National League East Preview: Hard to Pick Against Phils

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National League East Preview: Hard to Pick Against Phils
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

As we begin another baseball season, the National League East promises to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.

The World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies look to repeat while the New York Mets try to shake off two years of frustration from folding in the last week of play.

The Atlanta Braves feel they are much improved from last year, and the Florida Marlins just may have the best starting pitching in the division.  Let’s see how they break down.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

If the Phils are going to get it done again this year, it will have to be on the backs of their pitching.  Hamels is their ace, and Brett Myers along with Jamie Moyer are their most consistent starters.

The question is the back end of their rotation.  Joe Blanton did well as a late-season pick-up last season, and Chan-Ho Park, whom they picked up for the back of their rotation, is a better option than Adam Eaton.

If they get better production on the back side of their starting rotation, they could run away with the division.  Their bullpen is solid, but you have to wonder if Brad Lidge will be 41-41 in save situations again this year.

J.C. Romero, a key lefty coming out the bullpen will be unavailable until June because of a substance abuse violation, so they will have to hold it down without him until then.

Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin performed well especially in the second half of 2008, so on the whole their pen is solid.

The line-up is solid, but it will be interesting to see how Chase Utley performs after his hip injury last year.  Ryan Howard is in good shape and poised to have a monster season. 

Raul Ibanez replaces Pat Burrell in left field, and even though Ibanez is a better all around hitter than Burrell, it makes their line-up very left handed. 

Jimmy Rollins is the key to their line-up.  It seems that if he is going well, then Philadelphia goes well.

Their line-up will produce as they have been.  Their bullpen repeating what they did last year and the back end of their rotation will go along way in determining whether they win the division again.

Projected Finish: First Place

 

New York Mets

New York got busy this off-season, wiping away any evidence of a bullpen that cost them the playoffs two straight years.  Exit Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, and Joe Smith, and enter the saves leader from last year, Francisco Rodriguez, and J.J. Putz.

The Mets will need depth in their pen if they want to overcome all the ills they have suffered.  They are depending on Sean Green and the lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano to provide it.  They shouldn’t have any issues in the eighth and ninth inning that they have had, which should result in more wins.

One of New York’s main problems from last year was they didn’t play well enough in the division.  Good teams don’t struggle against the bad teams in the division as they did.

A lot of that was because of the bullpen, but there were times they just didn’t score enough runs, especially coming down the stretch.

The starting pitching should be good enough with Johan Santana leading the way.  The keys will be how John Maine is after his injury problems from last year, and how Livan Hernandez does as the fifth starter.

Their starting pitching could either be good, or very good, baring injury.  Once again, if the Carlos Delgardo from the second half of the season is the one that plays in 2009, then they will produce enough runs.

Ryan Church is a question mark in right, but with Gary Sheffield in the fold they have insurance.  Young Daniel Murphy will get a lot of time in left and he performed well in spot duty last year.  If Reyes, Beltran, and Wright perform up to standards, they should right there in the end.

I can’t pick them to finish first though.  They have proven the last two years they didn’t have what it takes to get over the hump.

Projected Finish: Second Place

 

Florida Marlins

The Marlins fortunes will live and die with their starters.  We know Ricky Nolasco is their proven ace, but Josh Johnson may be better, and has shown after coming back from Tommy John surgery that he can be dominant.

He lost only one of 14 starts last year after returning to the rotation, and showed no ill effects of his injury.  Chris Volstad is only 22 but finished 6-4 with a 2.88 earned run average, and he just figures to get better. 

They could be the best one two three starters in the division easily if everything falls right.  Their fifth starter, Andrew Miller (another young arm) didn’t pitch well last year, and probably could have used the time in the minors, but that being said he should improve.

Florida has young and talented starters that should keep them in a lot of games.  The bullpen is suspect, and it remains to be seen who will be their permanent closer, but Matt Lindstrom will get the chance to be that guy.

Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla will anchor an offense that has question marks.  Their outfield lacks power (Cameron Maybin and Emilio Bonifacio), and unless they excel at small ball, they will have problems scoring runs.

As usual the Marlins will go with their youth, and they have been competitive using that formula.  If their bullpen holds up, and that is a big if, they will be tough to beat.  Their starting pitching is that good.

Projected Finish: Third Place

 

Atlanta Braves

The Braves made some changes in the off-season that they believe will put them back in contention for the division crown.  The biggest acquisition was Derek Lowe, who will assume the role of staff ace until Tim Hudson gets back from the disabled list.

Javier Vasquez comes over from the White Sox,  and they imported Kenshin Kawakami from Japan to further bolster the pitching staff.  Rafael Soriano can be good out of the bullpen if he can dodge injury, and Mike Gonzalez is a capable closer.

The Braves also brought in Garret Anderson from the Angels to play left field along with Matt Diaz.  The moves on paper look good, but a lot of things have to fall right for Atlanta to be competitive in this division.

Chipper Jones has to stay healthy, and we know that won’t happen over the course of the season.  Javier Vasquez’s earned run average was 4.67 last year, and he didn’t show he can be a dominant starter with Chicago.

They are banking of Jeff Francoeur being a 30-home run, 100-RBI man, when he has shown the last two years he is not.  Jeff believes his swing problems have been worked out and he is ready to break out, but I have doubts.

Garret Anderson is a good player, and hits for average, but at this stage in his career he is not going to hit 20 home-runs, and his on base percentage was only .325 last year.

Casey Kotchman is a gap hitter and not a power threat, and they are counting on Jordan Schaefer, a rookie, making major contributions in his first season in center field.

Brian McCann and Chipper will have to supply most of the power.  If not, they will have to manufacture a lot of runs to be competetive. 

There are too many things that have to break the Braves way in order for them to be in contention.  When you add everything up it doesn’t come out to a playoff berth, especially in this division.

Projected Finish: Fourth Place

 

Washington Nationals

It looks like the Nats will have to endure another season at the bottom of the division, or at least close to it.

They will start the season with five talented but inexperienced starters, and are willing to go through the ups and downs that come with the territory.  John Lannan will get the opening day start, with Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera to follow.

As the season goes on they should get better.  Their bullpen, surprisingly enough, is quite capable.  Their closer is Joel Hanrahan, and he showed he can get the job done late last year, even with control problems.  If he does the job, they will have a good pen.

Adam Dunn will add some beef to a line-up that was pretty anemic for most of last year.  If Ryan Zimmerman excels and Lastings Milledge starts to fulfill some of his potential, they will score runs.

It will take time for their starters to gel.  Long-term, Washington may have some young gems on their staff, but until then they will go through more pain.

Projected Finish: Fifth Place

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