Friday, March 27, 2009

Beasts in the East

Coming off of their first World Series championship in 28 years, the Philadelphia Phillies will have a tough road ahead of them if they wish to repeat this year. As they do every year, the Mets spent a lot of dough and signed some key pieces for their team. The Marlins as usual have another crop of good young pitchers and are looking to pull off another World Series or bust year, and the Braves and Nats could steal a few wins here and there from the rest of the NL East. Familiarity certainly breeds contempt in the NL East, and this year will be no different. Despite the Mets offseason moves, I see the Phils again taking the NL East this year. The Mets may very well win the wild card, but they do not have the stuff that legends are made of. The Phillies are the real "Beast of the East".

The past two years, the New York Mets have entered September in first place in the NL east only to be displaced by the Phils. Each year the bullpen was supposedly to blame for their collapse. Therefore, this year the Mets made a big splash in the free agent market by signing Frankie Rodriguez and trading for J.J. Putz. I already know that I can lump K-Rod in with Carlos Betlran and Carlos Delgado as Mets that I have a passionate hatred for. Despite this major improvement in the pen, I still don't think the Mets have what it takes to win the division. Their rotation anchored by Johan Santana is merely average behind him with Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Livan Hernandez. Maine and Pelfrey can look great at times, but really bad at other times. A consistent season can not be expected out of any of them besides Santana. The Mets lineup is always scary; D Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado make for a talented middle of the order that is always good for a homer or two per game. However, the past two years they have all faltered down the stretch along with the pitching. On paper, the whole team looks pretty solid but it never works out for the Mets. They are the cornerstone of my "not enough Americans" or "too many Latino ballplayers" argument I am working on. Anyway, I see them playing better this year and possibly winning the wild card. They will not overtake the Phillies this year though.

The Marlins will finish in third again this year. You never know quite what to expect from Florida because their lineup is so different every single year, but their young pitching is looking to improve on last year's success, and Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson could be very good this year. Or they could be mid-season trade bait. Florida's bullpen is a complete mystery, and their unproven closer Matt Lindstrom got injured in the WBC, so that could spell trouble for them and potentially cost them some wins. Their bats should be pretty solid this year. They have a lot of power with guys like Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross, and are looking for breakout years from Cameron "Definitely" Maybin and Jeremy Hermida. If they can put it all together, the Marlins could potentially make the playoffs, but there are way too many unproven guys on this team to expect that much. The Marlins will probably finish somewhere around 5 games over .500 and implode their team in the off-season.

My feelings on the Braves were made known in the article "Tomahawk Flop". Sure they improved a bit in the offseason, but not enough in this division. The signing of D. Lowe is not enough to counter the loss of Tim Hudson to surgery, and Chipper Jones has already injured himself this season. Hopefully for my sake, Brain McCann and Jeff Francoeur will have huge years, but the Braves just do not have enough to compete in the NL East.

Where to begin with the Nationals. They have Adam Dunn and that is about it. Dunn, Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman make for a pretty hefty middle of the order, but other than them the Nats are pretty much all prospects that are now busts. Everyone is still hoping for Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge to break out, but I doubt that will happen. Their pitching is pretty deplorable in both the rotation and the bullpen. This was made evident when Odalis Perez decided to ditch out on training camp and get himself cut rather than playing for the Nats this year. I love Adam Dunn, but it will be another tough year for the Nationals. They will bring up the rear in the NL east again.

The World Series Champs will again win the NL East. They are proof that it is player development and making the right moves that help a team win, not just throwing money at the biggest free agent on the market. In the rotation, look for Cole Hamels to improve greatly if he stays healthy, for Fat Joe Blanton to win 15 games or so, for Brett Myers to have his best year yet having lost 30 pounds in the offseason, and for Jamie Moyer and possibly Chan Ho Park to provide solid starts every 5th day. The bullpen is hurt by the loss of JC Romero for 50 games, but at least he can pitch in the minors in the meantime and he will be ready when his suspension is up. Other than Romero, the best bullpen in the majors last year is still in tact this year. The only change in the Phillies lineup is the addition of Raul Ibanez in left field. Though he is another lefty, look for Ibanez to more than adequately make up for the loss of Pat Burrell in terms of average, RBIs and runs, and hit just about as many homers in the cozy confines of Citizen's Bank Park. Jayson Werth could also benefit from a full season's "Werth" of at bats. With every team in the NL east looking to improve this year, the Phillies are no different. Through one or two signings, but mostly through player development, I see the Phillies outstripping the improvement of the other teams in their division and staying atop the NL east again this year. Sue me.

NCAA Predictions for tonight:

Oklahoma over Syracuse

UNC over Gonzaga

Kansas over Michigan St.

Louisville over Arizona

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