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NL EAST

The Phillies have been the overwhelming favorite in the NL East in recent years and they have not disappointed, winning the division each of the last five years. Injuries that could keep Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of action leave a less promising lineup to go with the stellar pitching staff however. The Braves seek to bounce back after collapsing from wild card position last year but there are a lot of questions with this team. While spring training records are not overly meaningful, the five teams from the NL East all have losing records in the Grapefruit League with the Braves, Nationals, and Mets being at the very bottom of the standings. The now Miami Marlins made a big splash this off season with several big-name acquisitions and a new ballpark but Florida was a very disappointing team last year. Miami has some big names but there are still some questions. Washington also is a team getting a lot of attention with an improved pitching staff and the big name young stars set to contribute. The Nationals were just barely below .500 last year and many are expecting a big breakthrough season. The Mets are the forgotten team in the division but New York could be better than most seem to be projecting.

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BEST BET:
Over 71 Wins – New York Mets: The Mets got nothing from ace Johan Santana last year and while one must be cautious with any pitcher coming back from injury he certainly is a wild card that could greatly improve this team. Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese were better than their numbers suggested last season and R.A. Dickey remains a solid change of pace starter that fits well at Citi Field. This is a decent pitching staff in a ballpark suited for a pitching oriented team. The offense lacks sizzle but young players with potential such as Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda could make this a solid team that plays closer to .500 ball and bests some of the dire predictions.

NL CENTRAL

The Brewers ran away with this division last season but it was the Cardinals that got hot late in the year to steal the wild card and eventually the World Series. Both Milwaukee and St. Louis lost the face of their team with Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols jumping at the AL cash but both squads remain playoff contenders with good starting pitching and solid lineups. The team that many expect to bounce back is Cincinnati after the Reds fell under .500 last season following the 2010 division title. The Reds add Mat Latos to the pitching staff and have a roster filled with great potential. The Pirates were a nice story in the first half of the season last year and Pittsburgh seems to have more stability than most years, making another step forward possible. The Cubs stayed out of the big free agent races this winter and seem content to play out a rebuilding season but there are some stars in the making on the roster and after a the negativity of the past two years better results could occur. The Cubs remain an overvalued team however and the franchise is still bogged down with some bad contracts from the past that may hurt the chances for growth for another year. Houston hit rock bottom last year but with a mainly unrecognizable roster of questionably MLB ready players it could be another long year in Houston as they wait for the move to the AL.

BEST BET: UNDER 88 Wins – Cincinnati Reds: The Reds won 91 games two years ago but otherwise this has been a franchise that has done nothing but lose in the last decade. Many peg Cincinnati as the team to beat but it isn’t clear that Milwaukee and St. Louis will get much worse than last year as the Brewers made some nice moves to balance the loss of Fielder and St. Louis will be getting Adam Wainwright back in the rotation. Latos is a big gamble going from one of the best pitching parks to one of the worst and Johnny Cueto will have a tough time repeating last year’s numbers. The Reds will be relying on unproven players like Chris Heisey and Zack Cozart to be productive and Ryan Madson is also a big of a gamble as the new closer. Cincinnati also must deal with an improved Pittsburgh team and interleague schedule that features the Yankees and Tigers.

NL WEST

In the last six years every team in this division has made the playoffs at least once which no other division can claim and this has been a group of teams that can quickly take drastic turns for the better or the worse. Last year Arizona made a 29-game improvement to win the division as the expense of the Padres who fell to 19-games worse and the Rockies falling 10-games worse. The Dodgers quietly improved with a slight winning record last year after a strong second half and while San Francisco could not match the previous two seasons the Giants were still a very competitive team. This is a pitching driven division with the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers all featuring deep veteran rotations that should be among the better staffs in the NL. Colorado still has a potent offense and the Padres have made some positive moves and could be a more competitive team this year. This is perhaps the only division where any shuffling of the standings is possible and there would really be no great surprises.

BEST BET: UNDER 81 Wins – Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers had the Cy Young winner and the MVP runner-up but still finished just three games above .500 last year. Clayton Kershaw is one of the great young pitchers in the game but repeating last year’s campaign is unlikely and the same can be said for Matt Kemp. Everyone is still waiting for James Loney and Andre Ethier to have that breakthrough season but both continue to be decent but replaceable players and the rest of the lineup will be filled with aging veterans like Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis or unproven young players with Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis likely opening with starting roles. Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano were added to the rotation but it is hard to see either of those two living up to Hiroki Kuroda’s numbers or even the numbers that the combination of Rubby De La Rosa and Jon Garland posted. The bullpen is filled with uncertainty with Javy Guerra’s limited experience as a closer as well. Having to play Angels six times in interleague play is also big disadvantage compared with the rest of the division. The Dodgers don’t have the pitching that San Francisco has and the lineup is much weaker than what Colorado and Arizona can offer in the NL West.

  
HEADLINES
Akins: Diamond Trends - Friday
Arrieta leads Cubs past Orioles, 4-1
Orioles' Machado not ready to play
White Sox recall INF Carlos Sanchez
Indians' Gomes out with concussion
Fiers making pitch for Brewers rotation
Angels' Richards done for the season
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