2010 MLB Preview: NL East
Originally published at TwinsTarget.com .
Not too many years ago, the National League East was one of the more competitive leagues in baseball. For the past decade, the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and New York Mets have battled for the top position, with the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals (also known as the Montreal Expos before 2005) picking up the scraps.
Philadelphia has been incredibly successful in the NL East since 2001, and have been in the thick of things just about every year. The Braves dominated the early Aughties, with division crowns from 2000-2005. New York has had ups and downs this decade, with the future looking mostly sour. Florida has remained competitive for most of the decade, but hasn't been able to claim a division title. The Expos/Nationals have been mostly comatose these last 10 years.
The past three NL East titles have been awarded to the Phillies, who won the World Series in 2008 and still boast a very strong team. Atlanta has suffered ever since the ill-advised Mark Teixeira trade that sent Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and two others to the Texas Rangers. Florida and Washington are on the rise, while the Mets seem destined once again to a sub-.500 season plagued with injuries. Here is how I see the 2010 season playing out in the NL East.
1. Philadelphia Phillies – (95-67)
Possessing one of the best teams in the league for the past few years, the Phillies boast an incredibly talented core that managed to score a league-leading 820 runs in 2009. With much of the same young team coming back for the 2010 season, it is very likely that they will be able to cross the plate even more this year.
The Phillies acquired Roy Halladay this offseason, who will head up an impressive rotation. Halladay/Hamels/Happ/Blanton/Moyer won't be able to dominate the way the rotations in San Francisco and St. Louis do, but they will get the job done. When the first six spots of your batting order are filled by the likes of Rollins/Polanco/Utley/Howard/Werth/Ibanez, starting pitching isn't that big of a priority.
Closer Brad Lidge should return to normal this year, and if the Philadelphia bullpen is able to hold on to the leads they are given, there is no reason why the Phillies can't return to the World Series for a third year in a row.
2. Atlanta Braves - (90-72)
Offense will be the name of the game for the Braves in 2010. With one of the best starting rotations in the league in Jurrjens/Hanson/Lowe/Hudson/Kawakami, crossing the plate will be crucial for Atlanta, particularly from their outfield. Last season Garrett Anderson, Nate McLouth, and Jeff Francoeur combined to hit .260/.313/.393 with just 29 home runs.
This offensive deficiency will certainly be helped by the emergence of Jason Heyward and the acquisition of Melky Cabrera. The majority of the Braves' perennially strong infield of Brian McCann, Troy Glaus, Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Chipper Jones will be entering the prime of their careers this season. McCann, Prado, and Escobar will be fantasy favorites this year, and each should be able to notch VORPs above 30.
Although Atlanta's front office is probably still mentally kicking themselves for sending Feliz, Andrus, and two other prospects to the Rangers for Teixeira, they have got to be feeling good about their chances in 2010. Assuming there are no crippling injuries, the Braves will contend for the division crown for much of the season, and will be one of the favorites for a National League Wild Card berth.
3.Washington Nationals - (79-83)
Call it a hunch, an informed prognostication, or simply a dumb pick, but the Nationals could surprise us in 2010. Despite losing 102 games last year, the Nationals were just slightly below the league average in runs scored, showing that their offense was not as languid as some assumed.
The Nationals possess a decent enough core of talent, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman Adam Dunn, and left fielder Josh Willingham all capable of VORPs above 30. Elijah Dukes, Nyjer Morgan, and Jesus Flores are all in their mid-to-late-20s and should be able to provide a shaky Washington rotation with adequate run support.
Four of Washington's five projected starters—Lannan/Marquis/Olson/Mock/Martin—are under the age of 27, and have plenty of room for improvement. With an average bullpen this year, and the possible contributions of Stephen Strasburg for the last two months of the season, the Nationals could come within spitting distance of their first winning record since 2003.
They won't contend in any way, but the 2010 season could be a vital first step as they attempt to journey away from their culture of losing.
4. New York Mets - (75-87)
For a case study in incompetence, bad luck, and Murphy's Law, look no further than the New York Mets. With a $136 million payroll last season, the Mets came dangerously close to crossing the loathed century mark, posting a 70-92 record.
Expecting the return of Jose Reyes and other various injuries, the Mets signed left fielder Jason Bay this offseason, which gives them a formidable top-half of a batting order in Reyes/Beltran/Wright/Bay. After those four, the production quickly drops off, with Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Luis Castillo, and Omir Santos expected to round out the lineup.
The Mets have some hope ready in the minor leagues, most notably outfielder Fernando Martinez, who could be called upon in the case of injury. Unfortunately for New York, this is very likely. The Mets' training staff certainly looks upon the 2009 season with embarrassment; losing Beltran, Delgado, Putz, Reyes, Santana, Maine, and both Jesus and Ramos Martinez to the disabled list for lengthy periods of time. It goes without saying that contention in 2010 will be impossible if it is plagued with this many injuries.
Outside of Johan Santana—whose return from injury isn't guaranteed—the Mets don't have a very strong rotation. A lot will need to go right for Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Jonathon Niese, and probably Oliver Perez (among a plethora of others) to combine for an ERA under 5.00. The New York bullpen is well off; headlined by closer Francisco Rodriguez. That said, the Mets have too many holes to seriously contend in 2010.
5. Florida Marlins – (73-89)
Outside of two or three young players with excellent futures ahead of them, the Marlins should once again find themselves struggling to compete. By not taking advantage of the free agent market (or even the arbitration process, for that matter), Florida is content to bring a very flawed team into the final two years in Sun Life Stadium.
Shortstop Hanley Ramiez and starting pitcher Josh Johnson are the two players that will draw the attendance for the Marlins. Outside of second baseman Dan Uggla, left fielder Chris Coghlan, and staring pitcher Ricky Nolasco, there is really nothing to get excited about for these Marlins. As is the case in most years, the Marlins will likely hang around the top of the NL East standings for a few months before being relegated back to the Wild Card race, and eventually fall out of all forms of contention.
Even though owner Jeffery Loria was asked in no uncertain terms to raise his payroll in the future, the 2010 Marlins have yet to really show baseball their commitment to spending money and attempting to improve their club.
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