Dream teams, disasters (we mean you, Padres) and Manny being Manny.
Just in time for the start of spring training, it’s time to make quick judgments and hasty generalizations about how the 2009 baseball season will shape up. Today, we bring you a quick National League preview, with just enough names and numbers to impress your Phillies-fanatic coworker. This time, we’re doing things a bit differently, with individual previews for each team. Also, be sure to check out yesterday’s AL preview.
NL EAST PREDICTION
1. Phillies: A defensive powerhouse, the dark horse World Series champs are the most powerful team in their division. That doesn’t mean they can contend with the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees just yet, but for now, they’re safe atop the NL East.
2. Mets: The Mets will forever be overshadowed by their more glamorous and successful sibling across town. Still, adding Francisco Rodriguez and amping up their rotation was a smart move that will make the other New York team a contender.
3. Braves: They’ve got the stellar rotation necessary to keep opponents at bay, but can pitching alone win games? We’ll see what Atlanta is made of now that golden boy John Smoltz has shipped up to Boston.
4. Marlins: When Dan Uggla is your most recognizable player, you know you have a problem. The Marlins are starting to suffer from “Mets Syndrome” to the benefit of that other Florida team. Don’t count them out just yet, but maybe it’s a little soon to call them in, either.
5. Nationals: Almost anything would be an improvement over last year’s abysmal season. Seems nothing can go right for Washington; when you’re essentially a sob story non-contender in your division, fans will start switching allegiances to the nearby Orioles. The only upside? Adam Dunn arriving in the capital. Montreal Expos, we miss you.
NL CENTRAL PREDICTION
1. Cubs: These NL darlings will fare better than their cross-town rivals this season, with names like Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden drawing big expectations. If the past has been any indication, winning the division won’t be a problem for Chicago “" but the postseason will be.
2. Cardinals: A team that definitely benefits from their division. Anywhere else the Cardinals would struggles, but the NL Central is notoriously unpredictable. Pujols is a powerhouse, put who else is worth mentioning in St. Louis?
3. Brewers: C.C. Sabathia gave this team a huge boost down the stretch last season, and his departure, coupled with that of Ben Sheets, will hurt their pitching staff, if not team morale. They won’t plummet without Sheets and Sabathia, but they won’t soar, either.
4. Reds: You can say what you want about the “new and improved” Reds with bigger names and mesmerizing offense, but this year will be just like all the others. Maybe next year will be different. Then again, it probably won’t.
5. Astros: Who plays for the Astros these days? No, really. With the names on this roster, Houston might as well be the International League Toledo Mud Hens. Enough said.
6. Pirates: A short drive west of Philadelphia, home of the defending World Series champs, lies Pittsburgh. The Pirates used to be the state’s premier baseball team, with five World Series titles and nine NL pennants. PNC Park, built in 2001, has been declared by many as the best park in baseball. But after massive executive and management changes a few years ago and no big-name players. things just aren’t how they used to be”¦
NL WEST PREDICTION
1. Dodgers: Much rides on L.A.’s ability (or inability) to nail down that money-grubbing superstar of theirs. Manny Ramirez is still holding out for a better contract, which leaves the Dodgers in a scary place. They haven’t done much in the offseason besides chase after Ramirez, but if they get him, they have a good shot at taking their division.
2. Diamondbacks: They’ve got the pitching many teams only dream of, with Dan Haren poised to prove his worth with another big year. A lot is riding on young players, which could be a good thing “" or prove disastrous for Arizona. But with three mediocre teams in their division, they should be able to scrape a second-place finish even without stellar production from their farm-fresh lineup.
3. Giants: Randy Johnson? Really? They may be relying on solid veteran pitchers, but this team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Tough getting to first if you can’t put guys on base. Tough luck, San Francisco.
4. Rockies: Colorado lost their 2007 passion last year, and losing Matt Holliday definitely won’t help. The Rockies are young, inconsistent and in the middle of nowhere. Maybe they can blame the altitude.
5. Padres: A sad team. We’re talking bottom-of-the-barrel, insignificant, not even worth mentioning sad. Just because you can drop a few names from their roster doesn’t mean they have any relevance in the NL West. At least their fans can jump on the A’s, Dodgers or Angels bandwagon.