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2010 MLB Division Previews: National League East

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2010 MLB Division Previews: National League East
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Despite having the World Series Champions of 2008 in the division, I very much thought that the NL East was there for the taking last season.

It wouldn’t be easy, but it was winnable for four teams in my mind.

This year, I think the Philadelphia Phillies are the clear favorites and it will take over-achievement from other teams to knock them down. They are good enough to run away with the division if they get consistency out of the closer position.

But I don’t think they’ll run away with it. Florida and Atlanta are going to give them a fight, much like they did last year. This won’t be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.

And then of course the Mets are still around, maybe getting healthy enough to make more noise than they did last year.

I thought the NL East was the deepest division coming into last season. I’ve yet to break that aspect down, but I do know they’ll be strong once again in 2010.

*Denotes Free Agent has an Option Year

 

Atlanta Braves

Last Year: Finished Third in NL East

Additions: OF Brent Clevlen, 3B Joe Thurston, P Takashi Saito, P Billy Wagner, OF Eric Hinske, 3B Troy Glaus

Subtractions: OF Garret Anderson, P Mike Gonzalez, 1B Adam LaRoche, 1B Greg Norton, P Boone Logan, P Javier Vazquez, 2B Kelly Johnson, P Rafael Soriano, OF Ryan Church, OF Brandon Jones

2010 Free Agents: None of note

Three Strikes: 1B Troy Glaus, P Tim Hudson, P Tommy Hanson

The move to first may preserve Troy Glaus, but I’d rather you call me a skeptic than hedge my bets on him staying healthy.

If you ask me, the fact that Tim Hudson is healthy is the reason the Braves traded Javier Vazquez. That, and they probably believe Tommy Hanson is ready to take the next step. Hanson had an impressive rookie campaign, but you always need to be aware of second season adjustments.

What’s different?

The Braves felt that their abundance of pitching was enough to deal the pitcher that had the best 2009 season for them in Javier Vazquez. Atlanta sported one of the best pitching staffs last season due in part to Vazquez’s success.

Now they’ll be welcoming back Tim Hudson into the fold after a missed 2009 campaign. Other than that, their rotation remains unchanged.

Speaking of injuries, the oft-injured duo of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are now closing out games for different teams, which means the Braves had some work to do in their bullpen.

They signed Billy Wagner to be their closer and former Dodger Takashi Saito to be a setup man. They replaced younger injury prone players with older injury prone players.

In-house replacements are being used for the offensive voids the Braves have. Martin Prado shifts over to full-time second baseman and young phenom Jason Heyward is expected to take over in right.

Melkey Cabrera was acquired in the Vazquez trade and will be the left fielder for the most part, possibly sharing some time with Matt Diaz. They’ll also be using newly signed Troy Glaus at first base.

Summary

The thing I like the most about the Braves is their balance. They seem to have a lot of pieces in different areas. They’ve got a good mix of hitting and pitching.

The strength of their team is their rotation and it is still one of the best the NL has to offer, despite the Vazquez deal. I would be extremely worried about their bullpen though. You can’t trust Billy Wagner to remain healthy and the options backing him up are not desirable.

Offensively they’ve got one of the better hitting catchers in the game in Brian McCann and some pieces around him. Chipper Jones is getting up in age, so you always wonder when he may eventually hit that wall, but so far they’ve been able to count on him.

Nate McLouth now has time under his belt with the Braves and will be able to go through a full-season with his teammates, so he should find his comfort zone. The Braves are hopeful that Jason Heyward can step in and be the everyday right fielder and then some.

But even though that superb talent has been on display early in spring, you just can’t count on what a rookie is going to do.

To me, they’ve got a good middle of the road team. Their pitching gives them the potential to play above what you would expect, but the bullpen really has me worried.

 

Florida Marlins

Last Year: Finished Second in the NL East

Additions: 2B Danny Richar, P Clay Hensley, SS Brian Barden, SS Donnie Murphy, P Jose Veras, P Derrick Turnbow, P Seth McClung

Subtractions: P Scott Proctor, P Kiko Calero, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Jeremy Hermida, P Brendan Donnelly, 1B Ross Gload, P Matt Lindstrom, OF Alfredo Amezaga

2010 Free Agents: 1B Jorge Cantu

Three Strikes: OF Cameron Maybin, P Sean West, P Anibal Sanchez

The Marlins are going to give Cameron Maybin another chance, hard to believe he’ll only be 23 as the season gets underway.

