Do you know how many National League teams projected to 90 wins given last year's results? Just three. The most predictable of these, in some respects, was the Braves, in that they win 90 or more games every year. Don't expect much to change this season. Atlanta is still the class of their division, no matter how many moves the Mets made in the off-season. Atlanta lost a great player in Rafael Furcal, but Edgar Renteria is a decent replacement, especially in the NL and in a city like Atlanta, where half the population doesn't even know they have a baseball team. Boston-like pressure in long in his rearview mirror, and he's still young enough to bounce back to the form he displayed in St. Louis. With all the youngsters now a year older, look for Atlanta to repeat. Again.
The Mets will win the Wild Card by default, after buying so much talent the last couple of years that Omar Minaya should be fired if this team doesn't make the playoffs. Honestly, his spending sprees these past two winters made me think that he simply has no impulse control now that he has a fat checkbook. It's as if he's living out every fantasy he had as the GM in Montreal, when he would fall asleep at night thinking, "If only I had New York money to play with".
The Phillies will be decent, in a way sure to torture their fans. Honestly, they'll hit the ball like crazy, with their bandbox home field playing a huge role, but their pitching staff will look the east coast version of the Rockies.
The Nationals are a bad baseball team (77-85 Pythagorean record last year) that got worse by trading away perhaps their best offensive player, Brad Wilkerson, and losing perhaps their best pitcher, Esteban Loaiza, through free agency. All they got in return is a wildly overrated Alfonso Soriano, a man who is less suited to play 81 games in RFK Stadium than perhaps any other everyday player in the major leagues. This will end badly.
The Marlins will be spending the summer auditioning for the good people of San Antonio.
Let's be clear from the beginning; The Cardinals will win the NL Central again. They are still the class of this division, and really shouldn't have much trouble in defending their title. But the Cardinals are not a great baseball team anymore. Their lineup is strewn with guys who have never been reliable regulars in the big leagues (So Taguchi), are still learning (Yadier Molina), are streaky at best (Juan Encarnacion, Junior Spivey), or have serious injury histories (Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds). Their rotation is topped by two guys with histories of injuries (Scott Carpenter and Mark Mulder) and rounded out with three guys who define "shaky" (Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Sir Sidney Ponson). Braden Looper, who was run out of New York after single-handedly torching the Mets bullpen last season, is now a key setup man. And there is little or no help in the high minors that can contribute this season.
In short, the Cards are one Albert Pujols injury away from being a .500 team. I don't expect that to happen, but the only reason I'm picking them to win this division is because none of the other five teams in it stepped up during the off-season. The Brewers' will be frisky, but their best pitcher is a health concern and their youngsters probably need another year. The Cubs seem incapable of investing money wisely or keeping pitchers healthy. The Astros lost their best pitcher, their all-time franchise player is likely to retire, and they made no moves to help a bad offense. And the Pirates and Reds are the Pirates and Reds.
NL WESTDo they still play baseball in the NL West? They sure didn't last year, when every single team in the division was outscored. The best of this hideous lot, the Padres, projected to just 77 wins, but lucked into enough that they finished 82-80, thus saving baseball the embarrassment of having a sub-.500 team in the playoffs.
Honestly, none of these team is worthy of much ink, but I'm going with the Dodgers on the theory that they did the most in the off-season to blow up their old, mediocre selves. Now, those moves were questionable in many cases (Grady Little? Nomar to play first base?), but I'm going to reward the effort.
NLDS: Braves over Dodgers, Cardinals over Mets
NLCS: Braves over Cardinals
The American league is simply the better league, so I expect that any team that comes out of the AL will triumph over any team from the NL. I also think the AL will win the All-Star Game and the overall season series in interleague play. The AL has won 15 of the last 22 World Series', and has had ten different franchises win it all in that span. Since I picked the Red Sox to emerge from the American League, they're my pick to win the whole show as well.