The American League has long been considered the superior league, and their dominance in the All-Star game has validated this. However, the future of the National League looks good as the Eastern division boasts not only several of the game's best players today, but also several of its most promising prospects.
Coming off a second straight NL pennant, the Philadelphia Phillies look better than they did a year ago, thanks to the additions of Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco. The team boasts an all-star at just about every position, but their run at winning the division shouldn't go completely uncontested as the Braves and Marlins again figure to compete in 2010.
No team in baseball has disappointed more than the New York Mets these past few seasons. They boast several all-star caliber players but were hamstrung by injuries last year, and already are struggling with them again in 2010. After years as the doormat of the National League, the Washington Nationals made some moves this year and look to take a step forward this season.
2009 Finish: 86-76, 3rd Place
Off Season Grade (C-): Atlanta's off season really left me flat. I just don't think Troy Glaus or Melky Cabrera is the answer to their offensive woes. While their pitching remains excellent, it could've been even better had they not traded their best starter from 2009, Javier Vazquez. Saito and Wagner were cost-effective bullpen signings, but both come with a degree of risk.
Strengths: Even with Vazquez gone, they still have one of the NL's deepest rotations; Jurrjens, Hanson, or Hudson could be the number one starter. Its looking more and more like prodigy Jason Heyward is ready for the majors. They have a very solid defense, especially in the outfield. A full season of Nate McLouth should help.
Weaknesses: Chipper Jones just can't seem to stay ealthy, and clearly is near the end of the road. The offense does not have a traditional 30-plus home run threat. The bullpen could struggle if Saito and Wagner can't stay healthy.
Breakout Candidate - Jason Heyward: Dubbed the second coming of Fred McGriff by Chipper Jones, Heyward is the near-consensus top prospect in all of baseball. The total package tool-wise, his eminent arrival in the majors was likely a major factor in the team not pursuing a power hitting corner outfielder.
2010 All Stars: Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brian McCann
2010 Outlook: Much like the perennially hard-hitting Indians, its easy to ponder if the Bravos have ever been short on pitching. Once again, a deep starting rotation will at least give the Braves a chance this season no matter what their offense does.
2009 Finish: 87-75, 2nd Place
Off Season Grade (C): Per usual, it was a quiet off season in South Florida. The biggest move the Fish made was locking up ace Josh Johnson and finally announcing their plans for a new ballpark, both moves that bode well for the franchise long term. This is not an organization that goes out makes noise in the off season so they shouldn't have been expected to this past off season either.
Strengths: Hanley Ramirez is a true five-tool talent and his move to the middle of the order last season resulted in his first batting title. The rest of the offense is solid with ROY Chris Coghlan and solid mid-order threats Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu. Stuff wise, their rotation is one of the most talented in the majors.
Weaknesses: After Johnson and Nolasco, there are several question marks regarding the rest of the rotation, particularly Sanchez and Miller. Their defense struggled mightily last season. Their bullpen not only lacks experience but, aside from Nunez, upside as well.
Breakout Candidate - Gaby Sanchez: Whoever wins the 1B job between him and Logan Morrison is going to get a chance to really impress. Word is that Sanchez is leading the race at the moment so I'll go with him.
2010 Outlook: After a few down years spent playing spoiler, the Marlins are back in the thick of the NL East race. They've had to do it the hard way as well, developing young talent while the other teams in their division have been able to delve into free agency. With a new stadium in the works at long last, the short and long term forecast looks appropriately sunny for the Florida Marlins.
2009 Finish: 70-92, 4th Place
Off Season Grade (C-): The Mets' off season was truly disappointing; they really didn't do enough. Bay is a very good player who should help quite a bit in the power department and Barajas was a good bargain signing. However, they basically did nothing to improve their pitching. While there are guys in the rotation behind Santana who have had success before, they really should've made more of a run at guys like Garland and Pineiro if their goal is to contend.
Strengths: Can it really be as bad as it was in 2009? David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and Francisco Rodriguez have all at one time or another been considered one of the best players at their position (a few of them, the best).
Weaknesses: They're already getting bitten by the injury bug, as Beltran and Reyes are doubtful for opening day. Citi Field will likely take a bite out of Bay's power numbers and may continue to hinder Wright in that department as well. The bullpen really looks thin.
Breakout Candidate - Jon Niese: No one on this roster really jumps out at me as a breakout candidate, so I went with this young southpaw. One of many Mets who suffered through injuries last season, Niese profiles as a mid-rotation starter with decent strikeout ability. He'll have to win the job, but he could shine if he does win a rotation spot.
2010 All Stars: Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez
2010 Outlook: On paper, the Mets have some pretty appealing names. Despite two off years (by his standards), I still consider Santana one of the best pitchers in baseball. Their offense boasts many former all-stars. Their problem has been staying healthy, and the organization's general lack of depth certainly doesn't help either. You have to wonder how much longer this team can disappoint until ownership decides to shake things up.
2009 Finish: 93-69, 1st Place (Lost WS)
Off Season Grade (A-): Despite the Yankees' moves, no team this off season personified the rich getting richer quite like the Phillies. They already were the best team in the National League, but that didn't stop them from acquiring the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay. They moved Cliff Lee to facilitate the trade, but their rotation still looks strong and they received a couple very good prospects.
