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2011 National League Preview

Opening Day is now less than a week away. Pitchers are going through their final tune-ups; camps are preparing to break and head north for some exhibition games in the big-league parks. Anticipation and hope fill fans hearts everywhere!

Last week I took my cut at the American League, so this week we’ll give the Senior Circuit a look-see. I think we are going to be in for protracted and dramatic races in all three divisions.

The Philadelphia Phillies (disclosure: I am a Phillies’ fan) made huge news when they stunned the baseball world with the Cliff Lee signing just before the holidays. The cries of “Merry Cliff-mas!” were heard everywhere Phans gather. It was an astounding and confounding move by Phillies’ General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. stunning the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees who were contending for the stellar lefty’s services.

Subsequently, bad news out of the Phillies’ camp in Clearwater regarding their nonpareil second-baseman, Chase Utley and their closer Brad Lidge have dampened the talk of 100-plus wins and utter domination. The Phillies still have tremendous pitching and fine overall talent, of course, and I will pick them to win the NL East, but not in a runaway.

The Atlanta Braves made a good run last year, winning the Wild Card in Bobby Cox’s farewell season; Bobby will now wait for inevitable Hall of Fame induction. The Braves made noise, grabbing big-stick second baseman Dan Uggla from the rival Marlins but it came at a price, super-utility man Omar Infante and smoking-hot reliever Mike Dunn. With the retirement of closer Billy Wagner their bullpen may be just a mite exposed. They will make another run at the Wild Card.

The Marlins and Nationals are both on-the-rise; the Marlins are playing their last season in a football stadium that has never suited them; the Nationals made news signing Jayson Werth to a seven year, $126 million contract. They will finish third and fourth.

The Mets, ah so much trouble has found them. They are in the last year of a lot of big contracts. Their finances are in shambles. Their ownership could well change. No joy in Flushing Meadow this season.

A month ago I would have picked the Milwaukee Brewers to win the NL Central, based on their signing of Blue Jays’ starter Shawn Marcum and their trade for the Royals’ Zack Greinke. Then Zack broke a rib playing pickup basketball and Shawn has a sore arm. So I’m backing the Cincinnati Reds to repeat as NL Central Champions with the Brewers duking it out for the Wild Card.

The Cardinals have a season of anxiety awaiting them as Albert Pujols plays the last year of his contract, and their stalwart starter Adam Wainwright is lost for the year. It won’t be a vintage year under the Arch.

The Cubs might surprise but most likely won’t. The Astros and Pirates have no hope whatsoever. The Pirates will be hard-pressed to not lose 100 games.
In the West we find the reigning World Champions, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants didn’t make a lot of moves, and said good-bye to post-season heroes Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria. They get Mark DeRosa back in consolation and youngster Brandon Belt has been labeled can’t-miss. They have the pitching to repeat as NL West Champs and maybe more.

I like the Colorado Rockies who have the talent to win the division but will certainly contend for a post-season berth. They signed young Lochinvars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez long-term. They have Ubaldo Jimenez. They will be tough.

The Dodgers, like the Mets, are caught in the midst of a financial crisis of their own making. A down year in Chavez Ravine looms ahead.

The Padres almost accomplished an astounding feat last year, falling by the wayside on the final day of the season. Without Adrian Gonzalez, it will get late early in Bordertown. Likewise, the Diamondbacks will be the caboose-team in the West.

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