Let’s take a look at the NL East, where anyone, well, almost anyone can emerge as the winner. I’ll take a look at the teams in alphabetical order, saving the Nats for last, where they belong. The Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Braves will all be contending this year, with question marks on every team. Who will emerge as the NL East champion?
Last year, the Braves finished in fourth place leap years behind the third place Marlins. They are now younger, stronger, and faster. They have also padded their pitching rotation with savvy vets Derek Lowe and Javier Vasquez. They will anchor a rotation that includes Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens. The lineup will include McCann, a power hitting catcher.
Besides that, there are a lot of questions marks. Kotchman, Kelly Johnson, Garret Anderson, and Escobar are all great role players, but there are too many of those on this team.
Schafer is a steroid-using question mark, and Jeff Francouer has to prove himself once again.
The rotation is decent, especially once they call up phenom Tommy Hanson from AAA. They also have a decent bullpen with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. The depth on offense isn’t legit though.
This team contended with the Mets and Phillies down to the wire last year. I think they’ll be right behind those two teams once again. They boast a young, beastly pitching staff, which many consider the best in the NL East.
Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Volstad, Anibal Sanchez, and Andrew Miller have a lot to learn, though. They can all strike out the best of them, but we all saw what happened to Dontrelle Willis. Is that the fate of the Marlins' pitching staff? Or will they be the best indeed?
The lineup is also young, and there aren’t many studs besides Hanley Ramirez. Uggla can hit for power, but hits around .240, while Maybin, Hermida, Baker, and Cantu can turn into studs, but haven’t yet. The bullpen is weak, with Matt Lindstrom as the closer.
New York Mets
The Mets failed to make the playoffs with their second collapse in a row last year. It won’t happen again this year. Their biggest question mark is their pitching staff, and surprisingly it's not the bullpen.
They had the worst bullpen of all the major contenders last year, but shored it up with the acquisitions of JJ Putz and FRod. Long relief may still be an issue, though. But if the starters can get to the seventh, you can pretty much wrap up the game. The question is, can the starters get to the seventh?
Santana is a stud, but there have been talks about cutting down his workload. The rest of the staff is full of question marks. Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey have to step up and get it done in order for this team to make the playoffs.
Having an offense like the one the Mets do does help the staff a bit. This lineup boasts power and speed with Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran. Daniel Murphy may be a nice surprise in left field.
The Phillies astonishingly came back to win the division last year. Can they do it again? They have the studs to get it done. Cole Hamels leads a staff that is a bit better than the Mets staff, but has the same amount of questions marks.
If Oliver Perez breaks out, why can’t Brett Myers round back into form? What if John Maine and Joe Blanton are just good No. 4 pitchers, but can’t get it done higher up in the rotation come September?
The Phillies, just like the Mets, have a robust lineup that doesn’t lack power or speed; trust me, they won’t miss Pat Burrell much. Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ibanez, Victorino, and Werth have the Phillies thinking repeat. The rotation, along with Hamels, includes Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Blanton.
There aren’t many concerns with the bullpen that includes Lidge, Madson, JC Romero, Durbin, and Eyre. They don’t match up with the Mets here, but they have more depth in the pen and the lineup.
The reason why baseball doesn’t have much parity is because of teams like this. If anyone thinks that this team will contend, they need to lay off the Melatonin.
The lineup has some power with Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Zimmerman, but has more questions than answers. Milledge and Dukes have potential to be all stars; personally, I don’t think either ever gets there.
There is some good depth with Willingham, Dmitry Young, Bard, Belliard, Kearns, and Patterson being added.
Their pitching staff is also full of question marks. I’ll admit it looks better than recent years with Lanna, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, and rookie sensation Jordan Zimmerman, but it won’t match up well with any of the other East teams. Joel Hanrahan is a decent closer but won’t be getting many save chances in this loaded division.
I know, it looks a lot like last year. But the top four teams will be closer than last, and the Nats may add a few wins to last year’s total.
I still think due to the Mets and Phillies being powerhouses, and the Marlins having a great pitching staff, the Braves will once again find themselves in fourth place. Only, this time, they won’t be 13 games behind Florida.
This will be a good race for third. I think the Marlins will edge them by only a few games, with both teams only being no more than 10 behind the Mets and Phillies.
The Nationals will once again be in last, and contend for worst record in the NL, if not the majors. However, they have made some strides in the right direction. They just play in a very competitive division.
I don’t think that Maine, Perez, and Pelfrey get it done for the Mets, but their offense will carry them to a wild card. Phillies have the pieces to get it done again, matching the Mets stride for stride. The only reason I’ll take the Phillies to take the division is because I don’t want to be wrong when the Mets blow another late September lead.