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2012 National League preview & predictions – Inside the Wheelhouse

Tuesday 27th, March 2012 / 09:00 Written by

Ryan HowardIt’s that time of the year again where I preview the 2012 Major League Baseball Season, from who will win the Division’s to who will hoist the World Series Championship when it’s all said and done! The Major League Baseball season officially starts this week over in Japan but will start next week for everyone else when it hits the States starting in the new home of the Miami Marlins. Out of thirty teams one will be left standing with the right to be called the “2012 World Series Champion!” With that being said lets talk next about the National League!

National League:

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies

They were a World Series favorite last season and why wouldn’t they be? They had one of the best rotations in Baseball and lineup that would deliver balance on a game-to-game basis. It was all but a foregone conclusion that the Championship parade would be going through Philly.

But after winning 102 games last season and having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs they would end up losing to the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. Disappointment wasn’t the only word to describe the early exit for the Philadelphia Phillies as shock took over the Phillies fans as they watched star First Baseman Ryan Howard laying on the ground with a torn ACL as the Cardinals celebrated their victory. This was not the storybook ending many people thought would be happening for the Phillies.

Philadelphia still enters the 2012 season as a World Series contender and a NL East favorite but that window of opportunity is slowing closing itself as players are getting older & not so durable anymore either. The Phillies of a slew of injuries (Ryan Howard & Chase Utley) entering this regular season and don’t have one of their “four aces” (Roy Oswalt) anymore. With teams like the Marlins, Nationals and Braves creeping up in the NL East this may be the last year for them to contend for a World Series with this team on the field.

2. Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins had a busy off-season and rightfully so. They needed to put “butts in seats” for their new stadium and have done so by adding new manager Ozzie Guillen, shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and starting pitchers Mark Buerhle & Carlos Zambrano. The talent from this off-season has greatly improved a team that has struggled in recent years and has help poise them for a pretty competitive 2012 campaign.

There is a lot of excitement in South Beach right now and it has a lot to do with the off-season I just discussed. They are going to give a lot of teams problems this season if everything goes as planned as I believe it will and should make the NL East a very close division throughout the regular season. The young players will feed off the veteran players that were just added and names like Hanley Ramirez & Josh Johnson need to continue to be the franchise players they have been for the Marlins in the past by continuing to lead this team into a very exciting future.

3. Washington Nationals

Just like the Miami Marlins the Washington Nationals had quite the off-season this year. But unlike the Marlins who were starting from scratch, this was an off-season for the Nationals where they were continuing to build for a promising future. This team has a lot of good qualities that other franchises (i.e. Toronto Blue Jays) have picked up in recent years by building their homegrown talents and adding the right parts to make this team a contender.

Washington may have one of the most underappreciated starting rotations in the big leagues this year. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and new additions Gio Gonzalez & Edwin Jackson make a pretty good 1-4 young solid rotation. In my opinion they can matchup with all the other great NL pitching rotations (Phillies, Marlins & Braves) and give this team a great opportunity to contend for possibly a Wild Card spot this season. This team, like the Marlins, is on the rise right now.

4. Atlanta Braves

Now this pick probably comes as shock to most people because of how close the Braves were to being a playoff team last season. They are well balanced and are a great team but the one flaw they made this off-season was not bringing anyone in to help them work off of last season’s late collapse. I can understand the Braves front office logic, this is a team that is the same as last season’s “collapse team” and they have a chip (no pun to Chipper Jones) on their shoulder.

While that logic is good, I don’t believe it works for this team. Miami and Washington got better in the off-season while the Braves stayed pretty even. I think if there is something that we can all learn from the NL East is that you can never be content with your roster, you need to always improve and Atlanta should’ve done that. It’s not going to be a horrible year for the Braves but it’ll probably be a very frustrating one, Fredi Gonzalez is one of those names I would put on the “managerial hot seat” this season.

5. New York Mets

There is not a whole lot to cheer about in Queens lately and that will continue this season as well. They shredded their payroll, got rid of star players and are in a “rebuilding year” in the NL East. The four other NL East teams are well beyond this Mets ballclub and it’s going to be a very frustrating year for the New York Metropolitans.

NL Central:

1. Cincinnati Reds

I know a good amount of Baseball people didn’t like what the Reds did long-term for their ballclub with some of the deals they made this off-season but I love what they have done for the short-term. They added Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres, Sean Marshall and signed closer Ryan Madson to a deal. The rotation is the best in the NL Central with Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo. While they may not all be household names, they are a very solid rotation that will help carry the lead when they hand it over to their very good bullpen.

Joey Votto is going to have a monster year once again. I believe he was very much under the radar all of last season because the Reds weren’t playing well and I think that will change this year in a big way. Votto will carry this lineup and continue help make players like Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs even better.

Dusty Baker knows that his tenure in Cincinnati can be on the rocks right now and he needs another playoff season to save his job. The players seem to really adapt well to Dusty Baker as a manager and I will step up in saving his job for a couple more seasons. Also, the Reds were one of the top NL Central teams that didn’t have some sort of off-field distraction and that should prove to play well for them as they come into the regular season.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

They are the defending NL Central Division Champions. They dealt with the Ryan Braun failed drug test rumors all throughout the offseason. They then lost Prince Fielder to free agency. To say the Brewers didn’t have a busy off-season is an understatement.

