Sunday, February 25, 2007

2007 National League Predictions

New York Mets (93-69) 91-95 win range
*Philadelphia Phillies (87-75) 85-89 win range
Florida Marlins (82-80) 80-84 win range
Atlanta Braves (80-82) 78-82 win range
Washington Nationals (68-94) 66-70 win range

St. Louis Cardinals (86-76) 84-88 win range
Milwaukee Brewers (83-79) 81-85 win range
Chicago Cubs (78-84) 76-80 win range
Cincinnati Reds (78-84) 76-80 win range
Houston Astros (75-87) 73-77 win range
Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93) 67-71 win range

Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 92-96 win range
Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77) 83-87 win range
San Diego Padres (84-78) 82-86 win range
Colorado Rockies (78-84) 76-80 win range
San Francisco Giants (73-89) 71-75 win range

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
NL CY YOUNG: Jake Peavy, Padres
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chris Young, Diamondbacks
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
WS: Yankees over Dodgers

2006 W-L Record:
97-65 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 91-71
2007 Projection: 93-69
Strengths: Offense at skilled defensive positions; money; closer; trading chips
Weaknesses: Starting pitching x 10; Corner Outfielders
Biggest Change from 2006: Pedro no mas
One Reason:
One Reason the Mets will win in '07 is that they have the best team in the NL East (good reason). All of the concern about the Mets' starters is warranted, but they do have a lot of them lying around, and they don't need to be dominant for the Mets to win the east.
One Reason the Mets will lose in '07 is, of course, their starting rotation. The Mets can win without a dominant rotation, but it will be damn difficult. I seriously doubt the Mets will run away with the NL East like they did in '06. A lot of their success depends on acquiring another starting pitcher. Even considering the competition, you can't just pencil the Mets in as NL East Champions with that rotation.
It's because of their starting pitching woes that I can't see the Mets advancing far in October. I give Omar Minaya the benefit of the doubt that he can make a move or two to shore up this woeful rotation. But I don't think there will be any "miracles" this year.
I should say, though, that I think Minaya did a good job filling the holes in his offense. Second base is still a concern, but it's a slow market for second baseman, and Jose Valentin did a good job last year. He also snagged Moises Alou to shore up the corner outfield spots offensively. I probably shouldn't have listed the corner outfield spots as a weakness, except that I feel pretty certain that we'll be seeing too much of Shawn Green and not enough of Lastings Milledge.

2006 W-L Record: 85-77 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 87-75
Strengths: Offense, duh; 1-2-3 starters
Weaknesses: third base; catcher; back of rotation; bullpen
Biggest Change from 2006: Freddy Garcia and Cole Hamels should help the Phillies over the hump and back into October.
One Reason:
One Reason the Phillies will win in '07 is their powerful offense and improved rotation depth.
One Reason the Phillies will lose in '07 is the quality of their starting rotation (cross your finger for Moyer/Eaton) and their spotty lineup (Wes F'n Helms?!)
I actually didn't have the Phillies picked as my NL Wild Card team; I had the Diamondbacks. But then I listed out my win probabilities and realized that I actually thought the Phillies would win more games than the D-Backs. And winning more games than someone is a sure-fire way to beat them in a pennant race.
Truth be told, my guess for the Phillies is pretty optimistic, and my range for the D-Backs is too narrow. Arizona has far more upside than Philadelphia, but it's so uncertain that I went with the safe choice. Granted, this also enables me to have two picks for the Wild Card: my real pick and my real real pick. Some may say it's cheatin', I say it's thinkin'.

