2012 NL East preview

2012 NL East: Toughest Division in MLB?

1/17/12 in MLB   |   Carlo_S   |   28 respect

For a while now, the AL East has been considered MLB’s toughest division. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are always among baseball’s best teams despite different approaches to roster construction. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Blue Jays, led by GM Alex Anthopoulos, would probably be a playoffs contender in any other division, though are slowly but surely establishing themselves as a challenger to the big three. The only team with little hope at this point is Baltimore. Not only is the Major League roster a mess, but the farm system is mediocre at best (aside from Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, there’s not much else). In fact, a slew of front office executives actually turned down the Orioles GM job this offseason before the team was finally able to hire Dan Duquette, who hadn’t even worked in a MLB front office since 2002. If you’re an Orioles fan, it might be time to jump ship – the Nationals are looking a lot better right now and for the future. 
 
Which brings me to my point: the NL East is going to be really, really good over the next several years. In fact, it might become as tough as its vaunted AL counterpart considering that the Phillies, Braves, Marlins, and Nationals will be contenders in 2012 and beyond.

Phillies
The Phillies should once again be one of the NL’s best teams thanks to its stud trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. However, there are pressing concerns for the team in 2012 and beyond. To start off, the offense was seventh in the NL in runs scored last year after finishing as at least the second-best run scoring team in the NL from 2008-2010. Some of that drop-off is due to offensive declines of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibañez, and Placido Polanco. According to Baseball Reference, the average age of the Philadelphia lineup in 2011 was oldest in the NL. Although GM Ruben Amaro added Jim Thome (who hasn’t played the field since 2007) via free agency and Ty Wigginton (via trade) to replace Ryan Howard, who will miss a portion of 2012 because of the ruptured Achilles tendon he underwent in Game 5 of the NLDS, the offense will be a major concern. 
 
The outlook beyond 2012 is shaky as well. Dominic Brown, the once highly touted prospect, could add some much needed youth to the offense, but has yet to prove his potential. Meanwhile, not only will Hamels enter free agency after 2012, but Halladay will be 35 in May and Lee 34 in August. There is no immediate solution in the farm system to replace these aging players so GM Ruben Amaro will need to really pull some strings in order for the Phillies to continue to be competitive.

Braves
The Braves won 89 games last year and will feature a very similar ballclub in 2012. The pitching staff will be deep, featuring some combination of Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Tommy Hanson (who has been battling shoulder issues). The 2011 Rookie of the Year, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters will spearhead a bullpen which, once again, should be among the league’s best and includes Arodys Vizcaino, who is deemed by some talent evaluators as a potential starting pitcher. 
 
The offense will return most of its starters with the exception of shortstop where 22-year-old Tyler Pastronicky figures to play. By most accounts, Pastornicky brings a solid glove, some speed, and little power. It’s possible the prospect be an upgrade over Alex Gonzalez, who is now with the Milwaukee Brewers.
 
GM Frank Wren has reportedly dangled Martin Prado and Jurrjens in hopes of finding a true left fielder along with a future center fielder, given that Michael Bourn is set to become a free agent after 2012.  However, teams have balked at that asking price, so it seems the Braves will rely on a full season of Bourn and improvements from Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward to bolster the offense. Uggla, 31 and signed through 2015 is in decline, though I’d expect an improvement at the plate from Heyward, who battled injuries throughout last season. Also, I am tempering my expectations for Freddie Freeman, who had an outstanding rookie campaign but is only 22 years old. All-Star catcher Brian McCann, 27 and signed through 2013, will once again play a huge role in the offense.
 
With so much cost-controlled talent in starting pitching, the Braves will assign whatever payroll flexibility they have in future years to improve the offense. Though the organization has an opportunity to win now, the future is bright as well.
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1/20/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

(Edited by ML31)

Who said I was blaming you?  I blame Bud Selig and the 27 owners who voted for this atrocity.  I was merely correcting you.  There are your proverbial "apples & oranges".  It's not even that...  It's trees & cars.  

More corrections here...  There is no wild card division.  The standings page on the MLB website shows the three divisions but also gives you the option of league wide standings minus the three division leaders.  There is no "division" for it. 

1/19/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
Oy vey! I'm going back to talking to the wall. At least it has a brain...

Fine...  If you think 2nd place is the same as first place then I imagine you could have some quite stimulating conversations with a wall.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

Carlo_S wrote:
Last year, the Phillies had the best regular season record and were dubbed by many as the best 5/7 game series team because of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. Well, even they were not immune to the randomness of the short series.

Which is simply more evidence to support bringing the post season teams down to four from 8. 

1/18/12   |   Carlo_S   |   28 respect

ML31 wrote:
The more teams that get into the post season the more that is true.

Last year, the Phillies had the best regular season record and were dubbed by many as the best 5/7 game series team because of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt. Well, even they were not immune to the randomness of the short series.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 Well, there could be two arguments here. The best overall regular season team and the best 5/7 game series team.

The more teams that get into the post season the more that is true.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 So, in a sense, the division titles are equally important than WS titles?

I wouldn't say that.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 I understand, however, my argument is the original intent was to determine the best team that season. It is based on a couple things: Longevity, hot streaks, pressure adaptation and a few more intangibles. What I really like about the sport of baseball is a star athlete on one particular team can get injured, be placed on the 60 day DL and then come back and still possibly help the team contend. Unlike say football, your QB gets roughed up and is out a few weeks, that could be the whole season down the drain. On paper and in the win/loss column, the Phillies were the best team in the MLB last year. However, a few intangibles (one could argue) came into play and they got knocked out of the playoffs. Therefore, they were not "entitled" to be crowned the leagues best. Hope that makes sense. I got a little side tracked.

