Well, it looks like most of the significant free agent acquisitions are over with, so I thought I'd cure some boredom by looking at what the NL will look like going into the season. IMO, the league is divided into 3 types of teams: the favorites, the hopefuls, and the pipe dreams.
The Favorites: Atlanta, Philadelphia, L.A.D., and St. Louis. Atlanta has the best rotation in the NL and a lineup filled with productive players. They may have a hole at 1B, but other than that, if everyone stays healthy, they will make the playoffs. Philly also features a stellar rotation and a productive lineup. L.A. is just behind; the back end of the rotation is questionable. St. Louis also has rotation questions after replacing Pineiro with Brad Penny and obviously relying on a healthy season from Chris Carpenter; however, any lineup with Pujols and Holiday will produce runs.
The Hopefuls: Arizona, Chicago, Colorado, San Francisco. Arizona has a fantastic 1-2-3 punch in Webb, Jackson, and Haren, but their offense lacks star power and the back-end of the rotation is questionable. Chicago has the offense, but I think Marmol will be a bust as a full-time closer. Colorado is a very interesting team; did their rotation overachieve last year, and will Francis be a comeback award candidate? San Francisco can go a long way just with LIncecum and Cain, but their offense has some serious questions (Renteria is a mummy).
The Pipe Dreams: Cincy, Florida, Houston, Milwaukee, NYM, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Washington. Cincinatti has some talent, but there are just too many questions in their rotation to justify a playoff appearance. Florida still has Uggla, Ramirez, and Johnson, but for how long, and did their SP underachieve last year or overachieve? I'll talk about Houston later. Milwaukee is a team that I think should rebuild; patching in Wolf and Davis didn't improve their rotation enough to make them a postseason team. The Mets lack the offensive firepower to produce enough runs. Pittsburgh is by far the worst team in the league; I honestly believe Doumit is the only player they have who would start on a playoff team. San Diego should also be rebuilding; why add Jon Garland (innings eater? false hope?)? Washington is actually interesting; they have a few young guys who could surprise and added some pieces in free agency, but I still don't think their rotation is good enough to be above .500.
That brings me to the Astros. This is hard to write, since I'm a huge Astros homer and typically way overly optimistic, but after comparing all these teams, I just don't see how Houston makes the postseason. The weakness in the bottom of the lineup, the bottom of the rotation, and the lack of a viable closer points to a losing year. Unfortunately, I think Myers, Norris, and Moehler/Paulino will all be below average pitchers this year, for various reasons. Norris because the hitters will adjust, Myers b/c of injury, Moehler because of age, and Paulino, well, Paulino just because I don't believe he's going to blossom like most are hoping. Matsui, Manzella, and Quintero/Towles present 3 poor hitters in the everyday lineup. And, while I lauded the addition of Lyon and Lindstrom (I thought they were good moves given the financial constraints), neither of them is reliable enough to consistently close out games. I think we're in for a long season (although we will finish ahead of Pittsburgh in the Central). Somebody prove me wrong and give me some hope!