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Article:NL East Preview

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This article originally appeared here.

Written by Chris Canada   

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The 2009 Major League Baseball season is upon us and teams are ready to embark on their 162 game journey towards the playoffs, and eventually the World Series. This is the first in a series of six divisional previews. Our first division is where the defending World Series champion resides, the NL East.

2008 Standings:

Team W L
Philadelphia Phillies 92 70
New York Mets 89 73
Florida Marlins 84 77
Atlanta Braves 72 90
Washington Nationals 59 102

2008 Summary:

The NL East has been major source of good playoff teams for the last decade. Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies won their first championship since 1980. Their road to the playoff included a late season race for the NL crown, eventually besting the New York Mets for the division.

The Mets ended up choking down the stretch for the second straight year and not only lost the division, but missed out on the wild card as well.

The Marlins showed incredible poise for a very young team after losing both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, but didn't have enough to stay in the playoff race as the season came to a close. The Braves had their worst season since 1990 going 72-90. The Nationals also had a terrible year, as expected with such a young team.

Projected Rosters:

Postion Atlanta Braves Florida Marlins New York Mets Philadelphia Phillies Washington Nationals
Catcher Brian McCann (L) John Baker (L) Brian Schneider (L) Carlos Ruiz (R) Jesus Flores (R)
First Base Casey Kotchman (L) Gaby Sanchez (R) Carlos Delgado (L) Ryan Howard (L) Nick Johnson (L)
Second Base Kelly Johnson (L) Dan Uggla (R) Luis Castillo (S) Chase Utley (L) Anderson Hernandez (S)
Third Base Chipper Jones (S) Jorge Cantu (R) David Wright (R) Pedro Feliz (R) Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Shortstop Yunel Escobar (R) Hanley Ramirez (R) Jose Reyes (S) Jimmy Rollins (S) Cristian Guzman (S)
Left Field Garret Anderson (L) Jeremy Hermida (L) Daniel Murphy (L) Raul Ibanez (L) Adam Dunn (L)
Center Field Josh Anderson (L) Cameron Maybin (R) Carlos Beltran (S) Shane Victorino (S) Lastings Milledge (R)
Right Field Jeff Francoeur (R) Cody Ross (R) Ryan Church (L) Jayson Werth (R) Elijah Dukes (R)
Bench Gregor Blanco (R) Alfredo Amezaga (S) Fernando Tatis (R) Geoff Jenkins (L) Austin Kearns (R)
Bench Omar Infante (R) Emilio Bonifacio (R) Alex Cora (L) Eric Bruntlett (R) Wily Mo Pena (R)
Bench Matt Diaz (R) Dallas McPherson (L) Jeremy Reed (L) Matt Stairs (L) Josh Willingham (R)
Starting Pitcher Derek Lowe (R) Ricky Nolasco (R) Johan Santana (L) Cole Hamels (L) John Lannan (L)
Starting Pitcher Javier Vazquez (R) Josh Johnson (R) John Maine (R) Brett Myers (R) Scott Olsen (L)
Starting Pitcher Jair Jurrjens (R) Chris Volstad (R) Oliver Perez (L) Joe Blanton (R) Daniel Cabrera (R)
Starting Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami (R) Anibal Sanchez (R) Mike Pelfrey (R) Jamie Moyer (L) Jordan Zimmerman (R)
Starting Pitcher Jorge Campillo (R) Andrew Miller (L) Livan Hernandez (R) Chan Ho Park (R) Collin Balester (R)
Relief Pitcher Manny Acosta (R) Rick VandenHurk (R) J.J. Putz (R) Ryan Madson (R) Joe Beimel (L)
Relief Pitcher Rafael Soriano (R) Scott Proctor (R) Pedro Feliciano (L) Chad Durbin (R) Steven Shell (R)
Closer Mike Gonzalez (L) Matt Lindstrom (R) Francisco Rodriguez (R) Brad Lidge (R) Joel Hanrahan (R)

Individual Team Previews

Atlanta Braves - The Braves enter this season of a very underwhelming 2008 campaign. I do expect them to win a few more games, but not a ton. Chipper Jones has missed a ton of games over the last few seasons, and will enter the season already hurting. They have a stud in Brian McCann behind the plate, and I think the addition of Garret Anderson will bring some guidance to this young team. The pitching staff is without mainstay John Smoltz, as he's now with the Red Sox. They also will be without the services of Tim Hudson for most of the season with Tommy John surgery, and Tom Glavine will miss the first month with a elbow problem. They did, however, sign Derek Lowe and Javier Vasquez to bolster their rotation. Other than that, I'm not all that impressed by their staff.