More so in baseball than in any other sport...  The best team often does NOT win the championship.  For reasons I mentioned earlier.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 Basket ball playoff system is the biggest joke of all sports. They have what? 2 divisions of 16 teams and the top 8 in each division gets the nod. 82 games are WAY too much for that kind of set up.

I agree.  82 games in the regular season is way overkill when more than half your league makes the post season.

I actually LOVE the Stanley Cup playoffs.  They are an absolute blast.  But flip side of that is it makes the regular season such an incredible waste of time.  If you take 16 of 30 teams to your playoff, a 50 game season is more than enough.
But I know why the NHL does it.  They rely on gate more than any other sport.  So financially they NEED that long season.  I just wish it wasn't so.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

Eric_ wrote:
It's simple. A 162 game season is a fairly large sample that will more often than not weed out the good teams from the rest. The playoffs is a bunch of short series (5 or 7 games). Given how anything can happen in one game, 5-7 games aren't exactly much more. The vagaries of random chance are put into play a lot more. The playoffs (in any sport save maybe basketball) are there to determine the champion, but not the best team, and there's no guarantee they will end up one and the same.

I'm actually good with that save your basketball exception.  Not sure why that sport is possibly immune...

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
{rolling eyes and banging head against wall} A lead for a playoff position is still a lead! Ask the Red Sox! Bitch at Selig and his cronies as to whether it was a 2nd Place, 3rd Place or 99th Place team! Who gives a $#!+?

Just want to keep the facts straight.  It's not a "lead for a playoff position".  It's merely in a playoff position.  There is no lead there to speak of.
Ask the Red Sox what?  If 2nd place is a lead position?  

To say the Braves blew a huge lead is a tremendous mislead at best.  Outright lie at worst.

1/18/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

wrote:
 Then what is the purpose of playoffs and a Championship? Don't say $$$ because that is a given. What is the original meaning of it? To find the "best" team that season. The "better" team doesn't always win, but the most determined tend to. The heart and will are both intangibles that cannot/will not show up in a pre-season poll.

It's simple. A 162 game season is a fairly large sample that will more often than not weed out the good teams from the rest. The playoffs is a bunch of short series (5 or 7 games). Given how anything can happen in one game, 5-7 games aren't exactly much more. The vagaries of random chance are put into play a lot more. The playoffs (in any sport save maybe basketball) are there to determine the champion, but not the best team, and there's no guarantee they will end up one and the same.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
It's still the playoff system - like it or not

Doesn't mean a 2nd place team ever was in 1st or had a lead in the standings.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
They had that lead in your all-precious Wild Card standings.

That's not a lead.  It means they were in 2nd place.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 I agree and they need to pull division winners only, once again. However, money will trump all in sports. 

Exactly.  The extra playoff round in MLB (and the upcoming post season "play-in" games) do not exist because they make the game better, are better for the players or because fans wanted them.  They exist 100% for $$$$. 

No  other  reason.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 *ADD* Baseball has a 162 game pre-season to determine what teams overcome the fatigue and longevity factors. So what if you win 100+ games in the season? It's all for not if you can't continue that winning in the post-season correct?

My point exactly.  What you said is true except...  what was the point of winning 100 games if a team you just worked all season putting further and further in your rear view mirror suddenly gets hot at the right time and knocks you out in a playoff series?    I'm not talking about a fellow 1st place team.  I'm talking about a 2nd place team from your own division.  That 2nd place team got a 2nd chance.  Why doesn't the first place team get a 2nd chance?
Large playoff fields just don't work for baseball.  It undermines everything.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 Then what is the purpose of playoffs and a Championship? Don't say $$$ because that is a given. What is the original meaning of it? To find the "best" team that season. The "better" team doesn't always win, but the most determined tend to. The heart and will are both intangibles that cannot/will not show up in a pre-season poll.

These days not so much to find the "best" team.  But more so just to crown a post season champion.  In the days before wild cards you had 4 legitimate potential champions because they were the best of their groups.  And they were the ONLY teams in the post season.  But when you create many mini divisions and start inviting 2nd place teams, it dilutes the post season pool to the point where you no longer can legitimately determine the "best" team of the year because quite honestly any baseball team can get hot over a couple of weeks and knock of superior teams.  Even the worst teams win 4 out of 10 games. 
The longer the regular season, the fewer playoff teams are needed to determine a true champion.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
 It seems to me the best AL team has come out of the West the past couple years, and the best NL team has been from the West and Central the past couple years. 

Don't think it wise to use playoffs as the sole determining factor in that.  Just because a team got hot at an opportune time does not mean they are the better team.  In baseball more than any other sport, the hot team can easily defeat the better, more talented team.  Kind of like the inferior team with the hot goaltender can go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

A more telling figure is assessing the results from the 162 game schedule rather than 11-19 post season games.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

wrote:
They certainly didn't look very good after, say August 25th. Braves blew a 10 1/2 game lead, Phillies lose in the first round of the playoffs. Mets are, well, the Mets. Marlins have to show that money can buy you love. Washington is the x-factor in this division. If they sign Fielder, they may be in the mix. If they don't, it's same-old-same-old.

With Howard hurt, pitching will be the key for the entire division! The Central is getting stronger and the West is still a force. The East is least in 2012!

Since when did the Braves have a 10 1/2 game lead in 2011?  The one day they had a lead was after their opening day win.  They were 1/2 game up.  That was the one and only day the Braves were in first place all year.

1/18/12   |   ML31   |   3675 respect

On paper one might think the NL east is the best.  But as they say...  The game isn't played on paper.

We'll see how it stands when the season ends.

1/17/12   |   Dan_B   |   1067 respect

I think that it is safe to say that the best baseball is played east of the Mississippi...