MLB 2012 – National League Preseason Predictions
As promised, it’s time for Round Two of preseason picks. This time, we’ll deal with the National League, and who to look for as the standouts in each of those divisions (as well as the wildcard teams). We’re going to have a lot more picks for various contests throughout the season, but for now you’ll at least know who I think will come out of both leagues into the postseason.
This is probably the toughest division to pick a winner from this season. I say that because you have two teams (the Phillies and Marlins) who are capable of making waves in the division in very different ways. Philadelphia has the pitching and a little pop, but the Marlins aren’t far behind. After all the retooling Miami did in the offseason, they’re right on the cusp of a division title, if not there. But, I think when it comes down to it, I’m going to pick the Philadelphia Phillies as the division winners.
The Phillies are pretty much the whole package when it comes to a baseball team. They have a fantastic rotation, complete with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. That’s three of the best pitchers in the game in one rotation. Hard to beat that. Combine that with the fact that the team as a whole has amazing defense from all their players, as well as a significant pop on offense when needed. The loss in the NLDS last season wasn’t a fluke, but it also doesn’t detract from how good this Phillies team is. That being said, let’s look for the N.L. East to shake up as follows:
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Miami Marlins
- Atlanta Braves
- Washington Nationals
- New York Mets
Like I said, it’s hard to pick, because I think the Marlins are going to be a close second. They added a high-caliber pitcher in Mark Buhrle, a phenomenal shortstop in Jose Reyes, and hired one of the best managers in the game with Ozzie Guillen. I’ll be more shocked if they don’t give the Phillies a run for their money in the division this year. As for the other teams, I don’t think that the Braves will have the same kind of collapse this year as last, but I don’t think they’re able to compete for a division crown. The Nationals upped their pitching with the acquisition of Gio Gonzalez, but Steven Strasburg is trying to make a return from elbow ligament replacement surgery this season. That immediately means the number of innings he’s allowed will be severely limited. Whether that limitation ever becomes an issue for the Nats to either win or lose games remains to be seen, but it’s a huge knock against them already. As for the Mets, Reyes is gone, and I don’t think they have a leg to stand on anymore.
Thank goodness this is the last year we’ll see six teams in one division. The Houston Astros are leaving for the A.L. West next season, so maybe they can go out with a bang in the N.L. Central. Or, you know, maybe they can be at the bottom of the division one more time. Yeah, let’s go with that. Instead, let’s look think about who will win the division. The Brewers lost their big bat, but Ryan Braun won’t be suspended. The Cardinals lost their big bat and their hall-of-fame manager, but that team proved that it has a lot of guys on it that can really pick up the slack. Decisions, decisions. When it was all said and done, the Cardinals only lost the division by six games last season. Losing La Russa is definitely a blow, but the core team is still intact. I think that the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be the champs this year.
The Cardinals showed some amazing resilience last season, culminating in a World Series championship. Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, and Jaime Garcia are all still in the rotation. David Freese, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday are still threatening offensive potential in the lineup. I think that Braun is good, but the Cards still have that core World Series team intact and ready to take on the division. Even without Pujols (who, in all honesty, was only a force in one or two of the World Series games), the team can still play with the best of them. That being said, the division will probably look like this:
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Cincinnati Reds
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Chicago Cubs
- Houston Astros
The Astros are probably just hoping to take what’s left of their dignity and get out of the division ASAP. The Pirates made some moves this offseason, signing A.J. Burnett (who’s now out and needs surgery) and giving McCutchen a contract extension. But they’ll still probably be the same old Pirates and finish in the middle (if they’re not at the bottom). The Reds have been hit or miss in recent years with their success in the N.L. Central, but with both the Brewers and Cardinals bringing back their core playoff teams this season, it’s going to be hard for the Reds to compete. That being said, it’s tough to put the Brewers in second, but Ryan Braun can’t do things alone. He’s going to need the rest of the team to fill the gaping hole left by Prince Fielder. I think that overall, the Cards will be better, but the Brewers will give them a run during the regular season.
If there’s one division I know next to nothing about, and have had zero reason to learn anything about, it’s the N.L. West. Granted, I got a taste of the division with the Diamondbacks’ glorious season last year, but that’s about it. In an American League market in the middle of Michigan, I don’t get to hear much about the N.L. West. That being said, I’m going to make a prediction nonetheless, and will admit immediately that this is one that could be extremely wrong come season’s end. Now, with that disclaimer, I’m going to pick the San Francisco Giants to win that division.
The Giants were World Champions two years ago, and they weren’t that far off from making it back to the postseason last year. If not for a phenomenal season by the Diamondbacks, the Giants would have been there. They’ve definitely made some moves this offseason to help take the division, and still have great pitchers out there, like Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson. The team just needs to put it all together again, and this could easily be the year for that. So, I’m going to say the division turns out as follows:
- San Francisco Giants
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- San Diego Padres
The Dodgers and Rockies could be switched up in that order, especially since the Dodgers still have Matt Kemp. But I think all the issues surrounding the future of that franchise will take their toll this season. The Rockies were better when Ubaldo Jimenez was pitching at his best, but now that he’s in Cleveland, the Rocks need to come up with a Plan B, especially if the want to compete with the Giants and Diamondbacks. Picking the Giants over the Diamondbacks was tough, because Arizona did an amazing job last season, and I do not in any way think it was a fluke. The D-backs have most of their team intact still, and Gibby is a wonderful manager. I simply wonder if they can put it together 100% of the time for a second straight season. It seemed like everything went right for that team last year, and that’s hard to get even every other season. But, I could be wrong (and the Tiger in me sort of hopes I am).
I think, at this point, it’s pretty obvious who I think will take the two wildcard spots for this league. If not, then it’s the Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. Why those two teams? Because I really do think that Miami is going to legitimately compete with the Phillies in the N.L. East. And if the 2012 Phillies team is anything like 2011 (in which it won 102 games), then Miami is going to have quite the win total going into the wildcard race.
As for the Brewers, sure they lost Fielder, but the rest of the team is still there. The Cardinals may be more balanced, but the Brewers are easily able to take top honors in that division, or, if nothing else, take one of the two wildcard spots at season’s end.
So, there you have it. I have made predictions for both leagues for the coming season. I will post my division winner and wildcard picks on the main MLB Analysis page, so you can keep checking back throughout the season to see how things are shaping up.