The National League East 2011:
1st Place- Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Wins- 101
The Philadelphia Phillies had an amazing year last year, they led the MLB in wins, had Brad Lidge return to form and didn’t miss beat despite losing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for significant periods to the D.L. However when you add a Cy Young winner in Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to the two time defending NL Champs you don’t expect to get knocked out of the playoffs by a bunch of castoffs and misfits. The Phil’s watched right fielder Jayson Werth depart to their in division rivals Washington and lost bench depth with Mike Sweeney leaving but the news of the off season was Cliff Lee turning down the Yankees money to return to Philadelphia. The red clad four time defending NL East champs will boast the best rotation in the game as long as everyone is healthy and you can already start writing their names down for a fifth straight playoff appearance.
2nd Place- Atlanta Braves (WC)
Projected Wins- 96
Hear that loud clock in the distance, It’s the time running out for the Phillies dominance of the NL East. Atlanta maybe stocked better than any other team in baseball when it comes to young major league players who are ready to be all stars right now. The Braves will have two 21 year olds in the starting lineup, two pitchers under 26 in the top three spots of the rotation and a 22 year old closing. To help these young players along the Bravos still have a top three catcher Brian McCann (27) and added slugger Dan Uggla (30) from the rival Marlins, now in a perfect world he’d be Dan Ugga but few southern fans will complain about this when hes at the plate. All of the Phillies best players are on the wrong side of 30 while the Braves players are young and hungry to bring an NL East flag back to Atlanta. Philadelphia better enjoy having a slightly better team this year because with these Braves on their heels it wont last long.
3rd Place- Florida Marlins
Projected Wins- 79
Hanley Ramirez might be the most talented player in baseball, but he is also probably the most immature. Still Florida has placed all of their eggs in the Ramirez basket as they traded away the player who fought with Ramirez the most (Dan Uggla) and fired the manger who called him out on his antics (Fredi Gonzalez), who both went to the rival Braves this off season. For awhile last season the Marlins had the best pitcher in baseball when Josh Johnson was tearing apart the NL but an injury ended his season early and Florida was uncompetitive the rest of the way. Florida will have a deep rotation this season as long as Javier Vazquez returns to his NL form but if he pitches like Yankees Vazquez, their doomed. For the first time in a long time the Marlins have enough talent to compete but also for the first time in a long time, they are a team of underachievers.
Top Three Bullpen Arms- Leo Nunez, Randy Choate, Mike Dunn
4th Place- Washington Nationals
Projected Wins- 77
The Nationals announced to the rest of the MLB that they were ready to spend with the big boys of baseball when they signed Jayson Werth away from the Phillies for 126 million, however he wasn’t the only upgrade to a Washington team that looks like they could compete soon. The Nats lost Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, replacing them with Adam LaRoche and Rick Ankiel even still they shouldn’t suffer to much of a setback. So far the high points of the Washington franchise has been a typo on their jerseys and Stephen Strasburg’s debut against the Pirates last season, well with big time prospect Bryce Harper on the way the future should hold more moments hold like the second than the first.
5th Place- New York Mets
Projected Wins- 70
Meet the Mess. Cliché, of course but this team of underachieves doesn’t really deserve better. New York has one of the highest payrolls in the game but no starting catcher, no idea who is going to play second, and no legitimate number one pitcher. Their huge 66 million dollar import from last season hit only 6 homers, the closer they are paying a ridiculous amount of money two had to be kicked off the team last season for punching his step dad, and the hope of any terrible team, the minor league system is tapped. In a division with the Phillies, Braves, and even the Nationals; the Mets are going to be lucky in the future to keep to stay out of the cellar for the next couple of years.
The National League Central 2011:
1st Place- Milwaukee Brewers
Projected Wins- 92
Quick what do the NL Central and NFC South have in common? Both divisions have a different winner each year, and 2011 wont be any different in baseball version. The Brew Crew made the biggest trade of the off season but instead of shipping away slugging first baseman Prince Fielder like everyone expected they kept the huge vegetarian and decided to go all in by paying the price for ace Zack Greinke and solid number three guy Shaun Marcum. Milwaukee still has a deep offensive attack led for one more year by Prince Fielder, underrated superstar Ryan Braun, power hitters Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, Corey Hart and speed merchant Carlos Gomez. The Brewers know that they have a small window to compete for a championship with this core and this sense of urgency will help keep them sharp all season.
2nd Cincinnati Reds
Projected Wins- 88
Which was more surprising last season, that Cincinnati came back from the dead after an on field fight with the Cardinals or that they got no hit in playoff match up with Roy Halladay. The Reds have a core with NL MVP Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Scott Rolen in the lineup and a five starting that while no one would compare to Philadelphia or San Francisco is above average. The Reds also posses perhaps the most intriguing pitcher west of Washington in lefthander Aroldis Chapman who will probably start the season in the bullpen but could easily force his way into the starting five with his 103 MPH fastball. Cincinnati will once again be a very good team and if any of the Brewers top pitchers falter look for the Reds to raise to be in the best position to take advantage.
Top Three Bullpen Arms- Francisco Cordero, Aroldis Chapman, Nick Masset
3rd Place- Chicago Cubs
Projected Wins- 84
The Cubs have been a huge disappointment the past couple of years when they have had the pressures of a huge payroll and back to back playoff appearances, but now coming off a 75 win season no one on the South Side is really thinking of the postseason. Chicago really doesn’t have a chance to end their 103 year World Series drought this year but they do have the chance to be a very good team and even challenge the Reds and Brewers for the division title if everything goes well for them. They have a very good bullpen and decent enough starting pitching to scare most of the top teams but an old lineup with two many question marks will be their undoing.
