Carter's 2010 National League East Outlook and Predictions

David CarterCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2010

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 23: Outfielder Shane Victorino #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates a home run in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays March 23, 2010 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Atlanta Braves (Last Season: 86-76)

Will Bobby Cox’s last season as the Atlanta Braves manager be one worth remembering?

He’s been the one fixture in the Braves’ organization since their run in the 1990s. If the Braves don’t get to the playoffs this year, I would say that Cox’s final year with the team might be considered a failure no matter how close they get.

One thing they must have to make a decent run for the postseason is a decent rotation.

They did get very close to a playoff berth last season, coming just a couple games short of the Rockies for the wild-card spot. This year they have guys like Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson as the top three in their rotation. If these three guys can stay consistent and avoid arm injuries (or any injury for that matter), they could get the Braves involved in a very interesting race come September.

Continuing with the Braves’ pitching, as long as Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito don’t show their age too much this year, they could also be nice factors to the Braves’ success as well.

Atlanta believes they have what it takes to make a postseason run, which they definitely do. They have strong starting pitching to start games off and a nice bullpen to finish the backstretch. If age and injuries don’t catch up to this team, they could be in the playoff race all six months of the regular season and perhaps grab a playoff spot for the first time since 2005.

But if the Braves do stay healthy, they still won’t be considered the team to beat, regardless of where they stand over the course of the season. That team is still the Philadelphia Phillies.

But besides that, there’s no reason why they can’t contend for a playoff spot this year as long as their pitching lives up to expectations.

Florida Marlins (Last Season: 87-75)

I officially learned last September to never dismiss the Marlins from a postseason conversation no matter how far back they are in early September. They might not get to the postseason every year, but they will get darn close. This team seems to not use their low payroll as an excuse.

If the Marlins are to make the playoffs this year, it needs to mostly rely on their young-but-talented pitching. This pitching staff involved guys with promising futures like Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Chris Volstad.

Just because the Marlins have a younger squad doesn’t mean they’re not talented enough. Remember, this is the same team that has produced THREE of the past seven NL Rookie of the Year Award winners.

Oh, and guys like Hanley Ramirez, Cody Ross, and Dan Uggla leading a team’s offense looks good at this point on paper, too.

New York Mets (Last Season: 70-92)

If the Mets can go through the year without a laundry-list-sized number of injuries, they can most definitely make the playoffs.

They have guys like Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and the newly-acquired Jason Bay as their top three guys in their lineup. All of those guys have proven that they can be great when not injured.

Same goes for Johan Santana, who has averaged 237 strikeouts and 17 wins from 2004 to 2008. If he can get reasonably close to those numbers this year, the Mets’ chances of having a greater season get a lot better.

As far as health goes, the number of injuries from last year to this year can only get smaller.

To get away from talking about the injuries, this team still has a lot of questions, mainly involving the pitching staff. I’m not fully convinced that the Mets can make the playoffs with only one significantly good pitcher (Johan Santana). For some reason, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez just have not appealed to me so far in their careers and because of them, I think the Mets could struggle with their starting pitching.

I know Mets fans are going to hate me for this, but it’s true: With the Phillies being such a great team, the Braves getting back on track, and the Marlins having such a young and talented roster, the Mets are in already on a rocky road to the playoffs, and the season hasn’t even started yet.

Philadelphia Phillies (Last Season: 93-69)

It’s so great to watch the Phillies and this great run that they’re on. Their fans must be so proud of them for going to the World Series twice in a row, which is a very hard feat. There’s no doubt that this is the greatest run in their history with three straight NL East Division Championships, two World Series appearances, and a World Series title in the past three years.

Manager Charlie Manuel said after last year’s World Series that the Phils will be back in 2010. He is absolutely right. The Phillies are on a great run that could end sometime within the next few years, but not this year. Not with this much pure talent and with Roy Halladay now putting on the red pinstripes.

It would’ve been pretty nice to keep Cliff Lee in Philly, but many might say that swapping him for Halladay is a nice move. If Cole Hamels bounces back from an off 2009 and if the bullpen does it’s job at backing up the starters, then the Phillies are going to win the NL East yet again.

Washington Nationals (Last Season: 59-103)

After back-to-back seasons with baseball’s worst record and a host of front office changes in 2009, the Nationals enter 2010 with a clearer sense of just how far away they are from contending.

The pitching staff should be better with the addition of starter Jason Marquis and closer Matt Capps, as well as rookies Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, and the offense will benefit from a full season with center fielder Nyjer Morgan.

But there are still too many defensive holes and questions in the pitching staff to expect the Nats to scale the difficult NL East this season. Even a move out of last place could prove daunting.

The Nationals’ theme for 2010 should be: You can only go up from here.

It’s a little obvious to say that the Nats won’t be contenders in 2010, considering that they have ended the past two seasons with the worst record in the majors and that they have made a lot of front office changes.

The pitching staff is looking a little better on paper with the additions of Jason Marquis and closer Matt Capps. I would say Stephen Strasburg too, but nobody knows he’s going to get out of Double A-ball.

On the offensive side of the ball, things do look rather good. The guys I’m looking forward to seeing swinging their big bats are Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham, who combined for 95 home runs and 272 RBI last year.

Defensively, there are a lot of questions. The only real significant defensive addition is at catcher with Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and his 13 Gold Glove Awards he owns.

But as far as the team as a whole, they pretty much have no shot to do much of anything this year. I would be shocked if they finished above fifth in the division. Don’t expect the Nationals to contend until pitching staff emerges.

Getting around the 60 win mark seems like the most likely scenario for the Nats this season.

Carter’s 2010 National League East Predictions

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. New York Mets

3. Atlanta Braves

4. Florida Marlins

5. Washington Nationals

I expect the Phillies, Mets, and Braves to be the only three teams to be in the playoff race in the middle of September, but I only expect the Phillies to be the only team to keep playing baseball on October 4.


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