National League Preview: Opening Day -- and it's Not All Giants and Phillies

Check out the American League Preview in case you missed it.

The National League is the inferior league. Oh, but you knew that, right? Everyone talks about it. It's pretty clear. The American League dominates interleague play, the All-Star game and the powerhouses dwell in the Junior Circuit. The AL is just better.

That's all well and good – except this widely accepted notion has the inconvenient distinction of being false. Consider that in this decade – from 2001 to 2010 – each league has taken home the hardware five times, including the reigning champion San Francisco Giants.

Facts. They always get in the way of good old fashioned mythology.

On to the National League Preview:

New York MetsWhen Bernie Madoff is mentioned in the same breath as your team way too often, you've got a problem on your hands. The Metropolitans need to catch a break. And the break could come in the form of the returns of José Reyes, Carlos Beltrán and even Johan Santana (later in the year) to prominence. The Mets need Reyes to wreak havoc atop the order like he did from 2006 to 2008, when he averaged 16 home runs, 69 RBIs and 66 steals. Beltrán will start the season in the lineup, a welcome sight for Mets fans. Still, he's a question mark in terms of durability and playing time. And if the baseball gods will it, a June-July return of the Santana-of-old, could make the Mets a second-half darkhorse.

Atlanta Braves – Gone is Bobby Cox and, even though elder-statesman Chipper Jones is making a comeback, the Braves have the feel of a different team. That's what happens when two of your best players are 21-year-old phenom Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson, the 24-year-old horse. But the Braves are going to need Heyward (.277, 18 homers, 72 RBIs) and Hanson (10-11, 3.33 ERA, 173 strikeouts) to step their games up if they hope to keep pace with the Phillies.

Florida Marlins – They're unpredictable and extremely young. But the Marlins have perennial All-Star Hanley Ramírez, bopper Mike Stanton and a stable of pitchers that give them a chance. While the Phillies may have the best rotation in baseball, the under-the-radar Marlins feature ace Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Aníbel Sánchez, who had the best spring of them all. Bottom line: the Fightin’ Fish are better than you think.

Philadelphia PhilliesCliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Just give them the pennant, right? The stable of aces that Rubén Amaro Jr. has built is impressive, but not so fast. The kinks in the Phillies armor have come, and they've come quick. Ryan Howard's numbers have trended downward. Jimmy Rollins isn't what he once was and the biggest question mark of all is Chase Utley and the condition of his knee. The Phillies have the horses to be there in the end but they may not get the chance to maximize their potential if the offensive stars are missing in action.

Washington Nationals Exit Stephen Strasburg. Enter Bryce Harper? With the Nationals phenom sidelined for a year because of Tommy John surgery, the Nationals have the power-hitting Harper waiting in the wings. But his arrival isn't imminent and the Nats will have to expect outsized contributions from starter Jordan Zimmerman, who is on the comeback trail and $126 million man, Jayson Werth.

Chicago Cubs The Cubs have some veterans who they will be counting on to stay healthy and perform at previous levels. Aramis Ramírez sported a .241 average last season, Alfonso Soriano batted .258 and Carlos Zambrano had a 1.45 WHIP. But the one player whom they are counting on to provide a spark is Dominican shortstop Starlin Castro. The 21-year-old hopes to turn a sterling spring into a dynamic season.

Cincinnati Reds105.1 miles per hour. No it's not an astronomical speeding ticket. It's the fastest recorded pitch thrown in a major league game, and the owner of the record is Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman. The "Cuban Missile," who tattooed 105.1 on his left wrist, told ESPN that he hopes to update that number this season. But he will have limited value to the team as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Edinson Volquez, Jay Bruce and NL MVP Joey Votto round out the list of impact players for the Reds. Volquez gets the ball on Opening Day while Bruce hopes to finally reach the 40-homer potential scouts have always believed he has.

Houston Astros Wandy Rodríguez and Carlos Lee represent two different ends of the spectrum for the Astros. Rodríguez is the ace whose 3.60 ERA was more than half a run worse than his 3.03 number, but from whom the team expects a lot. Lee's best days are behind him, but he hopes to rebound from a disappointing .246 AVG.

Milwaukee Brewers For a team that features Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder the Brew Crew's hopes will live and die on the arms of Yovani Gallardo and Zack Grienke. Gallardo had 200 K's last season while Grienke is a season removed from a blistering Cy Young campaign that saw him tally 242 K's and a 2.16 ERA.

Pittsburgh Pirates Youth is en vogue in Pittsburgh in 2011. Andrew McClutchen, Pedro Alvarez and José Tabata provide young talent that the Pirates haven't seen in years. And fantasy baseball players are excited by Alvarez, who is projected to hit over 30 home runs and eclipse 100 RBIs.

Could Albert Pujols actually become a free agent? What would the contract push

from the best hitter in baseball look like? 

St. Louis Cardinals The Cards were dealt a crushing blow when they lost Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright. But if Albert Pujols puts up contract year numbers, the team might be in decent shape because of the emergence of Colby Rasmus and the addition of Lance Berkman to go along with Matt Holliday.

Arizona Diamondbacks – When Justin Upton was drafted the comparisons were quick and lofty. He was compared to Alex Rodríguez and Ken Griffey Jr. for being such a complete player at such a young age. He's coming off a disappointing season but at 23, the team expects Upton to be able to take multiple steps forward. The Diamondbacks will need him to, as they feature a young team that is minus a departed Dan Haren.

Colorado Rockies Carlos González, Ubaldo Jiménez and Jhoulys Chacín provide some Latino flair in the Rocky Mountain air. González is an MVP candidate who batted an insane .336 with 36 home runs, 117 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. Jiménez was a Cy Young contender and Chacín had almost a strikeout per inning, showing that he has the stuff to dominate when he's on.

Los Angeles Dodgers Don Mattingly takes over for Joe Torre as the Dodgers hope to get over the hump. Clayton Kershaw is an ace in the making who may have his coming-out party in 2011. Matt Kemp is coming off a down year in which he batted .249 with 28 homers to go along with 89 RBIs and 19 steals. The previous year Kemp hit to the tune of .297 with 26 homers, 101 RBIs and 34 steals. The Dodgers will need him to rebound if they hope to keep pace in the competitive AL West.

San Diego Padres The Padres had a scare when ace Mat Latos strained his shoulder in spring training, but all reports indicate that he will be back after the first week of April. The biggest change for the Pads will be the loss of A-Gone, Adrian González, who was an imposing figure in the middle of their lineup. They almost won the NL West with him. How will they fare without him?

San Francisco Giants Last but not least: The 2010 World Champion Giants. Miguel Tejada replaces Juan Uribe at shortstop, but with the emergence of young starter Madison Bumgardner to go along with the three-headed monster of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sánchez, the Giants should be well-positioned to be a top team again. Not many teams also feature a young star catcher like Buster Posey.

Check out our slideshow of National League Young Guns and Sluggers.

Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at or on Twitter @RealAdrianC.

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