Until opening day, in celebration of the coming 2009 baseball season, we will be wasting the entire month for March previewing all 30 teams over the next few weeks.
With team-by-team divisional breakdowns, season projections, and playoff predictions, come October we'll all look back fondly and laugh wholeheartedly how wrong and how off-base our prognostications.
National League East—Philadelphia Phillies
Will the reigning World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, pace themselves for a six-month 162 game marathon season, avoiding the trials and tribulations that buffered their 2007 season?
If so, then holding on overhated NL East division rival the older and slightly improved yet more maligned New York City choke artists—the New York Mets—by mid-September will be no daunting task.
The Mets mended their pitching problems with J.J. Putz and K-Rod, and may contend for title again until the first Citi Field collapse hands the phony Phillies the division crown without much effort.
Still the Mets and Phillies will duel most of the year and make for a highly competitive on hotly contested three-team pennant race.
Talks of season series sweeps over an Atlanta Braves team not expected to compete all year puts the Phillies ahead of them.
Phillies' wins come easy over a Washington Nationals team who signed Adam Dunn during the offseason assuming he'd balanced his walks-to-strikeouts-to-home run ratio. Fortunately for the Philly phans in us all, what's done is done: The Nats are still a deadlock to finish in last place in the NL East.
We expect those merciless Marlins to play playoff spoiler, for a few more years at least. Soon top young talent boats for the Pacific Ocean, lands West Coast greens, and this time costs the Florida Marlins their fans and their players and earns them an one-way trip away from friendly confines of Pro Player Stadium.
Is the new free-spending Marlins philosophy merely a mirage, eh? We digress...
Power Howard homers.
Chase Utley streaks.
Jimmy Rollins rocks.
All three are potential NL MVP candidates.
All three return behind a potent Phillies offense whose lineup now includes free agent pick-me-ups in "let-em" upgrade left fielder Raul Ibanez and rough-and-rugged All-Star capable catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Worthless without center fielder Shane Victorino leading off and right fielder Jayson Werth batting second, the Phillies' big three wouldn't put up such staggering numbers.
Notwithstanding, with Ryan Howard's low .339 on base percentage last season, both Victorino and Werth play integral parts in a possible Phillies championship repeat.
Free agent Mets killer Pat Burrell now plays in warmer weather Tampa, so the Phillies offense must replicate Burrell's stats or may be denied a World Series repeat.
Still an offensive juggernaut, the Phillies light up the box score this season, but like many in baseball they must address troubled spots. Unfortunately, Phillies pitching may be be harder to cure.
Cole Hamels expects Cy Young chatter to continue this season as long as his DL stints stay short and sweet.
Guaranteed, one of the great young baseball pitchers today, Hamels records his first 20-plus wins career milestone this season.
Conventional wisdom tell us Jamie Moyer, Digger Phelp's son-in-law, will match highlights and numbers for his 25th straight season on the way to his first 20-win Phillies season, the third in his career.
The guy—knock on wood—never breaks down and makes Roger Clemens look even more guilty with every season.
A number questions surround the Phillies' other rotation guys like southpaw starter J.A. Happ and his major league readiness. Happ's high 3.69 ERA is still lower than the NL average, but his innings pitched were also low.
Before the all-star break, Brett Myers flat out sucked, but he stepped up his game during the team's second half regular season success and pitched masterfully in the teams' playoff title push. He will need to do the same all season for the Phillies' repeat chances to stay legit.
All middle-of-the-road guys like Chan Ho Park, Kyle Kendrick, and Scott Eyre give the Phillies plenty of manageable fifth starter options. Eyre may prefer to pitch from the bullpen to help lessen Ryan Madson's increased workload over the team's first 50 games.
Remember the Phillies sensational 2008 playoff winning pitcher J .C. Romero?
He tested positive for a banned substance will sit out a 50 games suspension.
Jesus Christ Romero juiced a clean Tampa team out of two wins and a World Series ring.
At what price does a team, who lived and played the game the right way, now pay for baseball's ringing steroid endorsement?
Imperfect closer Brad Lidge pairs with big new-money reliever Madson or Eyre, and eventually Romero as the Phillies go-to options out of the bullpen.
Still neither combo of the four compares to the Mets' top two eighth-ninth inning guys, and if you count Billy Wagner—look out. Madson has the goods at times in pressure situations, but is still very hittable otherwise. Eyre's inflated 4.21 ERA and Romero's uncertainty gives the Mets the edge in the relief department.
So far in our 2009 MLB previews we picked the Mets to contend, the Braves to pretend, and the Marlins and Nationals to offend. But can the Phillies defend?
We pegged the Mets and Braves to contend, so the division remains a toss-up to win. As of this writing, the division remains a toss-up. The Phillies return too many of the same offensive weapons, and not enough new ones.
Regardless, the Phillies remain the team to be beat in the National League and in baseball.
It's just one of the perks of being World Series champions: You're the best until some other team knocks you off and puts you out of the playoffs.
No question the Phillies win and make the playoffs either as a Wild Card or division champ.
We're not set in our ways just yet. We'll have our official National League over/unders as soon as we finish our NL West and NL Central previews.
Hopefully, we'll have them done before the season starts.