Spring training is just about over and the MLB regular season is just around the corner. Technically, it has already begun with the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners beginning the season in Japan with a two-game series, but for the rest of the league it begins in a few days.
What exactly can you expect from each team in the National League?
NL East: The National League is an intriguing division. It could be a toss up between four out of the five teams.
Miami Marlins: The Marlins have improved drastically with their off-season additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano. It’ll a tough to beat, but the team’s post-season success remains on the arm of one person, Josh Johnson. If Johnson is able to stay healthy throughout the season, this Marlins team could go deep into the playoffs.
Philadelphia Phillies: We all know about the Phillies’ starting rotation. It’s one of the best in the league. The real concern is the team’s offense. With Ryan Howard being sidelined for the beginning of the season, the Phillies are going to struggle trying to score runs. This is the team that couldn’t overcome a 1-0 defeat in the playoffs. The Phillies still remain a contender because of the depth it has in its starting rotation.
Atlanta Braves: Everybody remembers the Red Sox and its huge collapse in the last month of the season to miss the playoffs, but the Braves’ collapse was just as bad. The team was made up of young players who can learn from their mistakes. They may not be able to overcome the veteran Phillies or Marlins, but they will make some noise.
Washington Nationals: The team will have Stephen Strasburg to begin the regular season and the GM traded for Gio Gonzalez to bulk up the team’s starting pitching. I still believe that they were a Prince Fielder away from really getting over the hump. The Nationals will improve from last year, but still aren’t good enough.
New York Mets: When was the last time the Mets were actually good? The Mets’ slogan for this year should be “Well, there’s always next year.”
NL Central: The NL central really took a hit in losing both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Who will take advantage?
Cincinnati Reds: After missing the playoffs last year, the Reds will look to get back on track and what better year to take advantage when the two top teams in the central have lost their main power hitters. Even though Cincinnati took a hit when its free agent signee, Ryan Madson got hurt in spring training, it still has a great bullpen. Mat Latos was a great pick-up and the Reds have another year to develop Aroldis Chapman,who will start the season in the bullpen, but has the potential to be the closer or work his way into the starting rotation. This Reds team has what it takes to win the central.
St. Louis Cardinals: The defending World Series Champions will take the diamond without Albert Pujols for the first time since 2001. (That was hard for me to write!) Without Pujols in the middle of the lineup, the Cardinals could struggle this season. Lance Berkman will do a fine job taking over 1B, but a team will struggle when its biggest offensive threat leaves. Good news for the Cardinals: Adam Wainwright is back after missing the entire 2011 season, which could put them back in line for another wild card berth.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are another team that could struggle without the presence of Prince Fielder. The brew crew did get a break when Ryan Braun‘s 50-game suspension was overturned. If that suspension would’ve stayed, the NL Central champions could’ve missed the 2012 playoffs entirely.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates had a great first half of the season last year, but after the all-star break they atescame back down to earth. The Pirates still don’t have what it takes to really take over the division, but it certainly will be a fun team to watch and root for (if your favorite team isn’t in the NL Central). Who wouldn’t want to see a team that has been bad for the past 30+ years have a good season? They certainly would be a great underdog story, much as they were in the first half of the season last year.
Chicago Cubs: It’s Theo Epstein’s first year in Chicago and the team is in complete rebuilding mode. Cubs fans can’t expect much this year for the lovely cubbies. Give Epstein a few years and the Cubs could become great again, but don’t expect the curse of the billy goat to end this year.
Houston Astros: It’s their last season in the National League before reuniting with Pujols in the AL West. Astros are continuing to rebuild. Not much excitement going in Houston. They are still years away from contending. It doesn’t help that they will be joining a division that holds the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, who look to own the AL West for years to come.
NL West: Another division that will come down to three teams.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks are looking more and more like they will repeat as the NL West champions. They have the best overall team and will look to get even better with their additions of Trevor Cahill. They are a good, young team and I don’t see them taking a step back.
San Francisco Giants: Did the Giants’ offense get any better in the off-season? Kind of. They traded for Melky Cabrera and will have Buster Posey back, but it’s not a huge improvement (better than what they had last year though.) If a team were to take down the Diamondbacks, the Giants are the team to do so. They have always had great pitching, but no offensive power to help.
Colorado Rockies: I like this Colorado team, but I also liked them last year and expected them to make the playoffs. Unlike the Giants, their offense is great, but their pitching is what stands in their way. They added Jeremy Guthrie to the starting rotation, which should help but I believe that they are still an arm away from being a great team. Look out for Jaime Moyer. Remember him? How couldn’t you? He’s been in the league for the past 50 years. All joking aside, what a great baseball player and it will be fun to watch the 49-year-old Moyer in the Rockies’ rotation. As long as the Rockies keep Troy Tulowitzki healthy and away from Ubaldo Jimenez (they will because the Rockies won’t meet the Indians in the regular season), the Rockies have a good chance to challenge the Diamondbacks.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Well, they finally have new ownership and hopefully that will help them in the long haul. But it won’t help them this year. The Dodgers weren’t able to get any better in the off-season and that’s a team that finished 11.5 games back. With everybody around them getting better and the Dodgers staying the same, there’s not much excitement going on in LA, unless you’re rooting for the Angels.
San Diego Padres: The Padres once had a great pitching staff and a decent offensive team. Last year, they traded away Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Adams. This year, they let Heath Bell go to Miami and traded Mat Latos to the Reds. There is no question that the Padres are looking to rebuild more than they are ready to contend. They have already begun this by acquiring young starting pitcher, Edinson Volquez.
Follow my blog to see what to expect in the American League.