Baseball starts in just a few hours. So in order to get ready, let’s do those pesky predictions. Yesterday I did a quick and dirty preview for the AL, so now it’s time to look at the NL. Once again, before I show you my predictions, I’ll give you my thoughts on each team.

Astros: Hunter Pence is a good player, but when he is far and away your best hitter, you probably don’t have much of a lineup. They have two good pitchers – Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, but beyond those 3 guys, and Carlos Lee, there isn’t much here of value.

Braves: I am bullish on these guys this year, their lineup is better than people realize, and I like their pitching staff. It’s too bad they have to look up at the Phillies. I think they’ll be in the Wild Card fight all year long. (This is what I wrote last year. I’m sticking with it)

Brewers: I really think this team has a chance to do very well. Strong pitching up front and formidable hitting better stand together because their defense aint winning any games.

Cardinals: Their lineup is strong in the middle – not just Pujols but Holliday, Rasmus and Berkman could be very good. The problem is, without Wainwright, their starting pitching leaves alot to be desired after Carpenter.

Cubs: This lineup is so up and down, with so much potential for success or failure – Fukudome, Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Pena all seem to be wild cards. If they do well this year,it might be on the backs of Zambrano, Garza and Dempster.

Diamondbacks: I picked the DBacks to surprise last year, and they finished the season with 65 wins. They’re not good yet, but they have two potentially very good starters in Hudson and Kennedy, and several very good if not great position players in Drew, Montero, Young, and Kelly Johnson. Justin Upton could truly have a superstar year – remember he’s only going to be 23. Still, it isn’t gonna be enough to compete just yet.

Dodgers: This team looks like the real deal to me. They have a strong albeit not spectacular lineup, and I expect a significant recover from Matt Kemp. Their rotation is killer, their first 4 starters all are very good, with Kershaw and Billingsley having the chance to be great. They’ll be in the hunt all year.

Giants: The defending champs deserve credit for putting together a great pitching staff. It’s better than the Dodgers, thanks to the ability of their ace Tim Lincecum, but it’s not that far off. The question for me, then, is who’s lineup is better. I am not sure quite a few Giants didn’t peak last year, but that may be offset by a full season of Posey and a Sandoval recovery. They should be very good.

Phillies: It seems the question for the Phillies isn’t if they’ll make the playoffs, it’s how far they’ll go. That starting pitching staff is incredible, tops in the league, and even strong enough to allay fears about the bullpen. Their much maligned lineup is still quite good, but fears of Rollins having another bad season, Utley being too hurt, Howard aging fast and Polanco getting too many ABs keep them from being a total lock.

Marlins: The pitching staff is very formidable, they have a legitmate ace in Josh Johnson, and if Javier Vazquez remembers he’s in the NL they could have 4 good starters going. Their lineup is getting better – Coughlin and LoMo in the outfield provide OBP, Stanton provides power, and Hanley provides everything. Beyond that, though, there is something to be desired.

Mets: The lineup here could still be decent. David Wright can hit, and Reyes, Beltran and Bay will all probably have better seasons than 2010.  Davis and Pagan could give them something there as well. But the pitching staff, with Johan’s return a mystery and guys like Pelfrey and Niese considered their best starters, is just plain bad.

Nationals: Starting with the starting pitching – I expect Livo to be worse and Marquis to be better than last year. I think they will get good seasons out of Detwiler and Zimmermann, but that may be the highlight of the pitching. The offense from Zimmerman and Werth will be there, LaRoche is underrated and good. The real question for me is what will Desipinosa bring. This team won’t be a laughingstock, but it’ll still be hard to get out of the NL East cellar. With the right breaks, they’ll finish 4th.

Padres: Certainly the surprise story of 2010, the Padres will look to get that playoff spot that eluded them by 2 games last year. The problem is, their best pitcher is Mat Latos, who is presently hurt (not seriously) and beyond that isn’t that impressive. They might put up good numbers in Petco, but aren’t exactly great. Their lineup is ok, Bartlett, Headley, Maybin, Maybin and Hawpe are all complementary pieces. But in order to really score runs they probably need one or two Adrian Gonzalezes.

Pirates: There’s not much on offense here, except for McCutchen and maybe Tabata and Pedro Alvarez. The pitching staff has nothing of note, and this team will once again not be very impressive.

Reds: I think they’ll take a step back this year. They’ll still be in the hunt but outside of Votto, they don’t have any stud offensive players. Phillips has real power for a 2B, and could put together a great season, and Jay Bruce will hit the ball far, but it isn’t a real great lineup. The Mike Leake story took a bad turn after midseason last year, Chapman isn’t starting, and Volquez and Cueto aren’t special. The pitching staff could be significantly worse this year.

Rockies: Two of the best players at their position – Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki – help make this lineup pretty formidable. Dexter Fowler, Chris Ianetta, Ian Stewart and Todd Helton aren’t slouches either, and this team should score some runs. They still have the great Ubaldo, but De La Rosa, Chacin and Cook don’t give them very much beyond him. They’ll be good, but I don’t think they’re in the hunt at the end.

Here are my final predictions, including those for the AL from yesterday:

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: A’s
AL Wild Card: Yankees

ALCS: White Sox vs. Red Sox

AL Champs: White Sox

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Brewers
NL West: Dodgers
NL wild card: Braves

NLCS: Braves vs. Phillies

World Series: White Sox over Braves

AL MVP: Robinson Cano, Yankees
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester, Red Sox
AL Rookie: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
AL Manager: Bob Geren, A’s

NL MVP: Ryan Braun, Brewers
NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson, Marlins
NL Rookie: Freddie Freeman, Braves
NL Manager: Ron Roenicke, Brewers

By Charlie