Sean West won eight games and logged 100 innings as a rookie last year. He projects to be the only left-handed pitcher in the rotation. It will be important for him to stick and continue to improve.

Anibal Sanchez missed a big chunk of the season from May to August, pitching in just five games in the months between April and September. While the Marlins can be encouraged about his strong finish, walks seemed to be an issue for him.

What’s different?

The Marlins flirted with the firing of Fredi Gonzalez, but decided against it. Why do they feel the need to can every NL Manager of the Year they seem to pick up?

There isn’t much overall that is changing for the Marlins on the field though. They picked up a few options for their bullpen, one of which has already retired in Derrick Turnbow. They traded closer Matt Lindstrom to Houston and for now, Leo Nunez will take over that role.

One name to look out for in terms of taking over eventually would be Jose Veras. The former Yankee bounced around to Cleveland last year and had bright spots, but also very dark ones. He says he is in better physical shape now and perhaps the Marlins might find lightning in a bottle as they always seem to do with relievers.

The Marlins will give the Cameron Maybin experiment another shot, giving him the starting center fielder spot from the start of the season. He’s still very young and inexperienced, but waiting for him to arrive has been exhausting.

Gaby Sanchez is currently the front-runner for the first base job, beating out Logan Morrison. A lot of the same names will be returning for Florida in the field.

Summary

Last year I went on the ultimate limb and picked the Florida Marlins to win the NL East.

I knew at the time the chances of that happening were unlikely, but I’m proud of the fact that they did finish second in the division, just six games behind the Phillies.

I still like this team. Their pitching is a year older, Josh Johnson has established himself as one of the better pitchers in the game and Ricky Nolasco has been displaying improved control this spring.

They’re led by Hanley Ramirez offensively, but they’ve got serious players in Jorge Cantu, NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, and Dan Uggla around him.

This was a team last year that was in the top half of both pitching and offense in the entire MLB. That was with an incredibly young team, so just imagine the steps they could take this season.

Take the Marlins seriously, they are an NL East contender, not just a team that will lay down for the Phillies and settle for second place.

 

New York Mets

Last Year: Finished Fourth in the NL East

Additions: P Kelvim Escobar, C Henry Blanco, 3B Mike Hessman, C Chris Coste, P Josh Fogg, OF Jason Bay, 2B Russ Adams, P R.A. Dickey, P Jay Marshall, SS Jolbert Cabrera, C Rod Barajas

Subtractions: OF Chris Carter, OF Gary Sheffield, P J.J. Putz, 1B Carlos Delgado, OF Jeremy Reed, P Tim Redding, OF Cory Sullivan

2010 Free Agents: *SS Jose Reyes

Three Strikes: 1B Daniel Murphy, OF Gary Matthews Jr., 2B Luis Castillo

Would you believe that Daniel Murphy led the team in home runs last year? Murphy is a nice up-and-coming player, but there’s no way he should be leading this club in that statistic.

Gary Matthews was unhappy in Los Angeles and I think the change to New York will do him good. The talk is centered on Angel Pagan taking over for Beltran, but I believe Matthews will capitalize. I know they are shopping him, but I’m not sure they’ll find a taker.

When will the Mets replace Luis Castillo? It seems like, despite some of their other weaknesses, he’s holding them back offensively and defensively and they know it. Yet they continue on with Castillo at second.

What’s different?

The injury-plagued Mets didn’t really do a whole lot outside of signing Jason Bay. They needed catching help and found a cheap answer in Rod Barajas. It makes you wonder why they weren’t able to nab someone like Bengie Molina or Yorvit Torrealba though.

J.J. Putz lasted just one year in New York and he didn’t even pitch all that much to begin with due to injury. An injury risk the Mets did take a chance on was Kelvim Escobar and so far, that is proving to be quite the risk.

