2011 NL East Preview: 10 Bold Predictions for the Power-Packed Division
The NL East had quite the shake up this off-season. Cliff Lee returned to the city of brotherly love, Dan Uggla jumped ship and was traded to a team in the same division and the Nationals are trying to become relevant.
The East usually is one of, if not the toughest division in the National League and this year will be no different.
Will these big summer acquisitions shake up the East and could there be a change of power at the top? With a long season ahead, it will be interesting to see how things shake out.
10. Brave's Offseason Move Pays the Biggest Dividends
Dan Uggla was dealt to the Braves this offseason. He left the Marlins in the dust and didn't look back.
Uggla has always been known for his power—he hasn't hit less than 30 HRs since his rookie campaign. His BA has never been too impressive, but he did manage to hit .287 in 2010.
The Braves are an up and coming team that boasts names like Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward. The addition of Uggla pushes this team to the next level and puts them in the same conversation as the Phillies and the Giants.
The Phillies might have brought in Cliff Lee this winter, but the Uggla trade will make the biggest difference. He is a game changer and will be on the field for 150-plus games. Lee can only pitch every five days which limits the impact he can have.
Dan Uggla will make the Braves look like the the biggest winners this winter and possibly this fall.
9. Zimmerman and Werth out-Slug Howard and Utley
Zimmerman and Werth are ready to become the biggest power combination that the NL East has to offer.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been known to launch the long-ball and have combined for 204 HRs over the last three years. Zimmerman and Werth have totaled 159 HRs over the last three years, but on different teams. Now that the two are together, I am expecting a power surge, especially from Zimmerman.
With Werth protecting him in the lineup, Zimmerman will have more pitches to hit. He was the only real threat on the Nationals team from an offensive standpoint, but with the pricey addition of Werth, the Nationals boast two power bats.
Chase Utely's body seems to be wearing down and Howard will be missing the protection of Werth in the Phillie lineup. This poses a problem for the free swinging lefty, as he will see even less pitches that he can put in play.
Zimmerman is ready to breakout this year and with the help of Werth, he will take 2011 by storm.
8. Florida Marlins Finish in the NL East Cellar
The Marlins have some star-caliber players on their roster. Hanley Ramirez is the best shortstop in the league and Josh Johnson, when healthy, is capable of being a Cy Young caliber pitcher.
They also have some young talent in Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton who made strides in 2010. Morrison hit .283 in 62 games and is a fan favorite. Stanton flexed his muscles and slugged 22 HRs in 100 games.
Even with the young talent on this roster and All-Stars like Ramirez and Johnson, this team will falter. Johnson is recovering from shoulder and back problems that sidelined him for his last few starts and Ramirez can't do it all on his own. Stanton is a free swinger, striking out 123 times last year and Morrison showed some promise, but is far from a game-changer.
Ricky Nolasco is the second best pitcher on the Marlins roster, but he is coming off knee surgery and Javier Vazquez is far from the pitcher he once was.
With the Nationals making strides to improve and the Mets still boasting some big names on their roster, the Marlins might be a small fish in a big pond.
7. Beltran Turns Back the Clock in 2010
Carlos Beltran still has some gas left in the tank. He hasn't played a full season since 2008, but is as close to 100 percent as he is going to be. If he is going to prove that he can still play, this is the season to do it.
At 33-years-old, Beltran was once a coveted free agent. He broke on the scene with the Astros during their playoff run and signed a mega deal with the Mets. Now he is once again playing for a paycheck and he will finally step up and make it count.
Beltran can't run the bases as he used to, as he hasn't eclipsed 25 SBs since he joined the Mets. The shift to right field will help to prolong his career and take some pressure off his knees since he won't have to cover as much ground any longer.
The Mets will let Beltran walk after this year, but he will leave with a bang after he hits .290 and belts 25 HRs even in the pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
6. Domonic Brown Is an All-Star Bust
With Werth clad in a National's uniform, Domonic Brown seemed to be on the fast track to the starting right field job for the Phillies. In his 2010 debut and his spring showing this year, it looks like this 23-year-old is looking less and less like the answer and more so like a giant question mark.
