1. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals could have a dominant 1-2 combination if Chris Carpenter returns to full health with Wainwright. Motte was excellent as a closer last season, though in a small sample size. Franklin and Reyes are good setup guys. They should have an excellent lineup as well. Duncan, Ankiel and Ludwick could combine for 80 home runs easily. They also have the best hitter in the game in Pujols. Tony LaRussa seems to get the most out of his players. I think the Cards win it.
2. Chicago Cubs – It has to be the Cubs, right? No, it doesn’t. Zambrano is not the same pitcher he was two or three years ago, and had an ERA above 7 for August-October last year. I think Dempster had a career year and I don’t trust Harden to be healthy. The bullpen has a lot of depth, despite losing Kerry Wood. The offense is good, but not overpowering. Milton Bradley has played over 100 games in the outfield just once. They are vincible.
3. Cincinnati Reds – If Harang returns to his 2007 form, the Reds have a solid top four in the rotation. They have a good closer in Cordero. I love their young lineup. Votto and Bruce are very good hitters. Dickerson’s a nice player. They have a lot of speed. The Reds could be competitive this year, though I believe they are a year and a couple stabilizing acquisitions away.
4. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers should decline from last season. They lost Sheets and Sabathia, without replacement. Jeff Suppan, the man who couldn’t make the Red Sox 2003 playoff roster, is their ace. They should have a solid pen, though I don’t trust Trevor Hoffman outside of San Diego’s ballpark. Their young offense will at least make them interesting to watch.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates are the most pathetic franchise in baseball. Their rotation, as usual, will be awful. Their bullpen won’t be that good either. Their lineup, surprisingly, is not bad. I like the LaRoche duo at the corners. Nate McClouth and Doumit are decent players. I think they can come up huge this season and escape the cellar.
6. Houston Astros – The Astros are just terrible. Their rotation currently features both Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. Their bullpen is decent. The lineup has Berkman, Carlos Lee and not much else. Epic Fail.