1ST PLACE – St. Louis Cardinals: Season 8 was a nightmare for Cardinal fans. The team win total fell from 85 to 71 and the teams 3rd place finish was their lowest since season 1. Why do I expect things to be better this season? Well for “starters”, they come into season 9 with the best rotation in the division. Gibbons, Springer and Prince are all solid and should give the team consistency. Offensively, they have just enough weapons to get the job done. Claudio Gray and Bucky Stein are both solid hitters, while Nicholas Walters (2B), Diego Cedeno (CF) and Sam Brown (SS) are the best hitters at their position in the division. If Cardinals fans have something to worry about, it’s the bullpen. Buddy Borders and Hee Sop Nakamura will attempt to lead a group that is not overly deep or talented.
2nd PLACE – Atlanta Braves: After winning three straight division titles from season 4 to season 6, the Braves will now make it three straight second place finishes this season after finishing in the runner up spot in season 7 and season 8. One thing that has not changed is the Braves can mash. Al Reynoso, Ricardo Jose and Alex Cheng can flat out rake. Not to mention they also bolster the divisions best 3B, Alex Tarraga. The Braves pitching staff is solid but not spectacular. Harold Daily is the clear ace of the rotation, while Tomas Fernandez and Armando Coronado will can be nasty when the can control their pitches.
3rd PLACE – Houston Astros: The Astros finally had a winning season and won their first NL South title in season 8, but don’t count on it happening again. The 85 win playoffs season made for a great story, but this team does not have the same talent as St. Louis or Atlanta. The Astros do have a very nice bullpen, lead by newcomers Don Plant (trade) and Delanor Prince (Free Agent), but their rotation does not have the ability to go deep in games and other than Rob Tipton, the talent level is not impressive. Offensively the team is strong. Former NL MVP Moises Gonzalez is still amazing and Ugueth Cortes has opened a lot of eye by opening his major league career with back to back seasons hitting over .340. But after that there is a drop off, and the strong bullpen will not be enough to get this team back to the post season in season 9.
4th PLACE – Florida Marlins: The Marlins have finished in the NL South cellar 3 out of the last 4 seasons and season 9 will be no different. This team just lacks the talent to compete. Other than Seth Wall, the rotation is average at best and the bullpen is just not good. MLB insiders are starting to wonder if it would make more sense for the Florida front office to deal Seth Wall and get a big time prospect or two that can be hitting their prime the same time the rest of their current minor league stars are ready to contribute. Offensively, Luis Bravo and Cliff Drew are solid, but are far from enough to get this team over the hump on days where Wall is not on the mound.