Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Evan Heffron: NL East Preview
In the last 15 years or so, this division has seen it all. There was the stronghold on the division by the Atlanta Braves, there were the miracle runs by the Florida Marlins, there was the Mets rise to dominance, and then there was the Mets fall. And most recently, the most losingest franchise in sports history became "World F***ing Champions".
Oh yea, the nationals play baseball too, i think.
So as long as there is an NL east, there will surely be enough story lines, rivalries, and trash talking to go around. Here are my projections for the 2009 MLB season in the NL east:
1. New York Mets 95-67
Last offseason Omar Minaya and the New York Mets made the splash of the year by acquiring arguably the best pitcher in the game Johan Santana. Santana's durability and pure dominance was supposed to provide stability for a team that was reeling after an epic collapse at the hands of the Phillies in September of 07'. Johan pitched great last year but the bullpen proved to be one of the worst in baseball. This offseason, with the acquisitions of 60 save Fransisco Rodriguez and penciled in set-up guy J.J. Putz, the Metropolitans should have the right mix to get themselves into the playoffs. Then again, they had the "right mix" in 07' and 08' . New York has some of the most electrifying offensive talent in all of baseball they should have no problems finding a way into the playoffs this year. No excuses this time Omar.
2. Philadelphia Phillies 91-71 (Wild Card)
This race again will come right down to the wire. After last seasons magic the target will be on their backs. They need to learn how to adapt as the hunted in a league where everyone will be gunning at their heads. If Chase Utley plays a completely healthy season and Ryan Howard decides to pull his Babe Ruth act before August 1st this year, the Phils could once again see them sneak into the playoffs via division champion. But in all actuality, this team will shape up quite differently than last year. Replacing Pat the Bat Burrell with lefty Raul Ibanez will change teh complexion of this lineup. Just like the Mets, will anyone step up after the #1 guy in the rotation? Cole Hamels can do it all, but will his team follow his lead? Only time will tell.
3. Florida Marlins 78-84
It is very likely that this young team hangs in the wild card race for a better part of the year. Once top Red Sox top prospect, shortstop Hanley Ramirez will be the offensive leader of this team. His uncanny ability to drive in runs, hit for average, and steal bases ranks him among the top players in the league. Could he carry his team on his back single handedly into the playoffs like Jimmy Rollins did in 07'? Maybe. He most likely will need some help. Tampa castaway Jorge Cantu has proven to have decent power and clutch hitting ability. Super-prospect, center fielder, Cameron Maybin is supposed to figure somewhere in the top of the lineup in order to let Ramirez slide back down into his niche at the 3 slot in the lineup. When it comes down to it, Florida doesn't have the pitching to contend with the big boys of the division. The bullpen is almost non existent and the starting rotation has a few nice pieces but no Santanas or Hammels to be found.
4. Atlanta Braves 72-90
The Braves have some bright spots headed into the 2009 season. The acquisition of Derek Lowe should help solitify a, in recent years, pretty banged up pitching staff that was usually the focal point of thier squad. Losing mainstay John Smoltz to the Boston Red Sox probably left a bad taste in some fans' mouths because of the consistency he brought to the table when healthy. Key word-healthy. If Atlanta can manage to stay healthy as a staff they too could see some success this season. The biggest x-factor in my opinion is right fielder is Jeff Franceour. He has 40+ home run ability but at the same time can make Adam Dunn look like a disciplined hitter at the plate. This guy swings at nearly everything. If he can put it together this season Atlanta could also see a small run at the wild card. Offensive studs catcher Brian McCann and Yunell Escobar will be leading this new age of Braves into a winning future, but in all reality, the future may be 2-3 years away for this squad.
5. Washington Nationals 63-99
I sort of feel bad for a guy like 3b Ryan Zimmerman, this guy could be an instrumental piece to a top team in either league but is stuck in the District of Colombia. After Zimmerman's pure hitting skills at the plate, the team as a whole doesn't have much to offer. One time Mets supposed messiah, Lastings Milledge, is the only real protection in the lineup for Ryan who will probably see one decent pitch a week to hit. Acquisitions of SP Scott Olsen and LF Josh Willingham are nice for a team that is stuck in the cellar but cannot be the featured signings for a team that is trying to fill an empty stadium that isn't even 1 year old yet. Oh Washington...don't you wish you kept Alfonso?
NL EAST MVP: Hanley Ramirez
NL EAST CY YOUNG: Johan Santana
NL EAST ROY: Cameron Maybin
NL EAST DREAMIEST HAIR: Cole Hamels*