MLB SEASON PREVIEW: NATIONAL LEAGUE

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Philadelphia Phillies: In their quest for a third straight pennant, the Phillies added Roy Halladay. Now they have great starting pitching, and four guys on the team who hit 30 home runs or more last season. Factor in a shutdown bullpen, and here’s the team to beat in the entire senior circuit. If Philadelphia has any weakness, it’s that Shane Victorino and “Disco” Ben Francisco are the only regular players on the team under 30. Fatigue could play a factor in a third straight post-season trip.

Atlanta Braves: If there’s one team who can beat the Phillies in the NL East, it’s Atlanta. They’ve got a second-year ace in Jair Jurjjens, and the early candidate for Rookie of the Year in five-tool phenom Jayson Heyward. Chipper Jones can still rake, and Bobby Cox’s retirement should provide added inspiration for his club. Don’t forget the Hinske Effect: offseason signee and former ROY Eric Hinske has made the World Series the last three years in a row with three different teams.

New York Mets: Discounting the Cubs, the Mets might be the closest thing to a cursed team in the MLB. New York has lots of talent, but have blown seemingly locked-in division championships in two of the last three years. They have so much hitting, speed, and defence, but somehow, it never clicks until the end. Given the Mets’ collective age this year, this season may be the current team’s last shot.

Florida Marlins: Somehow, the Marlins are always good, despite consistently having the lowest payroll in the majors. Remember in 2006 when they challenged for the wild card while making less money than A-Rod as a team? Well, the best scouts in baseball have done it again, because it looks like this season Florida will be on the right side of .500. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is an MVP-caliber player, and starting pitcher Josh Johnson is a legitimate ace.

Washington Nationals: When last year’s first overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg inevitably gets called up to pitch in the majors in July, fans will have a reason to tune in to what is sure to be yet another losing season. It’s sad when an organization has great players, but never at the same time (see Raptors, Toronto). Let’s hope Strasburg hits his prime before their current best player, Ryan Zimmerman, begins to decline.