The Arizona Diamondbacks batted .250 as a team, had a .321 on-base percentage, were seventh in the National League in home runs, its hitters struck out 20.58% of the time, and they were outscored 732-712. On paper, this looks like a bad team, but Arizona won 90 games, the NL West title, swept the Cubs in the Division Series before losing the NLCS to red hot Colorado.
Offensively, the young D-Backs will get better and their pitching is the strength of the team. With Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Randy Johnson and Micah Owings, the D-Backs figure to keep the scores down and have another successful season and another division title.
The National League offers more curiousity than the junior circuit because there appears to be more balance. And, each team has serious questions which can only add to the intruigue.
NL East: The Mets choked things away last year, but that’s not really fair to the Philadelphia Phillies, who blazed down the stretch and beat the Mets up head-to-head. The Braves will be better, and they were only five out last season. The Mets have the best pitching and that will give them a chance to contend, but their offense is going to be really good some days and really bad on others. The Phillies should hold off the Mets, and 88 wins might be all it takes to win this division.
NL Central: I don’t like the Cubs, but who else do you like in this division? The Brewers appear to be ready to make a run, but how good are they? Everyone says the Reds can be a surprise. I don’t see it, but did anybody see Arizona and Colorado in the playoffs last year? I’ll take the Cubs by default. This division has the Pirates, who haven’t seen a .500 season since 1992 and the Cardinals, who have a AAA pitching staff.
NL West: This is the best division in the league, and it should be a three team race between Arizona, San Diego and Colorado. The Dodgers may be a trendy pick to contend with Joe Torre, but simply put, they’re not ready yet. The San Francisco Giants are bad and they’ll be lucky to win 70 games this season. The key for the top three is being able to beat up on San Francisco and take care of the Dodgers.
I’ll take Arizona because they have a young lineup that will continue to improve and they have very good starting pitching with two aces: Brandon Webb and Danny Haren. Still don’t know how good Colorado is? Before their 15-1 run to close the season, they were just a 77-72 team, so how good were they really? They have a great, young lineup, but I’ll take San Diego to make it in as the Wild Card.
The official picks: Phillies, Cubs, Diamondbacks, with Padres as the Wild Card.