The transition from spring training to the regular season is beginning to take place.
With that in mind, there have been numerous predictions, division breakdowns, rankings, and lists about who will win, lose, win awards, and so on.
Anyone can pick division winners and losers, but it's time to dig into each division beyond just the order in which teams will finish.
The National League East may be the most competitive division in the NL. Over the past two seasons, the division has come down to the wire before being choked away by the Mets and handed to Philadelphia.
This season will be no different. The Mets and Marlins will be much improved, Adam Dunn will be hitting home runs in DC, and the Braves, well even if they don't have the talented they used to, Bobby Cox always has them competitive.
Oh yeah, and the division is home of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies (It hurts just saying that).
Will the Phillies repeat? Will the Mets choke again? Will the Marlins be a spoiler for the third straight season? Who knows, but one thing is certain, this division will again be one of the best.
The All NL East Team:
- 1B Ryan Howard, PHI
- 2B Chase Utley, PHI
- 3B David Wright, NY
- SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
- LF Adam Dunn, DC
- CF Carlos Beltran, NY
- RF Jeff Francoeur, ATL
- C Brian McCann, ATL
- RHP Rickey Nolasco, FLA
- LHP Johan Santana, NY
- CL Brad Lidge, PHI
Best Starting Rotation: Philadelphia Phillies
This is an extremely close call between the Philly and New York, but with inconsistency and being out of shape plaguing Oliver Perez, and the fact that John Maine is return from surgery that abruptly ended his 2008 season, it is impossible to predict anything out of those guys.
The Phillies have ace Cole Hamels, fresh off his dominance in the 2008 postseason, followed by reliable starters in Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton.
Brett Myers, who is Philly's version of Oliver Perez is always up and down, but pitches well against the good teams, and even Chan Ho Park pitched well for the Phillies in 2008.
Honorable Mention: New York Mets
Best Lineup: Philadelphia Phillies
This is another close call, but the edge again over the Mets has to go to the Phillies. The Lineup is a little bit too left-handed, especially now that Philadelphia has replaced Pat Burrell in left with Raul Ibanez.
For the most part, the Mets and Phillies are very similar. They both have great players up and down their respective lineups, but the Phils have one thing the other teams in the division don't, Shane Victorino.
He is the Paul O'Neil type of player: the player who never says die, plays hard all of the time, and refuses to lose. He is what separates this lineup from the rest in the division. Honorable Mention: New York Mets
Best Bullpen: Philadelphia Phillies
Again a close call between Philly and New York, but again the edge goes to Philly. With K-Rod coming to Queens, the closers are a wash. JC Romero's 50-game suspension mixed with the Mets addition of JJ Putz, gives New York the edge at the set-up spot.
But where Philly really wins this battle, is its middle relief. It's a huge edge for Philadelphia, and it may even be the best group of middle relievers in the entire sport. Honorable Mention: New York Mets
Best Hitter: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
In a division that includes such hitters as Ryan Howard, David Wright, and Chipper Jones, this is a true honor. Florida's Hanley Ramirez is so good, he's rapidly approaching the Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez category as a hitter.
He hits for average, power, and has such blazing speed he has been Florida's leadoff hitter the past two seasons.
He'll move to the third spot in 2009, giving him more of an opportunity to drive in runs. He's a Triple Crown waiting to happen.
Honorable Mention: David Wright, Mets
Best All-Around Player: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Mets fans don't give this guy his due, but Beltran is very good at everything he does. He plays a Gold Glove centerfield, he hits for pop, he has speed, he's clutch. His average has dropped since coming to Queens, but still hit a respectable .284 in 2008.
Don't agree? well, how many players in baseball hit at least .280 with 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 Runs scored, and 25 steals? One. It was Carlos Beltran.
Honorable Mention: Chase Utley, Phillies
Best Starting Pitcher: Johan Santana, New York Mets
This is a no-brainer. Santana is not only the best starter in the division, but he is arguably the best in the whole sport.
The 2004 and 2006 AL Cy Young Award winner, almost added his first NL award in 2008. Santana had a huge year last season, leading the NL in ERA, games started and innings pitched, and finishing in the top 10 in wins (16), won-loss percentage (.696), WHIP (1.148), K's (206), complete games (3), shutouts (2), and K/BB ratio (3.27).
As good as Santana is, he gets even better in the second half of the season. Last year, Johan was 8-0 with an ERA of 2.17 in the second half, not to mention his dominant complete game shutout of the Marlins on short rest to save the Mets' from playoff elimination on the next-to-last day of the season (even if it was for only one game).
If only he could pitch everyday.
Honorable Mention: Cole Hamels, Phillies
Best Closer: (tie) Brad Lidge, PHI & Francisco Rodriguez, NYM
This is the only tie in my series of divisional breakdowns, but when trying to make the choice for best closer, I honestly was torn. Think about it, both of these guys had amazing seasons in 2008, arguably the two best by any closers in baseball.
Lidge was perfect, not blowing a save all season, while K-Rod set the single season saves record by saving 62 games for the Angels.
I give Lidge the slight edge for 2008, but you also can't ignore his past troubles in Houston, while Rodriguez has been remarkably consistent. It's a toss up, you really can't go wrong with either guy.
Honorable Mention: Joel Hanrahan, Nationals
Best Rookie: Cameron Maybin, Florida Marlins
Maybin will start the season as the Marlins leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He has seen limited action in 2007 with Detroit, before bein included in the deal that sent Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Motor City.
Maybin played only eight games in September for the Marlins last year, but showed promise, going 16-for-32 (.500) and stealing four bases. Maybin has never played in the minors higher tha AA, and he did strike out 124 times there last year, but playing in Florida should benefit Maybin.
Because of their limited resources, Maybin should start, and get every chance to prove he can play in the bigs.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
Most Underrated Player: Rickey Nolasco, Florida Marlins
When Florida traded Dontrelle Willis prior to the 2008 season, many wondered which of their young pitchers would step up and prove to be the new ace of the Marlins staff.
It would be Nolasco, in his third year with Marlins, that would step-up. Nolasco had an outstanding year, helping Florida win 84 games in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
Not only did Nolasco win 15 games, he was 12th in ERA, and he also finished in the top 10 in innings, strikeouts, shutouts, K/BB ratio and WHIP.
It's hard to shine in a division that includes Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, and Tim Hudson, but Nolasco is making his case for the spotlight.
Honorable Mention: Jair Jurjjens, Braves
Most Overrated Player: Chipper Jones, Braves
I recently wrote an article about this, and I had people ready to kill me. If you google my name it even comes up that I was the subject of a Braves fan's blog. He basically thought I sucked. To read the long version of my argument click here.
Here's the short version. Sure Jones is a future Hall of Famer. But the Braves need him to play arguably more than any team needs anybody, and he just cannot stay healthy.
I don't care how good you are when you're on the field, if you can not stay on the field, you can't help your team win. If you can't help your team win, you can't be considered a great player. Period.
Honorable Mention: Dan Uggla, Marlins
And the Winner is...Philadelphia Phillies
I'm a Mets fan, but I'm also a believer that to be the best you got to beat the best. Therefore, I'm giving the division to Philly again.
It will be a tight race all season, and will probably go down to the wire again. The Mets will win the wild card, and the two teams will probably meet in October.