite in the NL West, but I can see Arizona as being the top team to beat. After they surprised the heck out of everyone, by winning the division last season under first year manager former Dodger World Series hero Kirk Gibson. Under his tutelage, the Dbacks returned to winning. They have a strong rotation, with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and grizzled veteran Joe Saunders. Add to that mix, newly acquired Trevor Cahill, and the Dbacks have one of the stronger rotations in the league. Plus they have a pretty potent lineup, led by slugger Justin Upton, and catcher Miguel Montero.
I am going out on a limb for this prediction. I figure if I am going to go out on that limb for a team, it should be my beloved Dodgers. As the black cloud of the ownership situation clears this spring, the Dodgers are poised to have a competitive year. They were busy filling holes this winter, but they still have a capable rotation, a rebuilt bullpen, improved speed and defense, and new hope. They will be once again led by MVP runner-up, and the best position player in the National League Matt Kemp. The rotation looks capable, with stability a lot of teams do not have. The Dodger pitching staff will be led by reigning Cy young award winner Clayton Kerhsaw. He should repeat another fantastic year. His utter domination against all opponents was all part of his Blue destiny as the descendant of Sandy Koufax. They don’t have much hitting, but with Kemp, a healthy Andre Ethier, and productive years from Juan Rivera, James Loney, and Juan Uribe, the Dodgers could score enough runs to stay in the race. That second wild card spot could be up for grabs, and if the Dodgers are still in the race by July, the new ownership could use their influx of cash to get some needed pieces for the stretch drive. Stranger things have happened.
Injuries and poor offense sunk the Giants last year, but their great pitching staff should keep them in games. They traded Jonathon Sanchez, for outfielder Melky Cabrera, and made another trade for center fielder Angel Pagan, from the Mets. Pagan should be a little bit of an upgrade offensively over Andres Torres, but he is still injury prone, so the Giants should be careful. They resigned Tim Lincecum, and are working on locking up Matt Cain. However much of their season relies on the healthy returns, of catcher Buster Posey, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and closer Blackbeard. (Brian Wilson). If Posey, and Sanchez can’t stay healthy, then the Giants will not win.
Colorado and San Diego, do not figure to contend, and I am picking them to finish fourth and fifth place respectively. Colorado made the most clubhouse changes of any team in the division. Although most of their moves I do not understand. Despite the changes to the roster, they still have the big three that will continue to annoy us Dodger fans for another year. Cargo, (Carlos Gonzalez), Mullet Man, (Troy Tulowitzki), and notorious Dodger killer Todd Helton, will try to lead the Rockies through the murkiness of their own strange off-season moves.
San Diego was busy doing what they love to do best, moving one group of prospects for another, never giving any one prospect enough playing time to justify keeping them. Their constantly trying to leverage prospects, only to pawn them off to another team for more prospects. They do have some good prospects, so I don’t think they will have to wait too long to be back in the race again. They traded away Matt Latos, which I thought was a mistake, but they still have a few decent players, to go along with all the prospects. Jesus Guzman, is a diamond in the rough, and Cameran Maybin is a good center fielder. I think the future will eventually be bright for San Diego.
If it were up to me, I would be just fine with the Dodgers winning 100 games, and beating every one by at least 15 games. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. I do think with the expanded playoffs, more teams have an opportunity to contend later into the season, so why not the Dodgers? I am going with Philly in the east, the Cardinals in the Central, Arizona, in the west, and the two wild cards will be Milwaukee, and the Dodgers. Buckle up Dodger fans, it is going to be a wild ride. Will any of my predictions come ring true? Stick around to find out.
NL East GB Philadelphia 94-68 - Miami 84-78 10 Atlanta 83-79 11 Washington 79-83 15 New York 73-89 21
NL Central GB St. Louis 91-71 - *Milwaukee 89-73 2 Cincinnati 85-77 6 Pittsburgh 76-86 15 Chicago 69-93 22 Houston 65-97 26
NL West GB Arizona 90-72 - *Dodgers 87-75 3 San Francisco 86-76 4 Colorado 78-84 12 San Diego 72-90 18
Wild Cards= *Milwaukee, Dodgers*