2008 MLB National League Preview
As we continue to take a look at the upcoming season in Major League Baseball; this is part two of our season preview. The National League had a whirlwind of excitement in 2007 with many of the division champions not being crowned until extremely late in the season. This article will focus on offseason moves by NL teams, predictions on division winners, predictions on the MVP, ROY, Manager of the Year, and League Champion.
We will begin with the National League East and the reigning division champion Philadelphia Phillies. After making their first playoff appearance since 1993, the Phillies made some wholesale offseason changes as they said goodbye to a chunk of veterans and brought in a new group to lead the 2008 squad into battle. Gone are Abraham Nunez, Antonio Alfonseca, Jose Mesa, Rod Barajas, Aaron Rowand, Geoff Geary, Chris Roberson, and Michael Bourn. Newcomers for 2008 are Pedro Feliz, Geoff Jenkins, Brad Lidge, Eric Bruntlett, So Taguchi, Chris Snelling, Kris Benson, and Chad Durbin. The 2008 version of the Phillies will be better at the plate this season, which says a lot since they led the league in runs scored in 2007. Pitching will be the question mark for yet another season in Philadelphia but should be able to stay in contention until the very end of the season.The New York Mets, who blew a seven game lead with two weeks remaining in the season in 2007, look to rebound from heartbreak in 2008. The Mets are now the team to beat in the East simply by adding Cy Young award winning left-hander Johan Santana in an offseason blockbuster with the Twins. The Mets also added outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider from the Nationals for outfielder Lastings Milledge. The team also said goodbye to former starting catcher Paul Lo Duca. The Mets starting rotation can be one of the most formidable one in not only the division but also the League if Pedro Martinez can stay healthy. Santana and Martinez will be joined by Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, and Odalis Perez or Mike Pelfrey. GM Omar Minaya made some questionable offseason moves that had Mets fans reeling up until the day he acquired Santana, now everyone in Queens seems happy as can be.
Following the Phillies and Mets in the final standings from 2007 are the Atlanta Braves. Led by sure hall of fame manager Bobby Cox, the Braves look to be on the upswing in 2008. The return of Tom Glavine to his original team will help out a rotation that had its struggles in 2007. He joins Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and hopefully a healthy Mike Hampton as the top four. Mark Teixeira will begin his first full season as the starting first baseman (he came over in 2007 from the Rangers for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) and Yunel Escobar will take over at shortstop for the now departed Edgar Renteria (trade with the Tigers for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez). The Braves will be more competitive in 2008 from start to finish than in 2007. Look for them to make a serious run at the East crown.
The final two spots in the division belong to the Washington Nationals and the Florida Marlins; two teams struggling to find an identity. Aside from the Nationals opening up a new ballpark on March 30 against the Braves, they really have nothing else to look forward to in 2008. Their pitching staff is possibly the worst in the NL (John Patterson was released a week ago), and that will be their ultimate downfall. Manager Manny Acta will have a tough time finding ways to win ball games with this Nationals roster.
The Marlins round out the NL East, a team that is in the midst of yet another rebuilding period. If you're counting, 2009 would be the year they are due to win the World Series (1997, 2003, 2009*). The team traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for a handful of minor leaguers including Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Maybin will start the season in the minors but shouldn't be there too long. He has raw, five-tool talents that should return him to the majors very quickly. Don't expect the Marlins to be competitive in 2008.
The division will be won by the Mets in 2008, their second crown in three seasons. They will be hotly challenged by the defending champion Phillies and Atlanta Braves from season's start to finish.
The National League Central is turning into the NL West of only a couple years ago; there is maybe one or two clear-cut good teams and the rest just show up for work. The defending champion Chicago Cubs shouldn't have too tough a time repeating as division champs in 2008, if they don't suffer any major losses of player personnel to injury. Led by firestarter Lou Piniella, the Cubs will be looking for their first World Series win since 1908. The Cubs are pretty much the same team from 2007. Mark Prior left via free agency for the Padres and former starter Kerry Wood has been named the closer with former closer Ryan Dempster moving back to the starting rotation. The Cubs will be one of the top five offensive ballclubs in the NL in 2008 with Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Lee entrenched in their lineup but as with any team pitching will be the question mark. They have a strong enough rotation to get the job done; if the bullpen can hold up for 162 games this Cubs team will run away with the Central.
