Guest Author - Joe Mancini
The National League has won four of the last five World Series and is home to the pre-season favorite for 2013, the Washington Nationals. Expectations for the Nats are through the roof, and with reason.
The Nationals racked up 98 wins in 2012 to lead MLB; no one will be surprised if they surpass 100. They have an unshackled Stephen Strasburg to lead a young and talented rotation; they have an emerging superstar in 2012 NL Rookie of the Year in Bryce Harper; they have no apparent weaknesses. Second place appears likely to be contested by the Atlanta Braves and the aging Philadelphia Phillies. I find most assessments of the Braves focusing on the acquisition of the Brothers Upton, while I tend to concentrate more on the retirement of Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, the weakened condition of perennial all-star catcher Brian McCann, the absence of All-Star Martin Prado, and now the loss of set-up man Jonny Venters. Yes they have Jason Heyward, Freddy Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla, but on the whole I find perhaps less than meets the eye. As for the Phillies, yes they are aging but if Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and newly acquired Michael Young can stay healthy, if Roy Halladay can reclaim some (if not all) of his previous form, and if Ben Revere and Domonic Brown continue performing as they did this spring, the Phillies are likely to be considerably improved over their 2012 results and will contend for a playoff position.
The New York Mets and Miami Marlins are disaster areas. Both could well lose 100 games. I find the ownership of both of these teams to be reprehensible; were I a fan I would withhold my patronage until changes are made. The recent treatment by the Mets of their one-time prize Johan Santana, forcing him into a career-ending injury by questioning his commitment and even his manhood is distressing beyond belief. Fie on both their houses.
The NL Central most likely will be a duel between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds; both teams feature dreadnought offenses and both have pitching questions, especially in their rotations. If they are to be challenged, it will likely be the Milwaukee Brewers doing the challenging. The pickup of starter Kyle Lohse at once bolsters their rotation and weakens the Cardinals; I like it. The Pittsburgh Pirates are tasked with just producing a winning season, and the Chicago Cubs are still a ways away from being truly the team Theo Epstein wants to present to Wrigleyville. All the teams in the NL Central will grieve over the loss of the Houston Astros as doormats.
The NL West has two of the glamour teams, the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, and the newly-flush and star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants somehow find a way to win, with stout pitching, tight defense, and just enough clutch hitting. The Dodgers, resplendent with gigantic contracts and the addition of Zach Greinke to the rotation, will try to find out if they have on-field chemistry. If so, they could blow past the Giants but somehow I find that unlikely. One thing that is for certain is that with dark days in the Northeast, the Giants-Dodgers rivalry once again will take center stage as the best matchup in the game.
Arizona Diamondbacks saw lots of comings and goings; they are a team being molded to suit their manager, Kirk Gibson. Gibby is their biggest star. They will finish third. I have the San Diego Padres, who moved their fences likely to no good end, and the Colorado Rockies, who still look like they have been hit with an avalanche, bringing up the caboose. The summerís drama in the Mile-High City may be whether or not it makes sense to retain superstars Carlos Gonzalez and/or Troy Tulowitzki.