1st Place: Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers rode a great 2010-2011 offseason to a division lead and playoff berth at 96-66. They did quite well with the 11th best hitting in the league and 8th best pitching. Much of that team stays intact, with one notable exception-- the loss of Prince Fielder. However, to some degree, they made up for that loss with the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez (right)(.306/26/93) to play third. They traded their current third baseman Casey McGehee to the Pirates for Jose Veras (2-4/3.80/79) to improve their bullpen. Expect their win total to fall off a bit with the loss of Fielder, but I still think they'll take the NL Central.
2nd Place: St. Louis Cardinals- The Cardinals had a great year in 2011, winning the World Series and shocking many-- including myself. However, like the Brewers, they lost their great star (Albert Pujols) in this offseason. Also like the Brewers, they replaced him to some degree, with outfielder Carlos Beltran (left)(.300/22/84). However, besides that, the Cardinals had a very quiet offseason. Their pitching staff that was 12th in the league with a 3.74 ERA will be all back, and potentially stronger with the likely addition of Roy Oswalt (9-10/3.69/93). The hitting will take a hit, but expect the Cardinals to make a strong push for the Wild Card(s).
3rd Place: Cincinnati Reds- The Reds were a major disappointment last year, as many people thought they may repeat the 91-71 season and first place finish of 2010-- however, they slipped to 79-83 and 3rd place in 2011. I think they'll stay in 3rd, but I think they will be a much better team in 2012. They mortgaged their future to improve a pitching staff that was 20th last year-- trading for Mat Latos (right) (9-14/3.47/185) from the Padres. They also helped their bullpen by troves, acquiring Ryan Madson (4-2/2.37/62) and Sean Marshall (6-6/2.26/79). On hitting, they didn't do a whole lot but phenom Devin Mesoraco (.289/15/71 in AAA) will be taking over the reins at catcher. Expect the Reds to miss the Playoffs, but not by a whole lot.
4th Place: Chicago Cubs- The Cubs were another disappointment in 2011, going 71-91 and finishing 5th. They haven't done a whole lot this offseason, but they got front office minds Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer so they are headed in the right direction. They also improved one of the worst pitching staffs in the league by acquiring Paul Maholm (left)(6-14/3.66/97), Chris Volstad (5-13/4.89/117), and Travis Wood (6-6/4.84/76). Their biggest acquisition to an offense that was 18th in the league was David DeJesus (.240/10/46 in a down year). All in all, the Cubs haven't done enough and Bud Selig's compensation for Theo Epstein sits on the horizon.
5th Place: Pittsburgh Pirates- The Pirates were looking like an early season surprise before the wheels came off the bus in June when they went from a 1st place team to a 4th place team at 72-90. Their pitching staff was pretty good for much of the year, but Paul Maholm left for Chicago, and the only real starter they've signed is Erik Bedard (right) (5-9/3.62/125). However, they have gotten some help with their 27th ranked offense, acquiring Rod Barajas (.230/16/47), Clint Barmes (.244/12/39), and Casey McGehee (.285/23/104 in 2010). Still, the Pirates won't be a contender or close in 2012.
6th Place: Houston Astros- The league's worst team at 56-106 in 2011 will probably stay in the cellar in 2012. Their hitting ranked 27th in 2011 and their pitching ranked 28th for a terrible team. They haven't really improved either one very much. In fact, they even traded their best reliever-- Mark Melancon-- to Boston for Jed Lowrie (left)(.252/6/36) and Kyle Weiland (0-3/7.66/13). All they've done otherwise is acquire Chris Snyder (.271/3/17) and Jack Cust (.213/3/23). Expect the Astros to be the league's worst team for a second year running.