1. Chicago Cubs (90 wins)
Is this the Cubbies year? No, probably not. But they should be pretty good. Fukudome (which until someone corrects me, I will continue to pronounce Foo-Koo-Dome) seems like a good fit, if he really is the Japanese Bobby Abreu, as the Cubs desperately need OBP. Derrek Lee should have a good bounce-back year, as he is finally healthy (and everyone forgets he was one of the best players in baseball before his string of injuries).
The Cubs still have some glaring holes in their lineup though right up the middle in Theriot, DeRosa, and Pie. Also, I think we’re going to start seeing Soriano regress. My first post ever on this blog was about how I thought Soriano’s contract was one of the worst ever. Barry Zito aside, I think we’re going to start seeing evidence to support my theory.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (87 wins)
I’m rooting to be wrong on this one. I like Milwaukee and I’d like to see them win the division. I think their lineup is going to really rake this year, especially once Cameron comes back from suspension. Their defense should be improved also, thanks in part to moving Braun from third.
But that pitching staff frightens me. Ben Sheets has never been able to put together a totally healthy season and after him, there is pretty much no depth. When Jeff Suppan is your #2 starter… well that means Jeff Suppan is your #2 starter.
3. Cincinnati Reds (85 wins)
I was all set to pick the Reds as a playoff surprise. But then came the flood of “the Reds are this year’s sleeper team” stories. So yeah, sorry Cincinnati, but once you’ve been anointed as the sleeper team, it pretty much ensures that you won’t be.
They’ve got a lot to like though: Joey Votto at first should be the real deal and Brandon Phillips is turning into a star. Adam Dunn and Aaron Harang are better than they get credit for. Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto have come seemingly out of nowhere and dominated this spring. And super prospect Jay Bruce isn’t too far away.
But there will be growing pains for this team, so they are probably still a year away. Also, they have Dusty Baker as their manager, perhaps the worst manager in baseball. He’s one of those guys who takes personal offense whenever someone mentions a way of evaluating baseball players that didn’t exist 40 years ago. Reportedly, he’s been telling Adam Dunn to swing more and not take so many walks, which is the equivalent of telling your Quarterback to throw a hail mary pass whenever he can. Even mention OPS or innings limits to a guy like Dusty Baker and he’ll accuse you of witchcraft.
So Volquez and Cueto may want to read up on Tommy John.
4. St. Louis Cardinals (75 wins)
I considered picking the Cards for a few more wins, but despite essentially stealing Kyle Lohse, their pitching staff is just a mess.
When you also factor in that Pujols is probably headed for surgery at some point, I can’t imagine this team doing much.
5. Houston Astros (68 wins)
I’m probably underselling the Astros just a bit. The heart of the order with Berkman, Tejada, and Lee should be tremendous.
But the pitching staff is just terrible after Roy Oswalt. And the ‘stros foolishly traded for saves in Jose Valverde, which any fantasy player can tell you is always a bad idea. (And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about: saves are a pretty much meaningless stat (ahem, Joe Borowski) and you shouldn’t value them too much when evaluating a player. All they mean is that that player’s manager allowed them to close, not that the player is good.)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (63 wins)
Quite possibly the most depressing franchise in baseball. Very little big league talent and they continue to draft poorly so their farm system has next to nothing.
The Orioles and Giants may be worse this season, but both of those teams have a couple of legitimate prospects, not to mention the money to go out and sign players.
What are the odds the Pirates compete in the next decade? I’d say, very small.