My last article on the NL Central has my mind going about the other divisions in baseball. Who else do I think will make the playoffs? Who is going to tank? Who could be a big surprise a-la the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays? Well, I have tried to follow all of the offseason moves (trades, FA signings, injuries, etc.) and with that, I think I can make a pretty good prediction on what we are going to see this year in each division. Injuries aside (they just can't be predicted, folks) I am going to cover the rest of baseball. Today, my picks in the National League East.
5. Washington Nationals - Nothing groundbreaking or shocking here. The Nats did add Adam Dunn and Scott Olson, but they are far from a team that will compete in this division, and nobody can explain to me any way they can.
4. Florida Marlins - The penny-pinching Marlins always seem to find themselves in contention until late in the season. Remember, they won the World Series in 1997, then again six years later in 2003. Well, it's again six years later, but I just don't see them getting over the hump this year. Their rotation is solid with Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez. Their offense touts Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, one of the best middle infield combinations in baseball. But they are again counting on contributions from a number of rookies and other young, inexperienced players. Not to mention, they traded their closer Kevin Gregg and will now lean on Matt Lindstrom who has five career saves. They'll contend, and they may even end up over .500, but a trip to the postseason is unlikely.
3. Atlanta Braves - The Braves are trying to get back to their glory days and are doing it the same way they did it in the 90's: pitching. This team has greatly improved their starting rotation, adding Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and a healthy Tom Glavine. Chipper Jones isn't getting any younger, but he's still a force, and this offense also has solid players like Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Casey Kotchman and Garret Anderson among others. Their bullpen, however, is where it gets tricky. Mike Gonzalez is a serviceable closer, but his spring has been shaky, as has many others in the Braves' projected opening day roster. This team may contend, but it could come down to whether or not the pen can close out games on a regular basis.
2. Philadelphia Phillies - Here is my Wild Card pick. Their offense in potent, with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley (who looks to be ready by opening day), Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth. They added Raul Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell and will have virtually the same pitching staff that took them to the 2008 World Championship. But there is one big question. While Cole Hamels is a bonafide ace, there are health concerns entering the season. If he is lost for a period of time, it's up to a more mediocre group (Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton) to pick up the slack. Now, Brad Lidge is lights-out again, and the rest of the bullpen also looks solid. Add it all up, and I can see another post-season appearance for the Phillies - as long as Hamels is not out for too long, if at all.
1. New York Mets - Yes, after two consecutive seasons of last-second flops, I think the Mets are going to be the team to beat in the NL East in 2009. Let's look at why they lost last year. Billy Wagner, while far from his best days, was injured. The bullpen couldn't do anything right last September. Just a couple more games held by the bullpen would have gotten New York into the playoffs. Well, they went out and fixed that problem. Signing saves monster Francisco Rodriguez and trading for former all-star closer J.J. Putz has boosted the Mets right back to the top, in my opinion. Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado lead an impressive offensive attack that could mask any rotation questions this team has. Johan Santana is one of the best in the game, and while there are no other "superstar" names in the rotation, they can all win games, especially with the pop in the everyday lineup.
Just my opinion.