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UCB Prediction Week, Part II: National League East

Posted on March 27, 2012 at 9:37 AM
Filed Under: Atlanta Braves | Florida Marlins | New York Mets | Philadelphia Phillies | United Cardinal Bloggers | Washington Nationals
As part of the ongoing United Cardinal Bloggers prediction week, as seen here with links to people that know much more than me in this area, today I'll attempt to tackle the NL East.  There's been a lot surrounding most every team in this division, whether it is ownership issues for the Mets or injury issues for the Phillies or a spending splash by the Marlins.  So come along as I quickly look at these teams and try to sort them into some sort of order.

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National League East

1) Philadelphia--For the last few years, the Phillies have been the automatic pick in this slot.  Yet they've also had a disturbing trend, taking a postseason step back every year since winning the World Series in 2008.  If they keep to the pattern, they'd at best lose the wild-card play-in game this year, if not miss the playoffs entirely.

I think they are too good to do that, though.  While they have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the shelf to start the season and have no guarantees that either player will return to their traditional selves, they still have Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence, plus they've brought in Jim Thome who should fill the Howard void until he's healed up.  It's an older offense and any more injuries could be devastating, but right now they look good enough.

The reason they look good enough is the people on the mound.  Roy Halladay.  Cliff Lee.  Cole Hamels.  Folks, you just aren't going to lose a ton of games when those three start 60% of them.  There's a lot of good buzz around Vance Worley as well, and while I'm not completely sold on Jonathan Papelbon, he should be more than adequate to close down games.  I'm not sure how much longer the Phillies can keep a stranglehold on the top spot, but they should have at least one more year.

2) Miami--A new name, a new park, a new attitude.  If that's not the marketing slogan for the Marlins this year, somebody really is trying too hard.  Anytime you bring Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano into your organization, "attitude" is the least of your concerns.

Hopefully that attitude, coupled with the big money acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle, will get fans out to see this team in their new park.  The offense will feature Reyes but has a number of other strong parts, such as Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, so they should be able to put up runs with the best of them.

Their pitching will be stellar as well, as long as it can stay on the mound instead of in the trainer's room.  Josh Johnson is a Cy Young candidate--when healthy.  Anibal Sanchez has no-hit stuff--when healthy.  Ricky Nolasco hasn't had health issues, but he's a middle of the rotation guy at best anyway.  Adding Buehrle to this mix means that Miami is going to make a solid run at Philadelphia and, if they fall short and have to settle for the wild card, they'll have plenty of options for that play-in game.

3) Atlanta--In a Disney movie, the announcement that this is going to be Chipper Jones's last year would mean that the Braves would start off weak, then in a montage of great moments climb their way up the standings and finish off the season with a title, sending Jones into the sunset as a winner.  Unfortunately, there's not been a baseball season yet that's been scripted (a postseason series, yes, but not a season).

There are still a lot of question marks for the Braves.  Questions that, if they are answered affirmatively, will possibly push the Braves into the postseason dance.  If not, it could be a long farewell for Jones and a warm seat for manager Freddi Gonzalez.

For instance, can Jason Heyward hit more like he did his rookie season?  Can Jones play a majority of the games this year and do so at a high level?  Can Dan Uggla hit over .240?  Can the club play well while Tim Hudson is on the shelf?  What do they really have in Jair Jurrjens?  Can the bullpen trio of Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel be as dominant as they were last season?  Can the young talent coming up contribute immediately?

If most of the answers to those questions are yes, Atlanta will be around all season long.  If not, well, at least they have the Chipper Jones Farewell Tour.

4) Washington--Part of me would like to move the Nationals farther up this list.  I'm a big fan of Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg and, even though Bryce Harper will start the season in the minors, you have to figure eventually he'll have an impact as well.  That impact may not come until 2013, though, so you have to exclude him from the equation.

The Nats have done a great job of putting together a pitching staff.  Going out and getting Gio Gonzalez to add to Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann was expensive, but it gives them a young and dominant front of the rotation.  Adding old friend Edwin Jackson to the mix potentially gives them the best divisional rotation outside of Philadelphia.

They have bats too, with Zimmerman and hopefully a rebound season from Jayson Werth.  The questions are whether Michael Morse is the real thing and what else they can get out of their middle infield.  I don't think anyone will be surprised if this club is in contention all season long, which will be great for the fans in DC.

5) New York--The most telling part of the offseason might have been when they chopped $54 million off their payroll.  I mean, this is New York, where you go big or you go home.  To have such a drastic reduction in spending is completely out of character, but one that was forced on them due to the ownership troubles relating to the Madoff scandal.  Troubles that probably haven't been fully felt in the organization yet.

The Mets still have David Wright, though he's just now getting on the field as he recovers from injury.  Ike Davis showed a lot in 2010, but his 2011 season was interrupted with injury as well.  It looks like Johan Santana is healthy and pitching the way that we would expect to see Johan Santana pitch.  

Otherwise.....well, R.A. Dickey is becoming a baseball character and he can perhaps take up the knuckleball mantle now that Tim Wakefield has retired.  There's that, but there's not much else.

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