Florida Marlins - As a lifelong Marlins fan, I am really excited about this year. The Marlins probably overachieved last season. They had a ton of young players, but it didn't show with their 84 wins. Due to the economics of baseball, they didn't make many additions this offseason, instead opting to rebuild from within, as they have for the better part of a decade. They traded away a few starters from last season's team, including starter Scott Olsen, closer Kevin Gregg, outfielder Josh Willingham, and first baseman Mike Jacobs. However, they will be replacing them with rookie outfielder Cameron Maybin, a platoon at first base with Dallas McPherson and heralded rookie Gaby Sanchez, Matt Lindstrom at closer, and a host of young starting pitchers that stepped up last year when others got injured. As for injuries, all-everything bench man Alfredo Amezaga will miss part of April, as well as relievers Matt Lindstrom and Scott Proctor. Even with all of the departures, I believe their great young staff will allow them to compete for the wild card once again.

New York Mets - The Mets collapsed down the stretch for the second straight season. The reason this season was definitely the lack of a solid bullpen. With Billy Wagner going down last season, the rest of the bullpen went to blow 27 saves. To remedy the situation, the Mets went off and signed two big-time closers to bolster their bullpen. They got the single season record holder in Francisco Rodriguez to be their full time closer, and new setup man J.J. Putz. As for the lineup, their really aren't any changes to a good lineup. David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran should have good years, as expected, and I also think Luis Castillo will have a good year. The pitching staff is still intact, anchored by ace Johan Santana. I expect him to be in the race for Cy Young. With the new bullpen, I think the Mets will overtake the Phillies for the NL East crown.

Philadelphia Phillies - The Phillies return just about everyone back from the World Series championship team of last year. They had a very quiet offseason. Cole Hamels may miss opening day, but other than that they really don't have any injury problems of note. Their bullpen is very strong too, with Ryan Madsen and Chad Durbin setting up closer Brad Lidge. The lineup is just as deadly as it's been over the past three years, with three legitimate MVP candidates in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. I also see Jayson Werth breaking out for a 30+ HR, 100+ RBI season if he can stay healthy. Although they have everyone back, I still think the Mets have a better overall team, especially with their new bullpen. Therefore, I think the Phillies will finish second in the division. However, I see them in the thick of the wild card race along with Florida, St. Louis, and Colorado.

Washington Nationals - Manager Manny Acta has a tough act in front of him with a young team, a lack of quality starting pitching, not to mention being in such a tough division. They added some players to bolster their lineup in Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, as well as their rotation with Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera. The rotation is still the worst in the division as John Lannan is their ace. Their bullpen isn't all that great either, with relievers Joe Beimel and Steven Shell setting up closer Joel Hanrahan. They have a bunch of hitters that could be very productive like Adam Dunn, Cristian Guzman, Lastings Milledge, and the powerful third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. It's sad when your bench is your bright spot. Players like Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Josh Willingham allow Manny Acta to have a fresh rotation of players in the field. I think they'll be a little better than last years team, but they shouldn't crack 70 wins.

Projected 2009 Standings:

Team W L New York Mets 94 68
Philadelphia Phillies 89 73
Florida Marlins 86 76
Atlanta Braves 74 88
Washington Nationals 66 96

Divisional All-Star Team:

If I was to make an all-star team with the best players at each position (including the bench and bullpens) it would look like this:

Position Best Player Team
C Brian McCann (L) Braves
1B Ryan Howard (L) Phillies
2B Chase Utley (L) Phillies
3B Chipper Jones (S) Braves
SS Hanley Ramirez (R) Marlins
LF Raul Ibanez (L) Phillies
CF Carlos Beltran (S) Mets
RF Jayson Werth (R) Phillies
B Fernando Tatis (R) Mets
B Alfredo Amezaga (S) Marlins
B Josh Willingham (R) Nationals
SP Johan Santana (L) Mets
SP Cole Hamels (L) Phillies
SP Derek Lowe (R) Braves
SP Brett Myers (R) Phillies
SP Josh Johnson (R) Marlins
RP J.J. Putz (R) Mets
RP Ryan Madson (R) Phillies
CL Francisco Rodriguez (R) Mets

