Baseball begins one week from today with a showdown between the Atlanta Braves and the defending champions Philadelphia Phillies. So with that in mind, we’ll take a look at the very competitive NL East. For the AL previews check here: East, Central, West.
We’ll begin with the New York Mets. On paper, the Mets look great. Again. The heart of their order features David Wright, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran. At the top of the order, you’ll find Jose Reyes, who I find to be insufferable and overrated, but that’s a conversation for another time. The lineup is not without its holes, though; Ryan Church and the ageless Fernando Tatis will man their corner outfield spots. Still, they should be together another impressive season at the plate.
Their rotation, beyond Johan Santana, is not intimidating. Oliver Perez is inconsistent and John Maine and Mike Pelfrey have yet to put together their talents. The back end of their rotation will either be Livan Hernandez or Freddy Garcia. Their bullpen, which has been the downfall of their team the last two seasons, looks improved at first glance. They signed Francisco Rodriguez to close games and traded for JJ Putz to set him up. K-Rod is a nice addition, but closer wasn’t the concern last year down the stretch. The problem came with the middle relievers and beyond Pedro Feliciano and Sean Green, I can’t name any other Met middle relievers. I think that could be their big problem once again.
The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t changed much since winning the World Series. Pat Burrell joined the Rays, so they inked Raul Ibanez from the Mariners as a replacement. The Phils will return the infield of Rollins, Utley, and Howard. Offense will be no problem for this team.
The rotation will be anchored by World Series MVP, Cole Hamels. The rest of the rotation will be filled by Joe Blanton, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and one of JA Happ, Carlos Carrasco, or Chan Ho Park. That’s a pretty solid staff if Blanton and Myers can put it all together for an entire season. They’re primed for another run at a World Series title.
The Florida Marlins are going to surprise people. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez may be the best player in baseball. I’d still give that title to Albert Pujols, but it’s at least a debate now. Jorge Cantu might can mash and has become a much better fielder. My favorite Marlin, Dan Uggla, will be back and center fielder Cameron Maybin will get his first full season. This should be an exciting young team to watch for a couple years to come. I’m not sure they’re ready just yet, but they may just jump up and steal this division.
Their rotation is filled with potential, just like their lineup. Their ace is Ricky Nolasco and the next four in line are Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Andrew Miller, and Anibal Sanchez. It’s going to be an interesting year for the Marlins. They could finish anywhere from first to fourth.
I don’t really feel like talking about the Nationals. They aren’t going to win anything. They have Ryan Zimmerman and signed Adam Dunn. Past that, they don’t have anyone worth watching. The main question is whether they will draft Steven Strasburg first overall in this summer’s draft…and who they’ll draft first overall in next summer’s draft.
Finally, we have my Atlanta Braves. On the heels on a disappointing 2008 that saw them lose 90 games, the Braves revamped their rotation by trading for Javier Vazquez and signing Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. The Braves also bring back rookie sensation Jair Jurrjens, veteran Tom Glavine and ’08 surprise, Jorge Campillo. It looks like a solid enough rotation to me, but I’m trying to temper my expectations. Rookie sensation Tommy Hanson should also come along around June and give the rotation a boost.
The lineup will feature Chipper Jones and Brian McCann once again. If Jeff Francoeur can not suck, he’ll take his place back in the middle of the order. Rookie Jordan Schafer will probably win the center field job. Garret Anderson will platoon with Matt Diaz in right field. Yunel Escobar will be back at short, and Casey Kotchman will get a full season in a Braves uniform. It’s not the best looking group of names, but I think it’s decent. I’m not expecting great things out of these guys, so maybe if they make a run at the playoffs, I’ll be pleasently surprised.
On to the meaningless predictions:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets
3. Florida Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Washington Nationals.
The top 4 teams may be interchangeable. The NL East will be fun to watch.