First baseman Carlos Delgado wasn’t brought back, but he also hasn’t signed on with another team either. Daniel Murphy makes the transition from outfield to full-time first baseman.

There are a lot of differences in terms of what they finished the season with last year, but it looks that way mostly due to all the injured players coming back. Their additions have been minimal this season.

Summary

People must have thought I was nuts last year when I projected the Mets to be third in the division. Some were picking them to win the East.

Turns out I didn’t sell them short enough, but injuries are hard to predict.

And honestly, no team can be expected to compete with the amount of injuries the Mets had. You hate to play the blame game, but this team was destroyed by players visiting the disabled list. They lost a player almost every week.

Offensively, if Jose Reyes is healthy and David Wright can put a forgettable 2009 behind him, I think they’ll be fine with the addition of Jason Bay and eventual return of Carlos Beltran.

The place you worry about them is in the pitching department. As always, there is Johan Santana and then question marks.

John Maine was one of those players that missed time due to injury and they should be better off if he can pitch. Mike Pelfrey got a full season under his belt, yet carried a 5.03 ERA throughout the year and Oliver Perez is always a wild ride.

You can’t trust their rotation behind Santana, so that is going to be something to keep an eye on. And if those starters are able to get through six or seven innings, you then have to worry about who will get the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez.

They’ve got Pedro Feliciano at the back end, but in large part, they’re giving largely unknown names like Jenrry Mejia and Ryota Igarashi chances to win jobs. Their pitching as a whole is one big question mark for me and if you know me by now, question marks aren’t good.

It wouldn’t shock me if they turned it around and contending in the East, but I wouldn’t place any money on it.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

Last Year: Finished First in NL East, Lost in World Series

Additions: P Roy Halladay, OF Ross Gload, SS Cody Ransom, OF Chris Duffy, 2B Placido Polanco, SS Juan Castro, C Brian Schneider, P Jose Contreras, SS Brian Bocock, P Danys Baez

Subtractions: P Scott Eyre, 2B Eric Bruntlett, C Paul Bako, 3B Pedro Feliz, P Chan Ho Park, OF Matt Stairs, P Brett Myers, P Pedro Martinez, SS Miguel Cairo, P Cliff Lee, P Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor, P Clay Condrey

2010 Free Agents: OF Jayson Werth, P Jamie Moyer, *P J.C. Romero

Three Strikes: 3B Placido Polanco, OF Jayson Werth, P J.A. Happ

It will be pretty cool to see Placido Polanco back in a Philadelphia uniform. The Phillies hope his move to third base is a smooth transition.

At this point, Jayson Werth stands as probably the most interesting upcoming free agent. If he has another year like he did in 2009, he would dismiss a lot of skeptics and get a nice payday.

It’s not often you see a rookie keeping a ERA under 3.00 and pitch over 150 innings, but J.A. Happ did it last year. Sabermetricians are rallying against Happ repeating 2009 for numbers reasons. However Happ is a control pitcher and for that, I myself worry about the National League making adjustments with a full year’s worth of tape to study.

A positive I do see is Happ incorporating a two-seam fastball into his arsenal and the expanded use of his off-speed pitches. I would still expect him to struggle at least a little in 2010.

What’s different?

A few things are different for the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

They acquired one ace in Roy Halladay and traded another in Cliff Lee. Veteran Pedro Feliz is out at third and replaced by former Phillie second baseman Placido Polanco.

Pitching wise, they let Brett Myers go and obviously a contract with Pedro Martinez was not revisited. Jose Contreras is a signing reminiscent of Chan Ho Park, probably to replace the swingman pitcher that signed on with New York.

Danys Baez should help the back end of the bullpen as another fallback option to Brad Lidge. But for the most part, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and company are leading the way up to closer who may or may not start the season in that role.

For the most part, this is the club that won the league in 2009. They’ve made some additions and while the starters remain virtually the same, they did make an effort to deepen their club.

Summary

What isn’t there to like about the Phillies? They’re returning the vast majority of the chunk that helped them not only win the National League last year, but the World Series the year before.

This team has been built for a small short term winning period and they’re doing their best to take advantage.

