Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Opening day is only a month away baseball fans! Since I couldn't wait any longer, the time has come to dive into the wonderful world of division predictions. Last year TPLIYP didn't fare too well in its role as fortune teller of the baseball season, but each year the work begins anew. This year we will begin by forecasting my favorite division, the National League East. It should come as no surprise to anybody that I like the Philadelphia Phillies to take this division for a fourth straight year. Let's take a look at how the rest of the division shakes out, and a few things to watch for on each team.

1. Philadelphia Phillies
The World Series runner ups come into 2010 with virtually the same team as last year. The biggest difference is of course at the head of the rotation. It is feasible that Roy Halladay could win more than 25 games this year if he stays healthy, and is an early favorite for the NL Cy Young. I think that he will make us forget about Cliff Lee pretty quickly, though Lee will certainly be missed. The real power for the Phillies is in their lineup though. It seems hard to imagine that the Phillies lineup might be better than it was last year, but its easy if you try. Placido Polanco will be a tough out at the bottom of the order and makes the Phillies entire lineup that much more dangerous. Look for the Phils to win about 95 games and be a World Series threat once again.

KEY ADDITION: Obviously it is Roy Halladay, but I would be missing out on a great chance to crack wise if I didn't mention the signing of catcher Brian Schneider, whose sliders have become a thing of legend at Starter's Riverport.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Cole Hamels. Will he be the Cole of 2008 or the Cole of 2009? This writer thinks he will be the Cole of 2008 once again. If you do not grab him early in your fantasy drafts, you might regret it.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Placido Polanco. Polly is playing in a much smaller park, with a much better lineup. Expect his numbers to improve in almost every category.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Phillippe Aumont. This dude has some nasty stuff at a very young age. The Phillies would like to season him a bit more, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him called up to the big club if the bullpen starts to falter.

2. Atlanta Braves
Last year the Braves were a sexy pick (which means they were probably picked by Dave Rattner) to win the NL East. This year, they might actually have a chance to win the NL East. With a rotation consisting of self proclaimed "mental midget" Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson (sweet lettuce) and Dill's favorite Jair Jurrjens, the staff is fairly formidable. The bullpen and the lineup are bigger question marks though; can guys like Chipper, Troy Glaus, Billy Wanger, Takashi Saito and Manny Acosta stay healthy? If so, this team could make the playoffs. If not, they could fall flat. I expect it to be somewhere in the middle, and for the Braves to win about 85 games, falling just shy of the playoffs.

KEY ADDITION: Troy Glaus. The aging slugger provides some lineup protection for Chipper and McCann and can still pick it at third. Plus, he's so strong that he can hold three bats at once!

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Timmy Hudson. Hudson was out all year last year with arm troubles. If he can stay healthy this year, he can really galvanize this staff as the ace.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Tommy Hanson. The other half of the TH arsenal, Hanson has sweet lettuce and an even sweeter set of pitches. He can step in as #2 in the rotation and let the mental midget resume his role as #3.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jason Heyward. This guy is the #1 prospect in all of baseball. Will he be the next Chipper Jones, or the next Todd Van Poppel?

3. Florida Marlins
I had a tough time deciding whether the Braves or Marlins would finish second in this division. I put the Marlins third because I felt that their rotation was a tad weaker, and their lineup was not quite as strong. Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez are two of the game's best, that is for sure, but there is not much substance behind them. A lot of guys like Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, Anibal Sanchez and Leo Nunez who are not really star caliber and could be boom or bust. Because of those question marks, I have to put them in 3rd. Look for the 'Lins to finish at about .500.

KEY ADDITION: Derrick Turnbow/Mike MacDougal. As you can tell, the Marlins did not make many additions. These guys could be solid cogs in the bullpen though, and take over closer duties if necessary.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Ricky Nolasco. This guy can either be lights out or, if he's on my fantasy team, absolutely terrible. If he returns to his better form he could put together about 15 wins or so. Consistency is the key for this 2009 fantasy dud and target of my hatred.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Cameron "Definitely" Maybin. This guy is a five tool player and could finally put it together for the fish this year. If so, he will probably be out of Florida very soon.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Coghlan. Last year's rookie of the year could also potentially have a great year this year. I guess since he was ROY last year though, it wouldn't really qualify as a "breakout" year.

4. New York Mets
This team always looks very dangerous on paper, but ends up being full of holes. Jose Reyes and D Wright make up the best left side of the infield in baseball, the yin to the Chase Utley and Ryan Howard yang on the right side. Johan Santana is also great, but what about after that? The Mets did nothing to improve their rotation, and if you can't get the ball to the great K-Rod with a lead, then what's the point of having him? Look for the Mets to have another tough year despite their enormous payroll. Proof positive that you can't just throw money at a problem. Also, Jason Bay is going to be terrible in New York. You can take that to the bank. The Citi Bank. The Mets win about 75 games this year and look to shed payroll.

KEY ADDITION: Jason Bay. Despite my previous statement, he is still their biggest addition. How many homers will he hit out of the cavernous Citi Field though? And what will be the repercussions of having to patrol a very spacious left field? At least he's an American citizen now.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starters 2-5. John Maine, Ollie Perez, Mike Pelfrey and ____: what will they do this year? If they continue to produce like they have in the past, the Mets are in big trouble. If they can consistently perform like they have in flashes of greatness, things might not be so bad. I doubt that will happen though. Runner Up: Carlos Beltran. When will he suit up for the Mets after surgery, and will he be effective?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Jeff Francoeur. If Frenchie can be a little more patient at the plate, he would be a very dangerous hitter.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Ike Davis. Right now, Daniel Murphy is slated to be the starting first baseman for the Mets. This is bad. Buster Olney tells me that Ike Davis might take that role over for the Mets during the season. This might be good.

5. Washington Nationals
God love the Nats. They are trying, but they are going to be the whipping boy in the NL East for some time I think. Poor Ryan Zimmerman. They might not be as bad as last year in 2010 though. A few additions to the rotation as well as some pieces added to the lineup will help a little bit. I wouldn't expect anything more than about 70 wins from them realistically though.

KEY ADDITION: Jason Marquis. Marquis proved he can be a winner pitching in Colorado. I don't see how Washington could be any tougher. He might not have as good a defense behind him though.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Chien-Ming Wang. The Nats took a flyer on a guy who had a 19 win season a few years back, but was THE worst pitcher in baseball last year. If Ching Bing Bong can find the stuff he had 3 years ago, he could be the bargain of the century for Washington. Either way, we can still look forward to the release of his auto-biography "What Went Wang".

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: John Lannan. Lannan has looked absolutely untouchable sometimes, and I think this year he could start to more consistently show that side. If so, Borst will probably be pretty happy.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Stephen Strasburg. The kid with the golden arm will no doubt be called up to the big club at some point. Whether he will be used as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen though. He and Ryan Zimmerman will probably be really chummy once he gets called up though.

There you have it. The NL East from first to worst. Like it? Lump it? Sound off!