MLB preview: What to expect in the NL

Mets and Dodgers are strongest,power shift occurring in NL Central

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

David Wright

THE WRIGHT STUFF. All-world third baseman David Wright leads a formidable Mets lineup. The bats should keep them in contention while they await Pedro Martinez's return from injury.

NL EAST
1. New York Mets
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals

Forget the NL East â€" the Mets are a legitimate World Series contender. A solid infield featuring David Wright and Carlos Delgado is complemented by outfielders Shawn Green and Carlos Beltran. With Billy Wagner closing for Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, anything but a pennant will be a disappointment.

A young Atlanta team should be anchored by Andruw Jones and Brian McCann. Expect Jeff Francoeur to improve on a disappointing sophomore season, and for opposing hitters to be hard-pressed to put runs on the board against John Smoltz and Tim Hudson.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins headline a deadly Phillies infield, but excuse us for not salivating over an outfield highlighted by Pat Burrell. We’d talk about pitching, but they don’t have any.

The Marlins have the young talent to make a run, but Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis can’t carry the team by themselves. The adolescents will have to step up.

Aside from Ryan Zimmerman, the only good thing about the Nationals is the fact that they moved out of Montreal; at least now we don’t have to watch them on The Score.
â€"Malcolm Aboud

NL CENTRAL
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Houston Astros
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Cincinnati Reds

Albert “I might be 35” Pujols is still mashing, Scott Rolen is a ballplayer’s ballplayer and Chris Carpenter waited until he left Toronto to shine. The Cardinals, last year’s World Series champs, don’t have a very enchanting rotation after Carpenter, but St. Louis has enough pieces and knows how to win.

This offseason, the Cubs spent like Mark Cuban in Future Shop. They shelled out the GDP of a small nation for outfielder Alfonso Soriano ($136 million), then pilfered Cliff Floyd from the Mets and pitcher Ted Lilly from the Jays. Starter Rich Hill should emerge as a dangerous southpaw.

For years, Brew Crew fans needed beer to drown their sorrows. This season, they might be celebrating with hooch. The Brewers have a dynamic young team that can win plenty of games if it pulls it together. It’ll be exciting to see what Milwaukee accomplishes this season.

The Astros have a balanced lineup, but losing pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte is going to hurt. On the bright side, Lance Berkman hits moon shots and Houston fans can be curious about what new Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will bring to the table. Oops, wrong sport. You get the idea.

The Pirates have a young team which should gradually come together. Will it all happen this season? Likely not. Still, there’s plenty of optimism on the horizon â€" pitchers like Zach Duke and Ian Snell are emerging, and there’s lots of youth in the field.

Even if you’re playing for your hometown Reds, sucks to be you, Ken Griffey Jr.
â€"James Hayes

NL WEST
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Francisco Giants

The fellas in Chavez Ravine should be the class of the division. The Dodgers shored up their pitching with the acquisitions of Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf. Also, we haven’t seen a young stud like righty Jonathan Broxton since Dirk Diggler. Factor in a lineup mixing a potent brew of speed and professional hitting, and the wolf on top of the mountain in the NL West should be wearing Dodgers blue.

Winners of last season’s division crown, the Padres should give San Diego natives something to do other than visit the zoo. Young slugger Adrian Gonzalez should continue progressing, a necessity because of the Padres’ young infield â€" we think we spotted shortstop Khalil Greene and three-bagger Kevin Kouzmanoff at Jim Bob’s last week. The outfield will be in good hands with vets Brian Giles and Mike Cameron.

The Diamondbacks are a tough team to predict â€" they’re chock-full of young talent but largely unproven. In terms of MLB experience, shortstop Stephen Drew, firstbaseman Conor Jackson and centrefielder Chris Young are downright pre-pubescent. But these guys have a ceiling higher than the Sistine Chapel. At least this team will be fun to watch.

Rockies vet Todd Helton leads young tykes like rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Similar to the D-backs, Colorado has an abundance of young talent but not the non-altitude firepower or the pitching to keep up. Brownie points are awarded for Canadian ace Jeff Francis.

The Giants: hmm. Spend your time in the Bay Area riding streetcars, listening to the Grateful Dead or attend A’s games.
â€"James Hayes

PENNANT: New York Mets
MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Cy Young: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
Rookie of the Year: Troy Tulowitski, Rockies

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