Posted by: Nate | March 12, 2008

2008 Baseball Preview: National League East

National League East

Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets [Wild Card]
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins

Breakdowns:

1. Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies have a lot going for them offensively with the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins leading the way. With Rollins and Howard winning the last two MVP awards in the NL, they actually have a third legitimate contender this year in Utley, who may have stolen the award last year had he not missed more than a month with a broken wrist. Their potent offense will be backed up by a steady rotation and in improved bullpen. I expect another dogfight with the Mets and possibly the Braves, but I see Philly coming out on top.

Keys to Success:
Obviously they can’t expect the Mets to implode again this year, not only opening the door for the Phils, but effectively taking the hinges off of it and rolling out the red carpet. In order to win the division this time they are going to need their big three offensively to stay healthy and remain productive. They are also going to need to make sure that whoever wins the starting third base job can provide reasonable production and defense, as this was a big weak spot last season.
The rotation will be bolstered by the return of Brett Myers from the closers role, and he’ll provide a solid compliment to Cole Hamels. Assuming Hamels doesn’t have any injury issues this year, the two of them should win a lot of games and be a formidable and somewhat underrated 1-2 punch. If Jamie Moyer can keep fooling father time and Kyle Kendrick can recover from his Spring Training prank trade, the rotation will be in good shape. [Kendrick video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=0nKKqPOiJxI%5D

The bullpen loses Myers as a closer, but he is replaced by off-season acquisition Brad Lidge, who has the stuff to be a dominant closer like he was in 2004 and 2005. If he can recover from his spring knee surgery and return to form, this will be a huge steal for Philadelphia. If the Lidge experiment doesn’t work out, they could have some stability issues at the back of the bullpen, with Tom Gordon having to assume closing duties. As with most teams in MLB, they have some question marks in middle relief, like who will fill in Geoff Geary’s role from last year.

Major Off-season Moves:
In their major move they swung a deal for RHP Brad Lidge and INF Eric Bruntlett from the Astros in exchange for OF Michael Bourn, nonroster 3B Michael Costanzo and RHP Geoff Geary. Lidge will fill the closer’s role and will shift Brett Myers back to the starting rotation. They also signed OF Geoff Jenkins and 3B Pedro Feliz to two-year contracts. In a possible low-risk, high-reward move they also added RHP Kris Benson on a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. If he can come back from major shoulder surgery and contribute he is a strong starter to have at the back end of your rotation.

2. New York Mets:
The Mets made a ton of headlines this winter by swooping in and stealing Johan Santana from the Twins, instantly making them the talk of the town a legitimate contenders in the eyes of many. While I still see them making the playoffs, I feel like they have way too many question marks and holes to take the East Crown. Despite their young core of stud players, they are too old in a lot of positions to finish off the Phillies this year.

Keys to Success:
Health will be a major concern for the Mets this year, as usual, given the age of many of their players. Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, two big pieces to their rotation have had injury problems the last couple of years. Martinez appears to be rounding back into form after shoulder and foot maladies, but Hernandez has yet to pitch and if he is unable to go that thrusts Mike Pelfrey into the rotation, where he has struggled before.

Big time bullpen contributor Duaner Sanchez is still trying to come back from a shoulder injury suffered in a taxi accident last year, and his health and effectiveness are critical to the Mets success. Closer Billy Wagner is not getting any younger and if he has any sort of struggles this season, the Mets could be in trouble, as I don’t see Heilman or Schoenweis being able to fill that role.

Additional concerns are the recovery of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado from off-season surgeries. These are two big time players for the Mets, Beltran especially, and if they struggle it will prove costly for the long-term as there are no prospects ready to back either of these guys up. Moises Alou is also already out with a hernia and backup infielder Rueben Gotay is hobbled by a foot injury. Jose Reyes and David Wright will have to carry the offensive load for the team, especially in the early going. Whether or not the two of them can get it done remains to be seen.

Major Off-season Moves:
Obviously the Santana trade is the biggest trade of any team this winter with the Mets sending for OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Deolis Guerra, RHP Philip Humber and RHP Kevin Mulvey to the Twins for Johan. In a move to fill in their outfield vacancies and replace the departed C Paul LoDuca they got OF Ryan Church and C Brian Schneider from the Washington Nationals in exchange for OF Lastings Milledge, a former top prospect of theirs. That move was strange given that they had a week or so earlier acquired C Johnny Estrada from the Brewers in exchange for RHP Guillermo Mota, a key piece of their bullpen in ‘07. In another dept move they acquired OF Angel Pagan from the Cubs for nonroster OF Corey Coles and nonroster RHP Ryan Meyers.

3. Atlanta Braves:
The kingpins of the NL East for years, the Braves have been good but not good enough the last few years often mixing in a lot of rookies with their proven stars. I see this year as being yet another year where the Braves are close, but not quite good enough to topple the Phillies and Mets. If their youngsters develop at a fast rate this year and complement the solid production from the veterans they could make this another interesting year in the NL East though.

Keys to Success:
How well do the old men perform? John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, both savvy veterans at the tail end of fabulous careers will need to have strong seasons to get the Braves back to the top of the heap. Smoltz had another excellent season in Atlanta alongside Tim Hudson, both of whom will need to continue that success. If Glavine can revert to his old form as in his previous Atlanta days, the three of them will be serious force to contend with. Perennially injured Chipper Jones is a huge contributor when he is on the field as well, but hits the DL at least twice a season these days, the more AB’s he gets, the better for the Braves. Additionally, they are going to need Mark Teixeira to continue the tear he was on after joining the team last year at the deadline.

