Thursday, January 27, 2011

AT FIRST GLANCE - NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST



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!

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Best place to start is the 2010 NL East Champion Phillies. They made a big splash early when they added "former" Philly Cliff Lee(hard to say former since it seems he was just in red pin stripes not too long ago). We all can probably agree that the Phils have one of the best(if not THE best)pitching staffs in the league and the addition of Lee on top of 2010 Cy Young award winner Doc Holliday, former Astros ace Roy Oswalt and lefty Cole Hamels borderlines on cruel & unusual punishment for the rest of the division. But look a little deeper and there are a few holes that could be exploited if not fixed by opening day. The departure of Jason Werth leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise potent lineup. Top prospect Dominic Brown is the heir apparent, but after less then stellar 2010 & winter league performances he's far from a lock to be the answer in 2011. Ben Fransisco should also be in the outfield mix, but the throw in from the first Cliff lee deal still hasnt found steady at bats in Philly, but this season he could by default.


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!!

GRADE: A


ATLANTA BRAVES

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.

Pitching-wise Atlanta looks very good. There are questions regarding who will take over for Billy Wagner, but the young talented two-some of Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel should give them not only a solid closing option but also a bridge between the 7th inning and 9th. With some very solid role players in middle relief(George Sherril, Eric O'Flannery, Scott Linebrink & Peter Moylan) this is a bullpen that has some definite gas! Add that to a rotation that boasts Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jiar Jurrjens and most likely rookie Mike Minor, and things are looking pretty bright in the A-T-L!

GRADE A-


FLORIDA MARLINS

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.......

GRADE: B-


NEW YORK METS

As a Met fan it pains me to say this, but not much to talk about(new)this season. The recent addition of starting pitcher Chris Young from San Diego was a nice signing for a team in desperate need of pitching. Scott Hairston was also added, but will probably be more of a 4th outfielder depending on what happens between now and spring training. Nick Evans is also in that mix, but I would like to see an outfield consisting of Pagan, Bay & Beltran most games if the last two can stay healthy. Ike Davis is another bright spot to go along with David Wright and probable leadoff man Jose Reyes, IF he's not moved for a 2nd baseman. For some reason ex-GM Omar Minaya had settled on Luis Castillo for quite some time now as the teams starting 2nd baseman so hopefully that will change at some point this season.


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.....

GRADE: C


WASHINGTON NATIONALS

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.

Their pitching will be the biggest obstacle this season with future ace Strausberg sidelined after Tommy John Surgery. This leaves a rotation that besides Jordan Zimmerman is full of aging veterans in different stages of decline. Besides Zimmerman, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannen & Ross Detwiller or Tom Grozzelany are the arms the Nats will have to work with for now. The bullpen boasts some more young arms with Drew Storen looking to continue as their "closer of the future". Storen moved into the 9th inning after Matt Capps was sent to the Twins and did an admirable job down the stretch. Doug Slaton, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett round out an adequate, but not overly impressive bullpen.

GRADE: B-

***Stay tuned for part two, where I'll be taking a first glance at the NL Central.

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