Alright, this should be an interesting division. The Phillies are obviously the favorite, but the Braves have looked really good this spring, and the Mets almost have to be much better than last year. Here's how I think it will shape-up:
1. Phillies. They look like not only the best team in the division, but in the entire NL at this point. Polanco upgrades what was the only hole in the line-up as the new 3B, so they will score a ton of runs. It's downright scary to think about what Halladay could do in the NL even in that tough bullpark they play in. Should get 20 wins easy and we could see 25 for the first time who knows how long. This team is not without it's question marks though. It starts in the bullpen where it looks like Lidge won't be ready to start the season and even then, will he ever be ready to close again. Madsen is solid, but seems more suited for set-up than closer. No help at all from the left side in the pen if JC Romero can't bounce back. The other big question is Cole Hamels. He carried them two years ago, but was a shell of that last year. In my opinion, he is more important for them than Lidge. With their line-up, two top starters makes them almost impossible to beat in the postseason. If he could've been great last year for instance, I think they probably beat the Yankees for two in a row. Even if Hamels is ordinary again, they will make the playoffs, but they need him at his best once they get there.
2. Braves. This is the team everyone is talking about this spring. The biggest reason for that is 20 year-old right fielder Jason Heyward. He has been annointed the next superstar, and I have to agree with that from what I have seen. He has all the physical tools you could want, but has also shown incredibly rare plate discipline for his age. The Braves did the smart thing and made him an immediate starter rather than send him down for a month to slow his arbitration clock like most teams do with young studs. There is no question they are a better team with him playing right now. Probably of more importance than Heyward for this team though is it's pitching depth. They have a potentially great starting rotation with Lowe/Jurrjeans/Hudson/Hanson. Hudson is the key. He has looked good though at the end of last year and this spring coming back from elbow surgery. They lost their top two relievers from last year, but their pen should actually be better with Billy Wagner closing now. Man I wanted the Cardinals to signs him. Oh well. I think this is the NL wildcard this year, and if the Phillis slip up any, they could easily win the division.
3. Mets. This team had about as bad of luck over the course of a season as any I can remember last year. They almost have to have better health this year, and should be a winning team again, but they just don't have the pitching depth to stay with the Phillies and Braves. The offense should be better. Looks like Reyes will be back sooner rather than later and Beltan maybe in early May. Jason Bay will help, but they obviously need David Wright to hit for power again as well. K-Rod is solid at the end of the pen and I think the middle relief is probably a lot better than they showed last year, but were just exposed by the poor starting pitching. There lies the rub. Outside of Santana, every other rotation spot is a huge question mark. I think it has to be better than last year, but still nowhere good enough for Mets fans.
4. Marlins. This team is definitely a wildcard now that it seems they may spend some money. They have some good young starting pitching, and one of baseball's top everyday players in Hanley Rameriz. The bullpen is a real problem, with literally no proven performers out there. The line-up also doesn't seem to have the thump it did a couple of years ago. In two years, if they keep locking-up their guys, they could be a threat again, but probably not this year.
5. Nationals. Another team in this division that almost has to be bettter than last year. At least they have some hope with Steven Stausborg, who looks like every bit the real-deal pitcher Jayson Heyward is as a hitter for the Braves. They also made the right move for their team sending him down to start this year, as this team is obviously still a ways away from winning. Still, they are at least starting to put some pieces together with Zimmerman, Niger Morgan and some other young talents. Hope is a place to start.
Alright, later today I'll get to the NL central. I promise!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Well, I'm a day late and a dollar short with this, but I'm trying to get back into blogging, so here goes. I'll try and get to the NL East later tonight, but for now we'll focus on the "Junior" circuit.
Predicted finishing order:
2. Red Sox*
5. Blue Jays
*Wild Card team
Analysis: It would be pretty surprising for the Yanks to not win the division again. They probably don't have quite the offensive firepower they did last year, but the rotation should be stronger with Vazquez and Hughes at the back end and they should definitely be better in the outfield defensively. The Red Sox also look to have improved defensively and in the starting rotation. Their line-up is not as strong as previous years though, so I think they are destined for the wild-card. They'll be a tough out in the postseason though with their pitching. The poor Rays very well may be the third best team in the American league this year, but that also means third best in this division. Their starters are probably right there with the Sox and Yanks, but they just don't have the depth. Any injuries, and they'll fall out the race quickly. The Orioles and Jays are both basically in rebuilding mode. The Orioles picked-up enough veterans in the off-season though that I think they avoid finishing last again.
2. White Sox
Losing Nathan was a big blow for the Twins. I know stat geeks say closers are overrated, but Nathan was one of only a handful of feared, elite shut-down guys in all of baseball. That being said, these guys always seem to find a way, and both the everyday line-up and rotation look stronger than last year, which should compensate for Nathan's loss. The White Sox also look to have a strong rotation, but are very young most everywhere else. I just don't see them having enough offense to stay with the Twins over the long haul. The Tigers have a lot questions, primarily the rotation after Verlander and Porcello. The bullpen also needs to be much better than last year. Valverde will help greatly, but Zumaiya needs to return to form as well. They have a ton of talent though, and could easily challenge the Twins with the right breaks going there way. The Indians should be better than last year, but are a couple of years away from being back in contention. The Royals, on the other hand, should easily be the worst team in the AL and maybe in all of baseball and have little hope for the future beyond Greinke.
For the first time in a while, this division should be interesting. A lot of people are picking the Mariners, but I don't see it. Sure, they have arguably baseball's best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in King Felix and Cliff Lee. They should be great defensively and their bullpen is underrated. Scoring runs? That could be a problem. If you are relying on Milton Bradley to be your big bat, that's not good. Therefore, I like the Angels to prevail again ultimately in what should be a much tighter race. The Angels have no true ace, but 5 very good starters. They have no superstar in the line-up, but it's solid from top to bottom. Their bullpen is one area that should be improved this year with the addition of Rodney and the return of Shields. In other words, they are a team of no great strengths, but no real weaknesses either. The Rangers are another team that could challenge them, but consistent pitching is tough for them to find in that offensive ballpark. I think next year might be their year though because they have maybe the best young talent in baseball. The A's look to be the odd team out, but they too should be improved and will factor into the race but giving the other three teams a tougher time then last year. Like I said, and much more interesting division than in previous years where the Angels were just so much better than everyone else.
That's it for the AL. Obviously, I see it holding to form from last year, but I think the races will all be close. The East has the three best teams. Nathan's injury makes the Central wide open and the rest of the West has definitely closed the gap on the Angels.