4th Place- St. Louis Cardinals
Projected Wins- 81
When the news hit that ace Adam Wainwright would be lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery the hopes of the 2011 Cardinals went under the knife with him. St. Louis is now forced to rely on how long Cris Carpenter can stay in one piece and might trade away the few prospects they have left in a desperate attempt to keep Albert Pujols which could backfire and sink this team for the long term. No team was in a worst position to deal with an injury to one of their stars than the Cards who now look like team lost between a rebuilding and an all in, think of the Astros in 2006. St. Louis will have a decent to pretty good lineup and pitching staff but will probably be undone by what looks like the MLB’s worst defense, this team will get to .500 just because of having Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday but wont be any better.
5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
Projected Wins- 66
Eighteen. Consecutive. Losing. Seasons. Really there is nothing left to write about the Pirates that means anything compared to eighteen consecutive losing seasons. The Pirates have a few interesting players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker who should go on and have long and productive careers in some other city while Pittsburgh works on losing season 20 or 25 still unable to realize to win you need to keep your at least some of your stars. If you were to build a team of players let go by the Pirates during this stretch of horrible baseball you could build an all star group that would compete with the Yankees and Red Sox but instead eighteen consecutive losing seasons.
6th Place- Houston Astros
Projected Wins- 62
The Houston Astros finally decided that it was the time to rebuild, just in time to become one of the worst teams in the National League. I know the Giants won the World Series with a bunch of castoffs and misfits but Houston will boast a pitiful offense this year around a slightly below average pitching staff in their quest to not lose 100 games. The Astros do have two interesting pieces in RF Hunter Pence and first baseman Brett Wallace but beside those two and injured catcher Jason Castro no one really else fit’s the bill as a guy to keep an eye on. Bourn strikeouts a ton for a speed guy, Lee has fallen off the side of a mountain, and Hall is much better when he’s being used off the bench. If you think it was bad last year you haven’t seen anything yet for the NL half of the lone star state.
The National League West 2011:
1st Place- San Francisco Giants
Projected Wins- 96
On November 1st, 2010 the torture of being a San Francisco Giants fan ended. I cried when Brian Wilson threw a fastball high and inside to Nelson Cruz, proving that despite what Tom Hanks says, there is crying in baseball. The 2010 Giants weren’t supposed to win the World Series, they weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the World Series. They built their team on the run, on July 30th Pat Burrell hit a homerun against the Dodgers that would give the Giants a 2-1 win, it was the last Giants game I watched in the bay area. On Wednesday November 3rd I attended the Giants victory parade and caught several rally rags. Any Giants fan will tell you about all the pain we endured bleeding black and orange; Game 6, The Marlins twice, Steve Finley’s grand slam, Game 6, Charlie Hayes against the Cubs in ‘98, The Mets in 2000, Game 6, but on November 1st, 2010 all that mattered was a bunch of Castoffs and Misfits and stunned the baseball world. Wilson’s fastball high and inside to Nelson Cruz.
2nd Place- Colorado Rockies
Projected Wins- 89
The Rockies actually had a disappointing season last year when everything was said and done as they won only 83 times down from 92 the year before. Still the Rockies believe they have a winner already in place in the Mile High city and locked down both their major offensive pieces shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez while the only additions were second baseman Jose Lopez and utility player Ty Wigginton. The Rockies will count on a good rotation, solid bullpen and pray that their role players can play like stars. Colorado will be a very good team in 2011 however unless the Giants suffer a major pitching injury it looks like the black and purple just don’t measure up to the black and orange.
3rd Place- San Diego Padres
Projected Wins- 85
The surprise team of 2010, when I wrote my review last year I didn’t see a way they could avoid 100 loses, they fell just 10 short of 100 wins. San Diego faced a very difficult decision this off season, attempt a run at a division crown with slugger Adrian Gonzalez then lose him for draft picks or trade him now and restock a depleted minor league system. Well much to the pain of fans who had been reenergized by the great play of their Padres in 2010, economics ruled the day and Gonzalez was traded to Boston for an impressive package but no major league return. Still its not all doom and gloom for a team that actually might be better all around with several other additions but in a tough division can the hack and run Padres back their amazing pitchers enough to challenge for a playoff berth again?
4th Place- Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Wins- 84
The Los Angeles Dodgers had a bad year last year. The under performed to the point that they fell below .500, had their hall of fame manager retire, have legitimate questions about if their closer and best offensive weapon are really guys you can depend on long term, became a joke when their owners got divorced and the cherry to top it all, the team by the bay, their arch rivals became champions of the baseball world. The list of things that went right reads like this: Clayton Kershaw and,…umm, err, dodger dogs? Two years in a row the Dodgers went to the NL Championship series and now the only thing they can bank on is that the McCourts divorce will be the head line until they are sold.
5th Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
Projected Wins- 63
When former Padres GM Kevin Towers took over the Diamondbacks he promised to do two things, improve the NL’s worst bullpen and change the hack-away approach at the plate. Well you could argue he did both in one move when he dealt third baseman Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. He then added former closer J.J. Putz from the White Sox and even got around to adding a few pieces to help the offense in Xavier Nady and Melvin Mora. However while all those moves are nice the face remains that a team that only won 65 games a year ago is probably still in the same place their were. The chairs have been rearranged but the D-Backs are still sinking with no hope in sight.
Top Three Bullpen Arms- J.J. Putz, Jose Gutierrez, David Hernandez