NL East: Well Rounded

Corey McSweeneyAnalyst IFebruary 25, 2009

Onto part two, my friends. If you missed the AL East preview, you can see it here. And don’t worry, I won’t wait a week again for the next one. Maybe. Anyway, onto the reason you clicked on this article. 

The NL East has just about everything you would want in a division. It has new intriguing players (K-Rod, JJ Putz, Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn, Derek Lowe), young super studs (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez), big bashers (Ryan Howard), slick little guys (Jimmy Rollins), great lefty pitching (Cole Hamels, Johan Santana). That’s about it.

Wait; don’t forget the defending World Series Champions call this division home as well.  

Let’s start off the fun with the Nationals. Man, is this a hard team to look at. This team was supposed to be built around Ryan Zimmerman when they moved to DC, and he started out good, but has kind of fizzled lately. He missed 56 games last year and needs to rebound and be that guy for this team, catching up to his ’05 draft buddy Ryan Braun.

The Nats do have some nice young talent, but they’re very volatile. Lastings Milledge has loads of ability, as does Elijah Dukes, but Milledge hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential from the Met years and Dukes, well what can you say? His off the field issues are well documented. Not good stuff, my friends. But, if he can pull in the reigns a little, there’s loads of talent there as well.

The pitching staff really scares me too. When you are relying on guys like Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera, I don’t have high hopes for you. When I look at that rotation, I see a patchwork quilt. Here’s a bunch of guys who have had moderate success years ago/ tremendously bloated expectations in their careers and they’re all in the same place now. Granted, this formula does give the chance for one of these guys to step up and do good this year, but what about the others?

The key for this team will be the farm system. They don’t have a true elite prospect that everyone’s fawning over, and one of their better prospects aged four years overnight this week, so the goods seem to not be there either.

Not so fast.

You can never know with farm systems. Ross Detwiler is an up and coming lefty who can be really good, which is something teams try to get, and many have trouble finding. Really, think about it. The two real good lefties around are Johan Santana and Cole Hamels. Look at those two teams. The Mets seem to be on the verge of great things to many and the Phils just won a Series. If Detwiler pans out, Washington will have a real solid foundation moving forward.

This team has a nice new stadium and is in a great market with the DC area. While this might not be the year, I have a feeling this team is moving in the right direction, even with minuscule evidence. Plus, anytime you can sign a guy who is a mortal lock for 35 Big Flies, you are alright in my book. Take heart, DC fans.

The Braves are going to sneak up on some people this year. They bolstered their rotation this offseason with well known acquisition Derek Lowe and lesser known addition Javy Vasquez, to go along with rising star Jair Jurrjens. They also brought Tom Glavine back for his swan song.

They still have a few good years of Chipper Jones left, but they key to this team lies behind the plate. If you have a strong catcher who can handle a pitching staff and demand respect from his teammates, your off to a great start. The Braves have always built from the inside out, with pitching and catching first then their big boppers. They have struggled in recent seasons because there pitchers got old at the same time, and that really cost them. But they’re slowly starting to come back into form.

Another key for this team is if Jeff Francoeur and Mike Gonzalez can return to their previous forms. Francoeur was so bad last year that he was demoted all the way to AA for a little bit. That’s hard to pull off when you’re a big league star. Gonzalez’s excuse has been injuries, but he has been given the closer job and needs to play like he did when he was with the Pirates. If these things all come together the Braves could surprise.

Florida has a rulebook. Groom young talented players, watch them come together and win a championship, then ship them to the four corners of the world before they have to pay them. They bucked the trend with Hanley Ramirez, but that’s the exception to the rule. Once Cameron Maybin and Co. come together and inevitably lead this team to new heights, things will get blown up once again.

However, this isn’t the year. The Marlins are in the beginning stages of this process, and will struggle. It all boils down to how young they are. The whole starting rotation is mid-twenties or younger. Forget the rotation; the whole projected starting lineup is under 30. Bottom line, their youngness is going to lead to inconsistency, even with a guy like Hanley Ramirez.

And trust me; once they blow up the team around him, he’s going to have serious doubts about sticking around.

The Mets have a lot going for them, in the pre-season, emphasis on "pre." This team has had tons of expectations the last two years and has disappointed mightily. Now they are going to a new stadium and brought in new toys like Frankie Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, shoring up a bullpen that was so bad that people actually took notice Seriously, the equivalent of the bullpen and its popularity is only rivaled by kickers and punters in football. Think about it for a second, can you name more than five closers? One setup guy?

Anyway, the bullpen seems to have parts in place to not self destruct this year, but this team’s hitting and starting pitching is still the most important thing. They have Johan Santana holding down the fort at the top of the staff, followed by John Maine and Oliver Perez, solid if unspectacular supporting guys. Carlos Delgado rebounded last year and seems to be a good bet for 25-30 jacks and Jose Reyes and David Wright are the younger and less controversial pair in comparison to their siblings in the Bronx on the right side of the infield.

(Side note: If you like shortstops and third basemen and live in New York, can you be happier right now?)

I digress. From top to bottom, The Mets lineup is extremely solid and has the potential to be the best in baseball. They have all the parts, speed, average, power. Look for them to be really, really good this year.

And that brings us to the big boys. What’s not there to like in Philadelphia? Their the defending champs and brought everyone back, and probably upgraded in the total package of Raul Ibanez over Pat Burrell. Cole Hamels took a step up in his already solid young career with his performance in the World Series, and Ryan Howard got PAID for his prowess with the big stick. Brett Myers is still a solid No. 2 guy, even with his off the field problems, and Joe Blanton is much better suited for the lighter hitting national league. The issue will be if the Phils can recreate the magic they found last October.

Now, can they do it again? Sure. Will they? We will have to see.

Well, I'm done, my friends. Almost. Here's how it will break down. 

1. Mets

2. Phils

3. Braves

4. Marlins

5. Nationals

Right now, the AL East is getting all the buzz because of A-Rod and elite teams at the top of that division, but don’t sleep on the NL East. It could be a good one to watch.


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