Tons of UMW sporting news bumped the National League preview from last week’s issue, but fear not because we have you covered this week. Enjoy the rundown of team grades, observe where team’s will rank in the hierarchy of the NL and see who their projected peers will be. Without further ado…
Chicago Cubs: Lineup (C-) Rotation (C) Bullpen (C)
Starlin Castro is a star in the making, but outside of him it’s slim pickings in the South Side’s batting order. Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are nice duo in the rotation, but the other arms are suspect at best. The always wild Carlos Marmol defines Chicago’s bullpen well as they have talent but lack the critical composure aspect to pitching consistently in those high pressure situations.
Houston Astros: Lineup (D) Rotation (D+) Bullpen (D)
The final year in the National League for Houston looks like a repeat of their recent years of turmoil. Besides the vastly overpaid Carlos Lee, the Astros lack a respectable bat as the lineup is chalk full of underachieving prospects. Wandy Rodriguez is a decent pitcher, but he’s forced to be the No. 1 on this team due to a lack of talent on the roster even though his ability resembles more of a No. 3 starter. The bullpen is another mess that manager Brad Mills will try to deal with, as Houston tries to get by with Brett Myers masquerading as closer.
New York Mets: Lineup (B) Rotation (C-) Bullpen (C)
If it weren’t for bad luck, the Mets wouldn’t have any luck at all. The overshadowed little brother in the New York baseball landscape got off to a promising start only to see their star third baseman David Wright fracture a finger. The lineup has promise, but the rotation is thin on talent and the back end of the bullpen has no surefire stopper.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Lineup (D+) Rotation (C-) Bullpen (B-)
Prospect Pedro Alvarez has yet to live up to his hype, leaving Andrew McCutchen as the lone Pirates bat you can rely on. Erik Bedard is a respectable starting pitcher until he succumbs to his annual injury that lands him on the DL with the already injured A.J. Burnett. The good news for Pittsburgh fans is that the bullpen is solid, but that probably won’t be much help for a team that will be trailing a lot this season.
San Diego Padres: Lineup (D+) Rotation (C) Bullpen (C)
Their premiere hitter (Yonder Alonso) is a prospect who has logged just 69 career major league games before this season. They traded last year’s ace, Matt Latos, to acquire Alonso and their longtime closer Heath Bell departed in free agency. San Diego will be a punching bag all year as they rebuild for the umpteenth time.
Middle of the Pack
Colorado Rockies: Lineup (B+) Rotation (D+) Bullpen (C+)
The strength of the Rockies is clearly their deep lineup, headed by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The addition of Michael Cuddyer and 81 games in that thin Colorado air should help boost the offense even more. However, the home conditions will also hinder the success of an incredibly suspect rotation that has no starting pitcher who would be considered a top of the rotation kind of guy. The bullpen has some nice pieces, but a lot hinges on Betancourt’s play as he enters the season as the man controlling the 9th inning.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Lineup (B-) Rotation (B) Bullpen (C+)
The Frank McCourt drama is over, and now with the team sold the Dodger faithful can put that mess behind them and return to baseball. Los Angeles still touts the reigning NL Cy Young (Clayton Kershaw) and the runner up for league MVP (Matt Kemp), which gives them better building blocks then most clubs. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly give the Dodgers a respectable rotation, and first-time closer Javy Guerra looks comfortable in the early going. The lineup gets an infusion of speed with prospect Dee Gordon’s fulltime promotion to the big league club and Andre Either is still a solid bat in the middle of the order. The Dodgers won’t be splendid, but they should be a quality team this year.
On the Cusp
Cincinnati Reds: Lineup (A-) Rotation (B-) Bullpen (C+)
Dusty Baker’s squad was a contender in my book until they lost closer Ryan Madsen for the season with an elbow injury. I still love the offense with the newly-extended Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and the emerging Jay Bruce. The rotation has a pair of impressive arms in Johnny Cueto and Matt Latos, but the rest of the starters leave something to be desired. The pen was strong until players had to shuffle roles when Madsen went down, and now I don’t trust Sean Marshall closing out games. The pitching questions just leave me feeling cold and I’m not confident that the Reds can get the production they’ll need in that respect to make a run to October.
