We are less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers’ reporting to spring training and Philadelphia is looking to defend its crown as World Series Champions. The National League East looks like it will be the toughest division in the league once again as New York fixed its major weakness from last season and Florida has a young team filled with powerful hitters and good pitching. Atlanta has also improved their starting pitching with the acquisition of Javier Vasquez as well as Derek Lowe and they will be a better team than they were last year. Add in the defending champion, Phillies and you will be hard pressed to find a tougher division.
Since 2006, the senior circuit has run through Shea Stadium in Corona, New York. In 06 the Mets were one nightmarish pitch away from the World Series, (won by St. Louis who defeated the Mets in the NLCS.) In 07 and 08, it took monumental collapses by the bullpen to keep NY from the playoffs and both times Philadelphia managed to win the division. Last year Philly got hot at the right time and defeated Tampa Bay to win their first World Series since 1980. This year, the Mets improved their main weakness from last year and their starting rotation is still led by Johan Santana. The Mets offense has some question marks but their talented core of Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran all had MVP worthy seasons last year and in the case of Reyes and Wright are just entering their primes. The front of the rotation is strong with Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey and the backend was solidified with the resigning of Oliver Perez and the additions of Tim Redding and Freddy Garcia.
Philadelphia is flying high right now, and as the champions, they are the favorites to the win the N.L. again, but they have question marks bigger than the ones plaguing the Mets. Their talented core of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins is broken up for the moment. Utley has undergone off-season hip surgery which may impact his preformace this season. Ryan Howard is still a premier offensive player, but his strike out numbers look to increase this season and his batting average last year was horrid. Their pitching staff has all world pitcher Cole Hamels, and after that is surrounded by age and uncertainly. Can 46 year old Jamie Moyer repeat last seasons performance or will his age finally catch up to him? Brett Myers was the team’s opening day starter last year, but was sent down to the minor leagues to work out some issues. He returned and pitched extremely well in the second half, but in 09 will he be the Myers that 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA in the first half of the year or the Myers that went 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA in the second half.
Rounding out the division is the talented Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves and dreadful Washington Nationals. Florida and Atlanta will fight for third place this year while Washington will likely fight to avoid having the worst record in the league. Atlanta did improve their rotation by signing Derek Lowe and trading for Javier Vasquez, but their offense is bad to say the least. They were fourth in the division in runs scored, RBIs, SLG, and OPS and they really have not addressed their offensive problems during the off-season. Moving down I-95 South, Florida has the second best player on the planet in Hanley Ramirez and has surrounded him with a bunch of young talented hitters who can easily out hit and outrun any team in the majors. Their pitching is young and has talent and if everything goes right during the season this team can defeat Philadelphia and New York. Chances are that they will struggle against the two top teams and end up in third place again this year. As for Washington, while they have a couple of good players, they are years away from competing. They will not be much of a factor and may end up having the worst record in the majors for a second straight year.
This division will feature a dog fight at the top between N.Y. and Philly with Florida jumping in and knocking heads but in the end, I predict that N.Y. will win the division. They have the best pitching staff and their offense has 3 potential MVPs. They also turned last year’s weakness into an area of strength with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. Philly has a great offense, and their bullpen is top notch, but their starting rotation has too many question marks. They will have a tough time in April and May if Chase Utley starts out slow due to his off-season surgery or if Ryan Howard starts out slow. N.Y. is far from perfect but they have had a great off-season thus far and improved their holes. Their offense after Wright, Reyes and Beltran contains a bunch of question marks but their improved pitching should lead them back to October baseball.