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Season forecast (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2008 1:06PM; Updated: Monday March 31, 2008 11:08AM
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National League

Justin Upton
Arizona's success this season may rely on how quickly Justin Upton emerges.
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Baseball 2008
 
Scouting Reports
Tom Verducci

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Division winners: New York, Chicago, Colorado. (Last year's prediction: New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles. A bagel, though I did hedge my bet by noting Arizona could steal the West.)

Wild card: Arizona. (Last year's prediction: Atlanta. Ouch.)

East: Go ahead, try to convince yourself the Mets are old and lack toughness. But how do you deny their talent? The Johan Santana trade alone moved them from a preseason third-place team into the vaunted "team to beat" designation. Their 3-4-5 starters, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Orlando Hernandez, miss bats better than anybody else's 3-4-5. I will say, however, I was struck this spring by how many baseball people love the Braves and question New York's character. "They don't pull together," said one GM of the Mets. "That's a problem when things go bad; they have players who go their own way."

I like the Phillies' everyday grinding approach, but that pitching is too thin.

Central: The Cubs just might win their division by more games than any other team, especially if they add one more bat. The Brewers and Reds can challenge Chicago for a while, but don't have the pitching depth to win. The Cardinals, Astros and Pirates all have a chance to be bad.

West: The Rockies were no fluke. They were 51-30 in the second half last year with a predominantly young team. The cohesiveness among the players and staff works in their favor. They could run away with the division if Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales are ready to give them 64 combined starts, but it's not likely both are ready for the workload.

Arizona could also win the division, especially if Justin Upton has a breakout year. The kid is going to be an impact player, and if it's as soon as this year, the Diamondbacks, an awful offensive team last year, could be scary good. One scout, though, issued a word of warning on Arizona: "They'll come to regret trading [Jose] Valverde."

The Dodgers could be very good if they can sell Juan Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra on part-time roles and let the kids get their at-bats. My favorite spring training play was watching catcher Russ Martin running full bore in an exhibition game on what was a routine stand-up double for virtually all players. Martin ran hard every step out of the box and actually rounded second base. The guy is a born leader.

San Diego is a poor offensive team counting on two 37-year-old outfielders well past their warranties (Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles). The Giants just might be the worst team in baseball. I swear, they can't hit in batting practice. You watch them take BP and the ball doesn't jump off anybody's bat, including their so-called "prospects." At least they'll be fun to watch when Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum pitch.

Surprise NL team: Cincinnati. (Last year: Arizona. Dead on.) One-third of the Cinderella playoff teams turned around after hiring a veteran manager. Dusty Baker will have an impact on the Reds. He's a little too old-school at times when it comes to lineups and "proven veterans," but the guy does have a pedigree. The Reds were outscored by 70 runs last year, including 53 of them in the eighth inning alone. That will turn around. And rookie Jay Bruce could have a Ryan Braun-like impact on Cincinnati.

Disappointing NL team: Houston. (Last year: San Francisco. Dead on.) I like the unorthodox style and production from Hunter Pence, and the Astros may score a few more runs, but I just don't see enough pitching on hand here.

The World Series

Detroit over Chicago. (Last year's prediction: Angels over Dodgers. Ugh.) Yes, the Tigers have some pitching questions. But I can't overlook three tremendous advantages they have: Cabrera (in a star-studded lineup), Jim Leyland and Mike Ilitch. Leyland is terrific at utilizing a bullpen and motivating players, the top priorities for the modern manager. It's one of the reasons I like Lou Piniella's Cubs, too. And Ilitch is pulling no stops to try to get this team a world championship. If Detroit needs repairs this summer, Ilitch will order them at any cost.

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