Phillies still the ‘team to beat’ as rest of East improves

BY NICK STAFFIERI, Contributor

General managers around the National League have been busy this winter making moves that would hopefully springboard their team into the World Series in 2010. With the Phillies as the reigning National League champions, many teams in the National League East are hoping to make the push to contend for the division and knock the Phils from the perch they’ve enjoyed for the past three years. Here is a recap of where things stand today and who may have the edge to get the chance to go to this year’s Fall Classic.

Philadelphia Phillies – You could say that the biggest move the Phillies made was acquiring Roy Halladay, but at the expense of dealing Cliff Lee to Seattle, some fans consider this a wash. The signing of Placido Polanco to replace Pedro Feliz at third may give the Phillies more offense from that position while still keeping a steady glove on the hot corner. Danys Baez will bolster the bullpen that hopes to see rebound years from closer Brad Lidge and middle reliever JC Romero. The Phillies will have the league’s top offense returning with prime years from stars such as Utley, Howard and Werth. A steady fifth starter would look nice, but even with an aging Moyer or perhaps a young Kendrick, look for the Phillies to win a fourth straight division title.

Florida Marlins – A surprising second place finish in the division for the Marlins last year may have given the organization hope for the upcoming season. Generally one of the lowest payrolls in the league, nothing seems likely to change with the Miami-based team going into 2010. Few off-season moves have been made. The Marlins are banking on a starting pitching staff that features Ace Josh Johnson (15-5, 3.23 ERA in 2009) and a few arms with great potential such as Ricky Nolasco. Offensively, Hanley Ramirez is shaping up to be a force at the plate. With the emergence of Chris Coghlan and the power of Dan Uggla, Florida will once again be competitive in a very competitive division. But without significant moves during this off season, they will probably fall short in the end once again.

Atlanta Braves – It seems that every time we count the Braves out, they find a way to make it back into the division race. Finishing a strong third last year, the Braves entered the off season with a mission to get stronger. Adding veteran Troy Glaus to play first base (a third baseman most of his career) and Melky Cabrera in the outfield will give Chipper Jones and Brian McCann offensive help that could be trouble for opposing pitchers. Their latest move to sign Eric Hinsky for power off the bench gives the Braves late inning options that could prove important in winning close games. It was their good starting pitching last year that kept the Braves competitive thanks to the emergence of Jair Jurrjens and a strong season from Javier Vazquez. With Vazquez gone in a trade that brought Cabrera to Atlanta, the Braves will rely on another solid year from Jurrjens and a rebound year from last off season acquisition Derek Lowe. The Braves are also counting on bullpen help from newly acquired set up reliever Takashi Saito and closer Billy Wagner. With both pitchers at age 39, it remains to be seen what they each have left.

New York Mets – The Mets had a dreadful season last year mainly due to injuries that made them completely irrelevant in the division race. Don’t look for the same from those New Yorkers this season. They should be back in the hunt with a powerful offense and good pitching. Their major off-season move to acquire outfielder Jason Bay should give them the power they lacked from last year. Look for David Wright’s power numbers to increase as well. The Mets are also considering resigning Carlos Delgado, who is due for a prime season this year. The Mets can put numbers on the scoreboard and keep the late lead with a good back of the bullpen. They recently claimed minor league star Jay Marshall who will add depth to their bullpen and help get the Mets into the ninth for Francisco Rodriguez, who is one of the best closers in the game. Johan Santana will continue to be one of the best starters in the National League, but with no off-season moves to bolster the starting pitching staff, they remain a questionable bunch.

Washington Nationals – The Washington Nationals were a non-factor in last year’s division race. This year, they look to improve on one of the worst records in baseball. Signing free agents such as Ivan Rodriguez and pitcher Jason Marquis gives the Nationals star recognition, but with questionable potential for the upcoming season. They did give a boost to their poor bullpen with the additions of Matt Capps and Brian Bruney, two back end relievers that will contend for the closer role this year. The Nationals offense produced runs last year with offensive weapons such as Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn. But the Nationals still fall short on starting pitching, an area that has been addressed only with the addition of Marquis. It will not be enough to contend with the other teams in the division.

My early prediction for the division:

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. New York Mets
  4. Florida Marlins
  5. Washington Nationals
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1 Comment

Filed under Editorial, Nick Staffieri

One response to “Phillies still the ‘team to beat’ as rest of East improves

  1. Albert Staffieri

    I agree with your predictions for the NL east but keep in mind that its a long season and anything can happen as we saw last year with the Mets.

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