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2011 National League Players to Watch

Last week we profiled some of the players to watch in the American League for 2011. Today let’s take a look at the Senior Circuit.

Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies won the Cy Young Award by acclamation in 2010, and Tim Lincecum of the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants won the two preceding awards. Both have to be considered as strong contenders in 2011, but a lot of people are looking at some new candidates to emerge.

In Baghdad by the Bay, Lincecum’s stable-mate Matt Cain excelled in the post-season in 2010, winning two of his three starts (all three were Giants’ wins) and not allowing an earned run in over twenty-one innings pitched. He opened his season shutting out the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cain is coming into his own, he has been a consistent starter who takes the ball every fifth day and throws over 200 innings. I see him having a big year.

Some others, like Fox Sports and MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, think that Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies is ready to fulfill the promise he showed in 2008 as he led the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Championship winning the NLCS and World Series MVP award. Hamels had a strong season in 2010 and the thinking is that on the Phillies’ prestigious and accomplished staff, he will flourish in 2011. He will bear watching.

The Milwaukee Brewers made waves in the off-season when they acquired 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. American League pitchers have shown they can dominate when they come over the National League, as Halladay showed in 2010 and Zack is widely expected to bounce back from a sub-par season, but he’s been slowed by a broken rib suffered in a pick-up basketball game at the start of spring training. Zack, at least for now, has ground to make up.

In Los Angeles young lefthander Clayton Kershaw seems poised to emerge into superstardom. “The Claw” is only 23 but his talent is immense and he has kicked off his 2011 season by outdueling Tim Lincecum of the rival Giants on Opening Day. If the Dodgers are going to contend in the NL West, Kershaw is going to have to assert himself and if he does, he will be in the Cy Young Award conversation.

There was no lack of drama in St. Louis in the off-season thanks to King Albert; Pujols, the iconic Cardinal of this generation, is entering his walk year, and there was no deal to be found. Albert says his elbow feels great. If so, he is fully capable of winning his fourth Most Valuable Player award. That, of course, will drive his already high price into the stratosphere.

Last year’s winner, Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, is also perfectly capable of repeating and he has a loaded Reds’ lineup around him that blends speed power, and coverage on both sides of the plate. Joey is a potential Triple Crown winner, as well.

The Colorado Rockies tied up their two superstars, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez for the long term, too. The Rockies are widely expected to contend in the NL West and if they do, one or both of these great players is likely to put up staggering numbers. Whether they cancel each other out in the voting will be anyone’s guess, however. They finished third (CarGo) and fifth (Tulo) in 2010.

The Florida Marlins have never had a Most Valuable Player, but many are picking young Mike Stanton as a present and future candidate after a fine rookie season. And let’s not forget the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. Buster is a catcher and premium position players are prized.

2010 saw a bumper crop of rookies in the NL; this year’s batch includes Aroldis Chapman of the Reds, AKA the Human Cuban Missile Crisis, Freddie Freeman first baseman of the Atlanta Braves and Braves’ reliever Craig Kimbrel, and don’t be surprised if a Giant repeats as first baseman Brandon Belt (great name for a hitter!) has made the team out of spring training.

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