A list of some of my predictions for the best of the best from the National League heading into the 2011 season.
Best Rotation: Philadelphia Phillies (Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Blanton)
Honorable Mention: San Francisco Giants (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Zito, Sanchez)
I know there are plenty of Giants fans out there that would like to try and argue the case for Timmy and Co., but lets be reality, the Phillies are just flat out filthy and in a completely different league when it comes to starting pitching. The only other rotation that I have seen in my lifetime that could match the one that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has put together was the Braves rotation of the late 90's that featured Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton. Blanton is the obvious weak link at the back end of the rotation, but this team looks to be in excellent hands with their 1-4 starters. Barring catastrophic injury to the entire front line, I'd bet Floyd Mayweather money that the NL Cy Young comes outta this group.
Best Rookie: Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Honorable Mentions: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves; Craig Kimbrel, P, Atlanta Braves; Yonder Alonso, 1B/LF, Cincinnati Reds; Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
The Rookie of the Year race in the National League has a tough act to follow with all the great rookies that came into their own in 2010 (Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Logan Morrison, Jaime Garcia, Gaby Sanchez). Leading the pack is Brandon Belt, who managed a .352 batting average, .620 SLG, and .455 OBP across three different levels of the minors last year. He has managed to win a permanent spot at 1B for the reigning champs by posting an impressive spring with 3 HR's and 13 RBI's in 71 at-bats. Belt won't be without competition though, as there are a crop of rookies in Atlanta that will be biting at his heels with 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel and SP Mike Minor. Should make for a great race throughout the entire year.
Best Bet For MVP: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
Honorable Mentions: Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies; Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers; Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
This might actually be the only bigger no-brainer than picking the Phillies rotation as the best in the NL. Albert is an absolute animal and after he was unable to agree to an extension with the Cards in Spring Training, he is now auditioning for every mouth watering GM, Owner, and fan in Major League Baseball. I foresee yet another 40+ HR, 120+ RBI in the future for Pujols, who is still only 31 years old. CarGo out in Denver might be able to offer up some steep competition, but I'd like to see him re-create his breakout from a year ago before he makes a real surge to challenge Sir Winnie the Pujols.
Best Bet to Hit 50+ HR's: Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins
Honorable Mentions: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals; Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
I've had the honor of getting to watch 21 year old man-child Mike Stanton taking batting practice in person. It's a well known fact that chicks dig the long ball, and I have a feeling The Real Housewives of Miami will be swarming around Mr. Stanton all season long. He has a solid offensive cast around him with Hanley Ramirez, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison, so he should see plenty of pitches to hit. Albert and Prince are perennial contenders to hit 50+ dingers, so I would not be surprised to see them do the same.
Best Team That Didn't Make the Playoffs Last Year: Colorado Rockies
Honorable Mentions: Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins, Chicago Cubs
Last year, it was the Padres that gave Los Gigantes a run for their money. This year, I gotta feelin' that the boys in Denver will be doing just the same. The Rockies have an incredibly talented and young team led by Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Even old man Todd Helton still has some pop left in his bat. If they can manage to work through their growing pains and put it all together, we may be seeing a whole new wave of bandwagon fans come Rocktober. The Marlins are in a very similar boat with a team that has all the potential in the world and just has to get all the pieces to fall into place. If their young hitters continue to mature and they could find some pitching, they might be able to make a run at the NL Wild Card. The Brewers have also greatly improved this offseason by adding pitchers Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Should make for a great race in the NL Central.