National League keys
Mets: Carlos Delgado. It's hard to win if you don't get much offense from your first baseman. In 2007 the Mets didn't get much from Delgado, and they didn't win (enough).
|AP Photo/Tom Mihalek|
|Brad Lidge doesn't have to repeat his perfect performance from 2008, but he needs to be close for the Phillies to contend again.|
Phillies: Brad Lidge. Last year, Lidge somewhat famously was perfect: 41 save opportunities, 41 saves. Elite closers typically blow five or six saves per season; if Lidge had done that, the Phillies wouldn't have qualified for the playoffs, let alone won the World Series. Lidge won't be perfect again this season. But for the Phillies to have any chance at all, he's got to be closer to perfect than usual.
Braves: Jeff Francoeur. The obvious answer, I guess. We might also choose rookie Jordan Schafer, but I don't think he's much of a question mark; he's going to struggle with the bat, and the Braves will live with those struggles if he catches the ball. But they have to get some production from their outfielders, and Francoeur -- coming off a dreadful 2008 -- is the only candidate in right field.
Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome. Speaking of dreadful 2008s, you have to admit it took some guts for the Cubs to trade Felix Pie and spurn Jim Edmonds, with only Fukudome left as a viable candidate for center field. The Cubs are probably the best team in the league, and that's without assuming their center fielder gives them much at all.
Cardinals: Chris Carpenter. I can't see the Cards making much noise without an ace, and I don't see any aces except for maybe this guy.
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo. Another obvious answer, especially since he seems to be a dark-horse candidate for the Cy Young Award (not saying I buy that, but still). Nobody on the current staff won more than 10 games in 2008 (except Braden Looper, who won 12 but lost 14). Yes, I know there's more to life than wins and losses ... but wins are nice when you're trying to, you know, win.
Dodgers: Manny Ramirez. Duh.
Diamondbacks: Chris Young. Justin Upton, too. In terms of supposed talent, the Diamondbacks can match the Dodgers player for player (with the exception of Manny). But they can't match them in projected performance, and the chief culprits are Young and Upton, neither of whom have yet met our expectations. If both do this season, though? Watch out for the D'backs.