Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why to Watch 2011 - NL Edition

Well, let's see... I posted twice on this blog in 2010 and four times in 2009. I can't seem to figure out why it didn't become more popular... Anyway, rather than make promises to myself (and my hypothetical readers that stats reports tell me do not exist) that I am going to post more often this season or make excuses why I'm not posting very often (did I mention that I now have two daughters?), I'm just going to post randomly when I feel like it. Or not. So, with no further ado, here are the reasons why I want to see each National League team this season (AL coming soon):

Atlanta Braves - I want to see Jason Heyward develop - forget the Sophmore slump, this kid has a ton of talent and last year just scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing. I'm going to enjoy watching him mature. Also, the Phillies seem to be everyone's pick to walk away with the NL this year because of their rotation, but they better be careful of the Braves in their own division, this is a solid team from top to bottom.

Florida Marlins - I want to see how far Mike Stanton can hit a ball. This guy is a monster - he may not have the all around skills like Heyward has, but he may have more pure power than any other hitter in baseball. Also, Josh Johnson leads an underrated starting pitching staff and the offense has a few interesting young players to go along with Stanton and Superstar Hanley Ramirez.

New York Mets - I want to watch a team implode before my very eyes. There is talent on this team, David Wright is great and, if healthy, Jose Reyes is exciting to watch. But the pitching is awful (especially with Johan Santana injured again) and the state of the team is depressing. I am interested in seeing if Carlos Beltran can be healthy and productive again - he was always a lot of fun to watch. Also, will Jose Reyes get traded during the season?

Philadelphia Phillies - Well, this one is pretty obvious, right? I want to see Joe Blanton pitch. No, of course not, it's the big four in the rotation in front of Blanton: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels. If they stay healthy all year, the Phillies should make the playoffs, even with their newfound questionable offense.*

*Ok, here's the thing about their newfound questionable offense: I'm not buying that it might stop them from playing in October. Yes, Utley is injured to start the year and yes, losing Jayson Werth hurts. But it seems to me that this is the kind of narrative that happens when baseball analysts in the media have too much time in the offseason to consider a team. The Phillies looked like a juggernaut in January, but that storyline grew old quickly and now people are starting to poke little holes everywhere and reconsider their position. Take a step back and quit looking through a microscope: if the big four are healthy the Phillies will be fine. Utley will be back, Howard will hit homers (although he is aging rapidly and his contract sucks - I'm required to mention that to be a part of the blogger's union), Rollins will make a boatload of outs, but will also score a bunch of runs and the Phillies will find ways to win. Even if they win a lot of 1-0 games.

Washington Nationals - I guess I am most looking forward to the return of Stephen Strasburg late in the season (hopefully). Look, Ryan Zimmerman is a great foundation and there are some other intersting guys like Jayson Werth (overpaid, but still interesting to watch), but interest in the Nationals is all about Strasberg and Bryce Harper, neither of whom will be in the majors for most of the year. I am trying to find some positive reason to watch each team here, though, so I'll just say that I will watch to see if Rick Ankiel can resurrect his career and to watch Zimmerman field his position at third base (he's one of the best in the business).

Chicago Cubs - As a Cardinals fan, I'd like to say something snarky about watching to see how they'll lose this season. But as a baseball fan, I have to admit that I am curious to see how Starlin Castro develops as a shortstop. He seems to be fantastic with the glove and if he continues to be passable on offense, he will be a valuable guy. Also, Matt Garza's move to the NL could turn him into a premier pitcher.

Cincinnati Reds - I want to see if Joey Votto can continue his excellent 2010 performance. He unseated Albert Pujols as MVP in the NL and it took a mammoth effort to do so. It wouldn't be surprising if he regresses slightly, but I think he's the real deal. Also, I want to see if Jay Bruce can join Votto as a premier slugger. He's got the talent to do it and he could be poised to make that jump.

Houston Astros - I am looking forward to seeing if Brett Wallace can develop into a solid major league ballplayer. When the Cardinals drafted him it was clear that he wouldn't stick at third base, but it was always assumed that he would hit. The power hasn't really shown up and the hitting has been underwhelming, but I still believe that he can be a .280/.360/.450 type of a guy with 20 HR and bunches of doubles. Also, well, I guess I'm interested to see if Carlos Lee ends up with the worst defensive rating for a major league player in history.

Milwaulkee Brewers - I want to see Zack Greinke pitch when he is motivated. I saw Zack when he was a rookie and I was blown away by his assortment of pitches - all at different speeds and all plus pitches. Then, in 2009 I got to see Zack master his ability and become the Cy Young winner. But in 2010, he gave up on his team and his season because he got tired of losing. Milwaulkee should contend in 2011, so I want to see what he does when it really matters. Also, I want to see what Prince Fielder does in a contract year.

Pittsburgh Pirates - I am looking forward to watching Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon take the next step in their development. Both are exciting offensive players that can be the foundation for the first competitive Pittsburgh team since Barry Bonds left for San Francisco. Also, I am interested to see if the Pirates can crawl out of the basement and finish in fifth place in the division (I'm betting they do - ahead of the Astros).

St. Louis Cardinals - As always, I'm looking forward to seeing Albert Pujols. He's a free agent at the end of the year*, so this could be the last season I see him in a Cardinals uniform. It will be very interesting, though, to see what he does in a contract year. Also, I'm curious to see how the Cardinals overcome the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery. I'm betting they find a way to stay in contention.

*I am still of the belief that Albert remains a Cardinal throughout his career. That is the outcome that both he and the Cardinals want and in the end I believe that both sides will realize that there is more at stake than a few years or dollars. My guess is that Pujols will get some other offers and those offers will shape the outcome between him and the Cardinals.

Arizona Diamondbacks - I am looking forward to the emergence of Justin Upton. It must be difficult living with Ken Griffey, Jr. comparisons, but all of the tools are there. I'm not convinced that he ever reaches the homerun power that Griffey had at the top of his game, but he certainly could be a 30/30 guy that is exciting to watch in every phase of the game. Also, I'm interested in seeing if Stephen Drew and Chris Young (already underrated performers) can mature into star-level MLB players.

Colorado Rockies - I want to see the best player that most people either don't know about or forget about, Troy Tulowitzki. He is a fantastic defensive player that also hits for average, power and gets on base at a good clip. Also, I want to see if the breakout player of 2010, Ubaldo Jiminez, can repeat his success of last year.

Los Angeles Dodgers - I am looking forward to finding out if Matt Kemp will rebound after a down 2010. He proved his worth in 2009 after struggling to get regular playing time previously, but then struggled to follow up on his breakout year. I believe that he (as well as a finally healthy Andre Ethier) will put up a big season. Also, it will be interesting to watch the development of Clayton Kershaw, who could be a Cy Young candidate if everything works out for him.

San Diego Padres - I want to see if Cameron Maybin can finally put it together in the major leagues. This guy has the tools to be a good fielding centerfielder with speed and power, but he has flopped ever since he was brought up to the big leagues too early. Also, I am interested to see what effect Petco Park has on Aaron Harang, the kind of fly ball pitcher that might benefit greatly from the spacious park.

San Francisco Giants - Tim Lincecum is the main attraction on this team, as always, since he is Cy Young caliber year in and year out. However, I am really looking forward to seeing Buster Posey play. The young catcher looks to be a great hitter that really made a difference down the stretch for the World Champions last year. Also, I want to see Madison Baumgardner, the next stud starting pitcher the Giants have to go along with Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez (who I also want to see to find out if he can keep his walks down - if so, he is one of the better pitchers in the league).