Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | April 3, 2010

National League East 2010 Preview

1. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Pros:   The Phillies are the two time defending National League champions and three-time defending Eastern Division champions.  They did not get there by accident and they will enter the 2010 baseball season as quite possibly the best team on paper in the entire National League, in spite of failing to optimize their greatness during the off-season.  They have good to great offensive players everywhere on the diamond relative to their positions.  Chase Utley has been the best defensive second basemen in the league over the last three years.  Placido Polanco has been the second-best over the same span and he is now their starting Third baseman, which in theory should be an easier position to play if he has the arm for it.   They have very few weak spots on defense.  They have a solid rotation topped by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels to match a decent bullpen that has seen the additions of Danys Baez and Jose Contreras.  The Phillies are a great team from top to bottom.

Cons:  Brad Lidge was awful last season and enters this year hurt, which will cause a ripple effect throughout the bullpen.  Even when he returns, as a 33 year-old fireballer coming off of an injury and a terrible year, it is questionable what to expect out of him.  Almost all of the Phillies key contributors are on the wrong side of 30 at this point, and while very few of them are in their mid-to-late 30s, we are reaching the point where injuries could strike more frequently and leave guys out for a longer period of time than they used to.

2. ATLANTA BRAVES

Pros:  The Braves very well may be the second best team in the National League.  Unfortunately for them, they share a division with the Phillies.   Like Philadelphia they have a strong rotation (though the Atlanta rotation has more question marks) and they have good to great offensive performers at every position on the field and very good depth.  And much like the Phillies their biggest weakness is in the bullpen, yet it is still a spot that is in decent shape.  The Braves will also feature 2010’s most notable graduate of any farm system anywhere in Outfielder Jason Heyward.  How quickly Heyward develops into an impact player — As in, if it happens this year or not — May be key in determining how far the Braves go.

Cons:  The aforementioned bullpen will be anchored at the back-end by Billy Wagner, who is coming off of an injury plagued season in New York and Boston.   Unlike the other former Astros closer in the division, Wagner was very good last season when he wasn’t hurt.   Unfortunately, the fact is that he was hurt and he also will be 38 years old this season, so he remains a question mark at this point in the year.  The starting rotation is littered with great pitchers in various states of flux.  Specifically Tim Hudson, who is recovering from an injury derailed season, and Derek Lowe, who is looking to prove that he is not at the end of the line.   Last season Lowe’s BABIP went up to .333, which is well above his career norm, but there was more to his down year than that.  His strikeout rate took a nose dive and he walked batters more frequently than he has since 2004.  At his age (37), he has to show that this isn’t the end in order for Atlanta to have a shot at taking down the Phillies.

3. FLORIDA MARLINS

Pros:  The Marlins are anchored offensively by Hanley Ramirez, who will be 26 years old this season and could possibly still be improving, as well as Second Baseman Dan Uggla.  They feature a high end starter in Josh Johnson who is followed in the rotation by capable starters in Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez (when healthy).  Leo Nunez provides stability at the back end of the pen.

Cons:  Florida doesn’t really feature the depth offensively or on their pitching staff to run with the top two teams in this division.   They will need Chris Coghlan to repeat or improve on the season that he put together last year and they will especially need a breakout year from long-time prospect Cameron Maybin in order to compete this season, as well as good luck with injuries.   Too many of these question marks stand out to see Florida as a legitimate contender at this time, though the potential for high end talent is enough that if things all broke right they might find themselves in competition in September.

4. NEW YORK METS

Pros:  The Mets still have some of the best high end talent in the division with players like Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez, and Johan Santana on the roster.  If healthy and clicking on all cylinders, a core with these players is easily capable of competing for a division title.

Cons:  Getting those players healthy and clicking on all cylinders has been a challenge and looks to be one heading into the season as well.  In addition, when one looks past the marquee names there is very little to smile about in Queens.  Reyes will begin the season on the disabled list with a mystery thyroid ailment that seems to produce more questions than answers.  Beltran will begin the season on the disabled list and isn’t expect to return until late April or early May.  Rodriguez will not begin the year with the team because his brother was in a car accident in Venezuela and he has returned home to help his family.  Wright is coming off of an inexplicable down year in which he suddenly stopped hitting home runs.  Santana is coming off of an injury riddled season.   That is a lot of question marks for a team that relies so heavily on its stars to produce.

5. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Pros:  The Nationals made a lot of moves in the off-season and during last year to improve the farm system and organizational depth, and to generally pump talent in the organization.  They’ve generally succeeded in this task, adding guys like Jason Marquis and Matt Capps to the pitching staff and Adam Kennedy to the infield.  They’ve brought Ian Desmond from their farm system and pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen are likely not far behind.  It is a slow process, but the Nationals do seem to be positioning themselves for better days ahead.

Cons:  Unfortunately for them, “ahead” likely is not a reference to 2010.  While guys like Marquis and Kennedy are good signings that will allow the Nationals to field a more competitive team instead of one that is more akin in look and feel to an expansion team, these signings are of middle-of-the-road players who are unlikely to make a huge impact.  Other than Ryan Zimmerman, there is really no true completely high end talent on this team, though there are a few players who have some high end skills (most notably Adam Dunn’s power).  Unlike previous years, the incoming young players from their farm system later on this year will give fans a reason to come out and support the team and hope for the future, even as the losing likely will continue.

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Responses

  1. Yeah, I picked the Braves to win the Wild Card, but that has more to do with the incredible mediocrity of the N.L. than it does with the overall quality of the Braves as a team. Depending on the breaks, the Marlins could finish just ahead of or just behind the Mets. Nice post, Bill


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