The snow is melting, the sun is visible again and the heat is slowly but surely rising. These are signs of spring, and spring means different things to different people. It could mean wearing shorts again, or allergies, or any number of other things. However, to Chemistry teacher Cyndi Lewis and me, it means one thing and one thing only: baseball is gearing up.
The National League is of particular interest to us because Lewis is a die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan, and I have been a loyal Chicago Cubs fan since I watched my first Major League game.
Because I’m a baseball junkie, I have scouted all 30 Major League teams and looked at last season, the off-season and how I see them moving into this season. Here are my predictions, in order in each division, of how each team will finish, along with Mrs. Lewis telling me I’m wrong:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Manager – Tony LaRussa
Last year’s finish – 91-71 (1st place)
Biggest Addition – SP Brad Penny
Penny did not play well for the Red Sox to start last year, but he pitched a lot for the six games he was with the Giants at the end of last year. The Cardinals hope that he can carry that over to the start of this season and help soften the blow of losing Joel Piniero.
Biggest Subtraction – UTIL Mark DeRosa
Granted, DeRosa did not play his best in Cardinal red last year, but I still have to believe losing a guy as versatile and unselfish as he is will hurt any club. He is also a tremendous presence in the locker room.
Kyle Says – As much as it hurts to say, I think the Cardinals will repeat as division champs this year. The division as a whole is worse than a year ago. The addition of infielder Felipe Lopez definitely helps their chances and gives them flexibility with Skip Schumaker. It also helps that they have the best manger in MLB to guide them.
Lewis Says – The Cardinals are pretty much the only thing I care about in the NL Central and really the only team that matters.
2. Cincinnati Reds
Manager – Dusty Baker
Last year’s finish – 78-84 (4th place)
Biggest Addition – SP Aroldis Chapman
The Cuban defector’s fastball has been clocked as high as 102 mph, and most scouts will tell you that his breaking stuff is filthy good. Win-hungry Reds fans cannot stop salivating. There are some questions whether or not he is polished enough to contribute in his first season on American soil. To me, that’s not the point, though. The point is that from the moment he was signed, he represented the Reds making an effort to compete.
Biggest Subtraction – CF Willy Taveras
After posting a miniscule .275 on-base percentage, a change of scenery was best for Taveras and the Reds, who want to get former eighth overall pick, Drew Stubbs, in the lineup.
Kyle Says – The Reds have a lot of unknowns and that’s the reason behind my second-place ranking. Edinson Volquez is coming off an injury, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto’s brilliance are very inconsistent and Chapman may start in the minors. Their whole rotation to me is a question mark. If they solve some of these unknowns, they can make some noise in a pretty weak division. I definitely think they will compete for the Wild Card.
Lewis Says – I don’t think they have what it takes to compete just yet. The only thing I worry about is them getting off to a slow start and trading away the building blocks they have collected. I think I may be the only Reds fan who wants Chapman to start off in the minors and not in the rotation so he can develop correctly. Overall, I see a third-place finish.
3. Chicago Cubs
Manager – Lou Piniella
Last year’s finish – 83-78 (2nd place)
Biggest Addition – CF Marlon Byrd
Byrd allows Kosuke Fukudome to switch back to right field where he is more comfortable and is coming off a very productive season with the Rangers. He batted .283 with 20 home runs. He also worked with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in Texas, so that enhances his value.
Biggest Subtraction – RF Milton Bradley
This is arguably the worst personnel decision in Cubbie history. Bradley fought with Piniella, fans, the media and anyone else who was in his way. At the end of the year, it was decided that the lackluster production and monster salary weren’t worth the headache, so he was shipped to Seattle.
Kyle Says – It hurts me to say this, given I bleed Cubbie blue, but they are just an average aging team at this point. They also have a propensity for blowing it. I see a season filled with mediocrity and injuries ahead. A third-place finish, given the question marks in the bullpen.
