Today let's preview the NL East
1. New York Mets
The New York Mets had a plan, no? Look who they went after in free agency; arguably the top reliever on the market, if not MLB. Then they traded for what? Another reliever. Other than resigning Oliver Perez and picking up Freddy Garcia on a minor league contract, the Mets didn't do much else. The feeling was; they didn't have to. They feel the team they have in place is essentially the team that can go out and win. The organization feels the second-highest scoring offense should do even better this year, with youngster Daniel Murphy playing LF—Murphy batted .313 in 131 AB last year. The Mets are also hoping for another solid year from aging Carlos Delgado, who batted well, especially in the 2nd half of the year (.340, 8 HRs. in Sept/Oct). And with the bullpen firmed up, the Mets can focus on the 5th starter in spring training. Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez are secure as the top 4. Can Freddy Garcia nail down the 5th spot, or will Jonathon Niese show enough in March for the team to take a chance on him? If that's the biggest problem in spring training, it's a nice dilemma to have, and shows a deep and secure ball club. The Mets, barring another September choke, should take the NL East and put some of the demons they've had recently, to bed. At least some.
2. Florida Marlins
The Marlins, last year, played much better than anyone expected. They did with a club that could pound the ball—208 HRs, 3rd in the majors—and with a young surprising rotation. That plan should continue, with Josh Johnson (3.61 ERA), Ricky Nolasco (3.52 ERA) and Chris Volstad (2.88 ERA). All are 26 or under, as is Andrew Miller, who is back after a balky knee bothered him during the second half of last season (Miller had a 2.43 ERA in May; 7.18 ERA in other five months). The Marlins spent time correcting Miller's mechanics and feel he should get better with experience and a smoother delivery. Miller and the rotation aren't the only ones the Marlins are expecting big things from this season; Cameron Maybin, a five-tool blue-chipper takes over in center field. Maybin, still 21 on Opening Day, went 16-for-32 with nine runs scored and four stolen bases during a September call-up. Also, Gaby Sanchez, who hit .314 in AAA-ball last year is expected to take over at first base—the Marlins traded Mike Jacobs expecting he would. Sanchez and Maybin join a Marlins club that had a .433 slugging percent collectively last year and can be expected to pound the ball. And with Hanley Ramirez moving from lead off to the 3-spot in the order ("More RBI," Ramirez says), the Marlins should be fun to watch. Except them to stay in the race at least till mid-September.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
How can we pick the World Champs 3rd? Well, to start with, after Cole Hamels, the staff reads like this; Joe Blanton had a 4.69 ERA last year, and gave up 13 runs in 18 innings collectively to the Mets, Braves and Marlins last year. Brett Myers, the number 3 starter had a 4.55 ERA and a 1.379 WHIP with a 5.23 ERA in Sept/Oct. And Jamie Moyer, who had a nice year, will be 46 in June and can't—and shouldn't—pitch past the 5th inning (his BAA goes from .127 in the 5th to .316 in the 6th). And he's your number 2 starter. Simply put, the Phillies don't have the pitching. Who's the 5th starter? Kyle Kendrick—5.49 ERA? J.A. Happ, who had a nice cup of coffee last September. Can he do it over an entire season? And Brad Lidge can't be counted on to repeat his perfect season. In any case, the Phillies should hit, if not for average (.255 BA as a team), then for slugging, (.438 slugging). And they should run—136 stolen bases—adding to a lot of runs for the Phillies, 799 last year. All in all, the Phillies should stay in the race for the NL East, but aren't a complete enough team to match the dream season's 92 wins they had last year.
4. Atlanta Braves
Unlike most teams, the Braves problems don't lie with their pitching, but at the plate. Last year the Braves outfield hit a collective 18HRs or 19 less than Manny Ramirez. And with Mark Texiera gone for good, the power outage will be even greater. Recently signed Garrett Anderson can help, but at 37, he can't be the complete answer. The Braves are praying rookie Jordan Schafer can mature quickly and assert himself as a 5-tool starter (or at least one with power). Failing that, they hope last year's CF, Josh Anderson can develop some power. The Braves can take solace that the starting rotation should be excellent. Last year's stalwart, Jair Jurrjens will be joined by Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez and Japanese star, Kenshin Kawakami . The Braves also should get back Tim Hudson, hopefully by August. Overall, the Braves starting pitching should keep them close in many games, but the lack of big bats won’t make them contenders.
5. Washington Nationals
A mess. That's the only way to describe the Nationals. Despite finishing at or near the bottom of the NL East for years, the Nationals' organization have few, if any, blue-chip prospects playing for the big-league team and a farm system that was ranked in the bottom 3rd in all of baseball. Take a look at the pitching. After John Lannan (9-15) and recently-traded-for Scott Olsen (18-26 with the Marlins), the rotation is a mish-mash of cast-offs and prayers for rain. Last year's outfield youth movement (Elijah Dukes .264 BA, Lasting Milledge .268 BA, Wily Mo Pena .205 BA) had mixed results at best. And while recently-signed Adam Dunn might provide a few nice towering HRs, he isn't the savior the Nationals need. And with only 1 prospect in Baseball America's top 100, there are few answers coming down the pike. With Jim Bowden and Jose Rijo shamed out of their positions recently in a scandal, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Nationals. A fresh start and a new front office and scouting department might be just what the Nationals need. It couldn't be any worse than what's going on now.