NL East Preview
Sure the NL Central looked good last year, but overall the NL East is the best division in the National League.
2009 shouldn't be any different, as once again the NL East looks the most balanced and competitive division in the National League.
Of course there is the World Championship Phillies, and the Mets are supposed to be good (but I'll believe it when I see it).
However, there are some other talented and potentially dangerous teams in this division. Namely, I'm talking about the Marlins and Braves (sorry Nationals). So let's take a look at how the NL East could end up at the end of the season...
#1 Philadelphia Phillies
I usually don't buy into the Phillies being very good, but I think this Phillies team will remain on top of the NL East in 2009.
My problem with the Phillies has always been with their pitching, but now the Phillies bullpen and starting rotation look pretty solid. The starting rotation is from top to bottom, with Hamels being the "ace" followed by a number of solid pitchers. I personally thought the addition of Joe Blanton was a great idea.
Philadelphia's bullpen also looks solid and decently reliable. Now that the Phillies have finally stopped relying on the arm of Flash Gordon, which has probably fallen off now, the bullpen looks much more promising to last over the course of a season.
As far as the lineup, I'd expect more of the same. Baring injuries or something else unforeseen, the Phillies should win the division again.
#2 New York Mets
It seems like I have been hearing for about a decade or more now about how good the Mets are going to be next year. There is talent on this team and they absolutely could challenge to win the division, but until I see something different from New York, I'm not going to pick them to win. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am.
If I was a Met fan, my biggest concern would be starting pitching. After Johan Santana it should be Maine, Pelfrey, Redding, and then Garcia or Niese.
Santana has the big name, and some of those other pitchers have shown promise and spurts of greatness, but it just doesn't look like a very scary line up to me.
Still, the Mets bring back a solid offensive and defensive lineup, and should manage to finish second in the league. Although I wouldn't be too surprised if the Mets finished higher or lower than No. 2, I'm just not sure what to to expect from the Mets right now.
#3 Atlanta Braves
I will admit that my Atlanta bias played a role in putting the Braves ahead of the Marlins. But if I had written this article a few weeks ago, even I wouldn't have put the Braves here. However, there are some reasons to have hope for the Braves this year.
If Casey Kotchman can play decently (which he did not do after coming to the Braves last season) then the Braves can have a very dangerous infield with Chipper Jones, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, and Brian McCann.
The outfield is full of what-if's for the Braves.
If Jeff Francoeur can return to form and develop into the elite player the Braves hope he can be than this outfield looks at least decent.
The big "if" though, has to do with who will get most of the playing in left field and center field. Top prospects Schaefer and Heyward could play a role. Heyward is a seriously talented prospect, but may not quite be ready for the majors since he was drafted just two years ago.
Not having Tim Hudson for most of the year is a big blow to the rotation. But the signings of Lowe, Vazquez, and Japanese pitcher Kawakami mean that the rotation could be solid. Last year's rookie success Jair Jurjens also returns.
The Brave's bullpen actually looks pretty good overall. If things go the way the Braves hope, this team could be surprising, but it could also end up third or fourth in the division again.
#4 Florida Marlins
I've learned never to underestimate this team, so I wont. Even though I'm putting them at fourth in the division, this team is dangerous and I wouldn't be too surprised if the end up finishing higher up in the division.
As usual, you may not be familiar with a lot of names on the Marlins roster. Fans of the NL East may recognize more names than other baseball fans. Nevertheless, many Marlins players are not household names across the country.
The Marlins bring back two great players that have become fixtures in Florida in Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. Overall, the Marlins lineup should be productive, as they typically find a way to manufacture runs.
The starting rotation looks promising and could be very good. It is a young rotation that will rely on players like Johnson, Volstad, and Sanchez to have big years. If they do, then the Marlins could go beyond expectations once again.
#5 Washington Nationals
I'm always hopeful that the Nationals will be better, and there are some interesting names on this team, but once again the Nationals should end up at the bottom of the division.
The Nationals have some relatively young talent, but players just don't seem to pan out quite right.
Lastings Milledge and Willy Mo Pena were once exciting prospects for the Mets and Red Sox respectively, but neither has been stellar for the Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman also needs to step up some if the Nationals are to make a push into relevancy.
Simply put, the Nationals are still a work in progress, but I'm hopeful that they will start to progress quicker.