Thursday, April 4, 2013

Beasts of the National League

Here's Part II of who I think the best team in each division in the National League.

National League East
 If yesterday's performance of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg is any indication, the Washington Nationals and their fans are having dreams of October World Series baseball in Washington D.C. This team was loaded last season and as hard as it is to believe they actually improved themselves. Gone is Michael Morse in a trade with the Oakland A's right-hander A.J. Cole (who was the pitching prospect of the trade that brought Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A’s to the Nationals). Added is Denard Span who will give veteran support to an outfield that is made up by phenom Bryce Harper and the bearded wonder Jason Werth. The Infield is anchored by Adam LaRoche who resigned with the Nationals after a career season along with Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinoza and Ian Desmond. Mid Season acquisition Kurt Suzuki will be manning the rotation from behind the plate.

If the starting rotation was good last season behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman it will only get better with the addition of Dan Haren. Haren comes over from the American League with something to prove. If he can stay healthy, this gives the Nats a formidable four man front. Ross Detwiller seems to be the fifth starter for now.

Where the Nats seemed to improve the most was with the signing of Rafael Soriano to be the closer. Soriano shined in his opportunity to close for the New York Yankees last season and will be backed up by 8th inning man Tyler Clippard and former closer Drew Storen.

With the innings cap removed from Strasburg and with Bryce Harper continuing to mature into the dominant player that many think he will be, the only real opponent the Nationals might have is themselves.

- 2013 Washington Nationals Projected Lineup

National League Central
The Reds will try to rebound from last season's collapse in the NLDS by once again winning the National League Central division. The team led by franchise player Joey Votto will be a dominant force in the NL. Backed up by Brandon Phillips, Shin Soo Choo, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazer, the Reds lineup is able to quickly pile up runs on opposing pitching. Ryan Ludwick is also a part of the force but after yesterday's injury to his shoulder while sliding into 3rd base, it remains to see if they lose him for a significant amount of time.

The rotation is headed by Johnny Cueto with Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. The team finally ended the experiment of Aroldis Chapman becoming a starter by definitively stating that he will be the closer. Enough is enough. Leave him in the pen where he belongs. He will be backed up by free agent signing Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall and Jose Arredondo.

Dusty Baker has himself a well rounded squad that barring injury should make quick work of the National League Central

- 2013 Cincinnati Reds Projected Lineup

National League West
The San Francisco Giants have quietly put together what you might call a dynasty for today's modern game with two World Series titles in the last three seasons with a young group of players who seem to be destined to play together for years to come. Led by NL MVP Buster Posey the Giants are the team to beat in the NL West. The youth of this team can be seen with their infield of Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval on the corners and Brandon Crawford at short. Veteran Marco Scutaro will be the everyday 2nd baseman for the Giants this season after having injury prone disappointment Freddy Sanchez at 2nd.

The outfield is led by Angel Pagan, who I have stated in my post Angel Pagan Esta Encendido (from my other  Baseball blogpage Latinoball) will have a breakout season based on the way he played last season and in this year's World Baseball Classic. Joining him is Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and the returning Andres Torres who spent a disappointing season with the New York Mets.

The rotation is the backbone that this team is built on. Led by Matt Cain, the rotation is made up of Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Baumgarner and the rejuvinated Barry Zito. I mean no disrespect whatsoever to two time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum by not listing in above or next to Cain. But it seems that his troubles from last season (post season domination notwithstanding) seem to have carried over into this season. Coming into his final year of 2-year $40.5-million dollar deal there have been some rumors that he might not be with the Giants after this season. Though I would say losing Lincecum would be a mistake, if he doesn't pitch up to the standard that he established in the past his days in San Francisco might be numbered.

The closer role is Sergio Romo's with the seemingly upset Brian Wilson out of the picture. Wilson was not offered a contract by the Giants after only pitching one game for the Giants last season and season ending Tommy John surgery. Wilson rejected the team's minor league contract overture and remains a free agent. Backing up Romo is last year's bullpen group of Santiago Casilla, Ramon Ramirez, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.

As I have told many people in the last few weeks, the San Francisco Giants (and the Tampa Bay Rays to a lesser degree due to a lack of financial resources that the Giants have) are building the team in the proper way. They are building from within, locking in those homegrown players and filling the blanks with timely trades and budget free agent signings. This method will prove to be main reason the Giants keep winning titles.

- 2013 San Francisco Giants Projected Lineup

Just a few points on the rest of the National League. In the East, there is only one real threat to the Nationals and that's the Atlanta Braves. Though the addition of the Upton brothers will definitely help ease the loss of Chipper Jones to retirement I'm not sure that is enough to match up toe to toe with the Nats. They need Dan Uggla to have a rebound season in order to have a chance. The Phillies are slowing down as the seasons go by falling into the same kind of pattern as the Yankees have with the reliance on primarily older veteran players. The Mets are in a positive rebuilding mode and their young players will get considerate playing time this season that will help separate those who are ready for the big leagues from those who aren't. The Marlins? Let's just say that Giancarlo Stanton can't do it all on his own.

In the Central, the St. Louis Cardinals are always a threat. The injury to David Freese and the loss of Chris Carpenter might loom large, as well as the loss of Kyle Loshe to division rival Milwaukee Brewers. Speaking of the Brewers, they seem to be stuck in a homing pattern of sorts. I'm not sure they are ready to make the next step. The Pittsburgh Pirates are still taking their baby steps to respectability and I think this season is the year they finally finish over .500. The Chicago Cubs are starting from the bottom up and Theo Epstein has his hands full but does have shining stars in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija.

In the West, the cash flush Los Angeles Dodgers are spending to win now with a flurry of free agent signings in addition to last season's blockbuster trade with the Red Sox. Is it enough to displace the World Series champs as NL West Champions? Time will dictate that. The Arizona Diamondbacks will try to play for the Wild Card while the Colorado Rockies will rest their hopes on the health of franchise players Troy Tulowitzski and Carlos Gonzalez. The San Diego Padres continue to rebuild and hope that 3rd baseman Chase Hedley doesn't miss more time to his thumb injury than is already expected.

So there you go folks. What do you think. Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line to my email.

Sisco Kid.