Following the Cubbies in the division are the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that is always 'right there' until the very end but has yet to put together that final push to jump into the playoffs. With the offense that this team has, the Brewers will win close to 85 games. Their main problem, which is beginning to sound redundant, is their pitching. This team might have to win games by 9-8 margins at some point during the season. Their lineup can surely do it. With Prince Fielder leading this offensive onslaught, the Brewers shouldn't be far behind in the race for the Central or the Wild Card. Look for the Brew Crew to have one of their late season drop-offs which will ultimately eliminate them from playoff contention come early September.
The Cincinnati Reds open the 2008 season with former Cubs and Giants manager Dusty Baker sitting at the helm of their franchise. This could be the year where the Reds and their fans get a long look at the organization's top prospects. Homer Bailey should be back and forth with the club as well as Joey Votto. Other than the excitement of the 2008 season getting underway there isn't much more for Reds fans to be happy about. The team didn't make any major changes in the offseason to improve the talent of the ballclub and the pitching staff will have to rely on Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Ken Griffey Jr. will be in right field in 2008, Adam Dunn returns with all of his strikeouts, and Brandon Phillips will be a potent bat for opposing pitchers to deal with each night. The team did sign former Brewer closer Francisco Cordero during the winter to close in Cincinnati but there isn't an effective enough bullpen to get to him after the starter is pulled. Cordero has 177 saves in 223 opportunities. The Reds will be competitive for a couple of months or so but will drop-off before August arrives.
The 2006 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are looking to rebound from an ugly 2007, even though the team was still in contention at the start of September. One year removed from winning the World Series, the Cardinals have parted ways with a handful of their veteran players from that 2006 team. Gone are David Eckstein (Blue Jays), Scott Rolen (trade w/Blue Jays for Troy Glaus), Jim Edmonds (Padres), and Scott Spiezio (released). Kyle Lohse arrives (Phillies/FA) along with Juan Gonzalez (FA-Temporarily Inactive List), and the team resigned Adam Wainwright to a four-year contract extension. Injuries will be the downfall of this club in 2008. Here is the preseason list of players on the disabled list: Chris Carpenter, Matt Clement, Joel Pineiro, Josh Kinney, Mark Mulder, Tyler Johnson, and Juan Encarnacion. Six of those seven players are pitchers. (See previous teams for pitching comments). Don't expect the Cardinals to be too competitive if they can't get their pitching staff healthy sometime soon.
This is where the division takes a serious turn for the worse. There are two teams remaining and neither maybe only the Houston Astros will be halfway competitive in 2008. With new GM Ed Wade making plenty of interesting moves in the offseason, this Astros team should be an interesting one to follow in 2008. Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett were packaged to Philly for Geoff Geary, Michael Bourn, and Mike Costanzo. Costanzo was then turned around and sent to the Orioles as part of a package for shortstop Miguel Tejada, despite being implicated in the Mitchell Report. The Astros will have trouble regaining their magic from only a few years ago but will be somewhat competitive throughout the 2008 season.
Rounding out the NL Central is perennial cellar dweller the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates hired a new manager in the offseason, former major leaguer John Russell. This is his first stint as a major league manager. He previously managed in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. The Pirates haven't made much noise over the past decade or so in terms of player personnel to improve the ball-club. The biggest move they made was building a new stadium a handful of years back. Jim Tracy is out as manager of the Bucs, wrongfully so, he had no talent to work with on that team. He was doomed right from the start in Pittsburgh. The front office and ownership of the Pirates has ticked off the fans countless times over the past decade with their obvious lack of interest in the team's success. Look for the Pirates to yet again finish last in the division in 2008.
The Central will be secured by the Cubs who will have to stave off the Brewers towards season's end.
