2011 MLB Preview: NL East

Time for my annual MLB division preview, starting with the National League East.

1st place: Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils’ acquisition of prized free agent SP Cliff Lee sent shock waves through the hot stove league this winter. Adding Lee to an already healthy rotation makes Philadelphia the odds-on-favorites for the NL pennant. It’s awfully hard to argue with 800+ innings of Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. But no team has been hit as hard by the injury bug this spring: Dominic Brown, Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Placido Polanco are in various stages of repair and there are whispers that Utley might not take the field again until the All-Star Break. Even with the injuries, the lineup is a solid one, anchored by 1B Ryan Howard, SS Jimmy Rollins and CF Shane Victorino. The bullpen is as shaky as ever, but if they can get everyone healthy and on the field, this team will be very dangerous.

2nd place: Atlanta Braves

Let’s start with the bad news: this is one of the worst fielding teams in the league. An infield of Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones is almost laughably bad. And when Chipper goes down sometime in mid-April, his replacement is Brooks Conrad, who, need I remind you, couldn’t catch a cold if he lived in a petri dish. The closer committee is also largely unproven; Jair Jurrjens hasn’t proven to be the ace everyone thought he would be; and new manager Fredi Gonzalez is following in the footsteps of Atlanta royalty. But there’s good news, too. Uggla can pound. Heyward should be even better as a sophomore. McCann is in his prime. Hanson is crazy good. And all the injuries in Philly have brought them back to the pack in this division. I don’t see Atlanta overtaking the Phillies, but I think this is a team that could contend for the wild card.

3rd place: Florida Marlins

This is a good, not great, team. SS Hanley Ramirez is one of the game’s best young players. Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are electric starting pitchers. And OF Mike Stanton hits the ball a LOOONNGGG way…when he makes contact. But there are also plenty of questions about Anibal Sanchez’s health, Javier Vazquez’s velocity, Matt Dominguez’s bat, and Chris Coghlan’s CF defense. The Marlins have a chance to be a .500 team heading into their new stadium next year. Which, given the Marlins’ history, is pretty good. Good, not great.

4th place: Washington Nationals

5th place: New York Mets

This is really a coin toss. Both teams are pretty terrible. They both have so-so lineups anchored by stud thirdbasemen (Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright). They both sport so-so pitching staffs whose best pitchers will miss all or most of the 2010 season (Stephen Strasburg and Johan Santana). And both teams will be utterly irrelevant by June. I like the fact that the Nationals are asserting themselves in the free agent market, but they’ll likely have to overpay a couple more Jayson Werth’s to really make a difference. And no amount of money can help fix the broken Mets culture (see Perez, Oliver; Vaughn, Mo; Bonilla, Bobby). I see the Nats winning a few more ball games than the Mets, simply because Jordan Zimmerman is head-and-shoulders better than any other pitcher on either staff. That has to be worth a couple wins.

All-Division Team

C Brian McCann

1B Ryan Howard

2B Dan Uggla

SS Hanley Ramirez

3B Ryan Zimmerman

OF Jayson Werth

OF Shane Victorino

OF Jason Heyward

SP Roy Halladay

SP Cliff Lee

SP Roy Oswalt

SP Josh Johnson

SP Tommy Hanson

Closer Francisco Rodriguez

Manager Charlie Manuel

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