BASN’s NL Spring Training Previews: 10 Burning Questions

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 23, 2007
Spring Training NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Yesterday, BASN took a quick peek at the battle for the American League pennant. Today, we switch over to the senior circuit to see what you should look for in the National League.
The “Big Unit” is back in Arizona to join the D-Backs youth movement. There’s even some slight optimism in Wrigleyland as Alfonso Soriano and Lou Piniella try to help turn the Cubbies into contenders again.
All of this while the usual suspects (Cards, Mets, Padres) try to regroup from last year’s division titles. Will someone new (Phillies?) or someone old (Braves??) emerge in this year’s wild card race. We’ll ask the questions that you want answered and then some.
1. Starting at the top, can the Cardinals repeat as world champs?
As long as Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds stay relatively healthy, St. Louis will always be a formidable team. Losing NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan will hurt the rotation, but workhorse Chris Carpenter along with postseason heroes Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright should be able to make up the slack. They may not get back to the World Series, but I don’t think they’ll fall off the face of the earth either.
2. What month will Barry Bonds catch and pass the Hammer?
When you consider the fact that the Giants open the season against the Padres (80 career HRs, most vs. any opponent) and will see them five more times in April, if Bonds is really healthy he’ll get off to a good start. An uneducated guess says that when the Giants reach the end of May, he’ll be the new home run king. The big question is will Bud Light and Aaron himself be there? Stay tuned.
3. Jimmy Rollins says the Phillies are the team to beat in the East? Is he right?
His statement definitely has some bite and some truth as well. After falling behind the Mets last year, the Philly brass added righties Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton to the rotation. We know that they can hit with guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the aforementioned Rollins. After struggling at the gate the last two years, a fast start in April could be just what the doctor ordered.
4. What will the Mets have to say about this?
Manager Willie Randolph opened camp by showing off one of his many championship rings to his troops as motivation for 2007. Losing a tough seven-game NLCS to the Cards should be motivation itself for this bunch. However, starting pitching concerns will be a season-long problem unless folks like John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey take it to the next level. It’s safe to say that if the Mets repeat, it won’t be a cakewalk like 2006 was.
5. Should we really take the Cubs seriously?
Cub Nation should be cautiously optimistic that the team will improve from last year’s dismal 66-96 mark. Can we call them a legit contender as of yet? Much like last year, it will depend on the starting rotation. Adding Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis will help workhorse Carlos Zambrano in the long run, but don’t be surprised if ex-Chisox Bob Howry replaces Ryan Dempster as the closer at some point this year. Chicago will have some buzz, but contending in the Central is likely a year or two away.
6. Is there a sleeper (like last year’s Tigers) waiting to pounce in the NL?
Detroit added an ex-New York pitcher to a staff of young hurlers along with a lineup of youngsters and veterans to get to the World Series. If one looks at the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks, the similarities are eerily similar. Randy Johnson joins a staff that includes Brandon Webb, Doug Davis, and Edgar Gonzalez. Throw in Livan Hernandez and this isn’t a bad staff at all. We’re not saying that Bob Melvin’s bunch is going to be playing in October, but this is a team that you shouldn’t sleep on.
7. The Padres are going for a NL West three peat. Why doesn’t anyone care?
In many ways, the Padres are the baseball’s newest version of Rodney Dangerfield. A pitching staff that includes Jay Peavy, Greg Maddux, and Chris Young has to be taken seriously. Not to mention a decent lineup that includes the Giles brothers (Brian and Marcus), OF Mike Cameron, and SS Khalil Green. Yes, the NL West could be considered a “weak” division, but don’t blame the Pads. If they can get by the first round of the playoffs, maybe folks will take a little more notice.
8. Can the Braves bounce back or is 2007 another rebuilding year?
The days of winning their division as a birthright are now long gone, but their days as a serious contender aren’t quite over either. Their everyday lineup with the Jones boys (Andruw and Chipper), Edgar Renteria, and Jeff Francoeur is still potent, but for the first time in a while their may be questions about their pitching staff. Adding Bob Wickman as the new closer will help, but age and the injury bug amongst the starters makes them a bit questionable. That all being said, Bobby Cox could still squeeze a wild card berth out of this squad.
9. Is there another “fire sale” in the Marlins future?
The kids grew up real fast in South Beach as Joe Girardi’s NL Manager of The Year award will attest to. Why he was let go will be cause for debate all season, especially if new skipper Fredi Gonzalez gets off to another slow April start. The club contends that Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis are still in the “untouchable” stage, but me thinks if the Fish fall far out of the NL East race soon, both of them will sold to the highest bidder. If nothing else, the few Florida fans watching the youngsters blossom will be entertained.
10. Will the Nationals be the worst team in baseball this year?
If not, they’ll be right near the bottom of that pile. When you consider that their projected No. 1 starter John Patterson missed most of 2006 with forearm problems, and that most of the other starters wouldn’t be recognized by their own families, it’s not a good sign. Guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Felipe Lopez, and Nick Johnson will make the lineup respectable, but for first year manager Manny Acta this could get ugly very early. It won’t be long before you hear that familiar refrain of “First In War, First In Peace, and Last in the National League.”