Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 MLB Previews: NL East

On we move to the NL East, which, with the Phillies injuries, the Marlins and Nationals potential improvement and the Braves pitching and young hitting make up one of the more intriguing and deepest divisions in all of baseball.

NL East Preview

First Place, Miami Marlins

SS Jose Reyes
CF Emilio Bonafacio
3B Hanley Ramirez
RF Giancarlo Stanton
LF Logan Morrison
1B Gaby Sanchez
2B Omar Infante
C Joe Buck

RHP Josh Johnson
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Annibal Sanchez
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Carlos Zambrano
CL: Heath Bell

I'm not drinking the Marlin's kool-aid as much as I just don't see Philly being healthy enough, with their team age getting up there and two best hitters starting the year on the DL and missing a substantial chunk of time. That leaves this division wide open early for the Marlins, Braves and Nats and I think Miami will ride the wave of their new-look team, uniforms and new stadium to success. I mean, the lineup has 3 legit MVP-candidates in Stanton, Ramirez and Reyes, and a lot of good young talent surrounding them. Logan Morrison is one of the best young outfielders in the game as well, and that pitching staff has looked dominant this spring with ace Josh Johnson throwing 100% pain-free for the first time in a while! Their bullpen also lacks no depth, as they have an ace closer in Bell and a solid arms leading up to him, though that is an area, like with most teams, that they could improve upon. I look for Big Z to have a bounce back season under Ozzie Guillen and although I don't particularly care for him, I think Guillen can easily win manager of the year with this bunch! Add all that together, with health, and this team will ride the wave of excitement to October!

2nd Place, Atlanta Braves (Wild Card 2)

CF Michael Bourn
LF Martin Prado
3B Chipper Jones*
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
1B Freddie Freeman
RF Jason Heyward
SS Tyler Pastornicky (R)

RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Tommy Hanson
RHP Brandon Beachy
LHP Mike Minor
RHP Tim Hudson*
CL: Craig Kimbrel

I even think the Braves enter the year in better position than Philly right now, with their young talent, bullpen and strong rotation. Both Chipper and Hudson will miss the first few weeks of the year, but should both be back by May 1st and Chipper especially, should be motivated for his farewell tour through the league. They are a little left-handed heavy and could have used an upgrade at shortstop, but I expect big things out of Jason Heyward, despite the slow spring, and Freddie Freeman looks like the next in line of great NL First Basemen. And, as I said, that pitching staff is so strong, even with Hudson sidelined, that they should be able to tame just about any offense when they're on, and I'm talking every single arm in that rotation! Then the bullpen, led by the Kimbrel/Venters close-out is one of the toughest to beat in the game. Only thing to worry about is their a little left-handed heavy.

3rd Place, Philadelphia Phillies

SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley*
RF Hunter Pence
1B Ryan Howard*
CF Shane Victorino
LF John Mayberry
3B Placido Polanco
C Carlos Ruiz

RHP Roy Halladay
LHP Cliff Lee
LHP Cole Hamels
RHP Vance Worley
RHP Joe Blanton
CL: Jonathon Papplebon

*Utley and Howard each expected out until June

The Phils, even with the strong pitching staff still, just don't do it for me this year. Howard is making strides and could be back in May sometime, but this Utley knee thing is something that looks like will stick with him all year, even when he does make his debut. He hasn't played a lick in Cactus League and doesn't even have a timetable, whereas at least Howard will be back by June 1st, barring a big set-back. Only way they gain control of this division early without their 3-4 hitters, will be if their pitching carries them, which is entirely good enough to do so and still has most pundits picking them to win this division. Then if they got Howard back early enough, and Utley soon after, then maybe Philly has enough to overcome the early injuries, but they may need to make another move. It's rare you see a contender do as little as they did this whole offseason, knowing the case with Howard and Utley. They didn't add a left-fielder to replace Ibanez, and there were a lot of options, so Mayberry will be counted on heavily this year. Ty Wiggington will also be a regular with Howard and Utley shelved and Mayberry at first until Howard returns, which places another aging player in the lineup, Juan Pierre in left. Just not good vibes coming out of Philly camp right now, but things could change. They have dominant pitching and it's only spring.

4th Place, Washington Nationals

SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
C Wilson Ramos
CF Roger Bernadina

RHP Steven Strasburgh
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Jordan Zimmerman
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP John Lannan
CL: Drew Storen

Now, a lot of people are picking the Nats as this years sleeper in the East, but I'm buying more into Florida. I love the top-3 starters the Nats have lined up, but they have too many question marks for a contending team heading in. They complicated things even more by deciding against starting Bryce Harper in center to start the year, which would have drastically changed the face of their lineup, but instead, we likely won't see the kid until June, as the Nats want to avoid messing with his arbitration years. Still though, this team's top-two hitters combined for a .229 average last season, and that's just not cutting it. The Nats certainly have a bright future, but they're still an offseason away I think from being real players in the East. They also need to get Morse back on first and find one more outfielder to flank Harper along with Werth for the next few years, or find a better first basemen, cause LaRoche barely cut it when he had it going, now he's been down and out for years and I don't expect much from him. I know about the arbitration issue with Harper, but he's a difference maker now and fact is, the Nats aren't fielding their best team to start the year. It may just cost them an early shot to get a leg up while the Phills (Howard, Utley, Holliday struggling) struggle, the Braves heal (Jones and Hudson) and the Marlins get their feet under them with just about everything new about the franchise, from the team name, manager, players, to the stadium they'll play in.

5th Place, New York Mets

CF Andres Torres
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
LF Jason Bay
RF Lucas Duda
C Josh Thole
SS Rueben Tejada

LHP Johan Santana
RHP Jonathan Niese
RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Mike Pelfrey
RHP Dillon Gee
CL: Rank Francisco

The Mets are really in a bad place right now. They have all kinds of money tied up into players that can't stay on the field (Wright, Bay, Santana), but they're hoping that all changes in 2012. They moved in the fences in what was a hitters graveyard to try and bolster Bay and Wright's numbers a bit and give them confidence, but they are a long ways away from contending again and I don't think it would be a bad idea for them to try and cash in on David Wright and turn him into some legit prospects or young players. Even if Santana is the pre-injury Santana, the rest of the rotation is average, and their bullpen is average. Their lineup is average, everything about this team is just average, barring Ike Davis, their lone bright spot. And in the toughest division in the NL, just average leaves you last!

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