1. Phillies: Best 1-2-3 rotation punch in baseball, need to tread water with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out, Jonathan Papelbon slight upgrade over Ryan Madson. X-factor: Jimmy Rollins; needs to prove that he has enough in the tank and can stay healthy.
2. Nationals: Fantastic young rotation headlined by Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman needs to stay healthy for Washington to snag a wild card spot. X-factor: Jayson Werth; had a sub-par first year of mega contract, needs to step up big time.(In Photo: Jose Reyes)
3. Marlins: Health of Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson are vital, Giancarlo Stanton is one of the best young hitters in the game, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell additions are huge to pitching staff. X-Factor: Josh Johnson; if he’s healthy he can win a Cy Young, no doubt.
4. Braves: Can easily finish first in stacked NL East, tons of young pitching in rotation and high minors. X-factor: Jason Heyward, had nightmare year last year, needs to go back to 2010 form for Braves to make the playoffs
5. Mets: Offense better than most think, revamped bullpen, not much starting pitching. X-factor: Johan Santana. If he can turn back the clock to 2008 and pitch 120+ innings it’d be huge for this team that is assured to finish in last.
1. Reds: Great 1-2 combo in rotation (Cueto and Latos) and 3-4 combo in lineup (Votto and Phillips), Madson injury won’t hurt too much with Sean Marshall closing out games. X-factor: Bronson Arroyo/Homer Bailey/Mike Leake. One of these guys needs to step up and pitch like a legit number 3 starter.
2. Brewers: Fielder departure will hurt, but Aramis Ramirez signing may help, Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke one of best 1-2 rotation combos in the game. X-factor: Corey Hart. Needs to stay healthy and help fill the void of Prince Fielder.
3. Cardinals: Albert Pujols, LaRussa, and Duncan departures critical, Chris Carpenter injury huge as well. X-factor: David Freese; Needs to stay healthy and continue to hit close to what he did in ’11 playoffs.(In Photo: Andrew McCutchen)
4. Pirates: Some good young talent in the lineup led by Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan elite closer, may have to wait one more year to break streak of consecutive losing seasons. X-Factor: Erik Bedard; would be a nice boost to the team if he can stay healthy for an entire season, could thrive in National League setting.
5. Cubs: The curse of the Billy goat and such will continue another year, Starlin Castro a young, exciting player that will eventually emerge into a star. X-factor: Geovany Soto; has followed every good season in career with a bad one, last year he OBP’d a career low .310 after .398 showing in ’10. Is a big year in the works?
(In Photo: Wandy Rodriguez)
6. Astros: By far the worst team in baseball and it’ll only get worse when they move to AL 2013. X-Factor: Wandy Rodriguez; Needs to pitch well enough to get traded to a contender in late July.
2. Giants: Buster Posey and Brandon Belt have potential to be one of the better young offensive combos in the NL. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are second best 1-2-3 rotation combo in the NL. X-factor: Melky Cabrera; Needs to repeat strong ’11 campaign and get on base in top of Giants order.
3. Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp both cornerstones of potential elite team in a few years, Dee Gordon is very young and exciting player, best of luck to Don Mattingly in second season of managing. X-Factor: Chad Billingsley; Needs to take next step and become legit number 2 starter behind Kershaw.
(In Photo: Carlos Gonzalez)
4. Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki is best shortstop in the game, acquired two nice pieces in Ubaldo trade to improve starting rotation in near future, Jamie Moyer comeback is great story. X-Factor: Carlos Gonzalez; Needs to stay healthy and return to 2010 form for Rockies to have a chance at the NL Central.
5. Padres: Fueled by pitching and not much offense, Yonder Alonso could be future star. X-Factor: Edinson Volquez; Needs to pitch somewhat near 2008 form. Maybe change of scenery and friendlier ballpark could do the trick.
NLCS: Marlins over Phillies
MVP: Joey Votto
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Rookie: Yonder Alonso
Comeback player: Johan Santana
Manager of the year: Ozzie Guillen
World Series MVP: Curtis Granderson
There you have it, our NL and AL predictions. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree.
--Jesse Schindler, BYB Lead Staff Writer
Follow me on Twitter @SchindlerJesse
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