1. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies and most everybody else figured this team had the talent to win it all last season as two-time defending N.L. champions with baseball’s best record. Add Cliff Lee to the mix and the expectations are even greater for a club that fell short after winning 97 games.
Can this superstar pitching staff make it happen this time? Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game early last season, then a no-hitter against the Reds in the playoffs. Still, as the Giants showed, anybody has a shot come the postseason.
2. Atlanta Braves
Fredi Gonzalez steps in to fill the big shoes left by Bobby Cox, who led the Braves to 91 wins and back to the playoffs for the first time in five years only to lose to the Giants in the first round as the wild card.
Atlanta added durable second baseman Dan Uggla as a key right-handed bat. The Braves acquired him in a trade from Florida, then rewarded the slugger with a $62 million, five-year contract. The Braves are counting on Jason Heyward following his Rookie of the Year runner-up season with another strong year.
A rotation led by Derek Lowe (16-12), Tommy Hanson (10-11) and Tim Hudson (17-9) should keep the Braves right in the mix.
3. Florida Marlins
After losing someone like Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez knows he needs to return to his productive self.
The 2006 Rookie of the Year was the N.L. batting champion in 2009 after hitting .342 with 24 home runs. He finished .300 last year with 21 homers and 76 RBIs.
The young Marlins figure to rely on their talented rotation and a bullpen that was bolstered this winter.
4. New York Mets
Many consider the Mets to be a mess considering their financial woes and the large contracts still on the books. With proven executive Sandy Alderson in charge, that could change for a club that went 79-83 to finish fourth in the East. The retooled Mets still have question marks throughout their roster as they try to avoid a fifth straight season out of the playoffs despite the challenges ahead.
Ace Johan Santana won’t pitch for a while after shoulder surgery.
Homegrown All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes has been limited by injuries the past two seasons and will be looking to impress. He batted .282 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs and 30 stolen bases last season, but can become a free agent after this year.
5. Washington Nationals
How much will Jayson Werth’s addition be worth in providing a much-needed boost to this offense? The Nationals hope a lot. He played in 159 games for the Phillies in 2009 and 156 last season, when he batted .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs.
Washington went 20-28 in one-run games and 3-10 in extra-inning games last year, both worst in the N.L. The Nats tied for the most errors in the majors.
The Nationals will be without star pitcher Stephen Strasburg for most of the season if not all of it. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list this past week as he recovers from right elbow reconstructive surgery last September. Recovery time is typically 12 to 18 months.