Cincinnati Reds – Loved ’em last year and said this would be the pick, so we’re sticking with it. Everything screams stay away, though: Last winning record? 2000. What does 35-year-old Scott Rolen have left? Can Jay Bruce get his act together? How good can the starting pitching be without Volquez? Inspired by a pep talk from Eric Davis and the Nasty Boys: 87 wins and the 2nd best pro team in Ohio this year after the Cavaliers. But like the Bengals, they won’t win in the postseason.
St. Louis Cardinals – Narrowly miss the playoffs with 85 victories. You know what you’re getting from Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter and Wainwright (we are forever indebted to the latter two; they carried us to a 2nd place finish in fantasy last year). But the season might hinge upon what they get from from Brad “Big Pimpin” Penny and batters not named Albert or Matt. Was the real Ryan Ludwick the ’08 or the ’09 version? Wouldn’t you rather have Tommy Herr at 2nd than a guy named Skip? And sorry, but no matter how much people love Colby, he’ll never be as culturally relevant as Willie McGee.
Chicago Cubs – Like the starters, don’t like the bullpen (yet, at least) and the hitting leaves a little to be desired. The good news is that the spotlight is on the Cardinals and Reds, and nobody seems to be paying attention to the team ripped apart by injuries last year. Wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs won the division. Also wouldn’t surprise us if Zambrano imploded, Soriano’s numbers continued to tank, and the Cubs fell to 75 wins and gutted the joint. But we’ll predict 83 victories and in a spot in the Central race all season.
Milwaukee Brewers – Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are as good a hitting tandem as you’ll find in the NL. Problem is, can the supporting bats – Casey McGehee, Alcides Escobar, Richie Weeks, Carlos Gomez – come through? Robin Yount or Paul Molitor would totally be ideal. The good news is that we don’t think the other three contenders in this division – the Pirates and Astros have already been written off – aren’t good enough to run away and hide. If the Brewers bullpen is solid (LaTroy Hawkins?) and the No. 2/3 starters (Randy Wolf, Doug Davis?) are decent, they should still be in the mix in August. We’ll guess 77 wins.
Houston Astros – The best hope for us writing about these guys? Hunter Pence gets his mack daddy vibe on with another chick of this caliber. Berkman breaks down, so does Oswalt, and Brandon Lyon isn’t the answer in the pen. The guess: 68 wins.
Pittsburgh Pirates – An embarrassment on every front possible. Contract these wastes of space and let the ghosts of Wagner, Clemente and Stargell weep. It’ll take a few years, but people will get over it. The Pirates are stuck in a vicious cycle – nobody goes to the games because there’s been a 17-year talent-drain taking place. In the last 20 years, can you think of a bigger vortex of suck in professional sports? Billy Beane, Bill James and Dr. F’ing Heimlich himself couldn’t fix this abortion. Sixty one, but not in honor of Maris.