This past offseason, there were many different moves made in an effort to reshuffle the deck by many National League teams. We come into the season with a fresh start and clean record columns, and come tomorrow afternoon, every team is tied for first place. However, there are some clubs who have proven themselves to be the elite of the Senior Circuit, and this year promises to be a true battle to the final weeks.
Despite numerous injuries, this Phillies team is still going to win games in bunches. With that starting rotation, how can you not? That aside, the Utley injury hurts the lineup for the first half of the season, but the hitters appear to be approaching another season with a strong spring to back it up. The most glaring loss is that of Jayson Werth, leaving the right field position to Ben Francisco. Also, the (re)addition of Cliff Lee makes this staff the best in the National League. The Phillies will have competition from both the Braves and Marlins, with the more serious threat coming from Atlanta. The Braves have very solid pitching and a good young core with players like Freddy Freeman and Jason Heyward. The Marlins, behind ace Josh Johnson, will win some games, but lack a bat behind Hanley Ramirez (formerly Dan Uggla, now playing for Atlanta) and the experience to stick out the late weeks. The Mets...are still the Mets. However, with new leadership in GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins, New York is building for 2012. Washington rounds out the division, with good recent drafts and a big free agent acquisition in Jayson Werth, but other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare. Washington lacks the pitching to contend in 2011, but look for the return of Stephen Strasburg around July.
Division Winner: Philadelphia 96-66
Runner Up: Atlanta 91-71
This division appears to be up for grabs. The big deals over the offseason were made by the Brewers, who acquired ace Zack Greinke and young pitcher Shaun Marcum. With Yovani Gallardo in the rotation, Milwaukee could very well win the Central on those arms and the bat of Prince Fielder. Chicago and St. Louis may look to vie for second place, as the Chris Carpenter injury will hurt the Cardinals playoff chances mightily. Also, the threat of Albert Pujols leaving at the end of the season could cast a pall over Busch Stadium all year. The Cubs are still another arm away from the playoffs, but could look to acquire a big name in the 2012 offseason. Division champion Cincinnati is looking at a challenge when faced with the task of winning the division. Their pitching was exposed in the 2010 NLDS and questions remain as to whether they can handle the National League superstar pitchers in big moments. The Astros are in rebuilding mode following last year's Roy Oswalt deal, and Pittsburgh is apparently still a major league team according to my research, but the Pirates are destined for their 19th losing season in a row.
Division Winner: Milwaukee 90-72
Runner Up: St. Louis 87-75
The National League West is often the weakest division in baseball by record, but in 2010, it produced the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The Giants will remain atop the division in 2011, with a phenomenal pitching staff anchored by young ace Tim Lincecum. Also, look for Pablo Sandoval to have a rebound year. Their rivals to the south, the Los Angeles Dodgers will stay in the race, but can the post-Manny Dodgers achieve as they did in 2008 and 2009? The Rockies look to also pose a threat to San Francisco, as a squad fronted by hurler Ubaldo Jimenez and newly-inked sluggers Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can play with any team in the majors. Arizona is a work in progress under first year manager Kirk Gibson. The Diamondbacks are also looking for a big year from Justin Upton and a foundation to build a team on. The Padres were significantly weakened in the offseason by trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, and no amount of good young pitching will save this team from finishing in the bottom half of the race.
Winner: San Francisco 94-68
Runner Up: Colorado 89-73
Philadelphia over Milwaukee
Atlanta over San Francisco
League Champion: Philadelphia Phillies
Runner Up: Atlanta Braves