Most of the excitement in the National League this Opening Week has centered on the re-tooled Miami Marlins, with their new payroll, new stars, and new stadium that may finally enable them to establish a committed fan base in South Florida.
National League East: many like the Marlinsí chances of ending the Philadelphia Philliesí five-year run as Beasts of the East. Adding the likes of starter Mark Buerhle and closer Heath Bell and NL Batting Champion Jose Reyes to a young core featuring ace Josh Johnson and staff-mate Anibel Sanchez, and sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez with former Batting Champ Hanley Ramirez and putting Ozzie Guillen, the colorful former Marlinsí coach and White Sox Manager in charge make them an attractive pick to win their first ever division title. They will be better but I donít know if they will be 20+ games better than in 2011. I am going to pick them to finish second and claim the first Wild Card spot. Yes the Phillies are aging and lack their core sluggers in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but they still have outstanding pitching and good defense, and if they can hang on until Utley and Howard return (maybe Memorial Day), then I think they will claim the East. The Washington Nationals continue to improve and will break the .500 barrier for the first time during their latest incarnation. The Atlanta Braves, shackled by a now-obsolete TV deal that will hinder their ability to spend for the next two decades, look to be fourth. The New York Madoffs, er Mets, have finally resolved the worst of their financial liability problems but can only lurch forward from here. They need new ownership, and in light of the Dodgers ridiculous sale price, would easily command over $1.5 billion.
National League Central: What a wonderful ride for a fortunate franchise 2011 was! The St. Louis Cardinals are now faced with the lost of their iconic superstar, Albert Pujols, their legendary manager, Tony LaRussa, and their ace pitcher, Chris Carpenter. The best news for them is that their closest competitors, the Milwaukee Brewers, also lost their iconic superstar, Prince Fielder. That means the Cardinals reclaim the division crown and the Brewers finish second, unless the Cincinnati Reds can resolve the loss of their new closer Ryan Madson and make the most of acquisitions Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. It wasnít that long ago that the Reds were being hailed as long-term leaders of the Central. I say the Brew Crew finishes second, the Reds third, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros, in their farewell to the National League, bringing up the rear.
National League West: The 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants found their 2011 campaign on the rocks after the loss of Rookie of the Year catcher Buster Posey. Buster is back, the offense still stinks, but the pitching with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgardner and Brian Wilson as the closer is superb. They will reclaim their divisional crown. The Arizona Diamondbacks made great strides and battled the Brewers to a five-game set in the NLDS, they are going to finish second and claim a Wild Card spot. The NL Wild Card play-in between the Marlins and D-backs will have distinct undercard status to the AL heavyweight match I predicted last week between the Yankees and Angels. The Los Angeles Dodgers now have new owners led by the Mage of LA himself, Ervin Johnson, plus MVP runner-up Matt Kemp and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, but donít be surprised there is a lot of residual bad feelings among the fans and the Dodgers look to be maybe an 85-win team. The Colorado Rockies canít pitch and the San Diego canít hit, so look for one of them to finish fourth and the other, fifth.