1st Place, New York Mets Lineup: SS Jose Reyes 2B Louis Castillo 3B David Wright CF Carlos Beltran 1B Carlos Delgado LF Moises Alou RF Ryan Church C Brian Schnieder
Rotation: LHP Johan Santana RHP Pedro Martinez RHP John Maine LHP Oliver Perez RHP Orlando Hernandez SU: Aaron Heilman CL: Billy Wagner
The Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana, the games best starting pitcher, should finally put them over the hump in the National League. They have 3 legit MVP candidates in their everyday lineup and their starting pitching has looked incredibly strong this spring. Pedro Martinez looks healthy and ready to go and he and Santana should form a nice 1-2 punch. Jose Reyes took a small step back last season after a great '06 campaign. I'm expecting him to have his best year yet hitting over .300 with 20 home runs and 70 stolen bases at the top of that lineup. Their outfield surrounding Carlos Beltran is their only question mark heading into the season. Moises Alou is hurt and going to start the year on the DL which has prompted a few "Barry Bonds to the Mets" whispers which Omar Minya will not completely rule out. Kenny Lofton is another guy to keep an eye on for the Mets if they don't get health/production out of their corner outfield spots when the season starts. Their bullpen should be as good as last years and maybe better if Duaner Sanchez comes back strong. If they aren't in the NLCS come October, they will have either gotten bitten hard by the injury bug, or they will have flat out choked.
2nd Place, Philadelphia Phillies Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins CF Shane Victorino 2B Chase Utley 1B Ryan Howard LF Pat Burrell RF Geoff Jenkins 3B Pedro Feliz C Carlos Ruiz
Rotation: RHP Brett Myers LHP Cole Hamels RHP Kyle Kendrick LHP Jamie Moyer RHP Adam Eaton SU: Tom Gordon CL: Brad Lidge
The Phillies could be real good, but it's going to depend on the health of their bullpen. Brad Lidge and Tom Gordon are very important to this bullpen, but Gordon hasn't been healthy for about a year and a half while Brad Lidge is recovering from knee surgery and hasn't been the lights out closer he was in 2005. If they get consistent relief help, the Phillies should win the NL wild card. Their rotation gets a lift by the return of ace Brett Myers as he and Cole Hamels should rival the Mets' 1-2 punch of Santana and Martinez. Kyle Kendrick looks solid and Jamie Moyer is still effective and has a ton of knowledge to share at age 45. I love their balanced lineup and they have a well above average defensive squad. Look for Shane Victorino to further develop into one of the premier base stealer's in the league while Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley make their annual trip to the all-star game in July.
3rd Place, Atlanta Braves Lineup: SS Yunel Escobar 2B Kelly Johnson 3B Chipper Jones 1B Mark Teixiera C Brian McCann RF Jeff Franceur CF Mark Kotsay LF Matt Diaz
Rotation: RHP John Smoltz RHP Tim Hudson LHP Tom Glavine LHP Mike Hampton RHP Jair Jurjjens SU: Peter Moylan CL: Rafael Soriano
The Braves brought back Tom Glavine to end his career in Atlanta and they're hoping he has one more 200 inning season left in him. Mike Hampton and John Smoltz need to give the Braves 180+ innings each this year for the Braves to be in the mix, which is asking a lot out of them. Their starting rotation is a little too thin to compete with the likes of the Mets and Phillies, but it's tough to ever count out Bobby Cox's bunch. Their lineup looks like it has the makings to be a force for years. Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Franceur, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann are all proven factors and all are on the right side of 30. I think Rafael Soriano will become one of the better closers in the game this year as he finally has the job all to himself. If only they had a healthy Chuck James and one more solid, healthy starting pitcher, they could really have something. As they stand now though, they don't have the arms to be the last team standing in a very tough division.
4th Place, Florida Marlins Lineup: CF Cameron Maybin 2B Dan Uggla SS Hanley Ramirez RF Jeremy Hermida LF Josh Willingham 1B Mike Jacobs 3B Jorge Cantu C Matt Treanor
Rotation: LHP Andrew Miller LHP Mark Hendrickson RHP Ricky Nolasco LHP Scott Olson RHP Rick VandenHurk SU: Matt Lindstrom CL: Kevin Gregg
The Marlins have a better lineup than people are giving them credit for, even without Miguel Cabrera anchoring down the middle. Jeremy Hermida should break out this season if he can stay healthy and he should help Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla carry the weight offensively. Cameron Maybin will start the year in center where the Marlins are discussing perhaps leading him off. He has a shot to win NL rookie of the year as he'll likely see a ton of at bats in front of or behind Uggla, Ramirez and Hermida. If only their rotation were healthy. Josh Johnson, Sergio Mitre and Anibal Sanchez, who would probably be #1,#2 and #3 in the starting rotation, won't be available to help until around June. Their bullpen is also a work in progress. Kevin Gregg will close and although he surprised in 2007 with a nice year, I don't think he's the closer the Marlins envision in their future. Matt Lindstrom and Taylor Tankersley are also intriguing arms to keep an eye on.
5th Place, Washington Nationals Lineup: 2B Felipe Lopez SS Christian Guzman 3B Ryan Zimmerman 1B Nick Johnson RF Austin Kearns CF Lastings Milledge LF Willy Mo Pena/Elijah Dukes C Paul LoDuca
Rotation: RHP Shawn Hill RHP Jason Bergman LHP Matt Chico RHP Tim Redding LHP Odalis Perez SU: Jon Rauch CL: Chris Cordero
The Nationals should be better than they were a year ago. Their rotation is still un-settled, but they are starting to put together a young, potent lineup. Ryan Zimmerman should finally have some help this season with a healthy Nick Johnson as well as youngsters Lastings Milledge and Willy Mo Pena protecting him. Milledge has 20-20 potential right now and Pena could hit 40 bombs if he ever gets 500 at-bats. Elijah Dukes, Willie Harris, Dmitri Young and Johnny Estrada provide the Nats with one of the deepest benches in the National league. Chris Cordero is one of the more under-rated closers in baseball as he has been nothing but steady since taking over that role for the Nats. They have a few young pitching pieces that could develop (Chico, Hill, Bergman) but they aren't ready this year to compete with the better teams in this division. Still, the young talent should make it an interesting year in Washington as they open their new ballpark.
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