The NL East has been dominated by the Phillies the past couple years. This year isn't going to be any different, as the Phillies will be just as good, if not better, than last year. Although, 2nd place is up for grabs between the Marlins, Braves, and Mets. I could easily see the Braves taking that spot, and the Mets getting 3rd. Here are my predictions:
1. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
The Phillies made a huge move in getting Halladay during the offseason. Even though they gave up Cliff Lee, I think Halladay is somewhat better than Lee, and if Hamels gets back to 2008 form, that could be a very deadly one-two punch. The rotation looks like it will be Halladay, Hamels, Happ, Blanton, and Moyer. This isn't an amazing rotation, but it gets the job done. Happ could have a great season as well.
Where ever the pitching lacks, the hitting makes up for it. When you have a lineup like the Phillies, the pitching can be a bit lackluster, which isn't a name I'd give that rotation. So you can see that the Phillies are a very solid team again this year. With a lineup of Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth, Polanco, and Ruiz, you know your in good shape.
If closer Brad Lidge can 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 (89-73)
The Braves have been making a resurgence after falling out of the picture for a bit since the Phillies came into the lead spot in the NL East. The Braves pitching will really help them with a great rotation of Jurrjens, Hanson, Lowe, Hudson, and Kawakami. That one-two-three punch is very underrated right now and could be a very good combo—they just have to stay healthy.
One big story for the Braves this season coming into spring training is their stud outfielder, Jayson Heyward. Along with McLouth, they also aquired Melky Cabrera to give them a nice looking outfield. 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.
If the Braves avoid injuries, they will make a good amount of noise and possibly earn a wild card spot depending on how things go. Watch out for them in 2010.
3. New York Mets (78-84)
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 in losses, posting a 70-92 record.
Expecting the return of Jose Reyes and other players coming off injuries, the Mets signed LF Jason Bay this offseason, giving them a formidable top-half of a batting order in Reyes, Beltran, Wright, and 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.
Other than John Santana, the Mets have a weak 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. So there are just too many holes for the Mets to contend in 2010.
4. Washington Nationals (76-86)
The Nationals will greatly cut their number of losses this season compared to last year. They possess a decent enough core of talent with 3B Ryan Zimmerman, 1B Adam Dunn, and LF Josh Willingham. 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 in a rotation of Lannan, Marquis, Olson, Mock, and Martin, are under the age of 27, and have plenty of room for improvement. However, their bullpen is nothing special and will not do much good for them. After all these losing seasons, the Nationals will finally take a big step this on their road to finishing with a winning record.
5. Florida Marlins (72-90)
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.
SS Hanley Ramiez and starting pitcher Josh Johnson are the two players that will draw the attendance for the Marlins. Outside of 2B Dan Uggla, LF 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 falling 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 their commitment to spending money in attempts to improve their club.
The Phillies once again take the division, but with a little competition from the Braves this time. After the Braves, there is quite a gap between them and the Mets in third, the Nationals very close behind in fourth, and the Marlins round out in the basement. We could possibly see the NL wild card winner from here depending how things go. My next article will be on the NL Central.