National League East
Injuries are the story of the spring for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves, so which team can battle through adversity and win the pennant? It will be a two team race, but look out for a surprise team to come from nowhere and play spoiler in September.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (94-68): With a rotation that has four legitimate aces in Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, and Hamels, how can this team not win the division? Well to start, their middle infield spends more time rehabing than actually playing baseball, and Chase Utley isn’t exactly focused on dispelling that notion any time soon either. Also, Ryan Howard had an awful year by his own standards and now that he is past the 30-year-old hump, don’t expect a return to his 50-homer form. Basically, the Phil’s strength has now become their kryptonite unless Raul Ibanez goes back to hitting like he did in the first half of ’09.
2. Atlanta Braves (89-73): Good news, Jason Heyward had a fantastic rookie year. Bad news, he eerily reminds me of Greg Oden, he just looks like a 40 year old man who is going to break his knees rounding second base. Other than that their pitching staff is solid, no one really stands out, but it just seems very average 1-5, and Tommy Hanson could be an ace in the making. The rest of their lineup is fairly average as well, but what the Braves have is alot of potential. Freddie Freeman could be a bang or a bust, Brian McCann thinks he has solved his vision problem, and Nate McLouth can’t get any worse, right? I’m going to say that if Chipper plays in over 100 games, the Braves have an outside shot at the division.
3. Washington Nationals (76-86): EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!!! The Nationals spent money, acquired some very solid pieces and have developed some very good young talent to play along with Ryan Zimmerman. Look for an exciting summer in our nation’s capital with some unknown names like Desmond, Espinosa and Bernadina. Yet, don’t expect them to get the crazy idea of finishing above .500 for the first time since the 1994 season (which was tragically cut short, sorry Expo fans for bringing up that painful memory).
4. Florida Marlins (75-87): Doesn’t matter who is on their roster, this organization always plays the part of the annoying younger brother who just won’t go away. Hanley Ramirez leads this school of young fish that include powerful Mike Stanton, and fellow outfield Logan Morrison. They got rid of their most consistent power hitter in Dan Uggla, but it won’t hurt them too much because it doesn’t matter who takes over second base, as long as it isn’t Alfonso Soriano, it’ll be an upgrade. Don’t count the Marlins out, but by no means should you count them in either.
5. New York Mets (68-94): David Wright is still a question despite a solid rebound effort last year. Sadly though, is the fact that he is their most reliable player going into 2011. Carlos Beltran may need to play outfield with a walker, Jose Reyes is yet again an injury concern, as is the concussed Jason Bay, who is a year removed from a terrific campaign. They get Johan Santana back at the end of June, but it will be pointless unless they can find someone to step up in the rotation. Thank god the Knick are going to the playoffs because it is going to be a long summer at Citi Field.
Phils’ Pitching too Great for Contending Braves
1. Phillies (99-63): The Phillies have proven in the past that they can win without Utley and they may have to do that again. The All-Star second basemen may be out for an extended period of time to start the season, but the league’s strongest rotation will be able to save them from falling out of the division lead early. The loss of Jayson Werth to free agency will also hurt the team as Ben Francisco has a lot of weight to carry in right. Ryan Howard will remain the leader of this dynamic offense and will compete among the top first basemen with his newly found batting average. Bottom line: The Phillies will not run away with the division, but if they can stay healthy they could win 100 games.
2. Braves (93-69): The Brave lost Billy Wagner to retirement, but they found two top-notch relievers in Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel who will both be in the mix for closing out games. Rookie Freddie Freeman quite possibly could be the next Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla gives the Braves a legitimate second basemen. It’s safe to say that the Chipper Jones era has ended, as they do not have to rely on his health going into the season anymore with their wide range of talent. Their starting rotation contains two rising stars in Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson and two aging veterans in Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. All of them should be able to provide quality innings for this team that could start their own post-Bobby Cox dynasty.
3. Mets (80-82): If the Mets could stay healthy, have a couple bounce-back seasons, find some pitchers, and win more games than every team in the NL East, then it is safe to say they should have a good year. But let’s be honest. None of that is going to happen. Carlos Beltran’s best is behind him and so is Jason Bay’s as long as he is playing at Cit Field. Jose Reyes could compete with Hanley Ramirez as the top shortstop in the league, but he cannot steal 60 bases when his legs won’t let him. Johan Santana, too, is an injury concern and his glory days are behind him as well. The Mets have way too much talent, however, to finish at the bottom of the division, which is why they look great in third place.
4. Marlins (76-86): The Marlins’ two most proven players, HanRam and JJ, were both injured last year. The Marlins absolutely need them to have healthy years if they want to think about contending. Morrison, Coghlan, and Stanton from left to right in the outfield show why the Marlins have one of the top farm systems in the majors, but can they actually lead the Marlins to the level at which the Phillies are at? The answer is most likely NO. Ricky Nolasco and Javier Vasquez without a doubt have the talent to be dominant, but they had far from decent seasons last year. If that’s not enough, the Marlins will only play 79 home games versus 85 on the road due to a scheduling conflict. It’s a major problem when U2 and Bono have top priority over a professional baseball team. Maybe they should just wait until their new stadium opens to think about contending.
5. Nationals (73-89): The Nats finished 28 games out of the division lead last year! To say that they will jump a couple spots with the sole addition of Jayson Werth, not to mention the loss of slugger Adam Dunn, is a cry for help. Jayson Werth will not be as productive in D.C. as he was in Philly for obvious reasons. Ryan Zimmerman is the elite third baseman in the NL, but other than that they are hopeless. They have guys who can fill spots in the rotation and eat away innings, but that’s all they will do. Jordan Zimmerman and Drew Storen have promising young talent, but do not expect much from these Pirates of the East.