26 March 2011
With the start of the MLB season less than a week away now is the time to take a good hard look at the NL Easr, and there is no doubt that the NL East is going to be tough this year. It is with out a doubt the strongest division in the NL (contains 3 of the top 6 NL teams for 2011), and is arguably as tough as the AL East (AL East better hitting, NL East better pitching). This off season also saw a lot of movement as well with the Philies putting together, on paper, on of the best starting rotations since the 1971 Baltimore Orioles which had four pitchers go for 20 wins. The Braves added power to their lineup by aquiring Dan Uggla from the Marlins, the Marlins made several additions to balance their lineup and strengthen their bullpen, and the Nationals even added Jayson Werth to give them a formidable middle of the order with Zimmerman, Werth, LaRoach, and Ankile. The Mets were also in the news this offseason, but it was because their ownership is just about bankrupt after losing millions to Bernie Madolf.
1. Philadelphia Philies-- After an offseason that made most people put the Phillies as an almost lock to go to the World Series, Philadelphia has had a Spring Training that had me really wanting to make the Braves the favorites to win the division. It is now expected that both Chase Utley and Brad Lidge will be starting the year on the DL for the Phillies, and while it Luis Castillo and Ryan Madson are fine replacements these injuries shine a big spot light on the Phillies two spots; the bullpen and a lack of power from the plate. The bullpen with the Phillies when all healthy would have Lidge as a closer (and you never know if this is going to be a good year or bad year for Lidge), Madson as the set up man, and then Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Antonio Bastardo, and Scott Mathieson. While it is not a poor bullpen, it is not that great either. Most likely it will end up being ranked somewhere in the middle to of the NL when all is said and done. But the real concern with the Phillies is the lack of power that they have in their order behind Ryan Howard. The Phillies decided to let Jayson Werth go this past off season, and he signed a huge contract with the Wshington Nationals, and Werth was really the only other true power hitter in the lineup after Howard last year. Going into 2011, unless Ibanez bounces back to 2009 form, the argument could be made that Chase Utley (who looks like hewill be on the DL to start the year) is the Philies next best home run hitter. Victorino does have some power as well, but Polanco, Rollins, Castillo, and Ben Fransisco (who is replacing Werth in right field) are all mostly hitter for average rather than power. Even with those concerns, when you look at the starting pitching rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton it is just hard to pick against Philadelphia to win the division. With the rotation the Philies have, if the top 4 guys can stay healthy in 2011 the Philies could sign me to be their 5th starter and they should still win 80 games.
2. Atlanta Braves-- I have made it pretty clear that I am a Dan Uggla fan, and I truly do believe that the Braves made the best acquisition of the off season by trading for Dan Uggla. I have seen several different projected Braves lineups, and they have changed their batting order a lot this spring, but if they are smart and have Jason Heywood bat third and Uggla fourth then they will have one of the most dangerous lineups in the NL (Lineup I would go with-> 1. Prado, 2. Jones, 3. Heywood, 4. Uggla, 5. McLouth, 6. McCann, 7. Freeman, 8. Gonzalez). The Braves have decent pitching rotation with Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Brandon Beachy. Combined with their hitting the starting pitchers should be able to rack up a good numbers of wins each, even though I would rank their starting staff behind both the Phillies and the Marlins. The Braves biggest question mark is their bullpen. This spring they have had a competition between Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel for the closer role, and even though it appears that Kimbrel will go into the start of the season as the closer niether is that experienced. Of the rest of the bullpen (Eric O'Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Scott Linebrick, Geroge Sherrill, and Scott Proctor) none of them are really dominant or intimidating. Come trading deadline time their is little doubt that the Braves will be on the look out for middle relievers, and maybe a closer, to sure up their bullpen for the playoffs. Even though the Braves are going to play a lot of games against both the Phillies and the Marlins, and the teams are probably going to beat the hell out of each other, the Braves should still be a playoff team in 2011 either via the Wild Card or by winning the Ea3.st.
3. Florida Marlins-- A few days ago the Marlins had a lot of questions that needed answering going into the start of the season, but in a matter of days it seems as though most of those questions have been answered. The Marlins are going into 2011 season with the most turnover in their opening day roster from one year to the next since Hanly Ramirez's rookie season. Hanley's double play partner, Dan Uggla, was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for his new partner Omar Infante and relief pitcher Mike Dunn. Marlins will also have outfielders Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton in their first full season, free agent pick ups Javier Vazquez and John Buck, and several new relief pitchers. The Marlins were hoping to have top prospect Matt Dominguez win the starting 3rd baseman job, but he was sent down to the minors (he will most likely be sent up after a month or two). it looks as though Donnie Murphy will be the Marlins primary starter at 3rd, but don't be surprised to see bench players Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Emilio Bonifacio also get time at 3rd from time to time. No doubt the Marlins do not have as much home run power as they had at the start of last year (Cody Ross, Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla all gone), but they should still score about the same amount of runs thanks to the fact that they should hit for a higher average as a team. The Marlins do have a solid starting rotation with Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez, and Chris Volstad if they can all stay healthy, and if Volstad can finally put together a good FULL season. Really for the Marlins it all comes down to that redone bullpen. Consider this the Marlins in 2010 were 80-82 despite having one of the worst bullpens in the Majors blew the lead they were handed over 20 times (led MLB in that category). So the Marlins added Ryan Webb, Randy Choate, Michael Dunn and Edward Mujica to a bullpen that already had setup man Clay Hensley, and Closer Leo Nunez. Burke Badenhop and Brian Sanches are also to go Marlins relievers were retained and are fighting for spots in the bullpen. If the bullpen can do its job and hold leads late in games then the Marlins will be right there at the end of the year in the Wild Card race.
4. Wshington Nationals-- Call me crazy, but I do not think that the Nationals are going to be the bottom dwellers of the NL East this year. Is Jayson Werth worth that large $120 million contract that the Nationals gave him, probably not. I am not a real big fan of the Nationals idea to have Werth hit 2nd in the order with Zimmerman batting behind him. However if you put Werth behind Zimmerman, and then Rick Ankiel and Adam LaRoche behind Werth and that is a solid middle of the order. It will also really help the Nationals to have Livan Hernandez and Pudge Rodriguez continue to play like age is just a number. Washington middle relief is a little suspect, but if their starting pitchers can stay in games and get the game to setup man Tyler Clippard and Closer Drew Storen then the Nationals are going to have a good chance to win quite a few ball games.
5. New York Mets-- Are the Mets a better and more talented team then the Nationals? Yes. Do the Mets have a better starting rotation then the Nationals? I think so. So then why did I pick the Mets to finish last? It is for several reasons. First they do not have that great of a bullpen, even if you don't look at the legal and off the field issues that their closer Fransisco Rodriguez is going to be dealing with. Also the Mets' Carlos Beltan is still battling injuries and it does not look like we will be ready for the start of the season. Without him the Mets really do not have a lot of power in their lineup outside of David Wright and possibly Jason Bay, who is coming off a just horrific 2010 season. However the real reason that I pick this team to finish last, it is because this team has mid season fire sale written all over it. Unless the Mets have a very surprising start to the season, the Mets are going to be realistically out of the playoff race earlier this summer and when you look at the money this team has tied up between Wright, Rayes, Beltran, and Bay, and then look at the fact that ownership is broke...well something has to give. The Mets are going to have to dump a lot of payroll this year most likely and that should add up to a lot of losses coming in the 2nd half of the year when the Phillies, Braves and Marlins are all trying to make a playoff push.
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