2006 W-L Record: 78-84 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 80-82
2007 Projection: 82-80
Strengths: Youth; Bargain Value; Pitching Depth; Miguel Cabrera
Weaknesses: Youth; Bargain Value; Fluky Nature of '06
Biggest Change from 2006: Everybody's a year older (which isn't usually good news in Florida, but it is here)
One Reason:
One Reason the Marlins will win in '07 is their break-out potential. The Marlins have a solid core of young talent that will play .500 baseball most likely. But they have several young players with the chance to break out (Jeremy Hermida, most of their pitchers) and push them into Wild Card contention.
One Reason the Marlins will lose in '07 is that their 2006 success is hard to repeat. All of their rookies were so good, and so many of them reached their potential in 2006, that's there's not a lot of room for upward expansion. In fact, it's more realistic to expect several guys to suffer setbacks. We've already seen it start among the young pitchers (Jason Johnson, Anibal Sanchez), and it's likely to cascade. The only sure thing is Miguel Cabrera's MVP Candidacy.
The Marlins will most likely do in 2007 what they did in 2006: make an encouraging but unsuccessful run at the Wild Card.

As I said before, the main reason I'm less than optimistic about the Marlins is that it's hard to repeat great luck with rookies like they had last year. A good comparison would be the 2005 Braves. The '05 Braves had that amazing rookie class that helped propel them into the postseason. But in 2006, most of those guys experienced (perfectly normal) growing pains and sophomore slumps.
It's great when you have everything go right for you. The only downside is knowing that you probably won't be as lucky again in the future. Long-term, the Marlins are on the path to contention, but it's a stretch to expect them to make the leap this season.

2006 W-L Record: 79-83 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 85-77
2007 Projection: 80-82
Strengths: Strong core contributors; improved bullpen; Brian McCann
Weaknesses: Core contributors are old and getting brittle; weak rotation; lineup depth
Biggest Change from 2006: Losing the right side of your infield in exchange for a relief pitcher. Mmwhat?
One Reason:
One Reason the Braves will win in '07 is that they're the Braves, and they've done stranger things before. I may be pessimistic about their young talent, but that doesn't mean it's not still there.
One Reason the Braves won't win in '07 is that Chipper Jones is still playing third base. This means more bad defense and another 40-50 games from their best hitter lost to the DL.
I remember when I used to complain every Spring Training about how depressing it was to know the Braves were going to win just to lose in October. I miss those days.
The Braves' Pythagorean record was very encouraging last year, suggesting that they were much closer to contention than they looked. But it's hard for me to believe that an 85-win team can get better when they lose a pretty good right side of the infield for no apparent reason. The two best players on this team are Chipper and Smoltz, and they're getting much older.
I guess I can use all my experience as a devotee of a doomed October team and become a Yankee fan.
Yeah, right.

2006 W-L Record: 71-91 (5th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 70-92
2007 Projection: 68-94
Strengths: Ryan Zimmerman
Weaknesses: About everything else
Biggest Change from 2006: The starting rotation is now completely gutted; Tim Redding is their #2 starter!
One Reason:
One Reason the Nats will win in '07 is that theirs is the only fanbase with the power of federal subpoena.
One Reason the Nats will lose in '07 is that they're a bad, hopeless baseball team . . . What? That's only one.

Baseball America's 2007 Prospect Handbook rates the Nats' prospects as the worst in baseball. Their "Impact" grade is a D, and their "Depth" grade is an F. It's really scary that such a barren major league team has such little support in the minors.
On the bright side though, things really are improving. Granted, it would be hard for them not to improve, but the Nats have done several things to provide themselves with depth in the lower minor leagues, from drafting better to making better trades. Even GM Jim Bowden, whom I admittedly give a hard time, has done a better job of handling the team. He's apparently seen the folly of the attempted quick fix (a la Cristian Guzman or Vinny Castilla) and seems to committed to overhauling the franchise from the bottom up. The Nats have a new ballpark opening up soon, which gives them a bit of a target date for rebooting the club. It also gives them the promise of extra cash in the future and gives their fans something to hope for while the current incarnation stumbles back to last place.
Things are getting better in Washington. But it sure as hell won't look any better in 2007.
Back later with the other divisions.

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