The final stop on our journey around the National League takes us to the West Division where 2007 saw some magical moments and more is in store for 2008. The division champion Arizona Diamondbacks are looking for back to back division crowns in 2008 and appear to be the clear-cut favorites after their offseason of wheeling and dealing. They acquired Dan Haren from the A's in exchange for six prospect, five of which were listed in the team's top 12 best prospects. With the addition of Haren to the rotation, the D'Backs have a formidable starting staff with Brandon Webb, Haren, Doug Davis (who was just diagnosed with thyroid cancer), Micah Owings, and maybe even a healthy Randy Johnson. From one to five this rotation might be the best in the league. For Arizona to repeat as division champs they need the bats to come around in 2008. The pitching was strong in 2007 was the offense was lackluster to say the least. Arizona will be at or near the top of the West for the majority of the season.
After the D'backs in the West comes the San Diego Padres, a team that hit a combined .251 in 2007. If it wasn't for their pitching the Padres would have never even made it to the one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mark Prior joins an already strong rotation in 2008 that is led by perennial Cy Young candidate Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Manager Bud Black has a lot on his plate in 2008 as he tries to find ways for this team to hit the baseball. If the Padres offense can piece it together in the vast Petco Park, then this team will be pretty difficult to stave off for a division title.
The Los Angeles Dodgers made one of the best offseason moves heading into 2008 and it doesn't involve a player. They hired former Yankees manager Joe Torre to replace the inept Grady Little. Aside from the injury bug, this Dodger team is built to win, win now, and win often. The amount of home grown talent on this club is quite possibly the most in the league. As long as Nomar Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche (both suffered injuries in Spring Training), then this lineup could be the best in the division. Add in there centerfielder Andruw Jones to go along with James Loney, Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent and this is the scariest lineup in the West. The pitching for the Dodgers will not be a question if everyone can stay healthy. Japanese hurler Hiroki Kuroda joins the staff for 2008 which is led by Brad Penny and Derek Lowe. If the Padres start to falter the Dodgers will give the entire division something to talk about.
The defending National League Champion Colorado Rockies are looking to match their performance from 2007 in 2008 but up the ante by one in winning the World Series instead of being swept. The team hasn't changed since last they played. The young nucleus of Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, Garrett Atkins, and Brad Hawpe remains intact and primed for another run at the World Series. This time, the Rockies would like to win the division instead of going through as the wild card, even though that made the run a lot more magical. The Rockies will compete in 2007 but it is going to be extremely difficult to match the performance the team had in 2007.
Finishing out the NL West is the San Francisco Giants. Yes, the same Giants who recently removed all images of former slugger Barry Bonds from their ballpark. They have an impressively young starting staff with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain but other than that there isn't much to boast about in the city by the bay. The team added former Phillies centerfielder Aaron Rowand, but in a vast park such as AT&T, Rowand's numbers will decline. They were inflated because he played in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park for two seasons. There aren't many reasons to believe that this team will compete even a little bit for the division or wild card in 2008. Look for the Giants to once again finish last in the division.
The West will be won in a tightly knit race by Arizona but not without the Dodgers, Rockies and Padres breathing down their neck.
And now for the picks. The NLCS will see the Diamondbacks and Mets battle it out with the Diamondbacks reaching the World Series for the first time since they won it all in 2001 against the Yankees.
The Boston Red Sox will knock off the Diamondbacks for their second straight title and third in five years. But this time it won't be their third straight sweep. The series will be won 4 games to 2.
The NL ROY will be Cameron Maybin (if he is called up with enough time remaining).
The NL Cy Young will be Brandon Webb.
The NL MVP will be David Wright.
The NL Comeback Player of the Year will be Juan Gonzalez (just for laughs!!!)
The NL Manager of the Year will be Bob Melvin.
I hope you enjoyed these two articles and my picks. Feel free to disagree with me as much as you would like. It's time to get the season started. The Braves and Nationals christen Nationals Park Sunday night March 30 on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Let's Play Ball!
By Jim Vassallo
> View all of the 2008 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans