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Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: NL East

 David Wright believes his Lord Helmet can save him from the Schwartz as well as concussions.

Now it's time for the NL East.  The Phillies seem to be the champion on paper but let's take a deeper look.

Philadelphia Phillies
Best Player: Chase Utley but we don't know how long he'll be out. After Utley it's probably Ryan Howard.
Best Pitcher: Roy Halladay is the obvious answer here.
Biggest off-season move:  Adding Cliff Lee shocked everyone.
Biggest off-season loss: Jayson Werth was the team's third best hitter and was a good defensive outfielder.
Biggest Questions:
1. When will Chase Utley return? No one is certain if he'll be back in May or if it will be at the All-Star break. The Phillies may not need him to make the playoffs but winning the World Series will be an uphill climb without him.
2. How good is the rotation? Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt are four of the top twenty five pitchers in baseball. If no injuries beset the staff the offense won't need to be nearly as powerful as it has been in recent seasons.
3. Is Dominic Brown ready to be an impact player?  The Phillies don't need the rookie to be an all-star but with Utley hurt and Werth gone there is a void on offense.  Brown was the top hitting prospect last season but many scouts worry the team is too left-handed with him in the lineup.
Expectations: This is a World Series contender.  Anything short of reaching the Series will likely be seen as a disappointment.
Opening day lineup:
1. Victorino CF
2. Polanco 3B
3. Rollins SS
4. Howard 1B
5. Ibanez LF
6. Francisco RF
7. Ruiz C
8. Valdez 2B
SP Roy Halladay

Atlanta Braves
Best Player: Brian McCann has made the All-Star team each season in the bigs.
Best Pitcher: Tim Hudson may very well be the fourth best starting pitcher in Atlanta Braves history.
Biggest off-season move: Needing a right-handed power hitter, Atlanta traded super utility player Omar Infante for Dan Uggla.
Biggest off-season loss: Billy Wagner is IMO the third greatest closer in history. He is now retired. Crap.
Biggest Concerns:
1. How much does Chipper have left?  He murmured the "r" word last year before he started to heat up but a torn ACL will likely rob him of mobility. The team needs one more decent season.
2. Can youngsters Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman lead this team offensively?  As these two go so will the Braves.
3. Who will be the fans' new whipping boy?  Long gone are Frenchy and his dumb rally-killing quotes. Last year the team had Melky who showed up to camp 30lbs overweight and later omitted he was "a little bit fat." There's not even a Dan Kolb on this team.
Expectations: This team will be Jekyll and Hyde this year. The pitching will be consistently good but the offense will not. Expect lots of solo home runs and also games where the team gets 12 runners on base and only scores one run. That's just the way it is.
Opening day lineup:
1. Prado LF
2. McLouth CF
3. Jones 3B
4. McCann C
5. Uggla 2B
6. Heyward RF
7. Gonzalez SS
8. Freeman 1B
SP Derek Lowe

New York Mets
Best Player: Jose Reyes is the type of exciting player that makes me want to get in a DeLorean time machine and go back to the '80's.  Ok changed my mind, it's David Wright.
Best Pitcher: Johan Santana even at 80%.
Biggest off-season move:  Getting rid of Luis Castillo is actually addition by subtraction.
Biggest off-season loss: Rod Barajas isn't a superstar but unlike the new starting catcher, he can actually hit it over an infielder's head.
Biggest Questions:
1. How will Johan Santana pitch?  Santana's shoulder injury will likely sap a lot of his effectiveness but he's still pretty darn good.
2. Who is the second baseman?  Brad Emaus was taken in the Rule V draft meaning he's never played in the majors. It's his job to lose.
3. Can Jason Bay hit at CitiField?  The New Mets stadium is a tough place for power hitters and Bay only hit six (6!) last year.
Expectations: With this pitching staff, the Mets are going to be really bad on some nights.  However there's a lot to like on the offensive side.  If Beltran can play 120 games and Reyes doesn't have a relapse of his hamstring woes this is a team that could push for .500.
Opening day lineup:
1. Reyes SS
2. Harris LF
3. Wright 3B
4. Beltran RF
5. Pagan CF
6. Davis 1B
7. Emaus 2B
8. Thole C
SP Mike Pelfrey

Washington Nationals
Best Player: Ryan Zimmerman used to be underrated.  Now he's a tad overrated.
Best Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, duh.
Biggest off-season move:  Stealing Jayson Werth away from everyone else.
Biggest off-season loss: Adam Dunn turned down the Nats offer for the South Side.
Biggest Questions:
1. When Strasburg comes back will he be like he was? No one knows.  But he doesn't have to be. 80% of what Strasburg was as a rookie is still a Cy Young candidate in his good years.
2. Which Ian Desmond is the real one?  It's likely the 2010 version is the real one. That's still a valuable ball player.
3. When will Bryce Harper make his MLB debut?  If you would've asked before spring training I would have said 2014 at the earliest.  But, man, the kid can rake already.  I'm guessing he comes up in the middle of 2013 as a 20 year old and plays there for the next 15 seasons.
Expectations: Reaching .500 should be the goal for this franchise.  They've consistently had picks in the top ten of the draft allowing them to recoup some impressive talent but now it should start coming together on the field.
Opening day lineup:
1. Desmond SS
2. Werth RF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Ankiel CF
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Rodriguez C
SP Livan Hernandez

Florida Marlins
Best Player: Hanley Ramirez
Best Pitcher: Josh Johnson
Biggest off-season move:  Trading Cameron Maybin was a bit of a surprise but it netted the team two relief pitchers.
Biggest off-season loss: Trading Dan Uggla was dumb. I don't care that he is a free agent soon. They got burned.
Biggest Questions:
1. What's the goal? Florida usually stockpiles young talent and trades it away for more young talent when it is about to get expensive. Occasionally they keep it for a year or two and attempt to win the World Series. Right now they don't have much tradeable talent in the majors and little help the minors.
2. How many home runs will Mike Stanton hit? 34.
3. Does anyone care about this team? Judging by the attendance: no.
Expectations: The Marlins could finish as high as third since they do have some really good players.  They could also finish fifth thanks to their tendency to trade players when things aren't going well.
Opening day lineup:
1. Coghlan CF
2. Infante 2B
3. Ramirez SS
4. Stanton RF
5. Sanchez 1B
6. Morrison LF
7. Buck C
8. Murphy 3B
SP Josh Johnson
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