Friday I checked in with my American League forecast, and here’s how I see the National League taking shape in 2010:
1. Philadelphia (95-67): See ya Cliff Lee, welcome aboard Roy Halladay. Doc was a beast in the AL East, so I imagine he’s salivating thinking about pitching in the National League with four 30+ homer guys backing him. With Halladay running the show, look for Cole Hamels to return to his pre-’09 form as well and for the Phillies to head to the Series for the third straight year.
2. New York (86-76): It can’t possibly get as bad as it did last year in Metland. Then again, a lot of Mets fans probably consider the final week collapses of ’08 and ’09 even more painful than last season’s complete trainwreck. Assuming Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes come back healthy before it’s too late (granted, that’s a big assumption), they should team with D-Wright and newly-acquired Jason Bay to keep New York in it late enough to collapse in September.
3. Atlanta (85-77): Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens could be the next Shaq and Kobe. Or something like that. If it happens this year, they could even push the Phillies for the division. Throw in Rookie of the Year fave Jason Heyward to a talented young core and the Braves are in good shape for years to come.
4. Florida (83-79): I like this team and wish I could put them higher, but it’s just not their time yet. Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson are sure things, but can Craig Coghlan repeat his ’09 season and is Cameron Maybin finally set to make an impact? If they can produce, the Marlins will hang tough in 2010.
5. Washington (65-97): So, when’s Stephen Strasburg getting the call? The top pick gives Nationals fans something to get excited about, in case the glitz is wearing off from last winter’s high-impact Adam Dunn signing.
1. St. Louis (92-70): Matt Holliday is back for a full season, and assuming he doesn’t try catching every fly ball with his crotch, the Cardinals should be in good shape to cruise in the Central. Expect another 85 homers and 250 RBIs from Albert Pujols as well.
2. Milwaukee (85-77): Having a pair of the league’s best bats in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and one of the league’s top young arms in Yovani Gallardo will keep the Brewers in it, but it isn’t quite enough to hang with the big boys when it counts. Should be interesting to see how shortstop Alcides Escobar responds to his first full season.
3. Chicago (84-78): The Cubs won’t be as bad as they were last year, but also don’t expect a return to where they were at in 2008. Marlon Byrd is in for Milton Bradley and looking to prove his numbers in Texas last year weren’t a fluke. Any sort of production out of Alfonso Soriano will go over well with the Wrigley faithful, too.
4. Cincinnati (76-86): Joey Votto is turning out pretty good, but Jay Bruce hasn’t come close to living up to the promise of his first week in the bigs in 2008 (when he went 14-for-26 with three homers). The power was there for Bruce last season — 22 bombs in 101 games — but his .223 average isn’t about to cut it in a town like Cincy. Actually, that’s just about par for the course with Reds, come to think about it.
5. Pittsburgh (70-92): Yeah, I went there. I predicted the Pirates won’t finish in last place. It has less to do with them and more to do with nothing remotely exciting me about the Astros, though. It’ll be another long year in Pittsburgh, but second-year center fielder Andrew McCutchen might still be worth giving a look.
6. Houston (68-94): Yes, the aforementioned unexciteable Astros. Sorry Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but we’re out of time.
1. Los Angeles (94-68): Take it from Manny — he has 99 problems but his swing ain’t one. That, plus big years from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and a further stretched-out Clayton Kershaw should be enough to distance the Dodgers from the rest of a pretty tough West.
2. San Francisco (88-74): The Giants returned to relevance late last season, and should be able to get over the hump in 2010 with two-time reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and MVP candidate Pablo Sandoval running things. Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez (who tossed a no-hitter last season) team up to give San Fran one of the league’s top young staffs.
3. Colorado (85-77): As much as I tried to deny it for a few months last season, I really, really wish the Jays had drafted Troy Tulowitzki ahead of Ricky Romero in 2005. Tulowitzki, who hit 32 homers in ’09 in his third year in the bigs, isn’t the only guy that makes the Rockies offense go — Brad Hawpe, Clint Barmes and Ian Stewart all hit 20+ homers last year and the ancient Tood Helton did what he does best, leading Colorado with a .325 average. Don’t sleep on 26-year-old starter Ubaldo Jimenez, either — he’s already the best pitcher the Rockies have even seen.
4. Arizona (74-88): With the book closed on Brandon Webb for another season, you might as well do the same on any hopes the D-Backs had of hanging tough in the West in 2010. Justin Upton, Miguel Montero and Mark Reynolds’ quest to lead the league in both homers (44 in ’09) and strikeouts (an MLB-record 223) might give the fans in Arizona a little to watch.
5. San Diego (66-96): Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it ‘San Diego’, which of course in German means “a whale’s vagina”. Yeah, other than that, there’s really nothing to say about these Padres. Nothing at all.
MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward, Atlanta
Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, St. Louis