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MLB: Predicting the 2010 NL Division Winners

I’ve already made my picks in the American League in my first post. Here are my predictions for the NL:

NL West – Colorado Rockies

I know a lot of people are on the Giants bandwagon, but I like the Rockies to come out of the NL West in 2010. Manager Jim Tracy brought a different feel to this club last season, and I see that continuing this year. They feature solid pitching, a strong defense, and an offense that can beat you in many different ways. All of those are ingredients for a winning club.

In my mind, the Rockies’ starting rotation is the most underrated aspect of this team. Staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez is becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League, and is fresh off the first no-hitter in franchise history. Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa should win quite a few games in the middle of the rotation, and Jason Hammel and Greg Smith are solid options in the 4th and 5th spots. If lefty Jeff Francis can come back healthy, he and Jimenez could make a very strong 1-2 combo. The bullpen is the weak spot on this team, especially with closer Huston Street battling injuries. Former starter Franklin Morales will try to hold down the fort, but the Rockies could be on the lookout for some relief help as the season progresses.

The Rockies no longer pin their offensive hopes on the thin air of Coors Field. The 2010 Rockies feature a balanced lineup led by stud SS Troy Tulowitzki and veteran 1B Todd Helton. Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Ian Stewart don’t have a ton of experience, but they’re really talented and will be counted on to produce.

The West race should be a fun one to watch play out, as the Giants’ pitching will keep them in it all season, but I like the well-rounded Rockies to prevail.


NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals

I must start by saying that I am a lifelong Cardinals fan, so this pick comes from both my head and my heart. That being said, I think the Cardinals have established themselves as the class of the Central division and the favorites to bring another title back to St. Louis.

Clearly, the biggest move for the Cardinals this offseason was locking up Matt Holliday to a long-term deal. I think it’s safe to say the rest of the division hoped he would sign elsewhere. The Cardinals boast one of, if not the most, deadly 1-2 combination in baseball with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Throw in Ryan Ludwick and rising star Colby Rasmus, and the middle of the order is looking very strong for 2010. 2B Skip Schumaker does a nice job of setting the table, and Yadier Molina continues to show he brings more than just Gold Glove defense behind the plate.

What sets the Cardinals apart from the rest of the division is starting pitching. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright give the Cards two aces at the top of the rotation, both finishing in the top 3 in the ’09 Cy Young voting. Right-hander Brad Penny signed a one-year deal to fill the spot vacated by Joel Pineiro. I think this was a great signing for both parties, and I like Penny to have a strong season. Kyle Lohse looks to regain his 2008 form and put his injury-marred ’09 season behind him. Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia, who won the 5th starter spot with an outstanding Spring Training, could make this a dynamite rotation if he can put together a strong rookie season. The bullpen could prove to be a weak spot for this club, but don’t be surprised to see a midseason deal if the Cardinals young bullpen arms are struggling come July.

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies

Going into the season, it looks like the Phillies are set up to make a run at their third straight World Series appearance. Perhaps the biggest offseason move of them all was the 3-team trade sending Roy Halladay to Philly from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Phillies had to let go of lefty Cliff Lee in the deal, but when you have the chance to bring in, arguably, the best pitcher in all of baseball, you go ahead and pull the trigger.

The rotation, led by Halladay, should be strong this season. Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and either Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick make up the rest of the group. I think one of the biggest keys to the Phillies’ success this season is a bounce-back year for Hamels. If he can put together a good season, he and Halladay would be a force come playoff time. The bullpen is still a question mark for this club. Closer Brad Lidge’s health always seems to be a concern, and if it continues throughout the season, I expect to see the Phillies make a move to solidify the back end of the bullpen.

Offensively, the Phillies can rake with the best of them. I think they have the best lineup in the National League, as there are no weak spots for opposing pitchers to exploit. Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, and Werth make up a very strong nucleus, and Placido Polanco adds another high-OBP hitter for the sluggers to drive in.

Wild Card – Atlanta Braves

In the final ride for future Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, I see him leading his team back to a familiar place – the postseason.

Veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson sit atop what appears to be a strong rotation for the 2010 season. At the 3 and 4 spots, the Braves throw out two very good young pitchers in Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Hanson, who won 12 games as a rookie last season, could emerge as the staff ace by season’s end. The Braves really need Kenshin Kawakami to improve on last year’s totals and shore up the 5th starter spot. Veteran lefty Billy Wagner was brought in to be the team’s closer, coming over from the Red Sox. If he stays healthy, he gives the Braves a real weapon at the end of games.

20 year-old phenom Jason Heyward was the talk of Spring Training, as he belted homers and earned a starting nod in RF. He will be joined in the Braves order by Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and free agent addition Troy Glaus, who takes over at first base. I like the top of the Braves order as well, with SS Yunel Escobar and 2B Martin Prado looking to set the table.

Overall, I like the Braves to win quite a few games this season. They will give the Phillies a run for their money, but I don’t think they have enough to overtake them. Regardless, Bobby Cox just wants one more shot in the postseason before hanging it up, and I think he gets that shot this year.

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