So far this spring, Brown has gone 0-15 with eight strike outs. He didn't fair much better in 2010 either, hitting .210 in 62 at-bats.
The potential for this budding star seemed to be limitless. He was ready for a break-out and the road was paved for Major League success. Not so fast as Brown has really put the breaks on this one. Ben Francisco is staking his claim for the right field job and it looks as if Brown is far from ready to play with the big boys.
Brown needs to really turn this around, because he seems to have the word "bust" written across his forehead.
5. LaRoche Is the Biggest Pickup the Nationals Made This Winter
Adam LaRoche has been quite the journeyman over his seven year career. He has called the Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Boston, Arizona and now the Washington his home.
He has the first base position locked up for the Nationals this year. He has some pop in his bat and slugged 25 HRs in each of the last two seasons.
Were LaRoche stakes his claim is in the second half of the season. He is a career .295 hitter after the All-Star break which makes him primed to help his team down the stretch. This is what will make him such a valuable asset to the Nationals lineup.
Werth was the major signing, but LaRoche and his annual second half surge will prove to be even more valuable.
4. Nate McLouth Spends Another Year Below the Mendoza Line
McLouth came over from Pittsburgh last season and fell flat on his face. He was fairly successful with the Pirates in his first four years in the Majors consistently hitting near .250 and swiping double-digit bases.
In his first year with the Braves, McLouth hit .190, slugged six HRs and stole seven bases. This was far from what the Braves thought they were acquiring, but it is all they will get from McLouth. I do not see his 2010 output as a fluke, but more of a reality.
He was unable to catch up with fastballs and was even demoted to AAA in 2010. This sudden downturn in production could lead to a possible platoon for McLouth, since he struggles mightily against lefties hitting only .233 for his career.
McLouth has had a better start to 2011, going 2-2 in his first Spring Training game. Even with the solid start, he will revert to his less than stellar ways and finish the year struggling to eclipse .200 again.
3. Clay Hensley Replaces Leo Nunez as the Closer for the Marlins
Leo Nunez wracked up 30 saves in 2010. He also had a phenomenal K:9 ratio at 9.83. He has a nasty mid-90's fastball, but he is extremely streaky. That in fact lead to him losing his closing job to Clay Hensley.
Hensley pitched for the Padres and was a complete mess. He came to the Marlins in 2010 and was a new pitcher. He posted a 2.16 ERA and was 7-7 in save opportunities. This journeyman has finally found a home.
He might not boast the same heat that Nunez does, but is as consistent as they come and can handle the pressure of closing out games. He could possibly push Nunez out of the closing role this season.
2. Dillon Gee Eases the Loss of Santana
With Johan Santana missing a majority of the season with a shoulder injury, Dillon Gee will step up in his absence.
Gee started in five games in 2010 and went 2-2, but posted a fantastic ERA at 2.18. He might have been helped by the confines of Citi Field, but he still showed the ability to get hitters out.
He only throws in the high-80's, but his pinpoint control allows him to paint the corners. With confidence knowing that he can succeed at the the Major League level, Gee will be able to carry over his success from 2010 into this year.
I would not expect top of the rotation stuff, but Gee will be able to fill the major void that Santana leaves this season.
1. Injury Bug Bites the Phillies and Bites Them Hard
The Phillies have one of the greatest rotations that we have seen in a long time. The Atlanta Braves had some real aces on their roster during their run to the World Series in the 1990's and the Phillies could be just as good if not better. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels will be a force to be reckoned with.
Regardless of the big names, this aging roster poses its problems.
Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utely, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz are all on the wrong side of thirty. Ibanez at 38-years-old is on his last legs, Utely is already having injury issues in Spring Training and Jimmy Rollins missed half of 2010.
Philadelphia could find themselves in a familiar situation this season with many of their stars spending time on the DL.
Even with four of the best pitchers in the Majors on your roster, pitching is only half the battle. The Phillies are chalk-full of talent, but how often this talent is on the field is another story all together.