I hope you enjoyed my (not so) expert opinion on the American League for this upcoming season. This week it’s time for the National League.
NL East Winner: Philadelphia Phillies
Pitching will be the key to this team winning the division. Halladay, Lee, Hamels. With the 2.35 ERA and strikeouts Roy Halladay put up in 2011, he continues to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. In addition to putting up big numbers his entire career, he proved he’s a big game pitcher with a no-hitter in his first playoff game. Halladay had 25 quality starts, tied for the team lead with Cliff Lee. Lee led the Phillies in strikeouts with 238 and a 2.40 ERA. Let’s not forget about Cole Hamels. Hamels had 24 quality starts and a 2.79 ERA. The Phillies had the best starting rotation in all of baseball and added Jonathon Papelbon to their bullpen. Point is they can pitch. When Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are both back around the All-Star break they should add offense to Philadelphia’s offense. Look for Hunter Pence to carry the offense.
NL Central Winner: Cincinnati Reds
This team has a lot more firepower than people want to give them credit for. There are questions if former MVP Joey Votto will live up to the megadeal he was given before the season started. Although he led the team with a .309 batting average and 103 RBI in 2011, he won’t be the big difference. The difference makers will be Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. Bruce had a breakout season with 32 homers and 97 RBI last year. Should he continue to improve, he may be the team’s biggest power threat. Phillips needs a big year to make money this offseason, as he’s a free agent at season’s end. He hasn’t put up huge numbers since 2007 when he had 30 home runs, but he continues to produce solid numbers for a second baseman and plays great defense. The addition of Mat Latos to the rotation should help, but the pitcher I’m looking for is Aroldis Chapman and all 106 MPH of his heater. In all honesty though, I picked the Reds mostly because Prince Fielder is no longer with the Milwaukee Brewers and Albert Pujols is not on the St. Louis Cardinals.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
This doubles as my reckless, crazy ridiculous pick of the year. Nonetheless, the Dodgers have incredible young talent. I see potential with the Dodgers and they have confidence with Magic Johnson replacing an inept owner in Frank McCourt. With the trio of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney this offense has potential to explode. Kemp was the MVP last season in my opinion. His 39 homers, 126 RBI and .324 batting average made him a serious contender for the Triple Crown last season. The scary thing is manager Don Mattingly believes Kemp can be even better. Ethier and Loney had bad seasons last year due to injuries, combining for 23 homers and 127 RBI, but have the ability to hit near .300 and drive in close to 100 RBI. Not only did the Dodgers, who only won 82 games last season, have a MVP candidate in Kemp, but Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young. With 21 of those wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts Kershaw was a great pitcher despite his team’s lackluster play. Give him some offense and he can easily hit 20+ wins again. Chad Billingsley is a capable pitcher as well for L.A. Watch out for speedy shortstop Dee Gordon to make a difference on this team defensively and on the base path.
Wildcard winner one: Atlanta Braves
The Boston Red Sox of the National League: of course, I’m referring to the Braves blowing a huge lead in the wildcard race and missing postseason play on the 162nd game of the year in 2011. This team, unlike the Sox, will go as its pitching takes it. Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy each had an ERA below 4.00 last year. Jurrjens, an NL Cy Young candidate last season, is the ace in this rotation and should have another breakout year as he did in 2009. A bullpen lined with Jonny Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel will dominate late in games this season. With the additions of Chad Durbin and former-starter Livan Hernandez to the bullpen the Braves won’t choke away too many leads. Also, look to the offense to take off with bounce-back years for Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward.
Wildcard winner two: San Francisco Giants
This will have to double as my actual NL West pick. Pitching will carry this team. Many people will find it weird that Matt Cain, the number two pitcher, will make more this season than ace Tim Lincecum this upcoming season. Not a problem to me because I don’t think it will make Cain take his foot off the gas, nor will it create a rift in the locker room between Cain and Lincecum. Cain was a solid pitcher with an ERA of 2.88 and Lincecum was his normal dominant self with a 2.74 ERA and 220 strikeouts. The big surprise in the rotation and possible x-factors in the rotation are Madison Bumgarner and the team’s ERA leader with 2.74, Ryan Vogelsong. Of course, there’s the mad genius that is Brian Wilson as the closer. Despite his crazy antics, Wilson is one of the most reliable closers in baseball and recorded 36 saves with a 3.11 ERA last season. Watch out for the offense to get a spark from the return of star catcher Ryan Vogelsong.
NL Cy Young Winner: Roy Halladay
Halladay is the hardest working pitcher in baseball. The 34-year-old pitcher from Denver has dominated teams for the better part of his career. Halladay was the runner-up for the Cy Young last year, but he had a 2.35 ERA and 220 strikeouts, both better than when he won the award the year before. “Doc” Halladay made the transition from the American League to the National League smoothly and is on pace to be one of the all-time greats in Phillies history; Halladay is in his third year with Philadelphia.
NL MVP: Matt Kemp
The boy can ball, what more need I say? He is the best all-around centerfielder in the game, a true 5-tool player. He can hit for average, hit for power, play solid defense, he is fast and has a strong arm. He’s improved each year since becoming the everyday starter of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s the face of the franchise and an ascending star. He’s only 27 and improving each year, he’s gotten off to a hot start (on pace for 88 homers as of Tuesday night) and is the leader of the Dodgers. If the Dodgers make good on my prediction and steal the NL West, it will be because Kemp hurt his back carrying this team to a playoff spot.