1. New York Mets – The Mets should not lose a beat from last season having possibly 4 of the top 5 players in the NL with Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Johan Santana. Jose Reyes will steal 50+ bases and Beltran should steal 25 again. The Mets will need John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey to continue on their strong finishes from last season to fend of the Braves and win the division. I think Francisco Rodriguez may be the most overrated player in the major leagues and if he struggles at all in the closer role it wouldn’t surprise me to see J.J. Putz closing out games in early June. I think the Mets have filled in all of their holes from last season and should hold off the Braves to win the division with 95-97 wins.
2. Atlanta Braves – The Braves could have 3 Rookie of the Year candidates in OF Jordan Schafer, RH Kenshin Kawakami and RH tommy Hanson. Last year the Braves were hoping no one’s arm fell off when their pitching staff was devastated by injuries. Tim Hudson should be ready to return around August and give the Braves enough for a playoff push. For the first time in years the Braves have a deep pitching staff, sigining Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Japanse player Kenshin Kawakami this off season. Jair Jurrjens will take over the fourth starter role while Tom Glavine, Jorge Campillo and Tommy Hanson will fight for the fifth spot in the rotation. When healthy Chipper Jones is an above average hitter but Braves fans have become accustomed to him missing games each season. Brian McCann may be the best catcher in NL posting a .301 batting average last season. The one question mark I think the Braves have this season is the closer role. Mike Gonzalez struggled last season, but he will have a healthy Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan pitching the 7th and 8th innings. I think the Braves surprise a lot of people this season with 94-96 wins.
3. Philadelphia Phillies – I don’t think there is first five in a lineup I like better than the Phillies with Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Ibanez has been one of the most consistent hitters over the past 3 season and should provide some protection for Howard who homers, strikes out or walks in every at bat. The pitching staff is weak after Cole Hamels with 46 year old Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Joe Blanton. I expect Hamels to struggle this season after his 262 innings pitched last year. Brad Lidge was arguably the best pitcher in the league last season but I think the Phillies pitching staff struggles this season and they will miss the playoffs. I expect 88-90 wins.
4. Florida Marlins – Is Superman wearing a Marlins jersey this season? SS Hanley Ramirez put on 25 pounds of muscle this offseason and may find his way to playing 3B before the season is over. Rookie Cameron Maybin is expected to contend for Rookie of the Year honors this season and he should steal 30+ bases. The pitching staff will be strong with Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, and Chris Volstad leading the rotation but the problem will be who will play defense? Only one team had more errors in the NL than the Marlins and that was the last place Washington Nationals. If Matt Lindstrom can close out games the Marlins have a chance to reach last seasons total of 84 wins but I wouldn’t count on that. Expect 79-81 wins.
5. washington Nationals – .240/40/100 Recently signed Adam Dunn has been money in the bank for exactly that each of the past 5 seasons. He should hit 40 home runs again this year but it’s hard to have 100 RBIs when no one gets on base in front of you. The Nationals may not only have the worst lineup this season they also have the worst pitching staff. The lone bright spot is closer Joel Hanrahan who showed some promise in winning 6 games and saving 9 last season. Expecct 67-69 wins.