Strengths: They have an American League offense; there are basically no holes in their lineup. Polanco gives them the prototypical two-hole hitter they didn't have last year. Halladay is a bona-fide ace and the pitchers behind him have a great deal of upside. They're one of the best defensive teams in baseball.
Weaknesses: The bullpen, especially Brad Lidge, is a big question mark heading in 2010 as they're counting on some bounce-back seasons. Hamels struggled mightily last year and clearly grew quite frustrated by year's end.
Breakout Candidate - J.A. Happ: There are no real candidates on this team because most of their players are pretty well established. As good as he was last year, it's not absurd to think J.A. Happ's best days are ahead of him. With enough progress made and depending on what Hamels and Blanton do, he could be the Phillies' number two starter.
2010 All Stars: Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth
2010 Outlook: While losing the World Series is never fun, it's hard to be anything but very optimistic if you're a Phillies fan. From Pat Gillick's time as GM through Ruben Amaro's eventful tenure, they've been one of the best run teams in the majors and their success on the field proves it. I fully expect the good times to continue.
2009 Finish: 59-103, 5th Place
Off Season Grade (B+): After being promoted to full time GM in 2009, Mike Rizzo wasted no time getting to work. The Nationals were one of the busiest teams this off season, making cost effective bargain moves and stop-gap signings. Marquis, Kennedy, and Pudge have all won World Series and should be able to teach this young team a thing or two about winning.
Strengths: Their offense made real strides in 2009, due in large part to great years by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn. Stephen Strasburg has impressed a lot of people and may not be very long for the minors.
Weaknesses: Even with Marquis signed, their pitching as a whole still looks pretty weak. Capps and Bruney could be a solid 8th and 9th inning duo, but the bullpen as a whole is lacking. Defensively, there is clearly room for improvement as they led the majors in errors last year.
Breakout Candidate - Stephen Strasburg: I'm maintaining pretty modest expectations for the kid in 2010. It's not guaranteed he'll make the team and even if he does, there's a learning curve for anyone starting off in the majors. However, he has amazing stuff, sound mechanics, and seems to have the right attitude. If this organization wants to put fans in the stands, they don't have to look much further than the 1st overall pick.
2010 All Stars: Ryan Zimmerman
2010 Outlook: There's still work to be done, but the Nationals finally appear to be out of neutral, headed in the right direction. In Zimmerman, they have a legitimate star and another on the way in Strasburg. I expect visible improvement out of them this season, though they're not yet ready to compete in this division.
1. Carlos Beltran: When healthy, he's one of baseball's most complete players and a 3-4-5 of Wright, Beltran, Bay could easily make the Mets' offensive woes a thing of the past. However, he's already dealing with injuries yet again. If the Mets can manage to tread water until he's healthy, he could be a difference-maker for them.
2. Oliver Perez: I could've pick anyone in the Mets' rotation not named Santana but it seems Perez is the guy who's fallen from grace the most. After two solid seasons, this guy just completely fell apart last season but he's still young enough to get things turned around. A rebound from Perez would go a long way in righting the Mets' ship.
3. Jason Heyward: Maybe when the Braves decided not to pursue a big bat in free agency, they knew something we didn't. Perhaps they think Heyward can have a Ryan Braun-Evan Longoria type impact on the 2010 team. Of course, he has to win the job to have an impact in the first place, but he's looked mighty impressive thus far this spring.
4. Ricky Nolasco: As far as talent goes, not a whole lot to dislike about Nolasco. For whatever reason, he was just a mess before the All Star break last season. He figured it out after a trip to the minors though, as was evident in a 16-K performance against Atlanta late last year. He and Johnson have the ability to be the best 1-2 punch in this division.
5. Brad Lidge: It's scary to think the Phils won 93 games last year despite a 7.21 ERA and 11 blown saves from their one-time untouchable closer. Cut that blown save total in half, and the Phillies are almost a 100 win team. There's really no way he can be as bad as he was last year, and if he's even remotely close to his 2008 form, this team is that much deadlier.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (98-64)
2. Atlanta Braves (87-75)
3. Florida Marlins (81-81)
4. New York Mets (75-87)
5. Washington Nationals (70-92)
The beauty of baseball is that there's no such thing as a sure thing in this game. If you had to bet your life on one thing though, bet that the Phillies will capture their 4th consecutive NL East crown in 2010.
They boast the best offense in the National League and have more than enough pitching to compliment it. It seems like they have great chemistry and they know how to win.
It should be an exciting year in Atlanta and they should chase the Phillies most of the season, but I just don't think they have enough to overtake them. I've got them winning 87 games to give Bobby Cox exactly 2,500 wins in his managerial career.
The Marlins should be fun to watch in 2010. However, I worry about their defense and the rotation behind Johnson and Nolasco. No matter how many games they win, this is not a team you're gonna want to play down the stretch.
Sorry Mets fans, but I'm not liking the Amazins chances this year. They're already being hamstrung by injuries and I just don't think they have the pitching. As for the Nationals, I think you're looking at one of the NL's most improved teams; just not enough to make noise in this division right now.