Chicago: This was the 4th best offense in the NL last season and I don't see it going any lower than that this season. They are loaded with talent, led by reigning MVP 1B Osvaldo Johnson, perrenial MVP candidate 3B Sean Simpson, and 2B Neifi McBride. The major addition this season will be outfielder Ryan Snyder, who will complement CF Paul Turnbow and Bernie Soriano in the outfield. They could lead the league in runs this season; they should be in the top 3.
Fargo: Their pitching staff tends to get all the ink, but their offense isn't bad either, finishing 6th in the NL last season. They lack the depth that Chicago has, but they have a very dangerous middle of the order in 3B David Rushford, OF Alex Lim, 2B William Bolling, and 1B Rolando James. CF Stan Peterson did a nice job getting on base for these guys; he'll be counted on to do it again.
Toronto: They came in 11th last season in offense. They have some decent pieces in LF Kevin Yamakazi and 3B Orlando Diaz, but they lack a top-of-the-order type guy who can get on base and score runs. They'll likely struggle again.
Philadelphia: The NL's worst offense will not be returning its top home run hitter and run producer from last season. RF Bob Post is the best returning hitter, and he has little help. Philadelphia is expecting big things from IF Doc Bowen, but he needs to find a position (probably not shortstop, at least this season) and prove he can produce. I don't see where the runs are going to come from here.
Fargo: They've relinquished the title of the league's best pitching staff to Atlanta (finishing second to the World champs), but they're still loaded. The trio of Javier Henriquez, Sammy Pierce, and Manny Christians are still dominant. They lose Jimmie Arnold, however; it remains to be seen if the free-agent can come back from major injury (his career may be done). The bullpen is good on paper, but seems to blow a lot of saves for Henriquez in particular. Bert Price, Christopher Siddall, and Kevin Li are likely the three guys at the end of the pen.
Chicago: This was where they needed to improve coming into last season, and they did just that, finishing 5th. Marty Lane and Babe Broadhurst solidified the starting staff, and they have Orber Marin as well. The bullpen is in flux, as the top two save-getters (Kenneth Graves and Mateo Guerrero) both started games as well.
Toronto: They managed to finish 8th in the NL, which kept them in the race for a while. They lack the stars of Fargo and Chicago (even Philadelphia has Bernard Robinson and Harry Lee), but they had enough quality SP to get through. Jeremi Gant, Willis Casey, and Hipolito Santana al won 12 games to tie for the team high. In the bullpen, Mark Ott eats innings out of the bullpen, but is overpaid for a setup guy- he may or may not be able to handle the closer job. With Daryl McKinley not currently on the team (rumor has it his agent and the team may be close to an agreement), the role is up for grabs.
Philadelphia: The 13th best staff in the NL should be a little better this season. They added big-time free-agent Harry Lee to team up with longtime ace Bernard Robinson. Problem is, they have little else. Turner Darr lost 20 games last season and Yuniesky Bennett lost 18; neither is a good starting option. The bullpen is worse. There's no closer: Alex Soto might get the job because there's nobody better, but he's not that good.
1. I'll take Chicago in a close race of Fargo this season. Call it a hunch.
2. The second place team in this division will make the playoffs again.
3. Gotta take Toronto over Philly for third. Lee was a good pickup but doesn't make up the talent difference by himself.
4. If Alex Soto gets the closer's job, he'll blow at least 10 saves.
5. Most likely to get traded out of the division: Toronto's Franco, closely followed by Yamakazi.
6. Look for Fargo to try and add another bat, while Chicago probably will look for a starter, a reliever, or maybe both (although both teams probably won't be looking to take on much more payroll).