MLB 2012 Season Preview: NL East
Heading into 2012, the NL East is the most transformed division in baseball.
Stars have jumped ship, trades have been made and free agency acquisitions run rampant.
That means we're in for a huge year of competition, and a completely mixed up finishing order from last season.
Us MLB fans always come out on top, huh?
5. New York Mets
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The Mets continue to run in circles, and it doesn't look like things will end in 2012.
Offensively, they've lost more pieces than they've added. Ruben Tejeda is no Jose Reyes, and the outfield doesn't have much to offer without Carlos Beltran. The Ike Davis-David Wright combo has potential, especially if Lucas Duda pans out.
An even bigger mess is New York's pitching. They lack anything that represents an ace, instead turning to mediocrity with Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey and John Niese (the only arm with promise).
Johan Santana should return this season, but at what capacity?
As another season passes, the Mets will once again fall into a losing record.
4. Atlanta Braves
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It seems absurd to have the Atlanta Braves at the four spot, but they're not as complete of a team as it seems.
Offensively, it's do-or-die for the Braves. Chipper Jones is a huge injury risk, Martin Prado and Dan Uggla have something to prove post-2011 and super prospect Jason Heyward needs to get things together.
Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are the lone bright spots, with Michael Bourne possibly joining the core if he can keep his average up.
Now, you're probably calling me crazy because Atlanta has so much pitching depth. It's true, they have some of the best pitching prospects in the game.
However, look at their rotation. Tim Hudson is the only 200-inning guy; Jair Jurrjens is an injury risk, with Tommy Hanson getting too comfortable on the disabled list.
Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy represent huge upside, but as new arms to the MLB do they have what it takes for quality 200-inning seasons?
Atlanta's pitching is really good, but their young arms need more seasoning before they become a competitor. This year would best be used as a bridge to the next.
3. Washington Nationals
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The Nationals made some big moves the last two seasons, and it seems all eyes are on Washington heading into 2012.
Their lineup is diverse and deep. Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse and Jayson Werth return as the core veterans. Joining them are high-ceiling catcher Wilson Ramos and power/speed threat Danny Espinosa.
Then there's that one kid. Mega-prospect Bryce Harper spent 2011 destroying the minors, and his MLB debut is just around the corner. He's an impact bat that could turn Washington's lineup into the best in the East.
Last, but not least, it's worth mentioning Anthony Rendon. The Nat's top pick in the 2011 draft exudes five tools, and he's already wowing in spring training.
The biggest improvements to Washington has to be the rotation. Despite constant spurning by top free agents, the Nationals finally landed a top arm in Gio Gonzalez. They also managed to add Edwin Jackson, who is an ideal number four for any team.
Those two join a pitching core of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. Strasburg will have his innings limited in 2011, but he'll still pitch some stellar games. Zimmerman proved his worth in 2011 and looks to continue his progression in 2012.
There's a lot of really good things to say about this team. Unfortunately, they're still young and have some flaws.
Strasburg will carry this team through the first half, but as they begin to pull back his innings, the team will fall out of contention and settle for third place.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
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My imagination of Philly fans seeing this: "What?! The Philadelphia Phillies second?! Blasphemy!"
Okay NL East fans, hold your horses.
Let's look at that offense. When will Ryan Howard return? Well, "out indefinitely" doesn't sound too promising. Will Chase Utley of old return? Can Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz slow the aging process?
This offense is a far cry from the 2007-2009 years. Hunter Pence has some potential, as does John Mayberry, but these bats still can't match up with the Nationals or Marlins.
Now we get to the pitching. I know, I know, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy...oh wait.
Hands down, Philadelphia has the best top three pitchers of any NL East team. However, I doubt Vance Worley can hold up his 2011 production, and Joe Blanton is still in the five spot.
Despite offensive issues, the Phillies arms are enough to pull them into the playoffs. But, with a weak core of hitters and a lackluster back-end of the rotation, Philadelphia lacks what it takes to win the division outright in 2012.
1. Miami Marlins
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To find the NL East leader, we turn our attention to sunny Miami.
The Marlins are the most improved team in this division, if not all of baseball.
Offensively, you could make a strong case for them having the best lineup in the National League. They have four guys who can hit at least 20 home runs (Logan Morrison, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez) and three guys who can steal at least 30 bases (Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes).
In other words, they are incredibly balanced.
Logan Morrison and Hanley Ramirez are both headed towards huge bounce-back years, which makes this team all the more threatening. Then there's the addition of Jose Reyes, deemed both unnecessary and ingenious all at once.
Continuing the boon of additions, we look at the rotation. They've added a huge veteran arm in Mark Buehrle and a potential upside arm in Carlos Zambrano.
Returning to the rotation are Anibal Sanchez (post 2011 breakout), Ricky "sabermetrics can't figure me out" Nolasco and Josh Johnson.
With Johnson's deep injury history, Miami's success banks on how healthy he can be. At full potential, J.J. is one of the best pitchers in baseball. The fish need him.
With their huge upgrades it's impossible to declare any other team to win the NL East.
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1. Miami Marlins: made huge upgrades over the winter and have all the potential to dominate.
2. Philadelphia Phillies: have a great rotation, but they need more offensive support.
3. Washington Nationals: on the verge of taking over the division, but not this season.
4. Atlanta Braves: filled with talent, but they need more seasoning.
5. New York Mets: what happened to us?