If you believe the hype, you can skip the season anoint the Philadelphia Phillies right now and save the aggravation of actually playing the games. Yeah--they said that last year and it took a Braves collapse and a Phils surge to even make the playoffs. On paper the Phils staff is unparalleled, but excuse me for saying that the only ace I’m 100% certain of is the magnificent Roy Halladay. For all the Cliff Lee hype, I’m not sure he’s a $9 million-dollar-man. Since his Cy Young year in 2008 he’s all of 26-22 and he looked awfully mortal in the playoffs. Likewise, Roy Oswalt needs to convince me he’s healthy and Cole Hamels is starting to look like a left-handed A. J. Burnett. And do we trust Brad Lidge in the pen? The Phils infield is awesome--Howard, Utley, Rollins, Polanco--but Domonic Brown was a bust before he broke his hand. Unless Ben Francisco takes his torrid spring north, the Phils will really miss Jayson Werth.
The Phillies must be the favorite, but I’m going to go out on a limb and pick the Atlanta Braves to defy the odds-makers. Their staff doesn’t have a stud like Halladay, but it’s very deep (Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens, Lowe, and several kids on the brink). Grabbing Dan Uggla and Alex Gonzalez were major coups, Martin Prado can flat-out hit, Jason Heyward is a superstar waiting to happen, and the Braves play good defense. If they can squeeze more from Chipper Jones, and if Nate McLouth breaks out, the Braves could be this year’s San Francisco Giants.
The Florida Marlins won’t be a Cinderella team this year. Once again they’ve offloaded talent. Any team with Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, and Hanley Ramirez is worth watching, not that anyone will in Miami. But this is a team that thought Cody Ross and Dan Uggla were too expensive yet shelled out $11.5 million for Javier Vazquez?!!! Would anyone shed a tear if the Fish went bankrupt and forced MLB to move the team and bring in real owners?
Those who piss and moan about how money buys championships should look at the New York Mets and shut up. This was the U.S.S Titanic of the high rollers even before Bernie Madoff broke into the safe. 2010 won’t be any better than 2009. Who do you want for $12 million, “Where’s Homeplate” Ollie Perez or “Rap Sheet” Frankie Rodriguez? Add “Arm Trouble” Johan Santana to the list and the Mets begin the season with Mike Pelfrey as their number one. That won’t get it done. And neither will an anemic lineup of expensive underachievers (Reyes, Castillo, Beltran, Bay), and host of castoffs and no names. You gotta like David Wright and Ike Davis, but the rest look like wreckage that settled when the Titanic broke apart.
The Washington Nationals are a sexy dark horse, but that’s just plain foolish talk. Maybe the kids will gel in a few years, but a franchise pining its hopes on an 18-year-old catcher isn’t going far right now. The Nats are Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and spare parts. If Strasburg doesn’t make it back from Tommy John surgery, the Nats may be rebuilding into the 22nd century.