The NL East this season reminds me of the AL Central, but with just a little less talent overall. I don’t believe any team in the East will be able to win the division, but I believe all the teams will compete for a while, with the potential of a three or four team race to be crowned division champs.
Atlanta Braves – It seemed as if the Atlanta Braves would never miss the playoffs. Now it seems as if they may never make the playoffs. It’s not that they aren’t a good team, but that there are just teams better than them in the division.
Why they will win the East: If Brian McCann, Garrett Anderson and Chipper Jones all stay healthy for a full season and put up very good numbers, the Braves might have a shot at competing if their pitching can keep them in games.
Why they won’t win the East: Their starting pitching is extremely average. Derek Lowe is a very good number one starter, and Jair Jurrjens showed signs in 2008 of having very good stuff.
However neither is dominant and who knows which Javier Vazquez will show up; the one that won 16 games with an ERA around 3.70 in 2007, or the one who lost 16 games with an ERA around 4.70 in 2008. My guess would be the 2008 version.
Even if their starters can hold their own, the Braves bullpen will likely struggle significantly throughout the season.
Washington Nationals– The Nats made quite a few solid additions in the off-season, but one would have to think it won’t be enough to be able to surpass the Mets or Phillies.
Adding slugger Adam Dunn, as well as outfielder Josh Willingham, with power pitcher Daniel Cabrera, the Nationals look to finally be moving in a somewhat positive direction.
Why they will win the East: If they have any hopes at contending in the summer months, it’s going to have to be their offense that takes them there. Ryan Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes would all likely have to put together career years for Washington to make a run.
Why they won’t win the East: Their starting pitching is average, but they do have four guys who have proven that they can get hitters out when they want to. The reason, or at least one of a few reasons, that the Nats won’t sniff the postseason is their bullpen.
Saul Rivera, Steven Shell, Jason Bergmann, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard and Joel Hanrahan is not going to put any fear into any NL opponent.
New York Mets – Two years. Two collapses. One of them epic. Sooner or later this team is going to have to turn it around and figure out how to close out a season. They may have finally figured it out, adding arguably the best closer in the game, Francisco Rodriguez.
Why they will win the East: They have good speed up and down their lineup, and solid power in the middle. No, Luis Castillo and Carlos Delgado aren’t getting any younger, but both should still have enough in the tank to help the Mets get over the hump.
Unlike in past years, their bullpen is solid, and if they had a healthy Billy Wagner, it would be the best bullpen in all of baseball. And oh yeah, some guy named Santana at the top of that rotation isn’t bad either.
Why they won’t win the East: Two reasons: 2007 and 2008. If this team has any sort of lead in the division come September, it’s going to be impossible for them to avoid the talk of yet another collapse.
Beyond that, it is hard to find a reason that this team won’t win the division. If they can stay healthy, and finally close out a season, they should finally take the NL East crown.
Philadelphia Phillies – The defending World Series champions look to be primed to make another run. Other than replacing outfielder Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, the Phillies will try to defend their title with virtually the same roster.
Why they will win the East: The Phillies have one of the best offenses in all of baseball, hands down. They have the 2006 NL MVP and 2008 NL MVP runner-up Ryan Howard and the 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins.
Chase Utley, who was possibly the favorite for the award last season until he missed significant time with an injury, will be in the mix again this season for the award. Along with all that power, the Phillies still have the incredible speed of the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino, and one of the best closers in the game, Brad Lidge.
Why they won’t win the East: I know their starting pitching was enough to win them a world series in 2008, but I believe it could cause them problems in ’09. Cole Hamels will be dynamic as usual, but Brett Myers and Joe Blanton will need to be able to consistently get hitters out.
If they can’t, who’s going to expect the 74 year old Jamie Moyer to get anyone out? Okay, I kid about Moyer but one has to think that since his fastball tops out at the speed of a high school kids curveball, and at the age of 46, Moyer can’t have too much left to give.
Their bullpen outside of Lidge also tells me they are going to need that offense to be just as productive as last season if they want to become the first team since the Yankees in 2001 to appear in back-to-back World Series’.
Florida Marlins – The Marlins are loaded with young talent, at least as far as hitting and starting pitching are concerned. The bullpen could be another story. They made no noteworthy moves in the offseason but should have their starting pitchers back healthy and ready to go.
Why they will win the East: Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez are two rising stars in the majors, but that likely won’t be enough for this club in 2009. They had a very impressive run in 2008, finishing just 7.5 games out of first place when many predicted that they would finish well under the .500 mark.
They most certainly will need their very young pitching staff to produce and produce well if they want to make another run at the division title in 2009.
Why they won’t win the East: Losing outfielder Josh Willingham and back-up outfielder and veteran presence Luis Gonzalez will hurt this team more than people think. John Baker, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla are the ‘veterans’ of this team now, all at the ripe old age of 28.
Despite the impressive effort last season, I think this team is just too young to contend in this division with powerhouses in Philly and New York.
Finally, I leave you with my thoughts for the 2009 NL East.
- Philadelphia Phillies
- New York Mets
- Florida Marlins
- Washington Nationals
- Atlanta Braves
Yes, that’s right, I believe the Phillies and Mets will finish the season tied. Ok maybe not but I can’t decide who I believe will come away with the division, so I am taking the easy way out.
I say they finish tied in the regular season, and whoever gets home-field for a one game playoff is my prediction to win the NL East.
Sorry Braves fans, I can’t believe it either that I have them finishing last, try not to come down on me too hard.