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2011 MLB-NL Preview: A Cursory Look At The Season Ahead

April 4, 2011

NL East


Atlanta Braves:  One of the best acquisitions in the offseason by any team was Dan Uggla, who had a career year in Florida last year with his highest totals in HRs, RBIs, and OPS.  The lineup has the potential to be stronger than the Phillies, especially in the heart of the lineup with McCann, Heyward, and Uggla.  They have a solid pitching staff with Hudson, Hanson, and Lowe, but it does not compare to the Phillies (nobody but the Giants do). As a Giants fan who saw the Braves give away the two games in Atlanta during the NLDS based on poor fielding, I can attest that defense will still be a major question in 2011.  Chipper Jones at age 38 has no range at 3rd anymore. Uggla has been a below average fielder at 2nd for the extent of his career. Martin Prado is being transitioned from infield to left field. Nate McLouth doesn't have half the range as Andruw Jones did in center.  The defense and the lack of an experienced closer will  keep them from winning the division, but they are my pick for the Wild Card.  


Florida Marlins: Everything adds up to third place again for the Marlins. They have a young pitching staff anchored by Cy Young candidate Josh Johnson. They have the best young shortstop in Hanley Ramirez and rookie Mike Stanton could have a future home run crown after hitting 22 home runs in only 100 games last season.  If they are placed in one of the other two divisions, they have a possibility to contend, but they won't beat the Phillies or Braves this year.  

New York Mets: The pitching rotation is full of questions as Johan Santana recovers from shoulder surgery and the lineup is full of questions as you have no idea what you will get from Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, or Jose Reyes. I don't see anyway they finish better than fourth.  


Philadelphia Phillies:  The Phillies' rotation is shaping up to be one of the best in the game's history. When your number two starter is a top five pitcher in the game in Cliff Lee and your number three starter is a top of the rotation quality pitcher in Roy Oswalt, the starting pitching is as deep as any rotation in memory.  With the loss of Jayson Werth and the injury to Chase Utley, the offense production will take a step back, but the starting rotation will be what wins the East for the Phillies.  

Washington Nationals:  2012 will be the season that the fans will have playoff aspirations. And 2011 will go a long way in determining if those aspirations are realistic. This season will be all about the team trying to develop their young players like Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina.  Even with the signings of Jayson Werth and Adam Laroche, the pitching is still the worse in the division without Stephen Strasburg.  This team is still at least one year away from contending.  


NL Central
Chicago Cubs: The starting pitching is underrated. Carlos Zambrano was dominant from August on , going 8-0 to finish the season. They acquired Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. With Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells, that is a comparable top four to anyone in the division. If Aramis Ramirez can deliver in a contract season and Carlos Pena can be healthy and thrive on inferior pitching compared to the AL East, the Cubs could make some noise.  

Cincinnati Reds: Everything came together for the Reds on their way to the division title in 2010. The offense became a juggernaut behind a MVP season by first baseman Joey Votto. The offense is intact and is expected to be the best in the NL. The starting pitching did enough last season behind Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, but if they can't stay healthy or don't perform as well, there could be a major regression that could open the door for Milwaukee or St. Louis. 

Houston Astros: I had to look up their roster as I don't anything about the 2011 Astros besides Carlos Lee. Long over are the days of the Killer B's. They will contend with the Pirates for last in the division.  

Milwaukee Brewers: With the likely possibility of Prince Fielder leaving after the season is over, the Brewers went all in for 2011 and acquired starting pitching in Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum to go with their formidable offense that was 4th in runs in the NL last year. The defense will be have to improve markedly from 15th in UZR from last season. If the Brewers can acquire a SS or another starting pitcher during the season, they have a chance to win the division.  

Pittsburgh Pirates:  What happens first this century: The Pirates have a winning season or a woman becomes president of the United States? Let's move on.

St. Louis Cardinals:  The loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery and the lack of consistent offensive production behind Pujols and Matt Holiday will be difficult to overcome this season. There is also no telling how the Pujols contract dispute will play out in the locker room through out the season.  My money is on someone else winning this division. 

NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks: They are in a similar position as the Nationals, building towards the future by playing a bunch of young players. With the loss of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb, the Dbacks will depending on a young, inexperienced pitching staff that are not household names. Justin Upton needs to take the next leap and become a superstar instead of just treading water like he has done the past few seasons.  I don't see how this team increases its win total from 65 wins a year ago. 

Colorado Rockies:  The Rockies made a concerted effort in the offseason to keep their core players together for the foreseeable future by locking their young top two hitters in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to long-term contract extensions. Two things need to happen for the Rockies to win the West:  Young starters Jason Hammel and Jhoulys Chacin need to step up and establish themselves as surefire quality starters behind Ubaldo Jimenez.  They need to improve their road record as well after finishing 19 games below .500 and finishing 27th in runs scored on the road.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp will need to improve after a mediocre 2010 that saw his average, on base percentage, and slugging drop 40 points from 2009.  The back of the end rotation will need to be improved to compare to the rotations of the Giants and Padres.  Jonathan Broxton will need to become a dependable closer again.  If these things happen, they will contend.  

San Diego Padres:  With the loss of franchise 1B Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox,  the starting pitching of Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, and Tim Stauffer will be have to be just as good if not better for the Padres to have any chance of being in contention.  

San Francisco Giants:  Practically the same team as last year's championship team.  Miguel Tejada has replaced Juan Uribe at shortstop and Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Belt will play first base.  Many people believed that last year's team was a fluke, but the Giants will be contenders for years to come because of their elite starting pitching.  If the starting rotation can stay healthy and intact, with the offense getting a full year of Buster Posey and Cody Ross, and the possibility of a 2009 Pablo Sandoval, they have the ability to contend for another championship.  



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