Alex Belth: As John Goodman repeatedly told Steve Buscemi in "The Big Lebowski," "Donny, you're out of your element!" That about sums it up for me and the National League.
Derek Smart: I'd like to say I'm basing this part of my prediction on more than gut feel and a throw of the chicken bones, but I'd be lying like Tommy Flanagan at a meeting of the Morgan Fairchild Fan Club.
Ken Arneson: Health is a big factor here. Every month Bonds is out moves the Giants down a slot in the standings. I'm guessing three months, so drop them from first to fourth.
Scott Long: I'm sure the Giants' financial advisor has mentioned to them that to have a balanced portfolio they'll need at least 80% of Bonds.
Jon Weisman: My readers no longer need to hate me for picking the Giants--though many will still question me putting them this high. But I think their pitching, which no one talks about in the shadow of Bonds, is underrated.
Will Carroll: The Giants will find a way to win. Bonds isn't so bad that he'll miss half a season and Sabean will make one of his great mid-season acquisitions. It will be close and I'm not sure we'll know who will win until the last week or even last game.
Cliff Corcoran: Thank you, Will. This Bonds thing is overblown. I pick the Giants third with or without him.
Ken: The Dodgers need Brad Penny to stay healthy; the Padres need Woody Williams. I like the Padres overall depth better, so I'll pick them to win.
Alex Ciepley: The Padres are, for me, just about the hardest team to read in baseball.
Mike Carminati: I like the Dodgers change in direction but I'm not sure that they have the right mix just yet (Jason Phillips?).
Scott: I like the additions of Drew and Kent, while the depth of pitching is impressive. Gagne is the difference, though, so if his knee keeps him from repeating his past dominance. slide in the Padres.
Cliff: Yeah, it's really a coin toss between LA and San Diego. I expect it to come down to the wire.
Jon: No team in this division is question-free, but the Dodgers are the most likely to find the answers.
Mike: I think the D-Backs could get back to respectability quick.
Scott: The Diamondbacks gave how much to Russ Ortiz?
Derek: The runs the Diamondbacks added will be matched almost exactly by the extra runs given up by the likes of Ortiz and Shawn Estes, but they'll still be better than the Rockies, who will
almost certainly be the worst team in the National League.
Cliff: The Diamondback's Pythagorean record was 54-108 last year. If their runs wash like Derek says, I can't see how the Rockies could be bad enough to finish last, besides which, the top of their rotation (Kennedy, Jennings and Jeff Francis) has the potential to be one of the best in the team's history (though that doesn't say much).
Will: The D-Backs and Rockies will be historically bad.
Mike: The Rockies have been replaced by the Denver Bears.
Jon: Alert the Weather Channel: Tornado strikes the midwest.
Mike: TLR's Cards win by default.
Will: The Cards are just too strong and should run away with the division like they did in 2004. They're NOT deep, especially pitching, so injuries could crush them. Of course, that's true for almost every team.
Scott: Cardinals are still the class of the division. I expect the Cubs will pick up an outfielder later in the year and make a run for the wildcard.
Will: The Cubs are exactly the same, but Dusty's going to run this team into the ground.
Mike: Baker is killing the young arms in Chicago--where's Bobby D's character in "The Fan" when you need him?
Ken: The winner of the Cardinals-Cubs will be whichever teams stays healthiest. I predict both teams will suffer some big injury setbacks, but when Nomar goes down, the Cubs will insert Neifi Perez, and that will be their doom.
If you could merge the Reds' hitting with Pirates' or the Brewers' pitching, it might add up to a contender. Astros might add up to a contender by themselves, but my guess is that they'll fall closer to the bottom three than the top two.
Cliff: Outside of Ben Sheets, I don't see any Brewers pitching worth merging with anyone, I'm much more interested in their hitters. As for the Reds, I don't expect full seasons out of Griffey or Kearns, so the same old for Cincinnati, except they likely won't outplay their Pythagorean by nine games again this year.
Will: The Brewers are the surprise team, with their pitching bringing them up and Fielder and Krynzel becoming stars.
Mike: Ben Sheets on the Brewers reminds my of Curt Schilling and the Phils in the late Nineties.
