Sunday, March 30, 2008

Opening Day Predictions - National League

Technically, opening day was a week ago, when the Red Sox played the A's in Tokyo. The games counted towards the regular season, but it didn't feel much like Opening Day. Even tonight, Atlanta plays Washington, won't seem like Opening Day - that's tomorrow, when the rest of the teams start playing for real.

Every year about this time I make some predictions and I'm usually only right about the obvious stuff. That won't stop me, though - it's just too much fun making the predictions. Here goes:

Division Winners:

NL East: New York - they aren't without their problems, namely that Delgado and Castillo are past their prime and the Church/Pagan/Chavez trio will be filling 2 outfield spots, but the offense can revolve around Wright, Beltran and Reyes and let Delgado and the others be complementary players. Their big upgrade in pitching (switching out Glavine for Santana in the rotation) makes them a lot better, although I am skeptical of Pedro's health at this point in his career. I would expect the Mets to deal for a starter at the trade deadline (although they've only got one big trading chip left: Fernando Martinez).

I'm not a fan of the Phillies - their offense will be exciting with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Burrell - but the back of the rotation with Jaime Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton scares me. The Braves, on the other hand, I do like. With Kelly Johnson setting the table and Jones, Teixeira, McCann and Francouer forming the heart of the linup, they should score some runs. Smoltz and Hudson at the top of the rotation is nice, and I like the pickup of Jurrjens for the middle of the rotation. Unfortunately, the starting 5 is rounded out by Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine, who both might be toast (although Hampton looked good when I saw him in the Spring).

NL Central: Milwaukee - I like this Brewers team a lot. There is no doubt that they will score some runs, with Fielder, Braun, and Hart in the center of the lineup. They are complemented well in almost every spot: Weeks and Hardy are young starts just notch below the other three, Hall has proven that he can play big (see 2006), and Cameron will be his usual solid-if-not-spectacular self. The health of Ben Sheets is always a question, but I am going out on a limb and picking him to get 30 starts and be in the hunt for the Cy Young. Add Yovani Gallardo, the ever-steady Jeff Suppan and the potential of Manny Parra to Sheets and you've got a deep and talented starting staff.

I dislike the Cubs on principal as a Cardinals fan. As an unbiased baseball fan, though, I think this team is poised to make a run. The NL Central, which was the laughingstock of baseball the last two seasons, will be an exciting division to watch, as the Cubs and Brewers will battle for first place all season and the loser will get the Wild Card. The Cubs upgrades over last season (Fukudome and Pie instead of Jaque Jones and Clif Floyd; and a full season of Geovany Soto instead of Barrett/Kendall) will make a huge difference in their offense (as would the potential switch of DeRosa for Brian Roberts, if they can ever finalize the deal with Baltimore). I am a bit worried about the possibility of Marquis and Dempster at the end of their rotation, but they've got some youngsters (including Sean Marshall) to fill in if trouble arises. I also like the end of their bullpen with Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood (converting him to the pen will save his career, in my opinion).

NL West: Los Angeles - I don't trust this team to do the right thing with its young players, but I think they will overcome some poor choices because they have talent across the board (Juan Pierre notwithstanding). Russell Martin is just entering his prime, Ethier, Kemp and Loney are young studs (and LaRoche would be if he'd stay healthy) and Kent and Andruw Jones still have some in the tank. The pitching is deep, too with Penny, Lowe, Billingsly and Kuroda starting and Broxton and Saito in the pen.

If the Dodgers falter, there will be a mad rush to take their place. I love the Diamondbacks young team and Webb/Haren is might be the best duo in the NL. If they aren't the best duo in the NL, then it is probably Peavy/Young with San Diego. The Padres problem is that they will rely too much on Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles to carry their offense. The reigning NL Champions, the Rockies, will also be in the hunt, but I am afraid that their pitching will come up short this season.

Miscellaneous NL Predictions:

MVP: David Wright - He should have won last year and I would expect him to be close to the top of the ballot for years to come. He wins this year as he leads the Mets to the playoffs.

Cy Young: Ben Sheets - The obvious choice would be Santana or Peavy, but I'm sticking with my prediction of this being the year that Sheets stays healthy and puts it all together.

ROY: Geovany Soto - Every fiber of my being wants it to be Colby Rasmus of the Cardinals. If Braun won it last year after coming up in May, why can't Colby this year? Colby and Jay Bruce will probably have better careers, but I'm going with Soto in this one because he will get more at bats to pile up the counting stats and his team will get more attention because they'll be in the pennant race.

Johan Santana: 17-8, 3.23 ERA, 242 K's - A very good year, but not a Cy Young performance.

Dan Haren: 15-10, 3.63 ERA, 194 K's - Haren might be the game's best #2 starter, but don't confuse him for a #1 (luckily the D-Backs already have Brandon Webb).

Kosuke Fukudome: .278/.389/.438 - He will adjust well to the United States and will be even better in 2009.

Corey Hart: .292/.367/.571 and 32 homers - a breakout year, combining with Fielder and Braun to bring the Wallbangers back to Milwaukee.

Tomorrow: the American League

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