1 Philadelphia Phillies — Last year the Phillies were so desperate for starting rotation help, they signed Pedro Martinez (Matsui’d) in mid-July. Two weeks later, however, they brilliantly landed Cliff Lee and pretty much stamped their ticket to the World Series. This year, they have the luxury of starting the season with Roy freaking Halladay. Expect a monster showing from Doc. It’s everything we thought we’d see when Santana made the switch, with the stark difference being Halladay will be backed by real bats and real balls. Pencil in the Phils for 97 wins.
2 Atlanta Braves — Was very tempted to put these guys finishing first, but it simply couldn’t be done with the loaded Phillies around. Their big three in Derek Lowe (good for 15 wins), the improving Jair Jurrjens (just 24 years old; 215 IP, 1.21 WHIP in ’09) and of course the soon-to-be-great Tommy Hanson should make them legitimate contenders. A big Peter Gammons “if” in Tim Hudson could give the Phils a run and possibly force Jayson Werth’s beard out of retirement. But the real story — at least from a person who could care less about the Braves otherwise — is Jason Heyward. Beast. Prediction: Win 91 games and scratch ‘n sniff the wildcard.
3 Florida Marlins — The 2010 Marlins feel like they’ve felt every year for the past six seasons since winning the World Series in ’03. Plenty of talent to love in Hanley, Chris Coghlan, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Dan Uggla (and Cameron Maybin for about five games), but as usual not enough depth in the starting rotation to take all that seriously other than to play spoiler in the month of September. Their closer is Leo Núñez. Enjoy. Expect a typical see-saw that nets out at 84 wins.
4 New York Mets — Los Mets and their psychotic fanbase should have nothing to complain about offensively. The usual suspects will be there: David, Beltran (in May) and Jose-Jose-Jose, along with Frenchie (he batted .308 in September!), and free agent prize Jason Bay. Last season Bay hit 36 homers and drove in 119 runs and the Flushing faithful are acting like Freddie Wilpon dumped $66 million on a truckload of Luis Polonia replica wigs. Sadly, their pitching is awful. After Santana, who had elbow surgery, names like Pelfrey, Maine, Perez and Niese are about as alluring as a topless Louie Anderson. The potential positives on the pitching front? Youngster Jenrry Mejia being the go-to setup man for K-Rod. Put ’em down for 72 wins and 11,796 complaints to a very gracious WFAN radio personality.
5 Washington Nationals — Over the last two years, the Washington Nationals are a blistering 118-205 with their biggest in-season moments coming in the form of botched team jerseys and hilariously thanking fans “for their patients.” How can you not love this diarrhea team? Three things for Nats fans to look forward to: The inevitable call-up of pitchers Drew Storen and the freakish Stephen Strasburg (that one should be a scene) and for the equipment manager to accidentally stitch “DONG” onto the back of Chien-Ming Wang’s jersey. Can’t wait. We’ll appropriately predict losses for this special group and go with 97.
Jason’s picks, for posterity: Phillies, Braves (wild card), Marlins, Mets, Nationals.