Saturday, March 21, 2009

Division Preview Series Part Three: NL East

Alright, I just made my own meatballs and made a sandwich out of them for lunch so now it's time for blogging. This is the third part in my division preview series: the National League East.

1.Philadelphia Phillies I like the Phils to repeat as division champs. The defending World Series champs have some question marks in terms of pitching, but I think they can out-hit the rest of the division to make up for those possible deficiencies. What are those question marks? I think the rotation is rather iffy after the wonderful and dreamy Cole Hamels. Brett Myers is Philadelphia's answer to Oliver Perez, Jamie Moyer is old and though he had a solid year last year, I don't think we can count on that again. The bullpen is also a question mark in my mind. Brad Lidge is definitely solid, but missing JC Romero for 50 games will hurt and Ryan Madson was the only one of the bunch who didn't pitch over his head last year. The lineup will take a hit without Pat Burrell, but (questionable) acquisition Raul Ibanez could see an improvement due to moving to a hitter's park. The middle infield combination the Phillies have could be the best overall in all of baseball--both Rollins and Utley are good fielders and very good hitters, especially considering their positions. Ryan Howard looks to be in a decline, but he's still a good hitter and should still flourish in that small park. The third base situation will be interesting this year and could be solved by a platoon--Feliz vs. lefties and Dobbs vs. righties. Anyway, the Phillies potent offense should be able to fend off the division foes.

Player to Watch: Cole Hamels. Last year, the lanky lefty established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball and the fact that he didn't receive any Cy Young votes is sickening. Look for him to continue his stellar rise to the top of the N.L. pitching ranks.

2.New York Mets The Mets will once again finish in second in the NL East, but this year, they'll snag the NL's Wild Card berth. They could probably win the two other divisions in the NL, but I don't think they can outhit the Phillies. Their rotation is also a much bigger question than Philadelphia's. After Johan Santana, it gets pretty thin. Oliver Perez is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in baseball form, John Maine is coming off an injury and his ERA/WHIP have both moved in the wrong direction the last three seasons. Mike Pelfrey has some promise, but a shaky K/BB last year (1.72) and a huge innings increase are indicators of possible struggles to come. The Mets did, however, do one thing right this offseason: they improved their unreliable bullpen by acquiring J.J. Putz in a trade with the Mariners and signing Francisco Rodriguez to sure up the back end. These are good moves, but with a shaky starting rotation, will an improved bullpen really matter? The Mets also didn't do enough to bolster their lineup. Bernie Madoff must've really screwed the Wilpons because their absence from the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes if he didn't would've been inexcusable. They're left side of the infield is good in terms of offense (David Wright will go down as the best position player in Mets history. Book it.) and Carlos Delgado is reliable, but without a second big bat in the outfield, I don't think the Mets can keep up with Phils and their run scoring.

Player to Watch: Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod, possibly the most overrated pitcher in all of baseball, is joining a new team and a new league. Despite setting a new record in saves, Rodriguez is coming off his second worst K/9 year (2003), his worst K/BB year, and his second worst FIP year (2003). While he's an improvement over the injured Billy Wagner, I don't think Rodriguez is going to be the savior Mets fans are hoping for.

3.Atlanta Braves If the Braves had added another good bat (Adam Dunn rather than Garrett Anderson), I would've picked them to win the division. With Javier Vasquez, new addition Derek Lowe, and young up and comer Jair Jurrjens, the Braves have the best starting rotation in the NL East. However, they just don't have the offense to keep up with the Mets and Phillies. Chipper Jones is probably the best switch hitter since Mickey Mantle, but he just can't stay healthy. His only real offensive compliment is Brian McCann and the two of them will not be able to carry the team to anything more than a third place finish. Their pitching will keep them in the race, but the Braves will not be able to score enough runs to make the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Jeff Francoeur. His power has been dipping every year since his third place ROY finish in 2005 and he still isn't able to take a walk (career OBP: .312). After an embarrassing demotion to the minors last year, Francoeur needs a bounce back in a big way. If he can hit like he did in '05 (or even '07) the Braves might make the race for the NL East a little closer. If not...well, there'll be another playoff-less year in Atlanta.

4.Florida Marlins The Marlins were a surprising third place finisher in the NL East in '08, but this year, I don't think they'll quite get there. In Miami, there just isn't enough on either side of the ball--Ramirez and Uggla are great hitters but that's about it. The pitching after Ricky Nolasco isn't enough either. Fourth place is all the Marlins will muster in '09.

Player to Watch: Ricky Nolasco and Cameron Maybin. After the All-Star break, Nolasco posted a 3.12 ERA in 109.2 innings while striking out 113 and walking only 13. This guy's gonna turn some heads this year. As for Maybin, I was in attendance at Yankee Stadium when he hit his first career homer against Roger Clemens so I've got an attachment to Maybin...sort of. Anyway, he's a highly touted prospect who came over in the Miguel Cabrera deal with Detroit and should get some serious Rookie of the Year consideration in the National League. While Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla turned the heads of fans towards Miami, Nolasco and Maybin will have them looking twice.

5. Washington Nationals What can I say about this team? They signed Adam Dunn, so that makes them an instant favorite in my book, but aside from that...I don't know what they can do aside from finish in last place. There isn't much offense and there isn't much pitching. Good luck, Washington. You'll need it.

Player to Watch: Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes. Dunn is moving to a new stadium and a new division, so we'll have to see if he can continue his streak of 40+ homers. Elijah Dukes projects to go .263/.373/.462 via CHONE. If he can do that, the Nats will have a star in the making.

Next: The AL West.

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