Friday, March 28, 2008

MLB Preview: NL East

Note: this post originates from The People's Sports Blog in its MLB Preview. Check it out to see the rest of my predictions.

(Teams listed in order of projected finish)

Philadelphia Phillies
Hitting: Defending MVP Jimmy Rollins, former MVP Ryan Howard, and (future MVP?) Chase Utley led a high-powered offense. They'll get help from Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, and newly-acquired Geoff Jenkins. From top to bottom this is the best offense in the National League. Grade: A+
Pitching: Cole Hamels established himself as an ace last season, though he'll technically be the #2 starter this year as Brett Myers returns to the rotation. Myers struggled as a starter in 2007, but he should still be an upgrade. The back-end of the rotation is questionable, with youngster Kyle Kendrick, oldster Jamie Moyer, and an undetermined fifth starter. Brad Lidge will get a shot at closing, while Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero pitch middle relief. Grade: C+
Fantasy Sleeper: Pedro Feliz - He's hit 20+ HRs in each of the last 4 years and now he moves to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. Barring a platoon with Greg Dobbs, he should hit 25 or more.
X-Factor: Kyle Kendrick - He was something of a savior for the team last year, going 10-4 after being called up from AA, but can he do it again in '08? He'll need to for the Phillies to contend for the division again.
Overview: While there are serious questions about the back of the Phillies rotation and a few about the bullpen (notably Brad Lidge's health), the offense should be as good as it was last year, if not better. The additions of Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins will more than account for the loss of Aaron Rowand. The offense should be able to make up for any suspect pitching, as it did last season.

New York Mets
Hitting: The Mets have a Big Three of their own in David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes, but the rest of the lineup is hard to judge. Carlos Delgado is coming off his worst season ever and Moises Alou is 41 and injury-prone. After that, there isn't much offensive firepower. This team went through a lot of dry spells last year and there's little reason to believe that won't continue in 2008. Grade: B
Pitching: The starting rotation should be the best in the National League, with twin aces Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and either Orlando Hernandez or Mike Pelfrey. Santana is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and should benefit from a move of the National League. Martinez will be a great asset if healthy, though at 36 his durability is in question, and Perez struggled with his consistency late last season. The bullpen was problematic last year, aside from Billy Wagner, but on the whole this is a very strong pitching staff. Grade: A-
Fantasy Sleeper: Mike Pelfrey - He's got a chance to nail down the fifth spot in the rotation and if so he should be in line for some wins.
X-Factor: Carlos Delgado - If he can regain his power, the Mets offense could be devastating, but at 35 that's a tall order.
Overview: The Mets received high praise for their trade for Johan Santana and there's no doubt he'll improve their starting pitching. However, that may not be the solution for the Mets. Last year's team collapsed because the hitting was inconsistent and the bullpen fell apart, not because of the starting pitching, which performed well all year. With a slightly worse lineup and the same bullpen, it's hard to see the Mets improving much as a team. They are certainly capable of taking the division, but don't expect a huge jump in the wins column, especially with the tough divisional competition.

Atlanta Braves
Hitting: With Mark Teixiera, Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, and Brian McCann, the Braves field one of the better offenses in the National League. Teixiera hit 17 HRs in only 54 games with the Braves and he should put up monster numbers in his first full season in Atlanta. Jones' health will be a question at age 35, especially considering he hasn't played 140 games since 2003, but he'll produce when he's on the field. Grade: B+
Pitching: John Smoltz and Tim Hudson will be atop the rotation again, and a familiar face joins them, as Tom Glavine makes his Atlanta return. Mike Hampton will also be back, though one has to wonder if he can stay healthy. In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano takes over as closer with Peter Moylan in a set-up role. Grade: B
Fantasy Sleeper: Yunel Escobar - He hit .326 as a second baseman last year and now he becomes the starting shortstop after the departure of Edgar Renteria.
X-Factor: Tom Glavine - It seems a foregone conclusion that Hampton will hit the DL sooner or later, and if so it is paramount that Glavine produces as the #3 starter.
Overview: The Braves look great on paper, but they have a lot to overcome. It will be hard to make up for the losses of Andruw Jones and Renteria on offense, and there are serious age and injury concerns throughout the roster. Glavine is 42, Smoltz is 40, and Hampton and Chipper Jones are 35. Granted, that's only four players, but they are all essential to Atlanta's success. If the Braves can stay healthy, they can take the division, but if injuries take their expected toll, a third place finish is more likely.

Florida Marlins
Hitting: While they can't replace Miguel Cabrera's production (not yet, anyway), the Marlins have some talented young hitters. Hanley Ramirez is capable of MVP-caliber numbers, Dan Uggla and Mike Jacobs are good power hitters, and Jeremy Hermida began to blossom into a fine all-around hitter last season. Also, be on the lookout for Cameron Maybin, after his inevitable call-up. Grade: B-
Pitching: The pitching staff is very much a work in progress, especially with Dontrelle Willis gone. Andrew Miller is incredibly talented, but he's 22 and inexperienced, and it's unclear just how good Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez are based on their first two years. Kevin Gregg looks to be the closer again, where he was adequate last season. Grade: D
Fantasy Sleeper: Cody Ross - In limited action last season, he managed a 1.064 OPS. While that won't hold up over 162 games, he could hit upwards of 20 HRs.
X-Factor: Scott Olsen - Was last season a fluke, or did hitters figure him out? Florida has very little starting pitching depth and could use the help.
Overview: Florida's pitching will get some help from their ballpark, but otherwise it's hard to know what to expect. The young arms will get plenty of chances to develop. The Marlins do, however, have a very potent lineup and they should be able to take advantage of weak pitching and slug their way to some victories.

Washington Nationals
Hitting: The Nationals will look to Ryan Zimmerman to improve upon his sophomore season, though he did hit 24 HRs. After Zimmerman, there are a lot of questions. Dmitri Young had a resurgent season, but he'll compete with Nick Johnson for playing time. Lastings Milledge is an intriguing prospect, but he never found a niche with the Mets and one has to wonder why they gave up on him so quickly. Grade: D
Pitching: Before the season even started, the Nationals released their 2007 Opening Day starter, John Patterson. Despite that discouraging sign, the Nationals have some decent arms in Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, and Matt Chico, but none of them look like an ace. Closer Chad Cordero is coming off a down year, but he still racked up 37 saves. Grade: C-
Fantasy Sleeper: Lastings Milledge - It seemed as if he never got a fair shot with the Mets, but he'll get plenty of chances in Washington. He's got the raw talent to put up some good numbers.
X-Factor: Nationals Park - One of the few things this team has going for it is the brand new ballpark that opens this season. It remains to be seen how the ballpark will play, favoring hitters or pitchers, and whether the improved fan turnout is enough to boost the club's play.
Overview: There isn't that much the Nationals do well. Their hitting leaves much to be desired and their pitching is average, at best. That said, there are some talented young players (Zimmerman, Milledge, perhaps even Elijah Dukes) who will have a chance to develop and help this franchise in the long haul.

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