1. New York Mets
Pitching: Their rotation is very average and top heavy. Johan Santana is as dominating as ever, having one of the most underrated seasons of any starting pitcher, but after that the drop off is sever.
Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are both young pitchers who project to be middle-of-the-rotation guys with heavy fastballs. Oliver Perez provides a good left-handed change of pace and Livan Hernandez is a good innings eater for the back of the rotation.
The bullpen, the constant source of Met’s fans ulcers, is much improved. Francisco Rodriguez is a rock at closer and is a lock to save at least 35 games, more likely 40.
Setting K-Rod up is another accomplished AL West closer, JJ Putz. Putz, when healthy is a dominating power pitcher and when combined with K-Rod they should gift wrap several games.
Lineup: The lineup is amazing balanced with a healthy mix of a righty, lefties, and two devastating switch hitters. David Wright provides the purely right-handed stroke, and what a stroke it is with a career .309 average with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs a year.
The lefty power comes from Carlos Delgado, who revived his career with an astounding second half last season.
The offense truly runs through their switch-hitters Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Reyes is a base-stealing machine at the top of the lineup and Beltran is a middle-of-the-order monster.
The Mets' defense is strong in the infield with the exception of 1B, and Beltran can still cover real estate in CF.
Down on the farm: The Mets can expect little from their farm system this year, most of it spent in the Johan Delgado trade. They did a pleasant surprise last season in Daniel Murphy a 3B prospect turned LFer who hit .313 in 131 ABs last season.
Top prospect Fernando Martinez progress is slowing due to injuries and many are starting to doubt if he will ever reach the lofty expectations he inspired in 2005.
Overall: The Mets’ offense will slug its way through many games and will help make up for their average starting pitching. In close games the Mets will be near automatic with their bullpen.
The real challenge for the Mets is overcoming their recent past, if they collapse in the face of another challenger the Mets could quickly fall apart.
2. Florida Marlins
Pitching: Ricky Nolasco is an emerging ace with a bevy of pitches, including a low 90s fastball and a knee bending slurve. Challenging Nolasco for the title of Ace is Josh Johnson, who features dominating stuff and is two years removed from Tommy John.
Chris Volstad is a rising righty with a great feel for his pitches and should build on his 6-4 2.88 ERA 2008 season. Anibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller create a very talented, but inconsisten bottom of the rotation.
The bullpen is very young and it seems closing and setup will be by committee.
Lineup: The Marlins’ offensive centerpiece is their Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who appears to be A-Rod 2.0 (pre-roids A-Rod that is) and is their new No. 3 hitter.
Protecting Ramirez is the small but powerful Dan Uggla, who has amassed 63 HRs in the last two seasons. Adding to the young and promising talent is Cameron Maybin, a very hyped five tool prospect drawing Andre Dawson comparisons.
The Marlins have a good supporting cast in Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, and Jeremy Hermida. The defense is passable, and excellent in spots.
Down on the Farm: The Marlin’s have called up their ready prospects and many of their current prospects reside in single-A. They are prepared to concentrate on the next two or three years.
Overall: The Marlins are ready to pull one of their patented rabbits out of the hat as a multi-year window is opening for them. With a new stadium deal that could promise more hospitable confines, they may actually be able to hold on to this team. Their downfall this season will be the bullpen and their rather subpar depth.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Pitching: The rotation is the Cole Hamels show, with his outstanding fastball and change up he is one of the truly elite left handed starters in all of baseball. His lack of velocity this spring raised several eyebrows and now the elbow issues could be a huge problem for the Phillies.
After Hamels the Phillies have the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer, who at 46 had an outstanding 16-7, 3.71 ERA season. It is unlikely Moyer can repeat this feat and the Phillies will have to find the wins elsewhere in the rotation.
The burden will fall on Joe Blanton and Brett Myers who are both coming off losing, 4+ ERA, sub 200 IP seasons and the Phillies are banking on that one of them will bounce back.
The bullpen had an epic season not giving up a single blown save and while it is unlikely they will repeat that feat the bullpen is elite. Brad Lidge has outstanding stuff and has gotten over his mental road block, and with Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero on setup duty comebacks are gonna be hard to come against the Phillies.
Lineup: The infield is the heart of this team, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard is what makes this team go. Rollins and Howard have both won MVPs and Utley certainly has the talent.
Howard’s strikeouts are progressing at a freighting, and his average and OBP are both digressing. The injury to Utley is also a major concern for the Phullies offense. The addition of Raul Inbanez will easily fill and upgrade the hole left by Pat Burrell, and I think pushes the Phillies' offense forward.
Shane Victorino brings the speed and Matt Stairs off the bench power. This offense will absolutely mash and score a ton of runs, and the defense is outstanding up the middle.
Down on the farm: Great news for the Phillies their most major league ready talent are pitchers, righty Carlos Carrasco and lefty J.A. Happ. Carrasco is prone to big innings and many scouts think he is soft, so the bandbox that is Phillies’ home park may not the best place for him.
