MLB Preview 2010: NL East



PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Cole Hamels’ postseason meltdown has some in Philly worried, but he’s still only 26 and with all the time off to rest and refocus, he will regain his form. Last season he had 168 strikeouts to only 43 walks, so he was still dominant in that sense. Roy Halladay joins the staff and boasts an even better strikeout to walk ratio than Hamels. He threw 5.94 strikeouts to walks last season. This year, he may become even better because he’s moving from the AL East to the NL. 17 wins on an awful Jays team was impressive, but imagine what he’ll do now – he doesn’t have to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 54 times, he won’t have to face a DH any longer and he doesn’t even have to face the best lineup in the NL either because he’s on the Phillies! These factors could add for a scary season for Halladay. He should be a lock for 20 wins. Another valuable thing about Halladay is he finishes games in an era where it’s very rare to do so. He had a league best nine complete games last season, and with no DH to face, that number should only increase this season.

The lineup will once again be brutal for opposing pitchers. Is there anybody in the starting lineup who doesn’t have the capability to hit at least 20 homers? Even Jimmy Rollins belted 21 last season. They also had four hitters who had more than 90 RBI and 30 homers including Ryan Howard’s MLB best 141 RBI. Although the power is why most people think the offense is so great, they also have speed on the base paths too. The Phillies were second the NL with 119 stolen bases, while having an 81 percent success rate when they attempted to steal – the best in MLB.

Prediction: 1st NL East – The best team in the NL got even better by acquiring Roy Halladay in the offseason. It would be ridiculous to pick anyone but them to win the east, and for that matter, to represent the NL in the World Series.

NEW YORK METS

The 2009 season turned out to be an absolute nightmare for the Mets. Players like Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright contributed to a combined 1,451 days on the DL and $43.7 million lost due to injuries. The same murky cloud is starting to set in this season. Beltran will miss three to four months because of a right knee surgery, while Reyes starts the season with a thyroid injury.

If the team is healthy, on paper they have one of the best lineups in baseball. Any team would have trouble matching up against Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Jason Bay. They will also enjoy a shorter fence in center field this year. The fence will be cut down from 16 feet to eight feet. Mets hitters will take any variation to this gigantic field especially considering they hit the fewest homers in the majors last season with only 95. Wright has added muscle in the offseason to compensate for the large dimensions.

Pitching is what will hurt the Mets. They’re still on the hook for that three year $36 million contract they gave Oliver Perez for some unknown reason. Perez has major control issues, and just getting out of the first inning is usually a big problem for him. He walked 105 hitters in his last full season in 2008, which was the most in the league. Last year wasn’t much better. Perez nearly had an equal walk to strikeout ratio with 58 free passes and only 62 strikeouts, not to mention that abysmal 6.82 ERA. Meanwhile, John Maine is an average middle of the rotation guy, but his problem is his longevity. His stuff really drops off after the fifth inning, which can be devastating to the bullpen over time considering they always have to be ready to pitch four innings when Maine takes the mound. Mike Pelfrey is also an average middle of the rotation guy, but he and Maine are the second and third starters on this team. It may be hard to entrust a guy who had a 5.03 ERA last season as their second best starter, but when it comes down to it, they have no other options. At least they do have a phenomenal ace, but Johan Santana, much like the Mets everyday players, is susceptible to injuries too.

Prediction: 2nd NL East – The second-place finish and potential wildcard spot would give joy to fans for New York’s other team. There’s no reason they can’t do it if they stay healthy. Their talented offense should be able to compensate for their lackluster pitching.

FLORIDA MARLINS

The Fish decided to do a rare thing this offseason. They paid three players. They avoided arbitration with Dan Uggla, resigned Jorge Cantu for $6 million and resigned Josh Johnson to a four-year $39 million deal. As the Marlins get closer to having their own SOTA facility, it seems ownership is willing to spend more money. There has to be excitement for the team filling the new stadium and with Johnson and Hanley Ramirez signed to long-term deals, that is exactly what they’ve done. The 2010 payroll should reach about $45 million, which is the most the team has paid in five seasons, and $10 million more than they spent last season. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter still combine to make more than the entire Marlin team, but at least ownership is headed in the right direction.

Even though they have signed a few players, the Marlins will remain a scouting and development organization until further notice. The team has brought up Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Edgar Rentaria, Luis Castillo, Kevin Millar, last season’s rookie of the year Chris Coghlan and even Adrian Gonzalez, who started his career in the Marlins farm system. In 2010, fish scouts may strike gold again with Mike Stanton. He hit 28 homers and 92 RBI in the minors last season and looks to be on the right path in Spring Training. One thing’s for certain, if they do make the postseason, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with – they are a perfect 2 for 2 when they reach October – two trips, two World Series rings.

Prediction: 3rd NL East – Hanley Ramirez is an absolute five-tool gem. He once again will have the Marlins in the thick of the playoff race. If they want to stay in the race, they’ll have to play better defense and cut down on errors. They had 106 last season, which was the third most in the NL to the Dbacks and Nats, two teams that were a combined 59 games out of first and nowhere remotely close to contention.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Bobby Cox leads the Braves for one final season. He will try to hoist one more NL East crown, which he’s been without since 2006. It won’t be easy because the defending NL Champion Phillies, Mets and Marlins all figure to be above .500 caliber teams. Another difficult obstacle for the Braves will be relying on major question marks like Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner and Tim Hudson. They’re all aging ball players coming off injuries who would create holes in Atlanta should they not be 100 percent.

It’s only Spring Training, but Nate McClouth is 1-25 with 10 strikeouts. That’s not exactly what you’re looking for in a leadoff hitter! Jason Heyward looks like the real deal. The top-ranked prospect in Baseball America has nine hits in 20 at bats, and has even logged seven walks. This shows that he’s not only a masher, but also has great plate discipline too. Heyward will be a major improvement for the outfield.

Prediction: 4th NL East – If the Braves finished fourth, they would be the best fourth-place team in baseball. They probably will find themselves teetering around the .500 mark for much of the season as they did last year. They just don’t have enough firepower to compete with the Phillies or even the Mets.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Will Stephen Strasburg live up to all the hype? Will he earn his record rookie contract? We’ll have to wait for a little while to find out because he’s going to start in the minors, but all signs point to Strasburg dominating the majors just like he did in college. It’s not too often a hitter sees a 102-103 mph fastball and that’s what made “K”burg famous – he averaged 1.8 strikeouts per inning in his last year at SDSU. Adam Dunn and his 177 strikeouts from last season will be happy to avoid a pitcher like that, and I think Dbacks slugger Mark Reynolds already struck out against “K”burg twice. He struck out 204 times in 2008 which was the major league record until he broke his own record with 223 strikeouts last season.

John Lannan should also become a staple of the Nats rotation. The lefty had a solid 3.88 ERA last season and will start this season as the #2 starter. The staff as a unit is very young with the exception of Jason Marquis, who I’m not quite sure is worth the $15 million he’s getting over the next two years for an absolutely abysmal franchise that won’t be going anywhere in that time.

The Pudge signing also had that effect. I was just waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out of a bush and yell “You’ve Been Punked”. The 38-year-old is showing absolutely no signs of getting any younger and his .249 BA will kill a whole lot of rallies – assuming the Nats can start some. I can’t imagine what Ryan Zimmerman was thinking when he signed a five-year deal with the Nats at the beginning of last season. I know the contract said $45 million, but plenty of other teams could have afforded that…

Prediction: 5th NL East – Ugly, ugly season for the “Natinals” last year. Let’s pray, for their sake, they win more than 59 this season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
AL WEST
AL CENTRAL
AL EAST

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