The Abridged 2007 National League Preview
by James Deaux(MLB)
Posted on April 1, 2007, 4:17 PM
Time for Part II of my abridged league previews—this time around, the embattled Senior Circuit. The National League is clearly the weaker of the two, but somehow the 83-win Cardinals came out of nowhere and won the World Series last year. Will something similarly absurd happen this year? Hey, anything's possible, right?
NL East: This could be the tightest division race of all 6 divisions.
Atlanta Braves: Guess which NL team had more hits, home runs, runs scored, RBI, and had a better average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage than the Mets in 2006? Atlanta. Still, Atlanta lost the division last year because they had the Richmond Braves' bullpen (quite literally). Now, they have three guys who can close games in Wickman, Soriano and Gonzalez. The major weaknesses on this team are a lack of speed and likely the right side of the infield. Scott Thorman is Johnny-on-the-spot and needs to fill in a gap left by Adam Laroche. Similarly, Kelly Johnson absolutely needs to get on base to set up the Joneses and McCann after him.
--Record: 91-71, 1st in the NL East
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are my NL Wild Card pick despite their horrid defense. They made a concerted effort to improve their starting rotation this offseason getting Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton. The thing is, Garcia gives up a lot of home runs; and that isn't going to change pitching at Citizen's Bank Park. And Eaton is an injury magnet who has never had a season ERA below 4.08. I suppose we'll see how they fare in a decidedly hitter-friendly stadium. Their lineup is ridiculously talented, though, and Chase Utley might take the MVP from his teammate if he continues doing what we know he can.
--Record: 89-73; 2nd in the NL East
New York Mets: Quick question—with what pitching staff will the Mets supposedly win the division, again? Jon Maine is fine, but Tom Glavine is 41 (though he will get his 300th win), El Duque is the most brittle pitcher in MLB, Oliver Perez is a head case, we have seen very little of Mike Pelfrey, and Chan Ho Park is never an answer to anything other than "Who shouldn't have been paid $65,000,000 by the Rangers?" To be fair, however, the Mets lineup is probably the best in the NL right now and that will certainly keep them in contention all year. I just don't see how they have enough pitching to win back-to-back titles.
--Record: 84-78; 3rd in the NL East
Florida Marlins: Remember how I said in the AL preview that Peter Angelos was probably the worst owner in baseball? Well, Jeffery Loria is right up there with him. What Joe Girardi was able to do with this team last season was something truly spectacular. How Loria treated him was spectacularly appalling. Unfortunately for Fredi Gonzalez, I think the Marlins are going to have a lot of sophomore slumps in the cards this year.
--Record: 72-90; 4th in the NL East
Washington Nationals: Washington's pitching rotation questions beyond John Patterson are like Minnesota's multiplied tenfold.
--Record: 49-113; Last in the NL East
NL Central: There isn't really a team in this division that is leaps and bounds ahead of the others. (Although, we can pretty much rule out Pittsburgh, of course.) I can honestly see any of the top four teams (as I've ranked them) winning this division and with fewer than 88 wins, too.
Chicago Cubs: Jim Hendry went and spent $300,000,000 this offseason. Whether or not that translates to a division title really depends on how well the Cubs beleaguered pitching staff does. He didn't exactly make Carlos Zambrano too happy when he gave $10,000,000 a year to Ted Lilly, but couldn't find the cash for the Z-man. (And who can blame Zambrano, really?) Still, they should have plenty of offense now to take a noticeably weak NL Central division.
--Record: 86-75; 1st in the NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright is the man I look most forward to watching this season from the Cards. (Yes, I'm well aware that Albert Pujols is their first baseman.) But this team is sort of an enigma to me. They could win 90 games or they could lose over 80. That's how inconsistent they are. I'll take closer to the latter because they do not have enough pitching after Carpenter and Wainwright.
--Record: 82-80; 2nd in the NL Central
Milwaukee Brewers: You have to like what you see from this club. There are tons of young hitters who could have tremendous years and lead this team to their first NL Central pennant. Their pitching staff has too many questions marks for my liking, though—most notably, their bullpen. Plus, let's not forget that Ben Sheets hasn't pitched a full season since 2004.
--Record: 80-82; 3rd in the NL Central
Houston Astros: Call me pessimistic, but I am not predicting yet another "heroic" (for want of a better word) Rogers Clemens return. Getting Carlos Lee was a great addition, but is he really worth $100,000,000? I suppose we'll find out sometime over the next 6 years. In any case, he is a great addition to protect Berkman in the lineup. The reason I see Houston missing the playoffs is the exact same one I described with the Twins—their pitching staff beyond their ace is average at best. And what is the over/under on days until Lidge loses the closer's job?
--Record: 77-85; 4th in the NL Central
Cincinnati Reds: It's a shame about Chris Denorfia. I was really looking forward to seeing him play a full season. Aaron Harang could be a dark horse for the Cy Young, but the Reds as a whole are not exactly pitching-rich. (Their bullpen is an absolute mess.) Playing 81 games at the Great American Launching Pad doesn't help matters, either.
--Record: 70-92; 5th in the NL Central
Pittsburgh Pirates: Dave Littlefield has to be driving Pirates' fans nuts (if he hasn't already caused mass permanent insanity in the Three Rivers area). They have one of the best closers in the NL, and they ship him to Atlanta for a first baseman who, up until last year, averaged just .267 a year. (Even after his breakout season, Laroche's BA is still only at .274 for his career.) But those are the kinds of moves Littlefield is (in)famous for. Need I remind you all of his fantastic trades of Jason Schmidt, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Young and Sean Casey?
--Record: 63-99; Last in the NL Central
NL West: I expect a highly entertaining race between L.A. and San Diego for this division title, with the Diamondbacks not far behind.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers may have the best pitching staff (as a whole) in the National League right now, headed by a formidable 1-2 punch in Lowe/Schmidt. Like their AL West counterparts, the Angels, they don't have much power, though. But when you have guys like they do, 3 or 4 runs a day might be enough.
--Record: 91-71; 1st in the NL West
San Diego Padres: It'll be scary to see how much Jake Peavy improves with Greg Maddux there to give him pointers. They are still going to struggle to score runs, but they should be in it until the end of the season.
--Record: 88-74; 2nd in the NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'Backs seem to be a lot of people's sexy pick to make the playoffs, but I don't see it happening. Their rotation isn't that good and neither is their bullpen. They should finish above .500, though, with Webb and a revitalized Randy Johnson there. Not to mention their ridiculously talented young outfield.
--Record: 83-81; 3rd in the NL West
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are my "Detroit Tigers" pick of 2007—meaning, I think they are the team that could just come from out of nowhere and win their division. Of course, for them to do that, they would need to solve that pitching problem that has plagued them for over a decade.
--Record: 72-90; 4th in the NL West
San Francisco Giants: At this point, they should just stop looking at telecommunications companies to sponsor their stadium and just find a good elderly care facility to put their name on it.
--Record: 69-93; Last in the NL West
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies
--In the running until the end of September: Padres, Cardinals, and Mets
NL MVP: Chase Utley
--Runner-up: Andruw Jones
NL Cy Young: John Smoltz
--Runner-up: Jason Schmidt
NL Manager of the Year: Grady Little
--Runner-up: Charlie Manuel
NL Rookie of the Year: Chris B. Young
--Runner-up: Kevin Kouzmanoff
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Derrek Lee
--Runner-up: Ben Sheets
Atlanta over Chicago in 4
Los Angeles over Philadelphia in 5