Last year’s division champs have undoubtedly one of the most powerful lineups in the league. Their infield alone has offensive juggernauts Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the reliable Jimmy Rollins. They have a nice mix of power and speed represented in the outfield with Jayson Werth, a surprisingly productive Raul Ibanez at the corners and the speedy Shane Victorino patrolling center.
What really separates the Phillies from the pack are their offseason additions. First there is Placido Polanco, who is replacing Pedro Feliz at third base. Since the Phils have such a dynamic lineup there is little pressure for Polanco to be a major run producer. He has proven to be an excellent hitter with a career batting average over .300 and a great glove in the infield.
The big move that will make the Phillies tough to stop in the East is the acquisition of ace Roy Halladay. In the deal to get the former Blue Jays starter, the Phillies lost another top starter in Cliff Lee. It should result in a virtual wash, since they lost one great pitcher and gained another. With a lineup with so much power and a rotation anchored by one of the best in the league, the Phillies are positioned to take the top spot again.
In the past, the Marlins have been able to build up a young team that finds a way to compete on a shoestring budget. This year is no different. The Marlins will surprise a lot of people with how much of a threat they can be. Last season, they managed to finish in second place, which opened some eyes to the talent they have.
The Marlins are led on the mound by Josh Johnson, who had a breakout season last year with 15 wins and an ERA of just 3.23. Following Johnson in the rotation, is an equally youthful staff that includes Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and lefty Andrew Miller.
Offensively, the Marlins will likely struggle. They have two excellent hitters in second baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who many think of as one of the best all-around players in the majors. After those two, there is too much of a dependence on unproven bats like Cameron Maybin and shaky veterans like Jorge Cantu. Last year, the Marlins were able to score some runs and win 87 games and there is no reason to think they won’t continue to raise eyebrows in 2010.
Bobby Cox’s last year with the Braves looks to be as mediocre as the previous ones. One cannot talk about the Braves without mentioning their third baseman, Chipper Jones. As the face of the franchise, Jones showed a noticeable decline last year as he hit just .264 miles from his .307 career average and drove in just 71 runs. The Braves’ new offensive leader is catcher Brian McCann, who has turned into one of the better young hitters in baseball. There has also been a lot of talk about baseball’s top prospect, Jason Heyward. The outfielder is said to be baseball’s top up-and-coming hitter, but it is unrealistic to think he would be able to contribute to the team this year.
One of the most exciting players on the team is 24-year-old Jair Jurrjens. He had a 2.60 ERA but has not received the recognition he really deserves. Jurrjens is joined by another great young pitcher in Tommy Hanson who was outstanding in his first season. In 21 starts he went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. After Jurrjens and Hanson, the Braves will look to veterans like Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson to win some games. At the back of the bullpen is closer Billy Wagner, who looks all but finished in this league. The Braves will not take the top spot in the East for at least a few years, for now they need to settle for being in the middle of the pack.
New York Mets:
New York’s 2009 campaign was just plain ugly. Marred by injuries, the Mets could not live up to expectations. This season, things look equally grim, but it is important to note this team has a lot of talent. New York still has third baseman David Wright, but his problem now appears to be hitting for power in the new Citi Field in Queens. Shortstop Jose Reyes has some of the best tools in the league to be a great player, but he has been constantly injured. Carlos Beltran has to deal with injury issues as well.
This offseason, the Mets attempted to improve significantly and signed Jason Bay. The Bay signing seems more of an attempt for the Mets front office to save face, rather than truly improve the team. Bay will give them some power, but Bay is lacking defensively.
The Mets’ pitching staff has a great ace with Johan Santana, but the other four starters are questions for the team. Santana gives the Mets a chance to win every time he takes the mound, but there must be some questions about whether Mike Pelfrey and John Maine can get the job done. This season, if the Mets want to avoid finishing behind the Nationals they need to stay healthy and pray that Oliver Perez produces for them on the mound immediately.
The Nationals will finish in last. This is most likely where D.C.’s favorite team will finish for the next few years. That is the bad news. The good news is they are getting better. If they manage their young players correctly, they may even be able to build a playoff team down the line. That team is way down the line however. The Nationals’ future currently depends on the right arm of Stephen Strasburg. Unfortunately, the Nationals’ best pitcher will be starting the season in the minors. This is the smart move to make, as his development directly coincides with the future success of the team.
For now, the Nationals will head into the season with a very young pitching staff that includes John Lannan, Scott Olsen and Garrett Mock. The youngsters will not have a ton of help on the offensive side, as the team has few weapons. Washington’s best hitters are third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam Dunn, who strikes out more than almost anyone. This year, the Nats will be better, but they will still end up at the bottom and the MLB will just need to get used to it.
Prediction: Phillies. A ton of offensive power, plus arguably the best pitcher in baseball makes them very tough to beat.