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National League preview: Phillies go for three-peat

March 28, 2010

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The only thing the Philadelphia Phillies want from the St. Louis Cardinals is the title of last team to win three straight National League pennants.

Albert Pujols? Heck, the Phils are fine with Ryan Howard. Besides, they boosted their chance of the first NL three-peat since the Cardinals in the 1940s by making the big deal, getting Roy Halladay in a trade that sent their playoff ace to Seattle.

“I feel like the desire’s more,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think that the talent we have on this team, stay healthy, a little luck, we’ll be there again.”

The 2010 Cardinals aren’t conceding anything, though. They brought back Big Mac to help the hitters and gave Matt Holliday a huge deal to keep him paired with Pujols in the lineup.

The Phillies and Cardinals are the class of the league, for sure. But if the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies have their way, neither of those teams will be heading to the World Series come October.

“It’s not good enough to win the division or get to the playoffs. It’s not going to be good enough this year,” Rockies backup first baseman Jason Giambi said, “it’s going to be to go to the World Series.”

A look at the NL in predicted order of finish:

EAST

Philadelphia Phillies

Not satisfied with a return to the World Series that ended in a six-game loss to the Yankees, the Phillies added Halladay to top their rotation. They also beefed up an already formidable lineup, and upgraded the bench with catcher Brian Schneider, infielder Juan Castro and outfielder Ross Gload. But Philadelphia’s chances at another title might depend on setup man J.C. Romero, closer Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels.

Atlanta Braves

If Bobby Cox is going to return to the playoffs in his last season as manager of the Braves, it in part could be thanks to the 20-year-old right fielder Jason Heyward, whose power displays this spring have elicited Bunyanesque tales.

New York Mets

Health is the key if the Mets are going to bounce back from the disastrous 70-92 finish in 2009, and they already are off to a poor start.

Florida Marlins

The Marlins pushed their payroll above $40 million for the first time since 2005 to keep the team together. They gave Josh Johnson a $39 million, four-year contract and second baseman Dan Uggla $7.8 million for 2010.

Washington Nationals

The fact the Nationals finished their second straight 100-loss season (59-103) is no reason for optimism in D.C. Stephen Strasburg, however, is.

CENTRAL

St. Louis Cardinals

With a starting rotation anchored by dual aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and an offense led by the combo of Pujols and Holliday, the Cardinals should repeat as Central champs. They just hope Mark McGwire’s return to St. Louis is not a distraction when the team hits the road.

Chicago Cubs

The biggest move the Cubs made this offseason was trading away the volatile Milton Bradley after one combustible season.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers found out that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can only carry the club so far, so Milwaukee went out and signed Randy Wolf to $29.75 million, three-year deal and brought back Doug Davis.

Cincinnati Reds

Only six teams in majors scored fewer runs than the Reds did (673) last year, their ninth straight losing season, but they added only one new starter: Orlando Cabrera.

Houston Astros

New manager Brad Mills inherits a sagging ballclub that made few moves in the offseason. On offense, the Astros lost shortstop Miguel Tejada — rookie Tommy Manzella takes over — from a lineup that produced just 643 runs, 14th in the NL.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The ballclub without a winning season since Barry Bonds’ year last with the team in 1992 is building for the future. A bevy of trades over the last 2 1⁄2 seasons stocked the minors, and several of those players might be ready — by this summer.

WEST

Colorado Rockies

Expectations are high after Jim Tracy took over for Clint Hurdle as manager after a slow start and led the team to the NL wild card. They could win the West if left-hander Jeff Francis returns to form after missing all of 2008, and if closer Huston Street and setup man Rafael Betancourt are healthy.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers could be as interesting off the field as they are on it. Owners Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, are set to meet in court in May. Manager Joe Torre is in the final year of his contract. And Manny Ramirez, also in his final year, already has made a stir this spring, saying this would be his last season in Los Angeles and then backtracking a day later.

San Francisco Giants

It’s a good thing Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain don’t need much run support — they can’t expect it from the Giants’ offense. New arrivals Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff should add some pop to a lineup that hit 122 homers, 15th in the NL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Much depends on the return of 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb from shoulder surgery and he might be ready by mid-April.

San Diego Padres

There is optimism in San Diego after the Padres went 37-25 to finish the season in fourth place. But a sunny outlook might not be enough to keep All-Star slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who could be dealt before the trading deadline.

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