Who can dethrone the Philadelphia Phillies?
Here is my preview and predictions for the NL East
1) Philadelphia Phillies
On paper, they are hands down the best team in the division and arguably, the National League. Adding Cliff Lee to a rotation that already includes a Cy Young winner in Roy Halladay, a playoff MVP in Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt will give the Phillies a legit chance every 4 games to win. The bullpen is a little suspect but when you have 4 horses in the starting rotation who can go 7 or 8 innings a night, you dont need a deep bullpen. The biggest weakness I see could be offensively, especially if Chase Utley is going to be bothered by injuries all season. Yes, Ryan Howard is still around but the rest of the team is getting up their in age. The Phillies also lost Jayson Werth to Washington and replaced him with a platoon of Dominic Brown and Ben Francisco. If the Phillies can stay healthy, they should be able to win the NL East by 4 or 5 games.
Players to watch - Dominic Brown and Jimmy Rollins
2) Atlanta Braves
The Braves had one of the youngest and most exciting teams in 2010 and this year, seem poised to make a serious run at dethroning the Phillies atop the NL East. The Braves pitching staff isnt as good as the Phillies but is still one of the best in the NL. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Mike Minor form a solid rotation that should give the rest of the NL fits on most nights. In the bullpen, the Braves will look to replace Billy Wagner with a combination of Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and Scott Linebrink. Wagner was good but I dont expect too much of a drop off with his retirement. Offensively, the Braves made a huge splash in free agency by signing Dan Uggla. The former Marlin is a perfect bat for protecting both Brian McCann and Jason Heyward in the Braves lineup. I actually think the Braves could have a better lineup then the Phillies, especially if Chipper Jones can hit like he has this spring AND if they can get any significant contributions from Freddie Freeman. The Braves may not win the division but I can see a wildcard berth and them giving the Phillies a run for their money in 2011
Players to watch - Mike Minor and Freddie Freeman
3) Florida Marlins
The Florida Marlins continue to be that team that gets lost in the shuffle. Every year they seem to be overshadowed by the Phillies and Braves and yet every year, they always seem to be in the hunt come the dog days of summer. Josh Johnson anchors a Marlin staff that has a chance to be very good in 2011. Johnson is a legit Cy Young candidate who probably would've won the award in 2010 had he not hurt his back. The rest of the rotation has a pair of solid pitchers in Ricky Nolasco/Anabal Sanchez and a couple of question marks in Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad. If Vazquez can get back what he had in Atlanta a few years ago then Florida could have a very tough rotation. The bullpen went thru a major overhaul in the offseason and looks to be one of the biggest question marks going into the season. Offensively, the Marlins are led by MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez. As he goes, so will the Marlins. The loss of Dan Uggla puts even more pressure on guys like Mike Stanton, Gabby Sanchez and Logan Morrison to have banner 2nd seasons in the pros. If they can continue their progression then expect an exciting season for the Marlins in 2011.
Players to watch - Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison
4) New York Mets
To say that the New York Mets are a mess would be an understatement. The cloud of the Ponzi scheme has overshadowed what will be a really bad team in 2011. The Mets did finally get rid of Omar Minaya but dont expect this team to challenge for anything other then a high draft pick in 2012. The loss of Johan Santana until August leaves the Mets with no #1 starter heading into the season. That means guys like Pat Misch, Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey and Chris Capuano will have the pick up the slack behind Jonathon Niese. The bullpen has K-Rod and not much else. Of course K-Rod is on a short leash given his off the field issues towards the end of last season. Offensively, the Mets still have David Wright, Jason Bay and Ike Davis but the rest of the lineup is full of question marks. Can Jose Reyes rediscover his ability, stay healthy and be the Reyes of old? What will Carlos Beltran contribute? Who is Angel Pagan?
Players to watch - Jose Reyes and Jonathon Niese
5) Washington Nationals
The Nationals have a bright future but unfortunately, that looks like more in 2012 and 2013. The Nationals did go out and spend a boatload of money to sign Jayson Werth but overall, it looks like it could be another long year in DC. The starting rotation will definitely miss Stephen Strasbourg, who is out until the end of the year with Tommy John's. That leaves a quartet of veterans, Livian Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny, Jason Marquis and John Lannan, to take a majority of the starts. Jordan Zimmerman figures to see alot of time as well as he comes back from injury. The Nationals bullpen has a lot of good arms but so far, have been unable to find a man to replace Matt Capps as closer. Offensively, Washington gave Jayson Werth $126 million to jump from Philly to DC. Werth joins Ryan Zimmerman as the focal points in the Nationals lineup. However, if the Nationals want to improve off last year, they'll need bigger contributions from the Ian Desmond's, Adam LaRoche's and Danny Espinoza's of the world. If they dont, expect another last place finish for the Nationals in 2011.
Players to watch - Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman
What are your predictions for the 2011 NL East?