I meant to get this up before leaving town for the Easter Weekend, but I didn’t so here it is now. Since these predictions come from a contest form I turned in several weeks before the season, I don’t mind sharing them even 5-6 games into the season. Of course, even if they weren’t something I locked in beforehand, my opinion would NOT be changed by less than a week of games. So without further ado, here are my NL predictions.
Philadelphia Phillies 90-72
Washington Nationals 87-75*
Atlanta Braves 84-78
Miami Marlins 81-81
New York Mets 76-86
Anytime you have Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee heading up your rotation, you are going to be around to make some noise in your division. Their neutered lineup is a bit of a concern without question especially with Juan Pierre leading off, but that rotation can mask a lot because even Vance Worley and Joe Blanton offer something at the back end. I love what Washington did with their rotation this winter acquiring Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to pair with their aces in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Bryce Harper, if ready and that’s a reasonable assumption, serves as a mid-season trade acquisition as I suspect he should be ready around June 1st.
Most of what Atlanta does pitching-wise is excellent, though I can’t have much faith in any team purposely giving Livan Hernandez innings. Their offense gives me pause outside of Brian McCann/Dan Uggla/Michael Bourn. The key, obviously, is Jason Heyward. Miami made some great additions to their team and while some are seeing playoff potential, I’m not sure they are in the right division for such a surge. Even an 81-81 record represents a 9-win improvement from 2011 which is pretty significant. It’s painfully obvious to say that Josh Johnson is the key to their season, but this 81-81 record has him staying healthy. I’m not sold on the rest of the rotation or their bullpen holding leads that the strong offense should be able to obtain. I don’t think the Mets are complete failure that many see them as, but again they are in a tough division to make noise in as a scrappy upstart. They will have some nice stretches, but when push comes to shove, they don’t have enough.
St. Louis Cardinals 90-72
Cincinnati Reds 85-77
Milwaukee Brewers 85-77
Pittsburgh Pirates 80-82
Chicago Cubs 64-98
Houston Astros 61-101
Sure the Cards lost Albert Pujols and that stings in general, but it certainly doesn’t decimate the team. Off the bat, they “replace” him with Adam Wainwright returning and Carlos Beltran coming in via free agency. Then you factor in Rafael Furcal at short for Ryan Theriot (Furcal had a better WAR in 50 G for the Cards than Theriot did in 132), David Freese in at third base full-time for Daniel Descalso (who had a 0.5 WAR in 148 G) and more production from Allen Craig when he returns from injury. Yes, the loss of Chris Carpenter and potential regression of Lance Berkman takes some of those gains away, but you could also add to Matt Holliday’s production as he played just 124 G last year and still managed 5.0 WAR. This team is loaded. Not to mention that Shelby Miller should be ready to bolster the rotation in the summer. Cincinnati could make more noise than this if things gel properly. I think they have a deep lineup especially if Zack Cozart pans out as expected while the addition of Mat Latos should be huge. I worry about the rotation outside of him as they could really go either way (well, except Arroyo, he’s only going one way).
The top of the Milwaukee rotation with Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke features two NL Cy Young contenders. They didn’t quite replace Prince Fielder as thoroughly as StL did with Pujols, but switching him, Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee out for Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez and Mat Gamel could be a net gain if Gamel pans out to a level commensurate with his AAA stats. The additions the Pirates made this offseason weren’t blockbusters, but they were all legitimate positives including Clint Barmes’s defense at short and a pair of strikeout pitchers in Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett. Can they score enough for it to make it matter, though? Outside of a handful of appealing pieces, this Cubs roster is a disaster. I sure hope Theo Epstein is planning on moving a bunch of these veteran pieces throughout the season, including ace Matt Garza. Houston’s move of Brett Myers to closer was a poor one in my estimation as they now need to find 215 innings elsewhere, but I guess they think he’s more tradable as a closer. I sincerely disagree, but I’m not in charge.
Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74
Arizona Diamondbacks 86-76*
San Francisco Giants 83-79
San Diego Padres 81-81
Colorado Rockies 76-86
The Dodgers winning the division isn’t based on their sale especially since I’m not sure that has a 2012 impact on the field. In 2011, they managed 82 wins (and 79 losses, didn’t make up a game) and were underachievers for all intents and purposes. They have two of the absolute best players in the game and they were peak performers last year, but even some regression from Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp should be offset by regression up to the mean for several other guys including Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley and Mark Ellis. The Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang signings were solid moves to shore up the rotation and the bullpen is sneaky strong, too. Not satisfied with their breakout season from 2011, the Diamondbacks went out and got Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel. Cahill was a great addition, but I’m not sure Kubel is a huge positive after the development of Gerardo Parra in 2011. They aren’t going 28-16 in 1-run games again, though. The return of Buster Posey and additions of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera should help the Giants offense, but it won’t make it anything close to reliable and they also have some 1-run regression headed their way after a 33-22 record in those situations last year.
The Padres might take a while to get going, but they are better than many realize in my opinion. The rotation is always given a boost by the home ballpark, but they have some real talent with Cory Luebke and Edinson Volquez as the 1-2 while the lineup is getting incrementally better especially after adding Yonder Alonso and getting Nick Hundley back for a full season. They were also rated as the best farm system in all of baseball by multiple outlets meaning reinforcements are on the way, too. I really like Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to come up during the season and replace the weaker parts of their rotation. It is hard to be down on the Rockies with two superstars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez as well as other appealing bats, but the pitching is just so uninspiring. There is some long-term promise, but I think they will struggle to compete in 2012. This division is regarded as weak, but I think it’s quite a bit stronger than many (any?) give it credit for being from what I’ve read and heard. At 37 years old, Rafael Betancourt isn’t someone the Rockies need to keep around for the long haul so if he excels in the closer’s role, he should be moved which would open the door for 24-year old flamethrower Rex Brothers, one of my favorite middle relievers this year. Yes, I have favorite middle relievers.
Wildcard – Nationals defeat Diamondbacks
Division Series – Dodgers defeat Phillies 4-2; Cardinals defeat Nationals 4-1
Championship Series – Dodgers defeat Cardinals 4-3
World Series – Rangers defeat Dodgers 4-2
MVP – Matt Kemp, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Hanley Ramirez
Cy Young – Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann
ROY – Zack Cozart, Robbie Erlin, Bryce Harper