West: 1. LA 2. ARI 3. COL 4. SF 5. SD I’ll pretty much go chalk here. Signing Ramirez makes this a relatively easy call; their offense is by far the best in the division and the rotation and bullpen are both good. The top of their rotation aside I’ve thought many sabermetric types have been overrating the DBacks for a couple years and I still think that; the offense remains unimpressive and losing Hudson will hurt the defense badly. Colorado seems back on the submediocrity treadmill. If the Giants’ young pitchers stay healthy I could see them finishing second, but you can’t count on that and the offense remains hideous. The Padres situation is just sad, a consistently competitive team turning quickly into an awful team with little to build on either. Their under does seem like one of the best bets in history, although admittedly I thought that about the Giants last year.
Central: 1. Chi 2. Mil 3. Cin 4. StL. 5. Hou 6. Pit I’m not really terribly impressed with the Cubs — the bullpen shaky, Dempster will be way down, Harden likely to be hurt, the offense very- good-not-great — but I can’t deny they’re the class of this division. I’ll be rooting for the Brewers to win the division but like most people I think they missed their window unless they can bring along some young pitchers; the impressive young talent is misalinged defensively, and their bullpen is atrocious without any Victor Zambrano to compensate. The Reds are the opposite, impressive young pitchers but (even with Votto) not much of an offense. I thought the Cardinals would be bad last year, and although it’s become foolish to bet against LaRussa/Duncan to pull some good innings out of nowhere and although Pujols is amazing I still think they’re pretty bad. I figure that Berkman and Oswalt will keep the Astros out of the cellar they’re likely to occupy perenially now that the Pirates seem under semi-competent management for another year. But the cautious medium-term optimism a Pirates fan might have shouldn’t be confused with thinking there’s much there yet.
East: 1. NY 2. ATL(*) 3. PHI 4. FLA 5. WAS I know, really dumb to bet against the Phillies again, and they certainly could be back in the World Series. And Minaya does some irritating things, most notably compunding the AIG-level-stupid Castillo contract by not writing off the sunk cost with Hudson available cheap. But to me, the key here is bullpens. Even a mediocre bullpen last year and the Mets would have won easily, and this year the Mets will have two elite closers and a pretty good 7th inning guy instead. The Phillies, on the other hand, got a brilliant performance out of a gifted but erratic closer and decent-to-typically-waiver-wire-bait support, which won’t happen again. That turnaround will be an enormous number of runs. Meanwhile, the Mets had a better offense last year and figure to this year, and the Phillies certainly aren’t making that up in the rotation. I actually think the Braves — better than their record two years running and with the first credible rotation they’ve had in a while — are a bit better shot to take the division, although the offense has a few too many holes to put them ahead of the Mets. The Marlins are interesting — some talented young pitchers and Ramirez ranks with Utley and Beltran as the best player in the league’s best division — but the kid pitchers just don’t have the offensive or defensive support. The Nationals have improved offensively, but it’s still not a good offense and the rest of the team is worse. The bad karma of syndicate ownership…
UPDATE: The commenter is completely right, and I am completely wrong, about the Brewer defense; a consultation of The Fielding Bible shows that they are indeed a top 5 defense.