Lewis Says – The Cubs always find a way to lose it. They are really good at that and have been for over 100 years (last Cubs World Series victory was in 1908). It’s always something with them.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
Manager – Ken Macha
Last Year’s Finish – 80-82 (3rd place)
Biggest Addition – RP LaTroy Hawkins
He should provide closer Trevor Hoffman with a very reliable set-up man. Hawkins, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated pitchers in the game and this is a very good signing. Good, too, was the acquisition of SP Randy Wolf, who should earn a rotation spot.
Biggest Subtraction – 2B Felipe Lopez
I don’t know why he was on the market for so long, considering how complete of a player he is. He is solid defensively and proved he is very capable of hitting last year. He hit .320 after landing in Milwaukee at the trading deadline. The fact that he signed with division rival St. Louis should also sting.
Kyle Says – To me, the Brewers are a simply average team, just as they were last year. I predict a near .500 record and dropping to fourth place behind the upstart Reds.
Lewis Says – They are just a bland team to me. There is nothing really exciting brewing in Milwaukee.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Manager – John Russell
Last Year’s Finish – 62-99 (6th place)
Biggest Addition – RP Octavio Dotel
I would venture to guess the role of closing pitcher will be handed to Dotel if he is able to stay healthy. This signing is a very good low-risk, high-reward signing for the Pirates.
Biggest Subtraction – None
The Pirates had already traded anyone with any talent that could have left.
Kyle Says – The Pirates get a little bit better with Dotel and 2B Akinori Iwamura. Not enough to compete, but enough to escape the division cellar.
Lewis Says – I don’t agree with putting them above the Astros. The Pirates are a team full of nobodies.
6. Houston Astros
Manager – Brad Mills
Last Year’s Finish – 74-88 (5th place)
Biggest Addition – SP Brett Myers
The ‘stros need to hope and pray that Myers brings the championship atmosphere with him from Philly to Houston, and not his 4.84 ERA. Seems like a longshot to me.
Biggest Subtraction – RP Jose Valverde
He has 25+ saves in each of the last three seasons and is considered one of the best closers in the game, but the rebuilding Astros lost him to Detroit and will no doubt suffer as a result.
Kyle Says – The Astros are just a bad team who let their two best players leave in Valverde and SS Miguel Tejada. The only competing they will do is with the Pirates to escape last place.
Lewis Says – They are so old and simply not talented, but they will beat out the hapless Pirates to finish fifth.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
Manager – Charlie Manuel
Last Year’s Finish – 93-69 (1st place)
Biggest Addition – SP Roy Halladay
Doc was finally able to join the Phillies rotation after a trade that was rumored as far back as before the trading deadline. In the end, the Phillies gave up a really great pitcher, Cliff Lee, and some blue-chip prospects to get their guy. Halladay to me is the best pitcher in baseball, but this move didn’t really make sense considering they gave up Lee, which leads me to the next segment.
Biggest Subtraction – SP Cliff Lee
In his first five games as a Philly, Lee went 5-0, struck out 39 in 40 innings and had a 0.68 ERA. He also went 4-0 in the playoffs. I just don’t know how trading an ace pitcher and some highly coveted prospects for another ace makes any sense.
Kyle Says – The team is very good, but it is a good division and I think two other teams are capable of making a run for the division crown. The Phillies did get better for this season and should win the division, though it won’t be easy.
Lewis Says – The Phillies have fabulous pitching and have put together another good team. They win the division for the fourth year in a row.
2. Atlanta Braves
Manager – Bobby Cox
Last Year’s Finish – 86-76 (3rd place)
Biggest Addition – RP Billy Wagner
If healthy, Wagner should be able to regain his form and remind everyone of how he once was considered one of the scariest pitchers in baseball.
Biggest Subtraction – 1B Adam LaRoche
LaRoche is a very good player and he played extremely well for the Braves after being shipped there at the trading deadline. He hit .325 with a Braves uniform on.
Kyle Says – Although it wasn’t a blockbuster offseason for the Braves, I think they acquired several players who can help them, such as Wagner, 3B Troy Glaus and OF Melky Cabrera. These guys can compliment a great nucleus of young talent such as SP Tommy Hanson, CF Nate McClouth and All-Star C Brian McCann. Given that it is Bobby Cox’s last year, I think they will have that extra bit of motivation.
