- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball. This week’s question:Who do you like to win the National League?

BEN GOESSLING: This is a tough year to pick, because I feel like any of the division winners (Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers) could take it. But right now, I’d take the Cardinals for a couple of reasons. First, their rotation (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro and either John Smoltz or Kyle Lohse) might be the best of any of the contenders. Second, their lineup is legit now that Matt Holliday has added another threat to the order. And third, they’re probably going to have the good luck of facing the Rockies in the first round while the Dodgers and Phillies beat up on each other.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: Up until the last week, I was thinking the Cardinals as well. But I’ve changed my mind. I’m going with the Dodgers. My only reservations about them centered around the fact they don’t have a true No. 1 starter. But the way Chad Billingsley pitched against the Nationals, he looks like he could be the guy. Even if he doesn’t dominate, Los Angeles has a really deep rotation, a fantastic bullpen, a potent lineup that doesn’t rely solely on Manny Ramirez and a veteran-laden bench. That’s a formidable package.

BG: I think the Dodgers could be there, too. But my chief concern with them is this: Is their rotation strong enough to handle the Phillies in the first round and then deal with Albert Pujols in the NLCS? Billingsley looked great against the Nationals, but that’s a little different than needing to make four good starts in October. I do like the Dodgers’ lineup much better than I did early this season. I’m just not sure if the pitching staff is good enough to sustain for that long. Remember, Billingsley had been horrendous before last week. I think it would be a great series, but I’d take the Cardinals in seven.

MZ: Really, I believe the NL is wide-open this year. I wouldn’t discount the Rockies, either, assuming they win the wild card. I know they don’t look as strong as the three division winners on paper, but nobody in baseball has been better than them since June. And we saw two years ago how a Colorado team could ride a late-season surge all the way to the World Series. That said, I’m still going with the Dodgers. I do think the pitching is good enough when you look at a starting foursome of Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland and Clayton Kershaw. And as good as that bullpen is, all those four need to do is pitch six effective innings to give them a chance.

BG: Admit it - you just want to go to Los Angeles for the World Series.

MZ: Yes, because St. Louis in early November is just gorgeous.

MLB POWER POLL

TeamRecordComment

1. YANKEES100-56AL East, home field are wrapped up; now they can relax for a week.

2. DODGERS93-63They can clinch the NL West title with a win or a Rockies loss.

3. ANGELS91-64They should clinch AL West title early this week; they’ll get the Red Sox in the first round.

4. CARDINALS90-66NL Central is clinched; they’re in a close fight with the Phillies for No. 2 spot in the NL.

5. RED SOX91-64Will clinch the wild card this week, and they’re very comfortable against the Angels.

6. PHILLIES90-65Headed to the playoffs as the NL East champ, most likely, but who will close games?

7. ROCKIES88-68They’re getting fierce charge from the Braves for the NL wild-card spot.

8. BRAVES85-70With slumping Marlins, Nationals on the schedule this week, they could catch Colorado.

9. TIGERS83-72If they can split a four-game series with Twins this week, they should win the AL Central.

10. TWINS81-74Need to win three of four against the Tigers - which means beating Porcello or Verlander.

* Records and stats through Sunday

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