2009 MLB Preview: NL East
Like it or not, fair or not, the East is where the action is. The West coast has the beaches and the girls (and Manny) , but the East has the ballplayers. At least collectively speaking.
The Phillies are the defending champs, but will Cole Hamels and his gimpy elbow stand strong enough, long enough, to continue winning the war-of-words with the Mets?
Speaking of the Mets, do you remember in the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz hey-day when it was basically the law not to pick against those guys until they finally lost the division?
Sure we all knew eventually it was going to cost us a correct pick, but until then we would get a lot more NL East picks right than wrong.
Well, with the Met’s we have the bizzaro-Braves law; never pick New York to win the division until they actually show up and finish the job.
With that rule out of the way, you know I can’t pick the Mets, but what about the rest of the division?
As wide open as the AL Central is this year, NL East teams are just as structured in degrees of separation.
To the ranks…
5) Washington Nationals
No. Not a chance. No freaking way.
The Nat’s have about the same chances of finishing higher than fifth as the monopoly guy did escaping the sisters.
Adam Dunn is Washington’s best player. That’s a problem.
Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes are decent prospects — Can they still be considered prospects? — but Ryan Zimmerman completely lost his mojo last season.
I am scratching my head, racking my brain attempting to come up with some feasible scenario where the Nationals can contend this year… ehhh… I just can’t come up with one.
They are doomed.
-Ryan Zimmerman: Most expected a break-out campaign in ‘o8 after his second full year (’07) ended with 24 homers. What Zim got instead was 14-jacks and 51-RBI. Yikes.
-Adam Dunn: I’m still not entirely sure why they signed this guy. He won’t put butts in the seats, and it’s not like he has not-yet-tapped upside. He is what he is. Not bad, but won’t raise a team to the next level.
-Lastings Milledge: The former Mets cast-off may never reach stardom, but he has the potential to be a solid major leaguer.
-Elijah Dukes: Since Washington has one of the worst rotations in the Bigs, Dukes has to be the key to any success this team could have. He is the most athletic player on this team. And he’s really aggressive. (Too much?… Nah.)
TEAM GRADE: F
4) Florida Marlins
The Marlins have the most dynamic player in baseball; Hanley Ramirez. Notice how I didn’t call Hanley the best player. He steals bases, he hits home runs, and he just added 25 pounds of muscle this offseason.
Wait… He did what?
I still do not understand how in the Summer of Steroids (thanks again A-Rod) Hanley Ramirez claims to have added 25 pounds of muscle in no more than four months, and probably more like three or three and a half, and he barely garnished a blink in the media.
How in the Barry Bonds is it possible to add 25 pounds of muscle in four months? I don’t even know if a person could add 25 pounds of fat in that amount of time.
I can’t be the only one who finds this fishy.
-Hanley Ramirez: Assuming his pee doesn’t turn out to glow in the dark or something, Hanley should be even better than he was in ’08.
-Cameron Maybin: Count me among those who’d love to see Maybin reach his stars. Will he?
-Dan Uggla: Desperately needs to cut down his strikeouts. Uggla had 171 of them last year.
-Ricky Nolasco: Before ’08, we wondered if Nolasco even belonged in the Majors. A year later… he’s the ace of a shallow staff.
TEAM GRADE: D
3) Atlanta Braves
No surprises here. The Braves have a solid offensive core, coupled with decent starting pitching and a good to very good bullpen, when healthy.
The problem is Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are never healthy.
The bigger problem is Chipper Jones — who can’t be counted on for more than 135 games — is already ailing from the WBC.
The biggest problem is Atlanta needs Tom Glavine to return to top form (which is what, exactly?) immediately upon his return from elbow trouble and Tommy Hanson to win a spot in the rotation and pitch like a No. 3 guy right away to finish above either the Mets or Phillies. Neither of which is probable.
-Chipper Jones: Chipper is the key to this team. He is their best hitter and offensive leader. He also can’t be counted on. Raise your hand if you are a Braves fan who is thrilled with the WBC right now. Strange… I don’t see any hands.
-Derrek Lowe: His signing was HeeeYUGE for Atlanta. They desperately needed veteran consistency on the rubber, and Lowe gives them both.
-Tommy Hanson: The former 22nd rounder may get his shot this year. He has been electric this spring. The Braves need him in the rotation.
-Brian McCann: The league’s best catcher is a grinder. He played in 145 games last year, and the Braves probably wish they could find a way to get him in more games than that.
TEAM GRADE: C+
2) Philadelphia Phillies
What about the whole Bizzaro-Braves rule?
The Phillies and Mets are fairly comparable in terms of talent. Both have good offenses powered by three to four stars. Both have one great front end starting pitcher followed by question marks in the rotation. Both have great closers and set-up men.
Knowing the similarities, shouldn’t I pick the Phillies based on their respective recent pasts?
I would except for one glaring flaw; the Phillies can’t win without Cole Hamels, and I do not think he will stay healthy this year.
Hamels has been dealing with injuries dating back to his junior year of high school (2001). In the eight years since he broke his arm on that fateful day, pitching for the Rancho Bernardo High Broncos, Hamels has been played with a clean bill of health in only one of those seasons.
Let’s repeat that for the kids out there… Cole Hamels has been hurt seven of the last eight seasons.
Injury risk? That’s putting it lightly. To make matters wore, Hamels is already dealing with elbow tightness this spring.
If Hamels isn’t healthy this year the Phillies won’t win the East.
-Cole Hamels: No… Really???
-Chase Utley: The best second baseman in the game has a healthy hip. He hit 25 home runs with a healthy hip last year (pre-All-Star break) and just eight with a bum hip (post break). He is the team leader, MVP candidate and Britton’s pick for sexiest man of the year.
-Ryan Howard: The power is great. The .251 average and 199 strikeouts? Not so much.
-Brett Myers: Like Utley ’08 was a tale of two players: awful first three months, fantastic last three. Which pitcher will Myers be in ’09?
TEAM GRADE: B+
1) New York Mets
I’m going out on a limb New York, don’t let me down.
David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a resurgent Carlos Delgado will drive in plenty of runs. The question is after Johan Santana, will the second tier starting pitchers hold up?
Mike Pelfrey has been touted as a potential front of the rotation starter but he is a finesse pitcher and the Padres Chris Young can attest to how that works out sometimes.
Who hasn’t had nightmares about Oliver Perez’s slider? His talent has never been in question, but his mental toughness, consistency and health have.
It seems like John Maine has been expected to fill the shoes of a No. 2 for the Mets for five years. New York appears to be losing a bit of patience with him, but there certainly is still time.
Let’s say two of those guys pitch to their ability level. If they do, the Mets have certainly revamped their bullpen well enough to stave off the typical late season collapse they experience.
Bringing in Francisco Rodriguez was a good move, but the key may turn out to be J.J. Putz. Though Putz missed most of last year due to a rib-cage injury, he immediately became the best back-up plan for any MLB team when the Mets traded for him the day after they signed K-Rod.
-David Wright: Hungry for a change of direction, and one of the top talents in the game. You tell me what kind of season Wright will have in ’09. My money’s on a great one.
-Jose Reyes: The difference between Reyes and division rival SS Jimmy Rollins? Rollins talks big game, Reyes has big game.
-Johan Santana: Cannot afford any let-down in his second NL season if the Mets are to take the division.
-Francisco Rodriguez/ J.J. Putz: At least one of the two has to stay healthy and have a big year. If they both do New York won’t urinate into the wind as often this season.
TEAM GRADE: A-