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Howard bewails the Phillies' 2010 NLCS loss to San Francisco.
Slow down there.
I know you're about to shout some insult about how I'm jumping off the Phillies bandwagon, but hear me out.
Yes, I don't think the Phillies will win the NL East. However, I do see them securing the first wild card spot, thus gaining a playoff berth.
Yes, the Mets stink, but Miami, Atlanta, and Washington won't go quietly.
The Nationals' offense isn't a joke, featuring the emerging Michael Morse and talented Danny Espinosa. Their young pitching is very good as well, including Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, and ace Gio Gonzalez.
Atlanta's pitching is similarly good, although their offense isn't much of a threat.
However, I really want to focus on the team I believe will win the NL East: the newly-named Miami Marlins.
The Marlins made some big-time free agent moves this offseason, and it's easy to write them off by saying, "They pulled a Yankees; they overpaid and over valued big-name free agents." However, that would be completely incorrect, not only because their moves actually filled holes, but because it only adds to a young core brimming with talent.
The Marlins offense completely blows away what the Phillies can offer. Yes, I have made no bones about saying that Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Placido Polanco will play extremely well in 2012. But the Fightins just can't match the Marlins balanced lineup.
They have three young sluggers who are destined for stardom: Logan Morrison (23 homeruns in 2011), Giancarlo—formerly "Mike"—Stanton (34 HRs and .537 SLG % in 2011), and Gaby Sanchez (back-to-back 19 homeruns and 35-plus double seasons). They provide the pop in the middle of the order, and provide one of the best, young 3-4-5 trios the MLB has to offer.
Not only does Miami have power, but they have plenty of speed to come with it. Their No.1 and 2 hitters, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonafacio, combined for 79 steals in 2011. They combined to hit over .315 as well, meaning that they provide the consistency required at the top of a lineup. Simply put, the Marlins lineup is a dangerous gauntlet for any pitcher, even the Phillies' aces.
And don't count out their staff. The addition of Mark Buehrle, even if they overpaid him, provides a reliable, veteran arm to a staff featuring the incredibly talented Josh Johnson and the above-average workhorse Ricky Nolasco. If, and it's a big "if", Johnson can stay healthy, this rotation will be able to at least give their team a chance, if not keep up with the Phils, Braves, and Nats pitching.
The addition of Heath Bell also surges up the back end of their rotation, meaning that ninth-inning rallies will be scarcely found against Miami.
The Phillies have the pitching to win 95-plus games in 2012, but whether they can outlast Miami seems like a long shot in my mind. The Marlins are much younger, and the additions of Reyes and Buehrle add much needed experience for the long haul.
The Marlins aren't far and away the better team, but they'll certainly give Philadelphia a hard time in 2012, and in my mind will win a closely contested NL East race.
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