The younger guys are also going to need to step up this season as well. Smoltz, Hudson and Glavine are a good top 3, but who will emerge as the 4 & 5 starters? Chuck James had flashes of excellence last year and Jair Jurrjens and JoJo Reyes could factor into the mix. These guys will need to provide quality starts if the Braves want to contend. Additionally, the play they get in the outfield from Matt Diaz and Mark Kotsay will be critical. Diaz needs to continue to develop as an offense threat and Kotsay needs to show that he can actually play a full season without getting hurt. He has some big shows to fill, especially defensively, for the departed Andruw Jones.

The bullpen has a solid stopper, something the Braves have lacked for a few years, in Rafael Soriano. The bridge to him, though, has some question marks. Mike Gonzalez is an excellent reliever and if he can come back from his arm injury last year he’ll be a great asset. After that, they have some unknowns and they are going to need to find some people to step up and continue their excellent bullpen ERA from last year (4th in the majors).

Major Off-season Moves:
The Braves were relatively quiet this off-season, but did have several moves of note. For starters they acquired OF Gorkys Hernandez and RHP Jair Jurrjens from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for SS Edgar Renteria and cash considerations, opening up the starting SS job for Yunel Escobar. Signed LHP Tom Glavine to a one-year contract bringing the former All-Star back to where he started his career. To replace departed CF Andruw Jones the Braves acquired OF Mark Kotsay from the A’s in exchange for RHP Joey Devine, RHP Jamie Richmond and cash considerations. And in a depth move they traded for LHP Will Ohman and INF Omar Infante from the Cubs in exchange for RHP Jose Ascanio.

4. Washington Nationals:
The Nationals are certainly making moves in the right direction and improving as a team. Unfortunately for them they play in the NL East and it is one of the stronger divisions in baseball, making any hope of rising to the top that much farther away. If they continue to build and improve, they can be contenders in a few years with the group they have.

Keys to Success:
Offensively, I really like the Nationals lineup. Their outfield has a lot power and potential with Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge and Austin Kearns, Left to Right, and Elijah Dukes backing them up. Admittedly, none of these players are 5 tool guys and have weaknesses in their game, but given time to develop, consistent AB’s and less of a spotlight they should develop nicely. In the infield they have a lot of talent at the corners in Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young and are solid up the middle with Cristian Guzman, Ronnie Belliard and Felipe Lopez.

Where the question marks start to develop is with their pitching staff. Shawn Hill and John Patterson are there top two starters and both had injuries last year. Hill had a partially torn labrum and a nerve problem in his forearm last year and needs to demonstrate some durability before he can really be counted on. Patterson also had numerous problems with the ulnar nerve in his arm last year, and although he possess the ability to get a lot of strikeout’s he needs to be healthy as well to give the Nationals any hope of doing well. The rest of the rotation is comprised of a number of players who are unproven or need to improve their play. In the bullpen they were pretty strong last year and so they will want to avoid injury and look for continued strong performances from Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch.

Major Off-season Moves:
In a big move for the Nationals they acquired former top prospect OF Lastings Milledge from the Mets in exchange for OF Ryan Church and C Brian Schneider. Signed C Paul Lo Duca and C Johnny Estrada to a one-year contracts to replace Brian Schneider. Estrada was signed in response to the knee surgery Lo Duca required in the off-season.
In another move with high upside potential they acquired OF Elijah Dukes from the Rays in exchange for LHP Glenn Gibson and in a bullpen depth move they signed free agent LHP Ray King to a Minor League contract.

5. Florida Marlins
The Marlins will likely be the youngest team in the majors again this year, and it’s awfully hard to predict how many of these players will perform given their youth. They certainly have a lot of stars and /or stars of the future but they will ultimately struggle with consistency and starting pitching.

Keys to Success:
Offensively, they have a lot of potential weapons. Hanley Ramirez is an All-Star and will put up spectacular numbers for seasons to come. The loss of Miguel Cabrera certainly hurts, but they have a number of other potential weapons. Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla both have a lot of power, but need to work on staying healthy and improving their batting averages though better pitch selection. New CF Cameron Maybin has the potential to be an impact player this season for the Marlins, but he’ll need to get some more AB’s to build a familiarity with major league pitching. As for what the others can contribute, the jury is largely out there with the mix of rookies and aging vets, but their production will either help boost this team to respectability or drag it down into the cellar.

The real key will be pitching. With ace Dontrelle Willis headed to the Tigers with Miguel Cabrera they are going to need to find some consistent, strong starters. Scott Olsen has a bit of a temper, but is a good pitcher when he can control himself. Sergio Mitre and Andrew Miller are good and Miller especially has the potential to be an impact arm, especially since he is left-handed. The rotation as a whole though has a lot of question marks and will need to prove itself capable of giving quality starts to ease the load on the bullpen.

They have a lot of strong arms in the bullpen and if Kevin Gregg can hold onto the closer’s role with strong outings it will go a long way to defining roles for everyone else out there. Also, they were middle of the road in bullpen ERA last year (4.02) so some improvement there would be nice to have.

Major Off-season Moves:
In one of the bigger moves this off-season the Marlins shipped two of their biggest stars, in 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, RHP Dallas Trahern, LHP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo and OF Cameron Maybin. To fill the gap at 3B and provide some veteran presence they then signed 3B Dallas McPherson to a one-year contract and also signed veteran OF Luis Gonzalez to a one-year contract as well.

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Responses

  1. […] Sportable, Where Sports are a Lifestyle added an interesting post today on 2008 Baseball Preview: National League East […]

  2. […] Goatboy wrote a fantastic post today on “2008 Baseball Preview: National League East”Here’s ONLY a quick extractPhiladelphia Phillies 2. New York Mets [Wild Card] 3. Atlanta Braves 4. Washington Nationals 5. Florida Marlins Breakdowns: 1. Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have a lot going for them offensively with the likes of Ryan Howard, … […]


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