Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies
Maybe it’s the optimistic Mets fan in me, but I believe that it’s entirely possible that this team could disappoint.  Chase Utley?  Injured.  Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino?  On the decline.  The other non-Ryan Howard parts of the lineup?  Severely underwhelming.  If everything goes wrong—not even horribly wrong, but just not as well as the Phillies would like—the Phillies’ once-great lineup becomes very mortal.  Yes, their pitching will almost certainly negate whatever their lineup manages, but even great pitchers have off years.  What if Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt (for example) don’t perform as well as the Phillies would like?  All of a sudden we could be looking at a wide open NL East.
Bottom line: There’s a 95% chance that the Phillies will mop the floor with the NL East on their way to a World Series appearance.  But what if…?

2. Atlanta Braves
While the Phillies’ offense has great potential, but a lot of room within which to fail, the Braves’ lineup is just plain great.  Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward provide a solid foundation, while all the peripheral parts have high performance ceilings (especially touted prospect Freddie Freeman and Nate McLouth, who’s looking to rebound from an atrocious 2010).  The pitching, however, is in a bit sorrier shape, with far too much reliance placed on veteran Tim Hudson and novice Tommy Hanson.  Even if these two replicate (or at least, produce something close to) their 2010 seasons, that doesn't make up for the lack of depth in the rest of the rotation.
Bottom line: The Braves can and should be good, but will find it difficult to compete for even the Wild Card if one of their pitchers doesn’t step up as a true ace.

3. New York Mets
(Author’s note: I am a diehard Mets fan.) Why all the negativity?  Due to the disappointment of the last few years it’s trendy to say that “the Mets suck,” or some variant on that theme, but this team decidedly does not suck.  The offense is packed with potential, from the great David Wright, to the rebounding Jason Bay, to the very underrated Angel Pagan, to sophomore slugger Ike Davis (not to mention Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who are looking to recapture the magic of years gone by).  The pitching is, obviously, filled with uncertainty.  With Johan Santana out until at least the All-Star Break, Mike Pelfrey is playing the ill-fitting role of ace.  Despite no true great pitcher on the staff, Chris Young and Chris Capuano were excellent pickups by GM Sandy Alderson.  Look for one or both of them to get injured, but not before giving the Mets solid pitching.  And if they manage to miraculously survive the season without getting hurt?  This team could be in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.
Bottom line: With low expectations, this team should surprise everybody and contend well into August, if not beyond.

4. Florida Marlins
While the Marlins have a good deal of promise, I can never find it in my heart to pick them.  Consider: while Hanley Ramirez will be great as usual, the rest of their offense relies heavily on young players who haven’t consistently produced (or even had the chance to do so) at a Major League level before.  Their pitching should be solid, assuming Javier Vazquez can revert to his pre-2010 form, and the non-Josh Johnson starters can build on strong 2010s.  While I think that all can happen, I’m not that bullish on it being good enough to overcome their offensive failings.
Bottom line: This team will probably be able to go .500, though if their offensive clicks more than I think it will they could claw their way to second place.  It’s a strong division….

5. Washington Nationals
Let’s start with the good: Jayson Werth is an adequate (though obviously overpaid) replacement, and then some, for Adam Dunn’s bat.  Ryan Zimmerman is still one of the best third basemen in the game.  Rick Ankiel and Mike Morse, if productive, can take the lineup from adequate to good.  And… that’s it.  Their offense will be fine, but it’s the pitching that should give Nats fans major cause for concern.  I’m excited to see what Jordan Zimmerman can give over a full season, but let’s be honest here: this is a rotation that is almost wholly comprised of back of the rotation starters.  The upside for this bunch is very limited, with Livan Hernandez as the only real hope for non-mediocrity (fine, maybe Jason Marquis, but I am unconvinced).
Bottom line: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg playing together in 2012 will be awesome.


  1. shaky veteran Tim Hudson and shaky novice Tommy Hanson ??????? what meds are you taking? Hanson is probably THE best young pitcher in the NL. Last year he allowed 2 runs or less in 25 of his 34 starts!!! He could have EASILY won 20 with any run support by the Braves. and Hudson was in the CY Young talk and finished 17-9 with a 2.83 era ...what is your definition of shaky?

  2. I admit, "shaky" might have been a bad word. I think there is some merit to it, however. Most predictions have Tim Hudson regressing from his improbably great season last year, and 2010 was his first full season since 2007 (not to mention that he turns 36 during the 2011 season). It's fair to wonder if he can keep it up. As for Hanson, he's still a young pitcher, but I didn't realize how good he's been the past two seasons.

    I removed the word "shaky", as you can see, but I still think that relying on two pitchers as heavily as the Braves are is a shaky concept in and of itself.

  3. In response to what you posted above about Hudson turning 36 this season, couldn't the same uncertainness be applied to the Phils rotation? Their entire rotation is made up of aging pitchers. They've been lucky so far but I'm beginning to wonder if building (and ultimately relying on) a pitching staff that old is such a smart idea. The Braves on the other hand have a younger staff that's not as injury-prone. If you ask me, it's the Phils that need to deal with the "aging pitcher" issue. The Braves have room to grow; the Phils' staff is on the decline.

  4. Halladay is 34, Oswalt is 33, Lee is 31, and Hamels is 27. Additionally, the last non-full season (25+ starts) that any of them pitched was Lee in 2007 (and before that, Halladay in 2005). Hudson has only pitched one full season in the past three years, and the aging member of his supporting cast (Lowe) hasn't pitched well since 2008. While I do have my reservations about the Phillies, including their rotation, I like their chances a lot better than the Braves'.

  5. True. Lowe hasn't been in his best form since reaching Atlanta. But he pitched great late last season and even fought through injury to have a solid ending down the stretch. He showed better command of his pitches (most notably breaking balls) and he's carried that over into this spring. Sure he's not as reliable as he was a few years ago, but the thing is, he adds so much to that rotation. I think that his veteran presence (coupled with Hudson's) will provide support for the younger arms in the rotation. If they can help out the younger guys I can honestly see the Braves staff keeping pace with the Phils. You're right that, on paper, the Phillies look better. Most people like their chances a lot more than the Braves. And that's just what the Braves want.