Miami Marlins: Lineup (B+) Rotation (B) Bullpen (B)
If baseball was played on paper, the new look Marlins would firmly be in the contenders section because their talent level is that good. They have a young core of premium hitters, four reliable (when healthy) starting pitchers and a newly added closer who’s been elite the past five years. However, I have no faith that ace Josh Johnson can stay healthy and Jose Reyes’ injury log is as lengthy as anyone’s in baseball. The attitude concerns surrounding Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano are well chronicled and new manager Ozzie Guillen is already in top shit-stirring form to start the season. Miami’s ceiling is high, but I don’t trust them enough to call them contenders.
Washington Nationals: Lineup (B-) Rotation (B+) Bullpen (B)
I want to put Washington in the contender category, but I just don’t think they’re quite there yet. Stephen Strasburg’s on an innings limit, Drew Storen is making the somber visit to Dr. James Andrews, Jayson Werth is still trying to rediscover the hitting stroke that helped ink him a $126 million contract and last year’s breakout slugger Michael Morse is still on the shelf with his aching lat muscle. The Nationals will be feisty and they’ve set themselves up for success in the near future, but I think 2013 is a more realistic time for this team to come into their own.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Lineup (B) Rotation (B) Bullpen (B)
The strength of the Diamondback is that they are so well-rounded that they don’t have any glaring holes. Justin Upton is a budding star in the outfield and starting pitcher Ian Kennedy was one of the top-five pitchers in all of baseball last season. The addition of Trevor Cahill to the rotation should pay nice dividends and J.J. Putz should again be an above-average closer. Arizona may not have a great deal of national appeal, but they are a balanced ball club that will again be in the hunt for the postseason come September.
Atlanta Braves: Lineup (B+) Rotation (B) Bullpen (A-)
Last year’s Red Sox historic collapse overshadowed Atlanta’s equally horrific September meltdown. However, people harp on the way the season ended and forget the quality baseball the Braves played for the vast majority of last season. Jayson Heyward is too talented not to bounce back, which will only bolster an already formidable lineup. The rotation is deep with quality arms and Tim Hudson’s expected late-April return will only strengthen that unit. Then there are the electric relievers (Venters and Kimbrel) that manager Fredi Gonzalez has at his disposal to finish games out and lock down wins. Simply put, there is a lot to like in Atlanta.
Milwaukee Brewers: Lineup (B+) Rotation (B+) Bullpen (B)
Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder, but they have the talent to survive the slugger’s departure. Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum have the potential to form a daunting rotation and the bullpen is still in good hands with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford at the back end. Aramis Ramirez is no Fielder, but his production paired with Corey Hart, a healthy Rickie Weeks and defending NL MVP Ryan Braun should still make the Brew-Crew’s offense a bear for opposing pitchers to master.
San Francisco Giants: Lineup (B-) Rotation (A) Bullpen (B)
The Giants rotation is so enticing that they get contender status despite a suspect offense. Lincecum-Cain-Bumgarner is a vicious threesome of starting pitchers and even if Ryan Vogelsong regresses somewhat he can still be a viable fourth starter. A healthy Brian Wilson is good news for manager Bruce Bochey and should help the Giants avoid the bullpen issues they had a year ago. The aforementioned lineup is where the uncertainty lies, but the return of Buster Posey and the addition of Melky Cabrera should help the offense take a step in the right direction in 2012.
St. Louis Cardinals: Lineup (B+) Rotation (B) Bullpen (B)
It’s impossible to totally replace the loss of Albert Pujols, but the Cardinals are not dead now that the best player in baseball calls Los Angeles home. St. Louis still has Matt Holliday, they made a nice signing by adding Carlos Beltran and a full year of World Series MVP David Freese should help give the Cardinals a stout lineup. Ace Adam Wainwright returns to the rotation after missing all of last season and joins a solid stable of starting arms. Jason Motte will again be a fixture in the closer’s role, and a mid-season return of Chris Carpenter would shore up the starting pitching even more.
Philadelphia Phillies: Lineup (B-) Rotation (A) Bullpen (B+)
The Phillies lineup grade is docked because of yet another Chase Utley injury and the uncertainty of Ryan Howard’s return (and how effective he’ll be when he does get back from his torn ACL). Yet I still can’t refrain from salivating when I look at the top three in the Phillies rotation (Halladay, Lee and Hamels) and the new anchor at the back of the bullpen to close out games for those studs (Papelbon). I can’t see Charlie Manuel’s squad missing the postseason, so Howard and Utley have time to recover and return to reasonably resemble their past forms.