Similar to the Philadelphia Phillies I believe the Brewers had a small window of opportunity to succeed and potentially be World Champions. That window got even tighter when Prince Fielder left and Ryan Braun dealt with controversy all throughout the off-season. This Brewers team comes in battered and bruised & I believe this has put them a step back in the process of being part of the NL elite. Milwaukee is still a good team but they are going to need to give Ryan Braun some much needed help if they want to be where they were last season and I’m not sure if the Brewers can provide that depth. This could be the beginning of a small step back in the Brewers organization for a couple of seasons.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

They are the defending World Champions that you’ve never heard of. The successes they had throughout September and most notably October are almost an after thought now. They lost their franchise hero and their World Series Champion manager retired. The phrase “chip on the shoulder” is an understatement for this Cardinals team.

St. Louis will enter the season hungry and pissed off no doubt about it. But that will be short-lived as I expect them to struggle just a bit under new manager Mike Matheny. The Cardinals can no longer depend on Albert Pujols lineup as their offensive juggernaut and cannot depend on veterans like Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran to carry that weight either. Times have changed in St. Louis and it’s going to be a tough hole to get out for a couple seasons in St. Louis. In a way it reminds me a lot of what the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone through in the post-Lebron world.

4. Chicago Cubs

Chicago made the right move in hiring Theo Epstein as their head of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as their General Manager. But it will still be a couple of seasons before you notice the moves Epstein & Hoyer were responsible for doing. The foundation is being built as we speak and this Cubs franchise should return to prominence in a couple of years.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

I loved what this Pirates team did last year by making people believers in Baseball from Pittsburgh. Sure it was short lived and they slipped after the All-Star break but it was fun & exciting to watch as the Pirates were contending. Pittsburgh will have their bright moments this season but will still be a “bottom feeder” in the NL Central. In my opinion they made the best deal of the off-season by extending Andrew McCutchen to a contract that will make him a Pirate for sometime and at a very reasonable price, he has “superstar” written all over him.

6. Houston Astros

They were the worst team in Baseball in 2011 after winning just 56 games and I believe they will be the worst team in Baseball yet again. This is the final season for the Astros in the National League before they jump over to the AL West and it will be anti-climatic at best. Houston still has a ton of work to do in making them a competitive franchise and if you thought their was “doom & gloom” in Queens, New York just look down south in Houston.

NL West:

1. San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants should’ve been a playoff team last season but were not after losing star catcher Buster Posey early on in the regular season. They looked like for a while at least, to be the 2nd best team in the National League behind the Philadelphia Phillies and made moves during the season (trading for Carlos Beltran) to prove that they were right there will the Phils’ as a top National League team. San Francisco couldn’t keep up with the exciting Arizona Diamondbacks team last season as the year closed out and ended up missing the playoffs the year they were the defending World Champions.

San Francisco returns this season at full strength and looking like a team that could be better then the World Series club in my opinion. This is a pretty big year for the Giants as they look to keep Matt Cain and I expect a pretty decent year out of him as they prepare to try & keep this current pitching rotation together for some time. The motivation to keep this current unit of the Giants together I believe will be pretty huge in their successes throughout the year.

Are they a World Title contender? They certainly can have that late season push like they did in 2010 and get hot at the right time. I believe this team is very much under the radar and can be a low 90 win team & win the NL West division this season.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

I really like how the future is looking for the Dodgers right now. This is a franchise that has dealt with a lot of off-season grief the last two years and is starting to look like they are coming out of the hole that their soon to be former owner left them in. This is one of Baseball’s most historic franchises and they finally look like they can be that top team in the National League once again, this will be a major bounce back season for the Dodgers.

Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are two players that any franchise in Baseball would love to build their team around & the Dodgers have them in Los Angeles. If you thought their production last season was good wait till this season as these two players will put this franchise on their backs and make a great push towards the playoffs. Don Mattingly is a manager of the year candidate in my opinion. I think like the Reds, the Dodgers will be a surprise team in the National League this season.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

This pick, like the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, may come as a surprise by many since they were in the playoffs last season. Now don’t get me wrong, I really like this team, I think they are good and will continue to be good for a couple of seasons. But they have “step back year” written all over them.

They are a young team who has already been successful by making the playoffs and winning 94 games last season. But they remind me a lot of the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays who came off of a very successful season only to miss the playoffs completely and finish third in their division. I believe that right now the Giants and Dodgers are better then the D’Backs but that doesn’t mean they won’t be successful. The NL West will be a tight division all season long and I look for the D’Backs to be in the mix but fall short of the Giants & Dodgers.

4. Colorado Rockies

I have picked this team two years in a row now to be a National League Champion contender. I am a huge fan of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez but you can’t win games just off of those two players. I hate to put them in this fourth spot in the NL West but the other three teams I mentioned are better ball clubs then the Rockies. This team needs to make some more moves soon to keep Tulo and C-Gon content with wanting to place in Colorado.

5. San Diego Padres

If you thought San Diego had a tough season last year wait until this season. The Padres will contend with Astros as the worst team in Major League Baseball and will struggle all season long. The Padres made some good decisions during their off-season but those deals won’t pan out until a couple more season. If the Padres win more then 65 games I will be impressed and shocked.

National League Division winners: Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants

National League Wild Card Teams: Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers

For more Baseball talk join us every Sunday on “The Wheelhouse” and download the show at www.wheelhouseradio.com!

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday at www.wheelhouseradio.com

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com

You can follow “The Champ Jeff Peck” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/therealjeffpeck

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