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NL EAST: 1. NY 2. ATL 3. PHI. 4. WAS 5. FLA This is how I would have picked them this weekend, and although I could revise it given the injury to Pedro, I decided to leave it. All of the top 3 teams are very talented and very flawed. I think the Mets have the best chance because they have both a serious pitching and hitting core, although the surrounding cast is getting increasingly decrepit. I think they’ll have just enough, and although the ridiculous Milledge trade may haunt the organization more than the Kazmir giveaway, this year Church could be nearly as productive. The Braves could be back for sure; they’re better than their last two years suggest, and probably have less downside than either the Mets or Phillies this year. The Phils will probably score the most runs in the league but outside of Hammels the pitching is mediocre-to-ugly, and I’m still far from sold on Manuel; I think they’ll have a bit of an off-year, although they can certainly repeat if the Mets and Braves break down enough. Bowden has quietly done a good job reassembling an offense; except for Guzman and maybe the aging LoDuca it’s pretty solid everywhere. Alas, they and the no-hope Marlins will compete with Baltimore for the worst rotation in baseball honor, although their bullpen is OK. The Marlins can console themselves with the best shortstop in the division.

NL CENTRAL 1. MIL 2. CHI. 3. CIN. 4. HOU 5. PIT 6. STL On paper, this is a silly pick, but since I can’t root for the Cubs and Lou Pinella (despite being a good manager overall) has allowed his bullpens and second-line starters to piss away much better talent cores than this, I’ll pick the upset. Milwaukee is probably a year away, but if the Cubs underperform they’ll slip in, and their core is young enough to really break out. The Reds are interesting; I can’t go so far as to call them a sleeper team but they’re putting together a staff to go with the decent (if declining) offense. The rest of the teams in the division are all terrible; I think the Pirates will improve a bit and the Cards (especially with Pujols looking not fully healthy) bottoming out, but I don’t see any of them being competitive.

NL WEST 1. LA 2. ARI(WILDCARD) 3. SD 4. COL 5. SF The young talent at the top of this division may (along with the Santana trade) help the NL restore a little balance. Any of the 4 major league teams in it could win. I;ll pick LA in a tossup because I think the DBacks’ young players are a little overrated and theeir record last were was considerably better than the team, but the team itself should be improved and Webb/Haren is an impressive 1-2. Most projections have the Padres dropping off considerably, and they might, but they’re a good organization and even with the park effects I like their rotation a lot. Colorado had a lot of things break right last year and could win again, but it’s tough to keep a good rotation together in that park and in a tough division I think the Plexiglass Principle will push them back a bit. The Giants are just a staggeringly bad team–the lineup a joke, with one average innings eater and two impressive young starters who might stay healthy the only remotely saving grace. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 110.

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