National League East Preview

This should be an interesting division if, for no other reason, it has four intriguing teams that manage to play just well enough to disappoint those who expect them to do more. And then there’s the Mets, from whom one should expect nothing. In order of last year’s finish:

Philadelphia Phillies:

Good: A pitching staff of Blanton, Kendrick Worley, Hamels, Lee, and Halladay isn’t good–it’s phenomenal. Roy Halladay is unquestionably the best pitcher in MLB, Justin Verlander’s 2011 season notwithstanding. Hunter Pence is a wonderful player and Shane Victorino is one of the few players on the squad with fire in his belly.

Bad: What happened to the bats? Ryan Howard’s health is a huge question mark. If he doesn’t come back 100%, the Phillies will need all they can get from their staff. And here’s saying that Domonic Brown will never be the stud he’s projected to be.

Hot Seat: Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro made curious choices in the offseason. The team needed hitters and he signed Jonathan Pabelbon instead of resigning Ryan Madson, a zero sum game. I’m not getting that. Rollins and Polanco need to be more Punch and less Judy. The bus stops here for Dontrelle Willis; if he flops, he’s gone from MLB.

Prognosis: The pitching staff is too good for the Phillies to not be in the hunt, but there’s something unsettling about this team. They will win the East, but don’t be surprised to see them exit early in the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves:

Good: Even after trading Derek Lowe, a staff headed by Hanson, Jurijens, and Hudson is pretty good. Freddie Freeman didn’t get much ink when Pujols and Fielder were in the NL, but he may be an All-Star first baseman. Brian McCann is an All-Star catcher.

Bad: Coming off a historic end-of-the-year collapse isn’t a good thing. Lowe’s departure opens slots for young pitchers, but guys like Ascenco, Minor, and Teherán are unproven.

Hot Seat: I suspect manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t have a lot of front office cred left and could be fired by mid-June. Chipper Jones keeps coming back and he keeps getting hurt. If he goes down again, he won’t be back. What happened to Dan Uggla, whose .233 average was plug ugly. Jason Heyward was supposed to be a beast, but .227/14/42 looks more like a chipmunk.

Prognosis: This is a promising but fragile team that could soar or swoon. Methinks the latter more likely, but the talent is there.

Washington Nationals:

Good: The minor league system looks solid. Prying Gio Gonzalez from Oakland was grand theft. Not many have heard of young Michael Morse, but check out his numbers from last year: .303/31/95. Edwin Jackson was a good pickup. John Lannan lost 13 games last year, but his ERA was 3.70 and he has a good arm. The Nats also stole Tyler Clippard from the Yankees. Ryan Zimmerman is one of the league’s premier third basemen.

Bad: Losing veteran Livan Hernandez was worse than it appears. He was one of the few mentors on a young staff. The Nats are rushing Bryce Harper to the bigs and may regret it. Who was the last 19-year-old star? Al Kaline? I’m not nuts about Drew Storen as a closer.

Hot Seat: Speaking of rushing players, did someone say Stephen Strasburg? You’ve got to root for this young man, but it’s just as likely that he’s the new Mark Fidrych. Another unfortunate who must prove his health is Chien-Ming Wang. I don’t think the Nats opened the bank so Jayson Werth could put up this line: .232/20/58. And then there are the chronic underachievers: Mark DeRosa and Adam LaRoche. If they don’t improve the Nats should stop signing guys with two capitals in their surnames.

Prognosis: Washington has an outside chance at finishing second, but instinct tells me this team is a few horses short.

New York Mets:

Good: Can’t think of much. David Wright is a fine (and maligned) player and Ike Davis is emerging. Dillon Gee looks to be a serviceable number three, but he may be asked to be a one.

Bad: Aside from the fact that ownership is so broke it parks on side streets, the continuing health struggles of Johan Santana has to be number one. Top players have jumped (or have been pushed from) the sinking Mets ship, including Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, and Carlos Beltrán. Heck, even so-so players (Chris Capuano) have left. If fortune smiles on him, Wright will get shipped out as well.

Hot Seat: Jason Bay could be then poster boy for Target, as he should be for hitting .246/12/57. Will Mike Pelfrey ever be better than mediocre?

Prognosis: If this team doesn’t lose at least 100 games, make Terry Collins Manager of the Year.

Miami Marlins:

Good: Heath Bell could close the gates of hell. Aníbal Sánchez is the one the Red Sox let get away. There is a lot of superb young talent on this team: Gaby Sanchez, Emilio Bonafacio, Giancarlo (Don’t Call me Mike) Stanton. Omar Infante is 30, but he’s good too. There’s hope the Marlins’ new digs will bring new fortune.

Bad: The Fish are the sexy pick to go to the postseason and that’s often the kiss of death. If Josh Johnson heals, they’ve got a better shot; without him, prospects dim. John Buck doesn’t inspire as catcher. I like Mark Buerhle, but he’s not a $14 million pitcher. I’m baffled by the Ozzie Guillen mystique; to me he’s a walking demotivator and one of the biggest frauds to ever manage the game.

Hot Seat: Hanley Ramirez is an enigma with the potential to make Guillen swear in three languages. He should be among the game’s immortals, but will he ever grow up? Speaking of which, two words: Carlos Zambrano. Jose Reyes is a fine player, but Miami seldom spends $11 million on one player, so he’d better have a great season. Ricky Nolasco had an ERA of almost 5 last year and Chris Volstad was putrid. They can’t win without these guys.

Prognosis: I’m not buying the Fish Cheer. There are too many unanswered questions. If the Braves choke on the bone again there’s a glimmer of hope, but all the gears must click for the Marlins to make the postseason.


1. Phillies

2. Braves

3. Marlins

4. Nationals

5. Mets

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wrong logo for the Marlins.