Lewis Says – I completely agree that the Braves are young and good. The impending retirement of Cox definitely factors in and they should make the Phillies have to look over their shoulders.
3. Florida Marlins
Manager – Fredi Gonzalez
Last Year’s Finish – 87-75 (2nd place)
Biggest Addition – SP Josh Johnson
The big guy was given a contract extension in the offseason, and it’s so nice to see a small market team be able to keep such a talented guy for the foreseeable future. Johnson is an imposing presence at 6’7’’ and 252 lbs, he can hit 100 mph with his fastball and he’s only 26 years old. He won 15 games last year and racked up 191 K’s. Johnson is the best player no one knows about.
Biggest Subtraction – RP Matt Lindstrom
Lindstrom was unable to earn the role of closer last year, and when the Astros were looking for a closer given that Jose Valverde left, the Marlins dealt him for three pretty good prospects. Not a bad return for a guy who had a 5.89 ERA.
Kyle Says – The Marlins always find a way to compete with the lowest payroll in either league. I don’t see why this year would be any different, so I think they will compete with the Phillies and Braves. But in the end, they will finish a distant third.
Lewis Says – Couldn’t name many players on their team, but they are always right in the thick of things down the stretch, and I have to believe it will be the same story this year.
4. New York Mets
Manager – Jerry Manuel
Last year’s finish – 70-92 (4th place)
Biggest Addition – LF Jason Bay
A very good hitter, Bay is coming off a year where he had career highs in home runs and RBI’s. He helps out the lineup of the Mets instantly and is a very solid fielder. A good signing for the Mets, especially considering the outfield issues they had last year.
Biggest Subtraction – RP J.J. Putz and 1B Carlos Delgado
The Mets were very bad last year with a very high payroll. They let Putz and Delgado walk, given their inability to help the team last year. Delgado was injured and Putz didn’t make a good transition from closer to set-up man. This opened up some payroll, about $18 million, and got rid of some guys that didn’t really fit.
Kyle Says – The Mets are an old and perpetually wounded team in a pretty good division. I see another fourth place finish in their future.
Lewis Says – The only thing that slightly interests me about the Mets is the storyline of how long Manuel will last as manager, because they aren’t going to compete and he will get fired at some point during the season. The question is just when.
5. Washington Nationals
Manager- Jim Riggleman
Last Year’s Finish- 59-103 (5th place)
Biggest Addition – SP Jason Marquis
Marquis put up really good stats last year and this is especially impressive considering he did it playing for the Rockies. He won 10 games last year in hitter-friendly Coors Field and 5 more on the road. His ERA should go down this year because of the change in location. He is the Nationals No. 1 starter until No. 1 overall pick Steven Strasburg is able to take that spot.
Biggest Subtraction – None
When you win fewer than 60 games, anyone who leaves is a good thing, because it’s time to start over.
Kyle Says – I like Riggleman as manager and I like the moves they made this offseason. Obviously, they aren’t ready to compete, but they have at least laid the groundwork for success in the future.
Lewis Says – The Nats did do a lot to help themselves, but the bottom line is they won 59 games last year and are still a long way away from competing.
1. San Francisco Giants
Manager – Bruce Bochy
Last Year’s Finish – 88-74 (3rd place)
Biggest Addition – UTIL Mark DeRosa
DeRosa is one of the most clutch hitters in baseball and always seems to come through for his team. He can play nearly any position but is expected to play LF in San Fran. The anemic Giants batting order will definitely appreciate the pop he gives them. He is a gritty player who will do anything to win and one of the main reasons the Giants will win the NL West.
Biggest Loss – SP Randy Johnson
The Big Unit finally called it quits this offseason. Although Johnson was a shell of himself in early years and the Giants appear to have the young pitching to fill his spot without skipping a beat, as a fan of the game I will miss seeing big No. 51 on the diamond.
Kyle Says – The Giants showed me last year that they are willing to make a deal to get what they need going down the stretch. They have one of the best pitching staffs around and, given that the Dodgers lost a lot this offseason, I feel the Giants should have no problem taking this division.
