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2010 Baseball Previews: NL East – Could the Phillies Actually be Better?

Posted on March 24, 2010 by Don Spieles

With less than two weeks left until opening day, let’s abandon the designated hitter and take a look at the Senior Circuit, otherwise known as the National League.

In the eastern division, the NL is right up there with its AL neighbors – well, almost, anyway.  In the last 10 postseasons, the World Series representative from the National League was an eastern division team for four of them (Mets in 2000, the Marlins in 2003, and the Phillies in ’08 and ’09), winning in ’03 and ’08.  Things are looking decent for that to be the case again in 2010.

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Many predict that Halliday will have a historic year in Philadelphia.

Many predict that Halliday will have a historic year in Philadelphia.

At some point, things will have to work out in favor of someone else besides the “Phightin’ Phils, but it would be hard to make a case for it being likely this season.  As if the Phillies weren’t the odds on favorites based the fact that they are coming off of two consecutive World Series appearances, they also went out and picked up a picked up a pitcher by the name of Roy Halliday.  On paper, the Phillies getting Roy Halliday is the equivalent of the Lakers getting LeBron James.   Many already have this newest Philadelphia son pegged to be the NL Cy Young winner.  Some even mention the NL MVP, as well.  There are even a couple of optimists who think he could win 25 games now that he’s in the NL and playing for the offensive juggernaut that is Philadelphia.  While 25 seems a stretch (in 11 season, Halliday has had 25 decisions or more only three times,) AL pitchers who move to the NL seems to have great initial success.

Plus, don’t let the gleam coming off of Halliday block out the memory of the Cole Hammels, A.J. Happ, and the others in Philly.  Without Halliday, the Phillies pitching is above average.  With Halliday, it’s downright amazing.

Of course, Philadelphia needed very little tweaking in the off season.  Pedro Feliz left, landing in Houston, and has been replaced with a face familiar to Philly fans, that of Placido Polanco.  He’ll be covering Feliz’s duties at third since Polanco’s usual spot, second base, is being covered by Chase Utley.  Brett Meyers is also with Houston this year, replaced by Danys Báez from the Orioles organization.

Everywhere else, the Phillies are just about exactly what they were in ’09.  If you don’t see them around in October it probably means you’re not watching baseball.

Who Will Win the NL East?

  • Philadelphia Phillies (79%, 11 Votes)
  • Atlanta Braves (14%, 2 Votes)
  • Florida Marlins (7%, 1 Votes)
  • New York Mets (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Washington Nationals (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 14

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2. Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox looks into the stands

Bye-bye, Bobby. Cox is set to retire after the 2010 season.

The biggest news around Braves camp is the pending farewell to Bobby Cox.  Having announced his retirement planned for season’s end, Cox will end a managerial career that has spanned over 30 years, four NL Pennants, a World Series win, and four Manager of the Year awards.

The Braves made some odd moves in the off season.  They picked up the temperamental and injury prone Billy Wagner to be their closer.  In the process they got rid of both Mike Gonzales and Raphael Soriano from their pen.  That is more than a bad equation, its horrendous.

Their rotation looks something like this:   Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Derrek Lowe, and Tim Hudson, with either Kenshin Kawakami or Kris Medlen as the fifth starter. Many teams would like to have a solid top three like the Braves trio (40 wins between them), but the rest of that group is anything but confidence inspiring (11 wins among them).  Hudson only had seven starts in 2009 and is looking good so far in Spring Training.

On offense, Chipper Jones is still the star, though not a young one.  Jones, who turns 38 in April, is coming off of a lackluster season.  Injuries will play a role in Jones output for whatever the remainder of his career is.  Melky Cabrera will now be patrolling left field, and Nate McClouth will be in center – both above average presences.  The real impact could very well prove to be from new right fielder, Jason Heyward.  This young phenom has heads turning all over baseball.  A 20 year old rookie, Heyward will be bringing his five tools to the big show in Atlanta.  If he performs near expectations, he’ll be a key factor in Atlanta’s success in 2010.

