Who Is the Team To Beat in the NL East?

John HartContributor IJanuary 18, 2009

Right off the bat, I'll tell you who it is, it's the Phillies. And I will tell you why; they won the World Series. That is why the Giants were the team to beat this past season in the NFL, and why the Red Wings are still the team to beat in hockey.

While they may be the team to beat in the NL East, it does not mean they will win the NL East. Go ahead and say I'm just being a fan, but I legitimately believe the Mets will win this division this season and will remove the title of "choke artist" from their history, as Cole Hamels so eloquently labeled them on WFAN with Joe and Evan.

It's hard to disagree with him, after all, two straight season of disappointment, pain, and failure will reinforce his statement. But next season is a new season, with an entirely new look.

The first place in which the Mets are better is in the coaching area. Willie Randolph is a great manager, but he tried to run the Mets like they were the New York Yankees. You can't do that because even I will admit the Yankees are in a class of their own. Willie Randolph was too strict for their own good.

It was like trying to run a public school like a military academy, and you saw it day after day.

Then, while the Mets were on the West Coast against the Angels, Willie lost his position as head coach and Jerry Manuel took his spot and after the team began to win because of his laid back way of managing while keeping a stern grip on the attitude of his players.

You saw it the first game he was manager when Jose Reyes refused to come out of a game for an injury but Manuel refused to be talked to and took him out.

Other things began to happen when Manuel took over. First, Delgado went off the charts and had a great second half of the season.

Then, with a new pitching coach, Mike Pelfrey had a rebirth because he was finally allowed to mix in his breaking and off speed pitches in with his sinking fastball, which is why he was so difficult to figure out.

So it was obvious the new coaching change was a positive for the Mets, but the only problem was it didn't prevent a miniature collapse this past year.

The next way in which the Mets will win the division is because of the new personnel added to the roster. I will begin with the bullpen.

First thing is first, understand what last years bullpen did to the Mets last season. 29 time the Mets had a lead after six innings, and lost the game. This was because the Mets had one of the worst bullpens in history filled with poor pitching and injuries.

If the games ended after eight innings, the Mets would have won the NL East by six games over the WS champion Philadelphia Phillies.

To solve their problems in the bullpen, the Mets added J.J Putz and saves leader last season K-ROD. Putz will act as a set up man while K-Rod will of course be the closer.

Putz had some injury problems last season, which could end up being a problem for the Mets down the road but he still posted decent numbers.

In 47 games, Putz was 6-5 with 15 saves and an ERA of 3.88. K-ROD played in 76 games last season where he posted a 2-3 record, 62 saves, and a 2.24 ERA. Those are your 8th and 9th inning men Mets fans, and it is hard to argue that they wont make the difference.

One major move that was made was not an addition, but a subtraction. Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis were sent packing and the guys that will be in their spots are Connor Robertson and Sean Green.

These are two young arms that will certainly not bring the same pain the the two that left gave Mets fans. The bullpen is revamped and will be looking to be a asset opposed to a liability. 

We cant forget what the Phillies have done this offseason too, that helps and hurts the Mets Pat Burrell is no longer a Philly, and he is known among Mets fans as a Mets killer.

It seems in every big situation he is at bat and he is the reason the Mets lose to the Phils. As a Mets fan, I am happy he is gone, but I feel his replacement has the potential to be a new Mets killer. Raul Ibanez played 162 games last season where he scored 85 runs, 23 home runs, 110 RBI's, a .293 BA, and an OBP of .358. Those numbers scare any fan of the opposing team.

One problems the Phillies do have, which I don't think will influence their on the field play, is the fact that half their team is on arbitration, looking for more money. This group includes Ryan Howard, who will let his numbers do the negotiating for him.

Real quick before I wrap it up, I want to go through position, starting five, and bullpen to see which team have the advantages and where.

At shortstop, the Mets have the advantage with Jose Reyes over Jimmy Rollins. Rollins had an off year and he cant give the speed, runs scored, and stolen bases that Reyes can.

After hitting 30 HRs the season before last, Rollins' HR's dropped to just 11 in the championship year. He dropped from 94 to 59 in RBI, 139 to 76 in runs, and .296 to .277 in BA.

I am aware that it was a year of injury, but that doesn't hurt your BA. Reyes increased in almost every category including HR's, RBI, hits, BA, and OBP. So i feel the edge goes to the Mets.

At first and second base, it isn't even a contest; the Phillies rule with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. While Utley will be hurt and out in the beginning of this season, I still think he will have a solid year and Howard will continue to build on success and will lower his strike out numbers.

At catcher, it's hard to argue either way. I like Castro and Schneider, especially since Schneider improved slightly on his power numbers later in the season. Ruiz hits for low average with almost no power, so in my opinion, I will make this one a wash, neither give their team any major advantage.

In the outfield the Phillies spot Ibanez, who i said will be a major force, as well as Victorino and Werth. Those last two are only going to get better as their careers move on. Werth hit 24 HR's last season with 67 RBI's and a .273 BA. Victorino hit .293 and had 36 SB, showing near Reyes speed.

The Mets' outfield is still a question. Beltran and Church will be in center field and right, but it seems they will be platooning the left field position which has caused them some trouble in recent years with the likes of Alou.

It looks like Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, and Fernando Tatis will each take turns in left until a definite role is taken by one of those three players. Because of this uncertainty in left field and the consistent play out of Werth and Victorino, I will give the outfield to the Phillies.

Like first and second base was totally dominated by the Phillies, i will do the same for the Mets at third base. Pedro Feliz is a very good player, but hes no David Wright. Wright hit .302, 33 HR's, 124 RBI, and 115 runs scored.

I will take David Wrights offensive numbers with his par defense any day, and I hope Philly fans would agree.

The starting rotation is key for both teams, because pitching wins championships. I would take Santana over Hamels because Santana was so clutch down the stretch, it was not his fault the offense couldn't come through.

Also, take into consideration that whenever Santana pitched, it was like the bullpen couldn't wait to blow the game for him. Finally, Santana refused to be taken out and began finishing his own games not caring about rest, he didn't need it.

He finished the season 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA.Hamels finished 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA and a much better bullpen.

The rest of the bullpen are fairly even. Phillies have Myers, Blanton, Moyer, and Kendrick and the Mets will show Redding, Pelfrey, Maine, and most likely Perez with the idea he will sign now that Lowe is out of the picture with the Braves.

I'm concerned with Moyer, and I honestly don't believe he will have the same kind of season he just had.

I call it the Tom Glavine, because older pitchers need to change their style to accuracy over speed and it works initially, but eventually good hitters will catch on and they will begin to be hit harder.

The final spot is the bullpen and because it changes to frequently, and how were still about a month away from pitchers and catchers on spring training, I will stick with the closer. K-Rod or Lidge?

Either way i can guarantee neither one will be able to give the same production as this past season. K-Rod led the league in saves but Lidge had 15 more strikeouts then K-ROD at 92.

I feel Lidge would have had more saves if he had more opportunities, with that lineup a lot of games tend to be a blow out by the time it would be his time to come in.

But the addition of Putz gives the edge to the Mets, but if it were strictly by closers i would have to give it to Lidge, hes too good.

So, I do believe the Mets will win a tight race for the division. I know i will have one or two Braves fans saying they are in the running for the division but i just don't see how they could make a real playoff push, yet.

The Marlins keep trading their players and Washington is still just a mess.

Prediction. Mets will win 96 games, Phillies 94, Braves 86, Marlins 78, and Washington 70. Agree or disagree, but i like the Mets' chances and really believe they will win the division and the Phillies will win the Wild Card, and these two teams will meet in the NLCS.


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