Thursday, May 3, 2012

NL Grades Reviewed

If you've been with me here for a while, you'll remember the division-by-division season previews that went up about a month and a half ago.  I graded each team's lineup, rotation and bullpen, then predicted their finish in the division.  I thought now would be an appropriate time to go back an review those grades, given that we're over a month into the season.  Working east to west, let's see how things are shaking out.

NL East Pre-Season Prediction
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Washington Nationals
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. New York Mets

NL East Current Standings
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves (1.0)
3. New York Mets (2.5)
4. Philadelphia Phillies (3.0)
5. Miami Marlins (4.5)

As you can tell, this race is still very close.  The Nats have been carried by uncharacteristically good pitching thus far, which I expect will regress some.  Bryce Harper has energized the offense, however, and they should continue to score runs, especially when they get Zimmerman and Morse back.  I'm surprised that Atlanta has done so well, but they're scoring runs right now and the pitching has been pretty good, as expected.  The Mets are a total surprise and I don't see them continuing this pace in the least.  Philadelphia is using their rotation to stay at .500 as the offense has been well below average.  Ryan Howard is inching closer to a return but Utley appears a long ways off still.  I'm not sure they'll be able to catch the Nats if they don't start making up ground in a hurry.  The Marlins are far from out of it, but they've really disappointed.  Heath Bell has struggled (as predicted), Stanton has shown no pop and Hanley is scuffling once again.  Their offense has been terrible thus far, plain and simple.  

I still like the Phils, Nats and Braves to fight it out, but I may have been too generous with the Marlins.  If they don't come around soon, they will have a long summer ahead of them.  Let the Mets' free fall begin in 5, 4, 3, 2…

My Prediction Grade: B-

NL Central Pre-Season Prediction
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros

NL Central Current Standings
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds (3.5)
3. Houston Astros (5.0)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (5.0)
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (5.0)
6. Chicago Cubs (7.0)

The Cards have opened up a decent gap on the rest of the division.  Molina's earning his new deal while Beltran, Freese, Jay, and Furcal help power the offense.  Once Holliday turns on, look out.  The rotation has been solid.  Lance Lynn has been a revelation, Jaime Garcia is solid as ever and Jake Westbrook continues to get it done.  Cincinnati is trying to keep up the pace, but at .500, they'd better pick it up.  Despite Ryan Madson going down before the season, the bullpen has been the bright spot as the rotation is mediocre at best.  Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and rookie shortstop Zack Cozart are waiting to get some help as Hanigan, Ludwick and Phillips are all off to slow starts.  Houston, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are log-jammed at 11-14.  I'll stick by my pick with Milwaukee eventually emerging, but they've already dug themselves a hole.  The Astros and Pirates are scrappy, though, and won't go down without a fight.  Neither team will make the playoffs, but they'll find comfort in stealing victories from division opponents.  Chicago is struggling, as expected.  The pitching is decent but the offense is really poor.

If the Cardinals stay hot, they could run away with this thing.  The Reds will have a hard time catching them unless the starting pitching gets better in a hurry.  Look for them to potentially make a deal for an additional starter sooner rather than later.  The rest of the pack is falling behind fast.  A big May is needed if they want to stay close.

My Prediction Grade: A-

NL West Pre-Season Prediction
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Doders
5. San Diego Padres

NL West Current Standings
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (4.0)
3. Colorado Rockies (4.5)
4. San Francisco Giants (5.0)
5. San Diego Padres (8.5)

Chavez Ravine has been raucous thus far.  The white-hot Dodgers are tied for the best record in all of baseball.  How?  Matt Kemp has a triple-slash of .411/.500/.856 with 12 dingers through 25 games.  Journeyman catcher AJ Ellis is mashing, to everyone's surprise, and Andre Eithier has clearly bounced back in his contract year.  Can they sustain it?  I don't think so since Kemp can't keep this up and he's getting little help outside of Ellis and Eithier.  The pitching is going to fall back to earth eventually, too.  Most of the team's ERA's are deflated when compared to their xFIP's.  The Diamondbacks have been solid and have mitigated injuries to Chris Young and Justin Upton while also surviving a slow start from Jason Kubel.  They're a balanced offense that should continue to score runs, plus they have a deep bench.  The starters are solid and exchanging Josh Collmenter for Patrick Corbin appears to be a good move.  Skaggs and Bauer loom if there are any more issues.  JJ Putz is back on the DL, but Bryan Shaw is filling in adequately with the help of a deep 'pen.  The Rockies and Giants aren't as enticing.  Colorado continues to struggle to pitch while the offense hasn't been all that impressive either, outside of a few performances by CarGo.  The Giants are pitching well, but not as much as expected.  Lincecum's struggles have been well-documented and the offense is trying to iron out a logjam at 1st base.  Aubrey Huff has been terrible while Brett Pill has filled in pretty well.  Of course, Brandon Belt is there, too, so there's much to be desired in terms of fitting the puzzle pieces in the optimal positions.  Pablo Sandoval is out for 8 weeks with a broken hamate bone, so that's another negative for a team that is scoring runs at a below-average rate.  San Diego has a poor offense and worse pitching staff.  They'll be in the cellar all year.

I like the Diamondbacks to catch the Dodgers.  Los Angeles is a statistical nightmare, as all indicators show that they've been extremely luck and their success hinges on one player.  I'll still take the Giants over the Rox in the long run, but that's really anyone's guess.  Pitching wins out in that battle, I suppose.

My Prediction Grade: B

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