Thursday, March 26, 2009
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST SEASON PREVIEW
Predicted Order of Finish: Phillies Mets Marlins Braves Nationals PHILADEPHIA PHILLIES: There shouldn't be much of a difference in how this division finishes in 2009 than where it ended in 2008. The Phillies resigned or retained all of their studs - Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge. They also added Raul Ibanez and his live bat to replace Pat Burrell, wo was a complete stiff in the playoffs and World Series. Hitting isn't a problem for the Phillies. They can outslug just about any team in either league on any given day. The pitching staff revolves around #1 starter Cole Hamels, who came of age last season and especially in the post-season as a hard-nosed competitor. When he's on the mound, manager Charlie Manuel can usually expect 7 strong innings, making the transition to the league's most consistent closer, Brad Lidge, an easy move. The rest of the starting staff isn't very impressive, considering that Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer are the 2, 3 and 4 starters and veteran Chan Ho Park is bidding to fill the #5 slot. The middle relievers are about the best in the business, with former closer J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson getting most of the work in the latter stages of games. Barring injuries, the reigning champs should be able to defend at least their division against some very suspect NL East foes. After that, their chances for returning to the World Series depends on the team's overall health in late September and October. NEW YORK METS: Ah, the poor Mets. After blowing a big lead late in '07 and losing the the Cardinals in the playoffs, everything has been pretty much downhill for the Gotham Gotchas, missing the playoffs completely in 2008, and losing ace starter Pedro Martinez after the end of the season. Replacing Pedro might not have been at the top of the list for the Mets' management, as they made no moves on high end starting pitchers, but instead added relievers Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to augment whatever's left of Billy Wagner's arm. The starting rotation is pretty good, with Johan Santana at the top of the list and Mike Pelfrey, Jon Maine, Oliver Perez and Tim Redding completing the lineup. What the Mets really need are some slugging outfielders. Carlos Beltran is solid in center, though he seems not to have lived up to his reputation as yet, but he's flanked by the likes of Fernando Tatis, Ryan Church or Marlon Anderson. Maybe they can start all four to get more punch in the lineup. The infield features the best bats, in MVP candidate David Wright at third base and basher Carlos Delgado patroling the first base line. Jose Reyes returns at shortstop with either Luis Castillo or Alex Cora at second. The catching duties will likely fall to Ramon Castro, though he's unproven. New York's pitching will get them their fair share of wins, but there are holes in the outfield and this group has a knack for underperforming. Despite that, they still look like the second best team in this sorry division. FLORIDA MARLINS: Are the marlins rebuilding, or just a farm team for the rest of the league? After finishing a close third in the division last season, more players were cast off, leaving Hanley Ramirez to do his best with a no-name supporting cast. After Ramirez the most dependable bats belong to Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu and Alfredo Almenzaga, and that's not saying much. This team lacks power and pitching. Can you name any of their starters? Me neither, though Chris Volstad and Rick VandenHurk are two of them. The bullpen is even worse, and there is no recognizable closer. They should finish last, but the rest of the division is arguably worse. ATLANTA BRAVES: Tom Glavine returned last year to the team where he made his name after a five-year defection to the Mets, but he turned 43 yesterday and most guys are retired by that time. The best that can be said about Glavine is that he's got his 300 wins and is now working on getting to 300 losses. He only started 13 games last year and went 2-4. If the Braves are depending on him, they have more problems than they're letting on. Atlanta also picked up Javier Vasquez and Derek Lowe to give Tom some Baby Boomer companionship, in what has to be the worst starting five the braves have fielded in many years. On the batting front, how long can Chipper Jones stay healthy and carry the team? Without him, they're horrible, and even with him, not very good. Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman are OK if you prefer strikeouts and homers to steady hitters and is aging vet Garret Anderson really going to play left field. The Braves have to be the oldest team in the NL. They'll be all tired out by the seventh inning of most games since it's way past the Early Bird specials and bedtime for most of them. WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Hey, somebody's got to finish last, and the Nats are just so used to doing it that they're a natural fit. Washington had the worst record in baseball last year at 59-102 (the league didn't make them play all 162 as a gift to the fans), so if they got to .500, that would be a remarkable improvement and probably good for third place in the NL East. But with Scott Olsen as their best pitcher and either Ryan Zimmerman or Lastings Milledge their best bat, .400 would seem more like a possible achievable goal.