The Braves overcoming the Phillies would be a minor miracle.  As much as everyone would like to see Bobby Cox have a melodious swan song, look for Atlanta to finish second unless the Mets have some divine intervention of their own.

3. Florida Marlins

The Marlins will have a new home in 2012.

The Marlins will have a new home in 2012.

Since the end of last season, the Marlins have done very little to break away from their prevailing image, that being the “Other-Florida-Team-That-No-One-Goes-To-See” image.  The inked a 4 year $39 milling contract with rotation topper John Johnson who has thrown 12 innings in Spring Training and accumulated a 5.84 ERA. Nothing else of note happened via the Marlin front office to make the team any better than last year.  But, truth be known, they were not all that bad on 2009, finishing six games behind Philly.

Departures from Florida include Jeremy Hermida to Boston and Nick Johnson to the New York Yankees.  Hanley Ramirez will have another stellar year at short stop, and Dan Uggla will be solid at second.  Chris Coglan hopes to avoid the sophomore slump and post another year like his Rookie of the Year season in 2009.

Beyond that, there is not much for Marlins fans to get excited about – assuming there is anything that gets Marlins fans excited.  In 2009, the Marlins were 29th in average attendance, beating only the Oakland A’s.  There is a new stadium under construction with a retractable roof, but that won’t be ready until 2012.

The fish should still be respectable in 2010, but if not for the weak lower end of this division, they would be thrilled with third place.

4. New York Mets

In the interest of positive thinking, Mets fans should focus on the addition of Jason Bay to left field.  Bay had been a headline maker since his trade to the Red Sox as part of the Manny Ramirez egress.  While no one would really compare numbers on the two, Boston fans were more than happy with the offense and positive attitude that Bay brought.  He’ll bring the same to the Mets.

Milwaukee Brewers at New York Mets at Citi Field in New York

Johan Santana is hoping for a few more support runs in Citi Field's second season.

Last year’s story for the Mets had three chapters.  Chapter One was titled “Injuries”.  It seems like everyone was on the DL at one point or another. As of right now, center fielder Carlos Beltran is out after knee surgery, expected back in May.  pitcher Kelvin Escobar is out indefinitely with shoulder issues, and short stop Jose Reyes has missed most of spring training with hyperthyroidism.  Not too good a beginning.

Chapter Two of the Mets saga was entitled “New Home”. The Met’s opened the new Citi Field last season and seemed to be having some issues getting used to it.  The Mets offense was anemic, to say the least.  Specifically, they hit the fewest home runs of any team in the league.   Even David Wright, who saw his average go up (.302 to .307) and his OBP stay at a respectable .390, saw his home run total drop 60 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Chapter Three was called “Pitching”.  Johan Santana had a strange year, statistically speaking.  from 2008 to 2009, Santana posted a lower totals for hits, runs, earned runs, home runs, and walks, but ended up with fewer wins and a higher ERA (due to less innings pitched.)  In fact, every starting pitcher had a higher ERA than they posted the previous season.  Run support was an issue for Santana thanks to the Mets’ hobbled line-up.  Also, star closer Francisco Rodriguez showed an higher ERA and a bit more than half as many saves ad the previous season.

While the last place team is a pretty good lock, these Mets could place higher due the to shaky nature of the teams above them.  All in all, the Mets should be happy to be in the same division with the Nats, otherwise they’d probably be looking at last place in 2010.

5. Washington Nationals

Nationals 3rd baseman, Ryan Zimmerman

National's 3rd baseman, Ryan Zimmerman

Steven Strasberg.  Ok. The good news is done.

Seriously, the hyped first-choice-overall, Strasberg seems, based on spring training, to be all that we’ve heard.  Credit the Nats with making the right choice and not plopping him into the starting rotation.  Their choice to send him to the minors will serve him (and hopefully the Nats) very well in the future.  The less they rush him the better.

The Nats do have Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham in their order, which means they’ll score some runs.  There starting rotation (Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, and Garrett Mock) is arguably the worst in the Major Leagues.

Look to the future, Nationals fans.

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