I like the addition of Halladay in terms of what it does for the down-and-out Cole Hamels. They could sport two top-flight pitchers in back-to-back days that would make Philadelphia fans salivate. Then again they already had that with Cliff Lee.

Offensively, we know they are going to score runs with the players they’ve got in place. You should worry about Raul Ibanez in terms of his age, but he doesn’t appear to be slowing down and the team would have enough to overcome that anyway.

The one trouble spot is their perceived murky closer situation. Brad Lidge is the guy if healthy, but Charlie Manuel has shown in the past that would make a change if things aren’t going right. They’ve got options to take over for Lidge if “kablamo” happens, but I’m not sure they would need all or any of them.

They’ve got to be not just NL East favorites, but also a popular pick to return to the World Series for the third straight year.

 

Washington Nationals

Last Year: Finished Fifth in NL East

Additions: P Doug Slaten, 2B Eric Bruntlett, P Eddie Guardado, P Jason Marquis, P Joel Peralta, P Brian Bruney, OF Jerry Owens, C Ivan Rodriguez, P Miguel Cabrera, P Tyler Walker, OF Kevin Mench, OF Chris Duncan, P Matt Capps, 2B Adam Kennedy, OF Willy Taveras

Subtractions: P Ron Villone, OF Austin Kearns, 1B Dmitri Young, C Josh Bard, P Livan Hernandez, P Saul Rivera

2010 Free Agents: 1B Adam Dunn, SS Cristian Guzman, P Matt Capps

Three Strikes: C Jesus Flores, P Jason Marquis, P Matt Capps

While the acquisition of Ivan Rodriguez will no doubt help young pitchers, don’t underestimate the impact it may have on young catcher Jesus Flores. He gets to learn from one of the greats.

I think Jason Marquis has a lot of pressure on him, despite the fact that it’s only Washington. He’s expected to be the ace of a very young staff and put up number one quality numbers. He didn’t have those expectations in 2009.

The move to Washington will be a good one for Matt Capps. It’s the perfect spot for him to re-establish himself as a capable closer in the National League. I just hope he gets enough chances to close games.

What’s different?

In the dugout, Washington let go of Manny Acta in the middle of the 2009 season and replaced him in the short-term with Jim Riggleman. The Nationals were impressed with the job he did and opted to bring him back as the full-time skipper.

And then they went into retooling mode on the field.

Washington brought on a slew of veteran players such as Brian Bruney, Kevin Mench, Adam Kennedy, Jason Marquis, Willy Taveras, and Eddie Guardado to compete for roster spots and in some cases, claim starting spots.

They also signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a multi-year deal in an effort to help guide a young pitching staff and tutor backstop Jesus Flores. I can’t say I agree with the contract that is more than one year, but I think it’s a very sound move on the Nationals part to get some veteran leadership on the field.

The Nationals added a lot of talent that has been around for awhile as opposed to last year when they brought in a lot of talent that has shown flashes at the big league level, but not consistently.

What is a team like Washington to do though? They pretty much don’t have a shot at any of the younger impact free agents, so if they are going to be active, these are the type of players they are going to end up with.

However there is nothing wrong with any of them. Adam Kennedy is another addition I like, but you have to wonder if this team has options at these positions that they should be getting experience, because we know they won’t be contending for the NL East crown.

Summary

Some may think that these additions the Nationals did make will guide them to a much better record than expectations would dictate.

I sort of agree with that. I don’t think they can be as nearly as bad as they were last year with the talent they added. They’ve got major league players at multiple positions coming into this season, which is something they struggled to do last year. And some of the ones they did were questionable.

The key is always going to be the pitching though. The front lines are all expected to be new additions. Jason Marquis is going to be their number one starter, Brian Bruney their main late inning option, and Matt Capps their closer.

That alone should improve the pitching, but that alone doesn’t mean everything is alright.

The bullpen last year was a revolving door of madness. At one point early last season the Nationals made four or five moves after one game that involved the pitching staff. It screamed of desperation and hopelessness.

I don’t think they’ll run into those types of horrors this year, but it still very much is a work in progress overall for Washington.

 

"2010 MLB Division Previews" is a part of a month long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Division Previews, " other features, and a schedule, click here . Winners and projections will be available after all divisions have been previewed.

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