With Opening Day a few days away, let's look into Baseball Prospectus' equivalent of a crystal ball, a projection system called PECOTA, to predict the National League standings. For the AL projections, click here.
The Phillies are picked to win their fourth consecutive NL East title with an 89-73 record, and the second-place Braves are expected to grab the wild card with an 85-77 mark.
The Phillies will win the East for the fourth-consecutive year.
The Phillies should again have a potent lineup with first baseman Ryan Howard blasting 38 home runs and driving in 117 runs, right fielder Jayson Werth adding 31 homers and second baseman Chase Utley hitting .286 with 26 homers. Newcomer Roy Halladay will lead the pitching staff with 16 wins, a 3.23 ERA and 184 strikeouts, while left-hander Cole Hamels will return to his 2008 form with a 14-win season.
The Braves will get to the playoffs even though PECOTA does not think rookie right fielder Jason Heyward will make it look as easy as he has in spring training, projecting him for a .274 batting average and 12 homers. Despite his spring struggles, center fielder Nate McLouth should be the top threat with 24 homers and 23 steals.
Rounding out the division will be the Marlins (80-82), Mets (78-84) and Nationals (74-88). The middle infield of shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.312, 29 homers, 30 steals) and second baseman Dan Uggla (32 homers) will again shine for the Marlins, big-ticket free-agent left fielder Jason Bay will hit .260 with 29 homers for the Mets and the greatest pitching prospect ever, Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, will be called up in time to make 17 starts and go 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA and an eye-popping 138 strikeouts in 117 innings.
The Cardinals are projected to have the largest margin of victory of any division winner, going 88-74 and finishing nine games in front of the Cubs (79-83) in the NL Central. The Astros (78-84), Brewers (78-84), Reds (77-85) and Pirates (71-91) will all fall on the wrong side of .500.
Cubbies fans, the playoff drought will go on for another year.
The Cardinals are expected to lead the majors by allowing just 655 runs as Adam Wainwright wins 14 games, Chris Carpenter wins 13, Kyle Lohse wins 11 and Brad Penny wins 10. First baseman Albert Pujols will have another banner season by hitting .320 with 36 home runs and 116 RBIs, but right fielder Matt Holliday might prove to be a bit of a disappointment after signing a $120 million contract, as he is projected to hit just 22 homers.
Other significant performances expected in this division are Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (42 homers, 117 RBIs) and left fielder Ryan Braun (35, 110) combining for 77 home runs and 227 RBIs. Astros center fielder Michael Bourn should be good for 55 stolen bases.
PECOTA believes the tightest National League race will be out West, where the top four teams will finish .500 or better with five games separating them. The Rockies (86-76) are picked to win and be followed by the Diamondbacks (83-79), Dodgers (82-80) and Giants (81-81). The Padres will trail the pack at 73-89.
The Rockies will edge out the Diamondbacks.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is expected to lead a balanced Rockies attack with a .293 average and 25 home runs. Ubaldo Jimenez (13 wins, 176 K's) and Jorge De La Rosa (12, 187) will form a potent righty-lefty duo by combining for 25 wins and 363 strikeouts.
Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton is pegged for another All-Star season with a .273 average and 26 homers. Third baseman Mark Reynolds is expected to hit 29 homers and cut his strikeouts all the way down to 159. Right-hander Dan Haren has the look of a Cy Young candidate with projection of 16 wins and 202 strikeouts.
Center fielder Matt Kemp will be the Dodgers' star with 23 homers and 28 steals. Right-hander Tim Lincecum's 16 wins and third baseman Pablo Sandoval's .314 batting average will make the Giants formidable. Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is expected to belt 38 home runs to again shine on a last-place club.
So, there is no need to patiently wait until Oct. 3, the final day of the regular season. We've already told you what's going to happen in 2010.
John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief at BaseballProspectus.com.