2/24/09

MLB Preview: National League East


Atlanta Braves:

In the offseason the Braves were like a rancher advertising for a mail-order bride. They courted everyone and ended up with: Derek Lowe, Garret Anderson, and an aging Tom Glavine. That doesn’t bode well.

Strengths: When he’s healthy Chipper Jones is as good as there is and Brian McCann might be the best catcher in baseball. Expect Jeff Francoeur to bounce back after an off year and Casey Kotchman is solid at first. Pitcher Jair Jurrjens looks like he’s on the verge of a breakout and Lowe is always steady.

Weaknesses: Tim Hudson’s health is questionable at best and any rotation that depends on chronic underachiever Javier Vazquez will struggle. This teams looks a lot like Kotchman—middle of the road.

Florida Marlins:

It’s hard to root for a team with a Wal-Mart mentality and it would be best for MLB to move or fold this franchise. You’ve not heard of most of its roster for the simple reason that most of it is just several years out of school.

Strengths: Thoroughbreds Dan Uggla (2B), Jorge Cantu (3B), and Hanley Ramirez (SS) anchor a first-rate infield. Cameron Maybin (RF) is a blue-chip prospect.

Weaknesses: Once you get past Ricky Nolasco every pitcher on the staff is suspect. Anibal Sanchez hasn’t pitched well since his no-hitter. Chris Volstad shows promise, but most of the staff needs more time in the minors.

New York Mets:
The addition of ├╝ber-closer Francisco Rodriquez makes them a bettor’s choice to win the NL East, but count me among the skeptics.

Strengths: Johan Satana is, arguably, the best pitcher in the game and the Mets bullpen—which also added J. J. Putz—will be much better. The everyday lineup includes the wonderful David Wright (3B) and the potentially fabulous Jose Reyes (SS).

Weaknesses: Much like outfielder Carlos Beltran, the Mets look better on paper than they are on the field. Carlos Delgado (1B) might be done, there’s a controversy brewing over who else will start in the outfield (Tatis? Church? Reed? Anderson?) and the pitching staff has holes. Oliver Perez is Jekyll and Hyde, and both John Maine and Mike Pelfry would probably be better in the pen than in the starting rotation.

Philadelphia Phillies:

It’s hard not to admire the gritty reigning champs. The only significant change was to cut loose the overpaid Pat Burrell and replace him with the more consistent Raul Ibanez, who ought to flourish in Philly.

Strengths: The Phils have a nice balance of superstars—Ryan Howard (1B), Chase Uttley (2b), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Cole Hamels (SP)—and real blue-collar grind-it-out guys such as Shane Victorino (OF), Jason Werth (OF), and the ageless Jamie Moyer (SP).

Weaknesses: Closer Brad Lidge was perfect last year, but he still induces heart attacks and Ryan Madson is the closer of the future. The starting pitching is thin after number three starter Joe Blaton. Brett Myers and Adam Eaton need either to step it up or pack it in. I’m not sold on Pedro Feliz at third, but I’m willing to be astonished.

Washington Nationals:

One can only hope that MLB cleans this wreck from the tracks ASAP--empty seats, empty talent, and a city that doesn’t care. This team should have never left Montreal.

Strengths: It’s hard to find any. Ryan Zimmerman (3B) is the face of the franchise and he’s merely average. Nick Johnson (1B) is a good player when healthy, which is never. Elijah Dukes (OF) might be on the cusp of stardom; then again, he might be on the cusp of prison time.

Weaknesses: With Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, and Adam Dunn on the same squad opposing pitchers are guaranteed 6-8 Ks every time they face the Nats. These guys can hit homers, but I wonder what the MLB record is for lowest team on-base percentage. And there’s no point in talking about the pitching staff until they actually have one.

Predictions:

1.Phillies—Once again, with extra cheddar on the cheese steak
2. Mets—Good enough for the wild card, but disappointment is their specialty
3. Braves—Will move up only if Phils or Mets meltdown
4. Marlins—Would be last except for…
5. Nationals—This team couldn’t win in the International League.

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