Lewis Says – Whoa there, hold on a second. Although the pitching staff is great, you still have to hit to win. I just don’t see anyone in the lineup who is all that good, and I think they will suffer as a result. The Dodgers will win the division once again.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Manager – Joe Torre
Last Year’s Finish – 95-67 (1st place)
Biggest Addition – 2B Ronnie Belliard
He played well after being dealt to the Dodgers (L.A. average was .351). They will need that type of production from him, and not the .246 he had hit while with Washington earlier last year, if they think he can fill the void left by Orlando Hudson.
Biggest Subtraction – 2B Orlando Hudson
Hudson was an integral part of what the Dodgers were able to do last season, but the Dodgers don’t feel they will miss “O-Dog.” That’s just wishful thinking.
Kyle Says – They lost a lot in the offseason and given what the Giants were able to add, I think they fall to second place in a tough division.
Lewis Says – The Dodgers will win this division and the only question I have is Manny Ramirez. He hasn’t hit since the steroids suspension, and some Dodger faithful are getting worried. He’s also already come out and said this is his last year with the team, which should make for an interesting season.
3. Colorado Rockies
Manager – Jim Tracy
Last Year’s Finish – 92-70 (2nd place)
Biggest Addition – SP Jeff Francis
He’s been a member of the organization since 2004; however, he was forced to miss all of last season due to shoulder surgery. Colorado will be counting on him to be a part of the rotation if they want to compete in a top-heavy division.
Biggest Subtraction – SP Jason Marquis
I know his ERA was 4.04 and wasn’t great for the whole year, but he did put up very solid outings for the Rox in the launching pad known as Coors Field. In my opinion, the Rockies will miss the first-time All-Star.
Kyle Says – The chemistry they have amazes me each year, and I know that they will compete this year. But I just feel the Dodgers and Giants are both better in the end.
Lewis Says – I think they are right there with the other two teams you mentioned. To me, this is the toughest division to pick a winner in, and I think any three of these teams are well capable of taking it.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager – A.J. Hinch
Last Year’s Finish – 70-92 (5th place)
Biggest Addition – 1B Adam LaRoche
LaRoche is a thousand times better than last season’s 1B Chad Tracy, who hit .238 with 8 homers in 98 games. The D’backs should be better defensively and offensively with the departure of Tracy and arrival of LaRoche.
Biggest Subtraction – SP Doug Davis
Davis isn’t an ace by any stretch of the imagination, but losing him leaves Arizona awfully right-handed. Clay Zavada is now the only lefty expected to make the opening day roster.
Kyle Says – If Brandon Webb comes back and plays like we saw he could before missing last year, then the Diamondbacks are a force in the West and capable of competing. But if that isn’t the case, it will be a long season for the Diamondbacks
Lewis Says – They are a .500 team and nothing more.
5. San Diego Padres
Manager – Bud Black
Last Year’s Finish – 75-87 (4th place)
Biggest Addition – SP Jon Garland
Garland adds a veteran arm to a rotation that looked extremely young before that signing. I don’t think he is great, but he can win a few games and, trust me, the Padres need every win the can get.
Biggest Subtraction – 1B Adrian Gonzalez
He hasn’t been traded yet, but he will be. Gonzalez has the only big contract left on the team, and I’m hearing he will be moved sooner rather than later. What the Padres get in return will determine the path of the club’s future.
Kyle Says – An awful team that will be truly painful to watch if you are a fan. I guess you can hope that some of the young players gain experience and get better for the future, but if you think that San Diego can compete this year, you are absolutely insane.
Lewis Says – San Diego is simply pathetic.
My playoff teams from the National League are the Cardinals, Phillies, Giants (each winning their division) and your Cincinnati Reds earning the Wild Card. Maybe it’s just my love for Mark DeRosa and my desire to see him get a ring, but I believe the Giants will go on to represent the National League in the World Series and beat the Yankees in 7.
Mrs. Lewis has the Cardinals, Phillies and Dodgers winning their divisions and the Braves getting the Wild Card. She thinks the Cardinals will go on to represent the NL in the Series and lose to the Yankees in 4 games.
Click HERE to see Ratliff and Lewis’ predictions for the American League.