MLB Preview 2012: Predicting the National League East Division

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIMarch 20, 2012

MLB Preview 2012: Predicting the National League East Division

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    The National League East is one of the most competitive divisions in Major League Baseball.

    The scary part about that is the division got even stronger during the offseason thanks to acquisitions by the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals.

    At the moment, the current toast of the NL East is the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The Phillies have established a dynasty in their division as they've won the title every year since 2008.

    The mission for the other four teams in the NL East is simple: "To be the man, you gotta beat the man."

    To beat the Phillies, teams will need to have a well rounded roster that can keep up with the three stud pitchers in Philadelphia as well as slug with their awesome lineup.

    It won't be easy, but with the recent improvements teams have made in the division (along with some of the recent struggles by the Phillies), there's a possibility we could see a new champion in the National League East this season.

5. New York Mets

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    If the New York Mets want to exceed their weak expectations, they'll need to keep both David Wright and Johan Santana healthy.

    Johan Santana was supposed to be the ace of this team when they acquired him from the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2008 season. However, Santana's tenure has been marred with multiple injuries and terrible performances by the Mets.

    Santana has not pitched in a game since September 2010 due to a shoulder injury that has really limited his availability. When he's on, Santana still has the ability to be one of the best pitchers in the game. The problem has been keeping him on the mound in recent years.

    The Mets are also having problems with third baseman David Wright. Wright has a rib cage injury that forced the face of the franchise to fly back to New York for treatment.

    A MRI showed a tear in his rib cage and now Mets fans have to be worried that one of the cogs of their lineup will miss significant time.

    Aside from this, the Mets are in full-fledged rebuilding mode and shouldn't be expected to compete for a couple of seasons. Once the Mets can get some prospects up to the majors, they'll improve.

    Until then, it could be a long, rough season for the New York Mets.

4. Atlanta Braves

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    For most of the 2011 season, the Atlanta Braves were sitting pretty.

    They had a lineup and pitching rotation that was clicking on all cylinders and had a sizable lead in the National League Wild Card race.

    Then, the Braves went 10-20 in their last 30 games and lost the Wild Card race to the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

    The bad news for the Braves is that their bad mojo has continued into spring training.

    Tommy Hanson received a concussion stemming from a car accident and has missed considerable Spring Training time. Tim Hudson is out until May 1st at the earliest after recovering from lumbar spine-fusion surgery.

    Perhaps the scariest thing Braves fans have heard during Spring Training was Chipper Jones questioning himself whether he can make it through the entire 2012 season.

    While Jones isn't what he used to be, the backlash of him pulling a move similar to Ken Griffey Jr. in 2010 could really hurt the Braves clubhouse.

    The vibe doesn't seem good in Atlanta right now, and I'm assuming that it will result in the Atlanta Braves finishing toward the bottom of the NL East.

3. Miami Marlins

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    The Miami Marlins may be the most colorful team in baseball.

    No, I'm not just talking about their color scheme change which has gone from black and teal to black, orange, teal, blue and every other color in the rainbow, but I'm also talking about the hiring of former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

    Guillen is definitely an interesting character as he's been so intense lately that he was kicked out of a spring training game. The success of the team Guillen manages usually depends on the type of people in the locker room.

    If they can handle it, they'll win a lot of games.

    It seems like that will be the case as the Marlins went on a tear in free agency adding Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle.

    The Marlins are listed as third in the division because of a couple question marks.

    The pitching staff remains a little bit shaky even after the addition of Buehrle, and there's no telling when Carlos Zambrano will go off on a clubhouse attendant at the Marlins' new ballpark.

    They also will see whether Logan Morrison's second half slump was a trend or a mirage. If he's able to hit, he'll be another valuable piece to the Marlins lineup that will include Hanley Ramirez, Reyes, and Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton.

    If the Marlins can push the right buttons, they might finish ahead of the team listed at second place.

2. Washington Nationals

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    The trendy pick of the National League East is the Washington Nationals. I'll admit that I am chugging the Kool-Aid they're selling.

    The Nationals' young nucleus is starting to develop and hit its stride.

    The Nationals really could have added a center fielder (like B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays) to solidify this prediction at second of the division, but they also made several strides that have fans excited.

    The biggest offseason acquisition was starter Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics. Gonzalez had a bit of a rough start to his career, but has rebounded to go 31-21 with a 3.17 earned run average over the past two seasons (he also made the MLB All-Star game in 2011).

    Gonzalez should form a solid one-two punch with Stephen Strasburg who will enter his first full season in the Major Leagues. After missing a majority of 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg was able to make a handful of starts (1-1, 1.50 ERA) toward the end of the season.

    Mix the pitching in with the eventual Major League debut of Bryce Harper (who was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on March 18), and the Nationals have all sorts of potential to be toward the top of the NL East in 2012.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Like I said earlier, "To be the man, you gotta' beat the man."

    I believe that the rest of the National League East (although they are getting closer) doesn't have the power to overtake the Phillies in 2012.

    There are a couple of variables that could wind up preventing the Phillies from winning their fifth straight NL East crown, but how big of an impact will they have on an already loaded team?

    Ryan Howard is continuing to rehab his torn achilles suffered on the last play of Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals. He's not expected to be ready by Opening Day, but after a recent infection scare, the Phillies can't afford to have one of their top bats out of the lineup for long.

    The team is also getting their annual scare from Chase Utley as his knees are once again giving him trouble. Originally, Utley thought his knees would not prevent him from cracking the Opening Day lineup for Philadelphia, but on March 19 it was announced that Utley will most likely not be ready and could wind up on the disabled list.

    Even the untouchable Roy Halladay has seen himself hit by the injury bug. While Halladay doesn't have a known injury, he's struggled in Spring Training and has seen a drop in his velocity.

    Despite all of this, Halladay does think he's ready to go and will be fine once the season starts.

    These are all questions, but when you have a team that's loaded with talent like the Phillies are it's hard to find a weakness. If the injury concerns become a reality, it's possible another team in the division can sneak up on them, but I'm not counting on it.