Team Superlatives:

Best Lineup: Phillies
Best Fielding: Mets
Best Bench: Nationals
Best Starting Five: Marlins
Best Bullpen: Phillies
Best Manager: Bobby Cox, Braves

I feel like the Phillies still have the best lineup in the division. As I said earlier, I expect Howard, Rollins, Utley, and Werth to be big producers in the middle of that lineup. What makes this lineup different from the others is the completeness of it, as Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz are also hard outs, as seen in last year's World Series.

The Mets are the best fielding team in the division. This is a pretty weak fielding division, especially the Marlins and the Nationals, as seen last year. Since the Mets still have the same fielders, and they had the best fielding percentage last year within the division, I can only assume that they will equal that feat this year.

The Washington Nationals have a very good bench. Many of these players have started many games in the past. Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Josh Willingham will see a lot of time in the outfield this year. In addition to those three, they also have Ronnie Belliard, Willie Harris, and Corey Patterson.

I might be a huge homer, but I'm not alone in claiming that Florida Marlins have the best rotation in the division. At the end of last season, Braves manager Bobby Cox claimed that he thought they were easily the best rotation in the division, if not the National League, and he's seen his fair share of good rotations. Although they don't have your typical Cy Young ace like Johan Santana, they are solid from top to bottom. Ricky Nolasco had one of the best second halves of the season last year, and 2nd spot guy Josh Johnson is my sleeper to breakout. Where this rotation is different than others is their 3rd through 5th guys. Chris Volsted came right in last year as a rookie and pitched outstanding. Anibel Sanchez is back for his second year after Tommy John surgery, which is what experts say is when the arm is fully healed. Andrew Miller was the prized prospect in the Cabrera/Willis deal from the Tigers. He struggles last year, but showed flashes of brilliance. If any of these youngsters fail, you might see Ryan Tucker, former A's big prospect Dan Meyer, or Dutch hurler Rick VandenHurk fill in.

As for the best bullpen, the Phillies are still at the top, even though the Mets restructured theirs. Ryan Madsen, Chad Durbin, and Scott Erye are a great set of relievers for manager Charlie Manuel. Brad Lidge had an incredible season last year and I can only assume that he's defeated his demons that plagued him in Houston.

I still believe that Bobby Cox is the best manager in the NL East. He consistently has his teams ready to play, and usually gets the best out of his players, even though the playoffs maybe not always go his way. Charlie Manuel is the only other manager I'd think of here, but he's only been in Philly for a couple of years.

'Individual Player Superlatives '

Divisional MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Divisional Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
Divisional Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin, Marlins
Breakout Hitter: Jayson Werth, Phillies
Breakout Pitcher: Josh Johnson, Marlins

With his move to the third spot in the Marlins' order, I think Hanley Ramirez's numbers will skyrocket, which is cool to think about after his last two amazing seasons. He'll be challenged by the trio in Philly (Howard, Utley, and Rollins), as well as David Wright in New York. But I think Hanley will show everyone that he's the man now.

Johan Santana seems like the clear choice to be in the Cy Young Award discussion at the end of the season. He's now entering his second year in New York and he'll have a better bullpen behind him. I think he wins 22 games this year with another sub-3.00 ERA. Cole Hamels is also in the discussion.

As for Rookie of the Year, my guess is new Marlins' centerfielder Cameron Maybin. He came to the Marlins last year in the Cabrera/Willis deal as well. In limited at-bats last season, he hit .500. He's very fast and played great defense in the outfield.

As I mentioned earlier, I expect Jayson Werth to break out this year. He's put together some nice little seasons recently, but I see him hitting 35 HRs and 110 RBIs. I was really impressed by his play in the playoffs last year.

For the breakout pitcher category, I'm going with Josh Johnson. He missed the whole 2007 season after pitching really well in 2006. After coming back halfway during the season, he went 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA. I'm expecting an 18-7 season with a sub-3.00 ERA.

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