1st Place – Atlanta Braves
The Braves 3 year reign as division champs came to an end in season 7 as the teams win total fell from 93 to 79 as the club limped to a third place finish and the their first season below .500 in team history. Don’t count on them being down for long. The Braves have the most balanced team in the division and should return to their place atop the division. Alex Cheng, Alex Tarraga and Dario York lead an offense that has very few holes. If you wanted to nit pick, you could say the corner outfield spots are not great offensively, but they certainly do the job on defense. The Braves pitching is just as balanced as their offense. Harold Daily leads a bullpen that can be down right dominating if Tomas Fernandez can live up to the hype and expectations that people had for him heading into his rookie year. Nobody in this rotation dominates, but they can consistently go out and keep their team in the game and that is all that is needed for this line up and bullpen.
2nd place – St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals did not step backwards this season, I actually think they can replicate the 85 wins the achieved in season 7. I just don’t think that will be enough to win the division this season. The Cardinals probably have the best offense in the division, although they are not the most balanced (See Atlanta). Bucky Stults and Ariel Mateo are very strong in the corner outfield spots. In addition Claudio Gray will finally get his chance to prove he can play at the ML level after 4 years at AAA and many feel like he may be the division’s best kept secret. Bonk Stein is the veteran behind the plate that holds it all together and if he can repeat his numbers from last year, this team should be able to make people forget that Merv Dorsey is no longer in this line up. Corey Griffin and Johan Springer lead the rotation, but may be hard pressed to repeat the success they had last season. Hee Sop Nakamura was untouchable in season 7 coming out of the pen, but after two seasons of dominating NL hitters, you have to wonder if the guy with the career ERA over 4.00 in his first 5 major league seasons is going to show up at some point.
3rd place – Florida Marlins
There is a lot to like about this Marlins team, but there is a lot that worries fans as well. Gerald Martin is a great hitter when he is in the lineup, probably is, he is almost never in the lineup due to durability issues. Carl Marte is probably the best defensive SS in the division, but the rest of the teams defense leaves a bit to be desired. Cliff Drew is coming off a fantastic rookie year where he hit 34 home runs and drove in 100 runs, but scouts seem to think he is in store for a sophomore slump considering his inability to make contact in key situations and the fact that he sometimes struggles to hit right handed pitching. It seems like there is a “but” to say in every situation where the Marlins have something to get excited about. One thing nobody can dispute is that Seth Wall is a pure stud starting pitcher. Combine Wall with Ronnie Brooks and you’ve got two guys that can hide a lot of weaknesses. The fact that Seth Wall is only 23 means that even though they may not be in line for a rise in the division this season, it is not out of the conversation that some day he will have this team in position to shine in the post season.
4th Place – Houston Astros
Someday, this team may climb out of their yearly 3rd or 4th place ranking in the division, but it won't be season 8. The team has never finished above 3rd and has never even finished above .500. Last season’s 79 wins, was the 2nd best mark in team history. Moises Gonzalez is the best player on the team and pulled an Andre Dawson by winning the NL MVP last season on a team that was never in contention. Nobody else in the lineup will strike fear into the hearts of NL pitchers. The Astros have a couple of nice starting pitchers in Rob Tipton and Ignacio Polanco, but lack depth in the back end of their rotation. The bullpen is young, unproven and lacks the presence of a lock down closer. While the near future isn’t so bright, there are some decent prospects in the organization that could eventually lead this team to the dream of a .500 season. Until then, they will be taking their place in the NL South cellar.