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Each year, I try to be a cowboy. Each year, I predict the Braves will not win their division. A couple of years ago, I was agog with the Phillies pitching staff, consisting of Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, That One Guy With That Pitch, Young Promising Guy Whose Arm Probably Exploded Last Year, and Other. Last year I was smitten with the free-spending Marlins, who added Carlos Delgado and brought a stellar young rotation back with postseason experience.

No more. The Braves will win their division every year. It has to stop sometime? Please. You have no idea how deep this thing goes. The Braves have a secret society that has infiltrated every level of MLB. When the Expos looked like champs in 1994, the Bravemasons set the strike in motion. When the Braves needed power in 2003, they bathed Javy Lopez in virgin lamb's blood, said a couple of chants, and set him loose.

Last season, Johnny Estrada had a spiritual collapse. Some players find it hard to forget the image of rune stones and charred baby bones scattered around a glowing golden ankh, and Estrada just couldn't perform. So, obviously, the Braves were able to bring up a 21-year old catcher with about 50 games above A-ball, and have him step right in to contribute offensively and defensively. Because we all know that trick works every time. Who knows what ghoulish ritual he had to endure, though it was probably some combination of "human sacrifice" and "spanking machine".

Every year, the Braves get rookies to perform like veterans, and veterans to perform like All-Stars. The rotations that have followed the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era of dominance have been filled with the underrated (John Thomson, Paul Byrd), and the bizarrely effective (Damian Moss, Russ Ortiz). The bullpens will rely on Spooneybargers, which is Lewis Carrolese for "youngish, hard-throwing guys who will succeed for a season or two with the Braves before falling off the baseball map". If you want measured, rational analysis, don't bother with the NL East. The Braves will prevail, and you won't want to ask how it's done.

The Mets are a good pick for the wild card. If they get too close to the Braves, the Bravemasons will somehow get David Wright addicted to cocaine, or force Ramon Martinez to take 50% of his brother's turns in the rotation. The Phillies aren't a bad team, and would win the NL West by 54 games, but the rotation looks thin. The Marlins might be the popular pick for the worst team in the National League, but I'm sold on the Nationals for that distinction. Ryan Zimmerman will be interesting to watch, but that's the end of the good news. Their general manager is a piece of sketch comedy that's dragged on for years, and the farm system isn't going to help with the inevitable injury problems.

NL East

Braves - 95-67
Mets - 92-70
Phillies - 88-74
Marlins - 61-101
Nationals - 57-105