Lou Marson could also make his way to the majors to give the Phillies much needed depth at the catcher position and would bring a serious offensive presence lacking in the position.
Overall: The Phillies are the defending champions and is almost the same team going into this season. The problem is simply that last season was a perfect season for the Phillies, they faced no adversity last season.
No major injuries, the bullpen was perfect so they were never faced with a come from behind loss and a 45-year-old pitcher lead the time in wins.
This season the Phillies are certainly faced with adversity, Chase Utley is starting the season rehabbing from an injury, Cole Hamels’ elbow has caused him to be scratched from opening day, the bullpen will blow saves this season and how the Phillies will define their season.
Their lack of starting rotation depth, combined with the extra month of work last season means their pitching could be some of the weakest in the division which does not bode well for the Phillies.
4. Atlanta Braves
Pitching: The Braves pitching has a strong foundation but no ace to top it. Tim Hudson is one of the great pitchers in the division but he is out till mid-august and that may be too late to make any real contribution to the team.
The interim ace of the staff is the very talented, but still very young Jair Jurrjens. He pitched very well last season and all signs are pointing up. Derek Lowe is an outstanding groundball pitcher, eats innings and gets outs and comes up big in the clutch, great addition for the Braves.
Javier Vazquez is a strike out pitcher and something of a nibbler.
Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami is an interesting addition, he throws a moving high 80s fastball, a huge over the top curve in the 60s and that classic Japanese goofy change in the high 70s.
Kawakami has been lights out in spring training, but the jury is out on him till the league gets a firm look at him.
The bullpen is anchored by two closer level pitchers, lefty Mike Gonzalez who returned from Tommy John surgery but looked very strong last season.
Rafael Soriano is coming back from surgery that ended his 2008 season, and he will likely get light work at the start of the season, but he has a big arm coming out of then 'pen.
Lineup: Like the rotation the Braves have an excellent foundation but no big bat in the center of it all. Chipper Jones leaps to mind, winning the batting title last season but his injury problems cut deeply into his production and the Braves need another elite bat to make the lineup go. The infield is very solid, Casey Kotchman plays an excellent 1B and has a decent stick to go with it; Kelly Johnson is a good hitter but still learning the ropes of 2B. Yunel Escobar is a very balanced SS, hits well, fields well and has an absolute cannon. Garret Anderson in left will be a nice support bat but he hasn’t broken the 100 RBI mark in years. The real defining moments for the Braves will come from their young players.
Down on the Farm: The Braves have a few elite level prospects that are ready for the major leagues. Tommy Hanson has a big arm, a huge curve and the make up to be an ace and is likely the long man in the 'pen and a spot starter for the Braves this year, setting himself up for a rotation spot in 2009.
Jordan Schafer has been the big story of spring training hitting .355, which is a bonus because his defense in CF along likely will warrant him a roster spot. The kid is outstanding in the field, big arm, good angles and excellent glove work. He has 15-20 HR power and could be a staple for the Braves for years to come.
Overall: The Braves have a great club this season and should contend this season. But in the end this team is building towards 2010, 2011 and beyond.
This forward thinking approach will allow the more now oriented teams to pass them by, but if they are still in the division race in August when Tim Hudson is coming back, Tommy Hanson is possibly hitting his stride and Chipper Jones is healthy look out NL cause the Braves can play.
5. Washington Nationals
Pitching: The Nationals pitching is in total disarray, the rotation is full of No. 3 pitchers or worse. Scott Olsen, John Lannan, Shawn Hill and Daniel Cabrera all would make good bottom of the rotation starters on a strong team but to have a rotation consisting of them is a recipe of disaster.
In the 'pen, Joel Hanrahan is a good young pitcher with a powerful arm and while he will be the closer he has some growing up to do.
Lineup: The lineup is a little more developed than the pitching, they have a solid base of young talent. Ryan Zimmerman is an excellent 3B and when healthy is on the level of a David Wright or Aramis Ramirez. Lastings Milledge is a good offensive talent but has defensive and character concerns.
Elijah Dukes and Josh Willimgham are also promising outfielders. Adam Dunn has been brought in to be a draw with his power but will likely have little impact on the win total in Washington.
Down on the Farm: The Nationals Top Prospect is ready for major league action ahead of schedule. Jordan Zimmerman has a big arm, but is still getting a feel for his slow stuff.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell also is likely ready for action and projects to be a solid starting OFer, and will likely spend some time in the majors this year. Garrett Mock was a September call up last season and projects to a similar career path to Brandon Morrow or Adam Wainwright.
Leonard Davis is a super-utility man who will likely see time in the majors simply for his ability to play several positions.
Overall: The Nationals are going nowhere fast and are in total rebuilding mode. They will have their hot streaks as all major league teams do, but they will largely be a doormat for the National League.