Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baseball's Second Half National League Forecast

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-Digger's Daily-

National League 2009 races aren't packing the same punch as their AL counterparts (current standings). Philadelphia and Los Angeles appear to be locks in their respective divisions. NL Central is up for grabs as only 8.5 games separate six teams. Here's how I see NL play shaping up:

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES - World Champs have begun distancing themselves from the pack. Pitching is their weak spot and could be readily exposed in playoff competition. Philly would like to believe they're front runners for Toronto's ace Halladay. They'll need a closer as last seasons success story (Lidge) has been erratic. Phillies can put up runs in bunches. Rollins finally woke up after a miserable first half. East leaders by six games will finish the season ahead by no less than 10.

FLORIDA MARLINS - Marlins continue to churn out great young talent. Low budget squad proves year after year organizations do not need to spend hundreds of millions to win. Hanley Ramirez is one of MLB's best even when battling nagging minor injuries all year long. Plenty of talent to make a run at the wild card. It's been one month on then one month off thus far (April 14-8, May 9-20, June 17-11). They're not expected to win and this makes for one dangerous sleeper team. Keep an eye on these guys.

ATLANTA BRAVES - Bobby Cox has proven he's one of the games best field generals. Braves will probably finish somewhere around .500 unless they enter the trade market for instant upgrades as they fight for a wild card birth. Even if they do manage landing a gem it'll be tough trying to leapfrog stronger Central teams. Chipper Jones continues to be the heart and soul of this franchise.

NEW YORK METS - Everything has gone wrong in New York. First, their new ballpark has been absolutely panned by local media/fans for failing to recognize past and current heroes of Mets baseball. Second, their major stars (Beltran, Delgado, Reyes, Maine) have been lost to the disabled list. Third, ownership lost hundreds of millions in Madoff scandal. Fourth, replacement players have performed miserably. Mets are absolutely embarrassing to watch. The good news... Mets can't finish last while playing in same division with Washington.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS - On pace for back to back 100+ loss seasons. Only 3 bright spots for this team (Zimmerman, Johnson & Dunn). Pitching is pathetic. Already 25 games behind division leading Philadelphia. I'd bet they'll end the year out by 40. One of baseball's worst front offices for evaluating talent. Little to no future hopes in sight unless they were to play all remaining games vs Mets.

ST LOUIS CARDINALS - Tony LaRussa has done a masterful job this season in the dugout. On the field, it's been the Albert Pujols show. Pujols should be a lock to win NL MVP. Cards are showing other teams how to win when regulars miss time or underperform. Pitching has been the key so far. Franklin has been great as team closer behind gutsy performances from starting rotation. Central might not be decided until game 162. Cards prevail.

CHICAGO CUBS - Central's best team on paper. Most experts picked Piniella's squad to runaway with division. It's been anything but a smooth ride. Not bringing back 2B Mark DeRosa has been the difference. Up the middle defense hasn't been good (they can't hit either). Soriano & Bradley haven't done their share. Soto struggling through sophmore jinx is now disabled. 3B Ramirez return from DL might have come just at the right time as Cubs are beginning to show some life (July 10-5) after barely surviving first three months. Don't count them out from winning the division.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS - Hit or miss Brewers loaded with powerful bats. Huge problem is alarming strikeout totals. If this lineup was able to put baseball's in play on a regular basis ... ? Six players on pace to wiff more than 100 times each. Terrible baserunning team with no speed. Brewers short changing themselves from a ton of runs. Starting pitchers extremely erratic. Not a good combination. Halladay rumors beginning to take hold in Milwaukee. Talented team outclassed by St. Louis and Chicago. If Milwaukee finally realizes fundamentals of baseball win games regularly then they're the team to beat. It hasn't happened yet.

HOUSTON ASTROS - Look out Central. Left for dead Astros have been playing very well lately after starting out 20-29. Winners in 26 of 42 since June 1st. Bats are starting to wake up after sleepwalking much of the first half. They're one starting pitcher and one middle reliever away from making a serious 2nd half challenge. Don't count them out... but, don't go placing any bets either.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES - Current roster is more than miffed at front office for trading key players yet again. Bucs are only 8.5 games out of first place. Not too shabby for a last place team. Solid up the middle defense. Very good young talented lineup. OF Garrett Jones has been on fire since becoming a starter (7 HR in 13 games). Take away Snell's terrible season (2-8, 5.36) and closer Capps (5.81 ERA), add some pop at 3B, and they'd be challenging. Instead, it's been a disappointing season for Pittsburgh fans. Good news... Steelers set to defend NFL title in September.

CINCINNATI REDS - I was hoping Cincy would make a serious run. Injuries have sucked the life out of the Reds. Starting pitchers might surrender 30 round trippers each. Terrible ballpark offers no home field advantages especially when sporting a punchless lineup. Back to the drawing board. They slip into cellar by end of July.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS - Joe Torre's team has played strong all season long (NL best 57-34). They hit, pitch, run, play defense and win. Patient hitters keep opposing pitchers on the ropes. Manny Ramirez is back from 50 game bonehead suspension. Rotation is a bit banged up right now. Adding a quality starter will make these guys tough to beat in short playoff series. Dodgers control their own destiny and are hungry for a World Series crown. Tinseltown's best team in ages.

COLORADO ROCKIES - Rockies are back from the dead after winning 21 of 28 in June. Can they keep it up long enough to win a wild card birth? Never say never with these guys especially after their incredible run to close out 2007. Middle relief has been their achillies heel. Rotation has begun to gell and nearly everyone is hitting these days. Mile High baseball has become exciting to watch. Central division teams killing each other off in a wild pennant race offers Rockies chance to finish a few games ahead of next closest wild card challenger.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - Giants have been baseball's surprise team. Not many figured this squad would put up enough runs to win games. Lincecum and Cain have been a superb 1-2 rotation punch. Both are Cy Young candidates. 3-5 in rotation is very erratic. Bullpen has been excellent. .309 team on base percentage is not good at all. Lack of punch will result in Giants falling off the pace quickly as LA & Colorado remain hot.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS - It's over in Arizona. A few bright spots (Haren, Reynolds, Upton). Snakes will have to shake up this roster before returning to respectability. Dismal bullpen blowing late leads has been the difference. Look out below! Lowly Padres only 2 games behind.

SAN DIEGO PADRES - 1B Adrian Gonzalez was one hot hitter in April and May smacking 20 homers in 49 games. Seems like a distant memory now after hitting only 4 in past 41 and batting only .132 in July. Team batting average of .233 sums up their season. Padres have solidified themselves as cellar dwellar challengers for at least the next five seasons. Future looks mighty dim.

Projected Award Winners:
MVP - Albert Pujols (STL)
CY YOUNG - Dan Haren (AZ)
ROOKIE - J.A. Happ (PHA)
MANAGER - Joe Torre (LA)



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