Yesterday we did the AL. Now comes the senior circuit.
New York Mets
How could you not pick these guys to win the division. I know, some analysts talk about the Braves or the Phillies. but really...Johan Santana. Pedro Martinez. Heck, even Oliver Perez and John Maine won 15 games apiece last year.
And the hitting ain't so bad either. They batted .275 last season, good for 2nd in the NL, and had a 342. OBP, good for 3rd. David Wright is a future MVP, Carlos Beltran scares every pitcher in the NL, and Jose Reyes can set both of them up for more RBIs.
The problem is health. While the Mets are good, they are thin. A couple of injuries could send this team circling the drain. Already, Carlos Delgado has had hip problems, Moises Alou has a hernia, El Duque has a bad wheel and Luis Castillo and Beltran both have had knee problems. With only three of the regulars in their lineup are in their 20s, this team needs to make sure they stay relatively healthy. Otherwise another September swoon is possible.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Billy Wagner's ERA spiked from 1.64 before the All-Star break to 3.90 after.
For the longest time, the Atlanta Braves were the symbol of consistency. Win the NL East, make the playoffs. Solid pitching, good defense. Almost always the same people year in, year out.
Then this winter came. And out went GM John Schuerholz, Edgar Rentaria and the face of the Braves for the past decade, CF Andrew Jones. It seems the Braves didn't like missing the playoffs two years in a row. They realized changes had to be made.
One face they brought back, was Tom Glavine, who, hopefully has one more year in him—scouts aren't sure. He did look pretty terrible last September when the Mets needed him. The Braves would like just one year out of him as their no. 3 starter behind horses Smoltz and Hudson.
In the field, the Braves are trying to add a few new faces to the old regulars. Yunel Escobar had a nice rookie season manning SS next to Chipper. 2nd year player Kelly Johnson mans second base next to Mark Texiera, who signed a one-year, 12.5 million dollar contract. And some vets, like CF Mark Kotsay, and oft-injured P Mike Hampton are merely placeholders until young, talented and cheaper rookies are ready, Jordan Shafer and Jair Jurrens, respectively.
Expect the Braves to surprise the Mets and even take the NL East lead for a while. But too many questions in their starting pitching—Can Glavine hold up for one more year? Is Hampton able to pitch healthy and well?—prevents them from winning the NL East.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Mark Texiera batted .509 with runners in scoring position after coming over from the Rangers.
It's very possible that the Phillies could have three different MVPs three years in a row: 2006 - Ryan Howard, 2007 - Jimmie Rollins and potential 2008 winner Chase Utley. It's also possible that the Phillies might not win anything all three of these years.
As with most teams, the culprit is pitching. Hitting...the Phillies can do that. They ranked first in NL with 892 runs scored and were second to the Brewers with 213 HRs. And they don't just club it; they can manufacture runs too. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley -- combined for 87 steals in 98 tries in 2007, to lead the Phillies to an all-time record in successful steal percentage at 87.9.
But the guys who take the hill...that's where the problem lies. The Phils were 12th in the NL last season with a 4.91 ERA. If his elbow isn't barking, lefty Cole Hamels is a rock, but the other lefty, Jamie Moyer is as old as a rock, and showed he may be done the second half last year when he posted a 5.78 ERA. The acquistion of the pshiychphrenic Brad Lidge allows Brett Myers to head back into the rotation, where is capable. Kyle Kendrick showed some nice stuff last year, but 5th starter, oft-injured Adam Eaton—he of the 6.29 ERA—is feeling shoulder soreness this spring, leaving the Phillies with question marks at the 5-spot in their rotation.
The Phillies will be in the race. Howard, Utley, Rollins and Hamels will see to that. But they don't have enough to get over the hump.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Carlos Ruiz was tied for second among MLB catchers with just two errors during his rookie campaign last year.
This is where the NL East starts to get ugly. And it could be worse than we all think.
After succeeding with reclamation projects Wily Mo Pena and Dmitry Young, the Nationals went back to the well of disasters and got Lastings Milledge from the Mets and Elijah Dukes from Tampa Bay. While no one contends that both these guys are talented, a quick look at their hall of shame antics so far include: 6 arrests for assault, marijuana possession and resisting an officer, allegations of sex with a 15-year old girl and additional sexual misconduct charges, excessive celebrating of a home run which led to a brawl, appearing in a rap song where derogatory profanites about woman were said, having your wife file a restraining order, impregnanting a 17-year-old foster child who was living in the care of a relative, throwing a bottle of Gaterade at said girl when confronted with the pregnancy and numerous run-ins with coaches, managers, teammates and umpires.
Life should be interesting in D.C. But it probably won't result in a lot wins. While talent is there with Milledge, Dukes, Pena, Nick Johnson at first and Chad Codero, there's not enough of it in the starting rotation. The whole bunch of potential starters has nary a 200-inning season among them. The starters also only pitched 856 innings, an NL low. Odalis Perez, who was given a flyer and signed to a minor league has been announced as the Opening Day starter. However, the good news is that Paul Lo Duca, a pitcher's catcher was brought in to help call games and control the staff.
In short, don't expect much from the Nationals as they move into their new stadium. Maybe a few years down the line, but not now.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Nationals' 11 outfielders combined for only 17 assists in '07, a major league low.
As bad as the National should be, that's how much worse the Marlins should be.
Since firing Joe Girardi after a surprising playoff run in '06, the Marlins have only taken huge steps backwards. Anchored by an "Ace" who had the highest ERA among NL starters, Scott Olsen evidently missed Manger's Girardi's help. They led the majors with 137 errors. And they traded away their all-time wins leader (Dontrelle Willis) and All-Star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, leaving them with a miniscule payroll (reliever Kevin Gregg, who earned $575,000 has the highest salary on the team) and a non-existant fan base.
Help, though, could be on the way, though most of it seems to be a year away at least. Blue-chipper pitchers Andrew Miller, Chris Volstead, Rick Vandenhurk, Gabe Hernandez and OF Cameron Maybin may join legit star-in-making Hanley Ramirez, power 2B Dan Uggla and RF Jeremy Hermida, but will probably accrue as many "D'oh!" rookie moments as they do great ones.
All in all, opposing NL teams will enjoy trips to south Florida, for the weather, the beaches and the potential sweeps they'd get in facing the Marlins.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Dan Uggla became the second 2B in history—aside from Joe Gordon of the '38-39 Yankees—with at least 25 HRs in his first two seasons
Tomorrow: The NL Central