Here’s the link to my previous AL East preview.
Now for the NL’s power division. It’s possible that this division could produce three playoff entrants, thanks to the new double wild-card addition (which I’m warming up to, by the way). Think how stacked this group would be if Pujols and Fielder had signed with the Marlins and Nats. At any rate, on to the review:
1st place: Philadelphia Phillies
Injuries may have taken some of the luster away from this squad, but the Phillies are still the toast of the division, thanks in part to their wealth of pitching. No team in baseball can trot out the likes of Roy Halladay, Clifford Lee and Cole Hamels. And don’t rule the Phils out for the services of Roy Oswalt come mid-season. Until then, expect the three aces to keep Philly in contention early on. And by mid-May, I expect Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to be firmly entrenched in the lineup again. Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino will provide veteran presence in a suddenly weakened offense. I expect to see them running more this year, “manufacturing” runs rather than waiting on the three-run homer. But Papelbon gives them a lock down closer and with a run of five straight crowns on the line, this veteran club will hold their own in a tough division. And mark it down: Shane Victorino will be a darkhorse MVP candidate all season.
2nd place: Miami Marlins
I love what this team has done to improve. How long it lasts is anybody’s guess, but it should be fun. Jose Reyes’ contract looks better today than it did when he signed in early December. Ozzie will turn him loose on the basepaths and I expect a .300 avg, 40+ steals, and a league-leading runs scored total. I also think Hanley bounces back in a big way. His attitude is key. Mike Stanton will lead the league in home runs and RBI and the rotation looks deep with Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and new additions Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano. Heath Bell isn’t the closer he was in his salad days for the Pads, but he’s still a force in the 9th with a lead. Health, though, will be key. Reyes, Johnson, and Hanley have all missed significant time recently. If healthy, this team will be tough. If they start hot, they could overthrow Philly atop the division.
3rd place: Washington Nationals
A new culture is emerging in the Capitol, predicated on starting pitching. In Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the Nats have an SP-trifecta of their own to rival Philly. And the emergence of Mike Morse last year gives this team another heavy hitter to go with franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman and bounceback candidate Jayson Werth. With a Bryce Harper promotion looming sometime this summer (once we clear the arbitration deadline), this lineup has never been deeper. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard are two of the league’s best high-leverage stoppers and youngster Henry Rodriguez gives them yet another late inning power arm. It’s for real, people; this is a team on the rise.
4th place: Atlanta Braves
Living in the midst of Braves-country, this is bound to be an unpopular pick. But tell me, where does the offense come from? Jason Heyward will never be the second coming of Hank Aaron, at least not while he’s hitting 50% of his batted balls on the ground. Sure, Dan Uggla had a monster second half, but he still hit only .233 last year. Chipper’s already hurt, Martin Prado is a singles hitter, and take away Freddie Freeman’s monster month last year and he looks a lot like James Loney. Michael Bourn is a nice addition, but this lineup is just underwhelming. They have some young pitching that looks solid, but they’ll need time to adjust at the big league level. I just don’t like their chances in this division. Check back in a few years when the kids have seasoned a bit.
5th place: New York Mets
This we know: this club is atrocious. It doesn’t matter that they moved the fences in; they’re not going to score. The outfield is a complete mess and the middle infield is almost as bad. And don’t even look at their pitching. Even if Johan is healthy, he’s a shell of his former self. Jon Niese will be nice (and they just locked him up for the next few years), but otherwise, the cupboard is bare. I like the bullpen a little and David Wright will produce, but when you have to count on Jason Bay to protect him, there’s little incentive to pitch to Wright. It’s going to be a very, very long season in the Big Apple. This team rivals Houston as the worst in the league.
All Division Team
C Brian McCann
1B Ike Davis
2B Dan Uggla
SS Jose Reyes
3B Hanley Ramirez
LF Mike Morse
CF Shane Victorino
RF Hunter Pence
SP Roy Halladay
SP Cliff Lee
SP Cole Hamels
SP Stephen Strasburg
SP Josh Johnson
RP Craig Kimbrel
Manager Charlie Manuel
Braves are already up a game on the Marlins in the loss column . . .
The buzzsaw that is Kyle Lohse made the Marlins look anemic last night, that’s for sure.
4 hits. Against the Mets. Ouch.
Picking up where we left off last year with our score-no-runs strategy.
Opening with the Mets and Astros will reveal a lot. If we can’t handle those teams then your prediction is probably accurate.
Two games. Two runs.