The Phillies arrived in town on Monday night to kick-off what has become “Opening Week” for baseball in Philadelphia. Baseball used to open on a Monday. Monday afternoon to be specific, but that obviously doesn’t make any sense for television. Eventually we had a Sunday night game to kick-off the season. Now, we’re pushed all the way back to Thursday. At this rate we’ll eventually get back to Monday afternoon, and how it is supposed to be, but in the meantime the Phils have to labor through an “on-deck” series against Pittsburgh before things really get going. The Phillies start the season with more questions than expected. So many that it is difficult to pin down an exact forecast for their year. Their starting pitching remains healthy, though, and with that alone they should have enough to be a serious factor in the National League once again. Instead of wondering about what we don’t know with the Phils, how about looking at what they’ll have to get through to make their way back to the World Series…
Today a peek at the NL, coming later this week, a Phillies breakdown, some hopeless predictions and maybe we’ll even acknowledge the American League. First the NL:
Teams With No Shot: Pittsburgh, New York, Arizona, Washington and Houston.
Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s stadium deserves better, and possibly they are on the way up with the arrival of some young talent, but in a competitive division with that rotation? Forget it. Maybe you can steal Andrew McCutchen in your fantasy draft, otherwise, this may be 19 losing season in a row.
New York: The Mets remind me of an NBA team that is just waiting to start over. They’ll give you a nice song and dance about if Beltran and Reyes do this and that maybe they’ll bounce back, but that isn’t going to happen. Toxic culture, not enough pitching, they might not finish last, but they ain’t finishing first.
Arizona: Without Steve Nash, professional sports in Arizona would have no credibility. This franchise has been dying since they won a World Series a decade ago, and for the 2nd straight year they’ll be the whipping boy in an otherwise competitive NL West. If Justin Upton was smart, he’d stop whining about trade rumors and embrace them.
Washington: The Nationals have made some moves, but they are probably still another year away from even having a glimmer. Ankiel, LaRoche, Pudge-Rod? There is still too much of that 2nd hand talent around to support a pitching staff that needs all the help it can get. One more year until Strasburg and Harper. Until then, enjoy Jayson Werth’s .267/23/89.
Houston: How many more years before the plug is pulled on the Ed Wade experiment part II? You can talk yourself into a nice optimistic lather with Houston, but at the end of the day, Brett Myers is starting on Opening Day.
Not Enough Pop: San Diego, Florida, St. Louis.
San Diego: The Padres had their dream season last year and still came up short. Now, take away Adrian Gonzalez and replace him with Brad Hawpe. They are going to score a shockingly low amount of runs. Watch out Seattle. Too much heat on the young pitching to expect any real success.
Florida: The Marlins have that young, high-ceiling core to their line-up: Hanley, Mike Stanton, and Gaby Sanchez, but it’s not going to be consistent enough to make them a winner. I think Stanton needs one full year before he really explodes and the Marlins will too often leave a solid rotation hanging.
St. Louis: Hard to believe a team with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday could end up on this list, but that is about all the Cardinals have going for them. You saw the start of this last season and even before that in playoff losses. Not enough offense for the Cards. Lance Berkman? Come on. Depleted pitching as well leaves St. Louis in a bit of a downturn.
Too Many Ifs: Chicago, Los Angeles, Colorado.
Chicago: I don’t want to write any of these teams off completely, but a lot has to come together for them to be successful. For example, in Chicago: If Carlos Pena hits, if Carlos Zambrano finds some form, if Marmol finally develops into a dominant closer, if Dempster can be an ace…then maybe Chicago can make a little noise. But, that’s a lot of questions and they’d probably still be short on offense. Wait for the push for Pujols ’12.
Los Angeles: If Chad Billingsly returns to form, if Kershaw has a Cy Young caliber season, if Ethier can stay healthy, if Garland or Padilla can come off the DL and be effective…The Dodgers are probably closer than the Cubs, but also need a lot to go right and are a little short on the offensive side of the ball. They need Manny. Joking. Kind of.
Colorado: If they can get decent starting pitching from Chacin and Hammel, if Todd Helton can somehow contribute, if Tulo can have an MVP-type full season, if Huston Street can close…maybe the Rockies could sneak through in the NL West. The bottom line, though, is that the Rockies are just a bit thin everywhere. They could use one bat, one starter and one dominant arm in the bullpen.
The Playoff Pool: San Francisco, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.
San Francisco: The defending champs. What they’ve got going for them is the same great pitching staff and on paper, an even better offense. That assumes that Buster Posey will continue his rise, and that Pablo Sandoval will bounce back, though. And, the offense still looks like it could go cold for stretches. Their bullpen must stay healthy and they need big years out of Bumgarner and Sanchez to compliment Cain and Lincecum. That’s a lot of pressure on young and somewhat unproven arms. I’m expecting a bit of a hangover with this team as well.
Atlanta: The Braves added Dan Uggla to a lineup that needed some pop, and he should help, but the Braves still have question marks on offense. Is Jason Heyward going to improve? Can Freddie Freeman be the 1st baseman? The best sign this team has gotten is Chipper Jones’s great spring. They need to grind one more year out of their old workhorses (Hudson and Lowe) and they should be hanging around for another playoff spot.
Cincinnati: The Reds can just maul the baseball, and you’ve got to appreciate that. I don’t like their pitching staff. Their rotation is part young and part injury prone. Aroldis Chapman could be the key name on this staff. Is he closing by mid-summer? The line-up led the NL in everything last season and is essentially the same. Aside from Scott Rolen, I don’t see many guys who are in line for any real decline. Votto, Bruce and Gomes will hit a ton of homers. They should be fun team that could easily come out of the competitive Central again.
Milwaukee: The Brewers are a better version of a “what if” team. They have the big offensive guns in place. They made bold moves to try to improve their pitching staff, and if that comes together they could easily win the Central, but sometimes it is hard to just throw together a bunch of pieces. Greinke and Marcum are already battling little injuries, I’m not 100% sold on Yovani Gallardo and this team’s bullpen is a total train wreck. Maybe the widest possible spectrum of any NL team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they win the Central or are shedding pieces at the deadline.