AT FIRST GLANCE: National League (written by DeadheadBill)
part one: NL EAST
We're almost half way through the winter which can only mean one thing--time to start talkin' baseball!! With less then a month before pitchers and catchers report I thought it would be the perfect time to take an early peek at some contenders....and maybe some PRE-tenders!! So put down the pig skin and grab the rosen bag--here we go!
And there is also the age issue in left. Fan favorite Raul Ibanez will turn 39 during the season. Ibanez had one of the best stretches of his career in his first half season with the Phils, but since then he has redefined "streaky". Top that with the fact that not too many 38-39 year old position players are able to play 150 games in a season and it's pretty clear the Phils still have some work to do offensively.
The bullpen could be solid, but it will all depend on Brad Lidge. Ryan Madson has been terrific as a setup man but has struggled to shut the door. The other late inning option is Jose Contreras, but no doubt the Phils are hoping Lidge can return to the form he had back in 2008, or at least close to it!!
One of the real winners this offseason has been Atlanta. The addition of Dan Uggla along with the anticipated emergence of Freddy Freeman have this franchise looking as good as it has since the 90's. There are some question marks of course, particularly in center field. With Martin Prado looking like the new starting left fielder and last years super rookie Jason Heyward entrenched in right the weak link appears to be Nate McClouth. If McClouth can return to the form he displayed in Pittsburg & make a run at a 20/20 season or better, the Braves could be in for a very solid season.
Another team that made some nice offseason moves, the Marlins are looking pretty decent despite paying less then half the amount of most MLB payrolls. Thought they did lose their most consistant power hitter in recent memory when dealing Uggla to division rival Atlanta, the emergence of Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez made it probably a necessary move in the long term. With 2010 All Stars Omar Infante and Hanley Ramirez up the middle and 2009 rookie of the year Chris Coughlin looking to be 100% healthy to start the season the Marlins have some of the necessary parts to build around. HOWEVER, there are some problems. Wes Helms is not the long term answer at 3rd and Logan Morrison should be an everyday player, which means either him or Coughlin might have to give center field a go since Stanton will be the man in right.
As for the Marlins pitching, it's alot like their hitting. Some very solid core pieces, but some issues as well. I am of the opinion Leo Nunez might not finish the season as closer, so barring a trade Clay Hensley might be a guy to keep on your radar. Unfortunately the bullpen is kind of a mess right now, but hopefully the combination of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and recently signed ex-Yankee Javi Vasquez will keep their innings to a minimum most nights.......
NEW YORK METS
As for pitching, the Mets are a mixed bag. If he can keep his temper in check, Francisco Rodriguez can be a top option at closer, which is evident by the fact he still holds the record for saves in a season, but the loss of Pedro Feliciano further depletes a bullpen that really couldnt afford it!! A rotation with Mike Pelfry, Jonathan Neise, knuckleballer R A Dickey and newly acquired Chris Young definitely wont strike fear in the East, but here's to hoping it's a work in progress.....
It's hard to find a team with more long term potential then the Nats. With Steven Strausburg, Jordan Zimmerman & Bryce Harper they have three terrific young stars in the making. Although they did a poor job getting some value back for Adam Dunn, they did sign one of the top available outfielders in free agency: Jason Werth. He was a really good fit in Philly, but he will no doubt be expected to shoulder alot of the load offensively. He joins a roster full of young talent such as Ian Desmond & Danny Espinoza. Add that to veteran bats Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche and the Nats look like a team poised to take the next step. Though it might not happen in 2011, I expect Washington to find their way(finally!)into the playoffs sooner rather then later.
***Stay tuned for part two, where I'll be taking a first glance at the NL Central.