Last September, the Mets pulled of one of the greatest collapses in baseball history—losing 12 of their last 17 games and blowing a 7 game lead with three weeks to go in the season.

The NL East should be a tight race again this season, and though the Mets are the pre-season favorites, they should have fierce competition from Atlanta and Philly. If Florida or Washington win the division I vow to get “Timberlake’s Bitch” tattooed on my forehead.

1. New York Mets
2007: 88-74, 2nd place
2008 Projected: 92-70

One pitcher won’t carry a team, but if Johan Santana was a Met last season, you can bet your big apple the Mets would have turned one of those twelve losses into a victory and an NL East crown.

When healthy, the Mets will have one of the best pitching staffs in the NL. But Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez are fragile old men who will be lucky to have 35 starts between them. So, as a collective unit I will call them Orpedro.

Along with Santana and Orpedro, the Mets have quality starters in John Maine and Oliver Perez. Perez finally showed some consistency last season and the Mets are hoping Maine can do the same this year after having a superb first half in 2007.

Though both are former All-Stars, Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo have seen better days and make up the oldest starting 1B/2B tandem in the NL. On the other side of the infield, David Wright and Jose Reyes are budding superstars.

With Carlos Beltran roaming centerfield, it won’t matter what two scrubs are in the corner spots. The scrubs of choice appear to be Moises Alou and Ryan Church. Alou will miss half the season with various injuries that can’t be cured by urinating on one’s hands, and Church is the Mets x-factor. He’s still young and has the potential to be a 25HR/90RBI type player. Look for the Mets to poach an outfielder in mid-season from a struggling team like Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

2. Philadelphia Phillies
2007: 89-73, 1st place
2008 Projected: 87-75

The Phillies big off-season transactions were signing 3B Pedro Feliz and RF Geoff Jenkins, which is exactly why they won’t win the NL East. Their 13 th ranked pitching staff from a year ago has more holes than a Tijuana donkey show and should have been goal #1 to upgrade over the winter. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer will have to carry the starting staff which could be tough if Moyer decides to start collecting Social Security.

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley , and Jimmy Rollins give the Phillies the best infield in baseball, but they’re going to need a lot more offensive help from the likes of Pat Burrell, Feliz, and Jenkins if they hope to compete with the Mets and the Braves.

3. Atlanta Braves
2007: 84-78, 3rd place
'2008 Projected: 86-74

Eleven straight NL East titles from 1995 to 2005 made the Braves the class of the National League. With a little luck this season, they could give the Mets a run for their money. John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and Tom Glavine are consistent, proven winners and should carry a staff that might include the return of Mike Hampton. Hampton, in case you didn’t know, has been paid $30 million over the past two seasons to not pitch an inning. I, on the other hand, have been paid $0 to not pitch an inning.

The Braves took a big hit when 5 time All-Star Andruw Jones signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they brought in Mark Kotsay to fill some of that void. That puts the bulk of the offensive load on Mark Teixeira, Chipper Jones, and budding stars Jeff Francoeur and catcher Brian McCann.

4. Florida Marlins
2007: 71-91, 5th place
2008 Projected: 78-84

The one thing the Marlins have going for them is they play the Nationals 18 times. For real baseball fans in Miami (all seven of you), it could be a fun season to watch the young talent they’ve stockpiled over the past couple years. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla might be the only two names you recognize in the starting line-up but the Marlins definitely have some future stars who’ll they’ll trade away in 4 years for more prospects.

One name to watch for is Andrew Miller, the first round draft pick the Tigers gave up in the Cabrera/Willis trade. Miller was the centerpiece of that trade for the Marlins and is being rushed into Majors after less than two years in the minors.

5. Washington Nationals
2007: 73-89, 4th place
2008 Projected: 68-94

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Ok…I can’t resist.

With the exception of Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals are stocked full of has-beens, almost something’s, and never will be’s. Outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes both top prospects a couple years ago for the Mets and Devil Rays respectively, are looking for a fresh start with the Nationals this season. Both are talented but come with a truckload full of baggage.

If you recognize more than two names on Washington’s starting pitching staff then you probably work for the Nationals. They’re holding open tryouts to the public on Saturday. See you there.

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