Scott: If the Pirates can find a little more offense, things could get interesting in the Steel City.
Cliff: It will be interesting to see how close the Pirates can come to the third-place Astros, though honestly I expect the top four spots to be widely spaced.
Mike: The Pirates have some young exciting players but just aren't that good.
Derek: Despite thinking about this division during nearly every waking moment, I still can't sort out who finishes where to my satisfaction. I'm fairly sure of the sets of three top and bottom, but for the first time in a while it's conceivable that one of the top three could slip into the second sub-division, with the Astros the most likely candidate.
The Cubs could overtake the Cards if they get enough starts from their top three pitchers, but I wouldn't count on it, and besides, I was optimistic about their fate last year, and look what happened.
Alex C: I'm sick to death of expectations; my placement of the Cubs is a protest vote.
Will: I think this is a very improved division with four teams with legitimate shots at winning. They'll beat each other up, keeping the Wild Card elsewhere.
Derek: I am physically unable to pick against the Braves. You could re-stock them with the roster of the '62 Mets--in whatever their current state may be--and I would still type B-r-a-v-e-s at the top.
Will: The Braves just keep winning this division and I'm going to pick them until someone else wins. It's like boxing - you have to knock out the champ.
Jon: I won't fear the curse of picking against the Braves.
Ken: A Braves outfield with Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi looks horrible. If those two play all year, I think the Phillies will win it. But I'm not dumb enough to pick against Atlanta, and the Braves aren't dumb, either; by July, Marte and Langerhans will fill those holes and the Braves lineup will be solid 1-8.
Mike: I absolutely hate doing this, but I have to go for the Braves. I hope they choke on it.
Alex C: I'm writing down that the Phils will win the division, but I fully expect the Braves to win the division by 15 games.
Cliff: That's about where I am. Logic wouldn't let me pick the Braves, but that left me with the Mets and Phils, both of whom are sure to screw it up (the Mets get the nod on pitching). I fully expect the Braves to win this division, I just couldn't make myself pick that when the numbers tell me they'll only win about 83 games.
Mike: The Phils have the potential for a horrible rotation, especially if Brett Myers gets a spot. Manuel was another bad choice but at least makes the execrable Ed Wade the scapegoat if they flop again.
Lofton-Byrd seems way too much like Glanville-Byrd. Utley will be fun to watch. Polanco will shift to third to replace the ever-injured David Bell. I can't expect Abreu, Thome, and Rollins to perform as well as 2004. Burrell is an albatross. Lieberthal and Pratt again? You want a 33-year injury-prone catcher backed up by a 38-year-old career backup, right?
Cliff: As a Yankee fan, I'll take Lofton back (provided Torre plays him) and Pratt over Flaherty in a heartbeat, just tell me where to sign. The grass is always greener...
Ken: I'll give the Phillies the wild card.
Scott: The Phillies had their chances the past few years and didn't get it done.
I'm surprised I've got the Mets as a wildcard, but their pitching staff looks good and Beltran and Cameron in the outfield will swallow up the fly balls.
Ken: The Mets will be all over the place, looking brilliant one day, horrible the next, and wind up in the middle.
The Marlins, though, will stay in the hunt through the summer, but their bullpen will let them down a few too many times.
Cliff: The temptation to pick the Fish was strong, but they're losing too much with Leiter coming in to replace an 8.3 WARP season from Pavano, Ismael Valdes replacing four months of Brad Penny and Guillermo Mota trying to compensate for the 7.5 WARP Armando Benitez took with him in addition to two months production of his own.
Conversely, the temptation to bury the Phils was strong, but all of their moves helped them except perhaps burying Placido Polanco behind Chase Utley. You can add Placido to the list of Phils I'd like to see in the Bronx.
Mike: The Nationals will improve if for no other reason than they're future is settled and they get to stink up a new town.
Scott: The Nationals? Do you want the good news or the bad news? Good: Out of Montreal/San Juan. Bad: Hired Bowden to be GM. That's a bad move in English, Spanish or French.
Derek: The Mets and Nats look like locks for the spots I have them in, and the Phillies and Marlins could flip-flop, but as sure as the sun rising in the east or Ted Turner's hair being perfectly sculpted, Atlanta will take the division.