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NL East Preview

NL East Preview

NL East Preview
By Josh Jacobs

With the arrival of spring training, teams in both Florida and Arizona have already taken the field in preparation for the grinding, 162-game season just ahead.

So, who’s got the edge in their respective division, which teams have made headlines with offseason acquisitions and what organization might find themselves taking home the World Series Championship? In the next few weeks, all six divisions in both the NL and AL will be examined with handicappers submitting their opinions based on key factors. Get your notebooks out, those calculators running and good luck on your side because another season of America’s past time is on the way.

NL East

Atlanta Braves (84-78, -754)

The old is back in town with starter Tom Glavine leaving the division rival Mets and rejoining the team that signed him back in '87. Entering spring training, the preliminary pitching rotation includes John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton and 22-year-old Jair Jurrjens.

The biggest concern has to be Mike Hampton’s status come regular season. Tossing one lonely inning in winter ball, Hampton tweaked a hamstring adding insult to injury on his future status with the organization. He’s been plagued by elbow problems in the last two seasons, throwing not one inning of work since 2005. What will Hampton bring to the mound? The jury is still out to lunch.

An offense composed of Mark Teixeira, Chipper Jones, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann combined with some big names in the starting rotation should give the Braves a good shot at competing with the Mets and Phillies. But (and there’s always a but), how will Atlanta function in the later innings?

Can relievers Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan and Manny Acosta compliment closer Rafael Soriano?

There’s just too many questions to be answered in the pen, but at least Atlanta has a good shot to make some noise with the lumber come opening day.

Watch for Joe Borchard to possibly catch a spot in a depleted outfield. Borchard is an NRI, but reports indicate that if the 29-year-old can show the managerial staff that he has what it takes to grab the opening job, then look for him to have a born again career in baseball.

Florida Marlins (73-91, -1135)

As is tradition with the Marlins, names like Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera, Armando Benitez and Miguel Olivo have been shipped off and unknowns like Jose Castillo, Eulogio De La Cruz and Mark Henrickson have been imported into town.

There’s plenty of solid prospects within the organization, but when will this club finally allow some of the youngsters to stay on board?

Returning are Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Jeremy Hermida.

But who’s on third? Talk about Dallas McPherson taking the job sounds probable, but unless he can get that batting average up to a respectable number we’re still only talking about a guy who’s produced 89 hits and 45 RBIs in three years as a major leaguer.

The list of players appearing in spring training with only Double to Triple-A talent, tops, is alarming.

Florida’s ace hurler is Scott Olsen, a starter who racked up a 10-15 record last season with a 5.81 ERA! One positive that could end up working out is left hander Andrew Miller. A product of Detroit’s farm system, Miller could benefit from the laxed situation in Florida.

With the Marlins’ horrible track record of baseball ethics over business, it can’t be far from the truth that Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida and Dan Uggla will find new home somewhere down the road.

Nailing 71 wins this year would be a blessing, but the odds of that happening are far and few between. This organization has full potential of falling into last place for yet another year. Florida is a 50/1 'dog to take the NL East.

New York Mets (88-74, -1160)

Easily the talk of the town during the offseason (minus Clemens), New York financially wrestled to bring in ace starter Johan Santana.

Even with the return of young players like Jose Reyes and David Wright the consensus by many is that the Mets are an aging club looking to make a move into the playoffs, ASAP. Anytime wasted will require a rebuilding period, and that’s not what management is planning for at the moment.

Some questionable decisions made during the offseason include signing Luis Castillo (coming off knee surgery) and letting go of 22-year-old Lastings Milledge (now with Washington). Castillo has surely lost a step, or two, around the base path

Once again New York’s bullpen is under a microscope with Aaron Hielman and Pedro Feliciano serving as the backbone of this group. We all know Billy Wagner is a solid closer but if the Mets have problems getting batters out in desperate situations what use is Wagner?

And will Orlando Hernandez be healthy enough this season to make an impact? At least Pedro Martinez will be happy that the best starter in baseball has his back (or front if you’re looking at the order of the pitching rotation).

There’s no doubt that the Mets have plenty of talent at their disposal, its just that without brining any major farm products up and doing a lot of wheeling and dealing, can they compete with the bigger dogs in the NL?

One prediction is that Ruben Gotay, if given the opportunity, will become an adequate backup behind second baseman Castillo. Gotay laid the lumber on the ball for a BA just short of the .300 mark and produced 24 RBIs in 190 at bats.

The Mets are listed as 2/5 favorites in the division.

Philadelphia Phillies (89-73, +1115)

Betting Philly on the run line last season packed plenty of winning opportunities, with the franchise nailing a 93-69 record for +2531 units.

Gearing up for another run in the division, the Phillies look to have solid pieces in place for a repeat performance. There’s plenty of All-Star talent residing in the Philly area, including Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Another players of importance looking to have a break out season is Pat Burrell (97 RBIs with 30 homers last season). Aaron Rowand, who went on to bat a .309 average with 89 RBIs, could be sorely missed.

Minus 24-year-old pitching ace Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.39 ERA in 2007), Philadelphia has a plethora of veterans in the starting rotation and pen. Southpaw veteran Jamie Moyer continues to chug through his career at the ripe age of 45 and righty Adam Eaton returns to the mound. Eaton was tagged for a retched 6.29 ERA and his duties will need to improve drastically.

Reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon remains the No. 1 option to pick up a mess or in need of support, and J.C. Romero will be that lefty hurler when the situation warrants it.

The addition of closer Brad Lidge was a great pickup in the off-season, but just coming off arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday (Feb. 25), an expected absence of at least three weeks in expected. Gordon will fill the closer position if Lidge can’t return by opening day.

Washington Nationals (73-89, +1622)

A trip to the playoffs might be a distant thought at the moment, but there’s no doubt that Washington’s quality of players have improved by leaps and bounds.

The good news starts with the return of Nick Johnson, who missed 2007 after suffering a debilitating knee injury in 2006. The problem is that Dmitri Young performed so well last season (.320 BA with 74 RBIs) that a crowded first base must be addressed during spring training.

More importantly is how manager Manny Acta will tackle the pitching rotation and bullpen. Discussion about signing one time National starter, Livan Hernandez to a deal fell through the roof during the offseason (Hernandez signed with the Twins). This will add a bit more pressure to Acta who won’t have the liberty in resting the pen to 100-percent.

That leaves Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jason Bergmann, John Lannan, Matt Chico and 11 NRI pitchers looking to take a possible two spots in the rotation. That’s not counting the eight other NRI hurlers who could be plugged into the pen sometime before the regular season begins.

There’s no doubt that Washington has plenty of hope and expectations coming into the 2008 season, including the grand opening of Nationals Park. If Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes begin to make a name in the outfield and newly acquired Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada fall into place we’re talking about a Nationals team much improved.

Handicapper Predictions:

Jimmy Boyd: I like the Phillies in the East. There's a lot of hype for the Mets with Johan Santana coming to the Big Apple, but the rest of the Mets' staff doesn't wow me.

Martinez will have to be a vital part of the rotation for the Mets to take the division, and I can't see his health holding up. Also, losing Tom Glavine to the Braves will prove more costly than many realize.

The Phillies have three MVP candidates in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. Catching the Mets to end a 14-year playoff drought was big for this team as it gives them a great deal of confidence moving forward. Cole Hamels and company will prove more reliable as a starting pitching unit than New York's staff.

I don't normally make a lot of run line wagers, but the Phillies were 93-69 on the run line last season for a +2531 units profit. Just something to keep an eye on this season.

Jamie Tursini: I like what the Phillies did in getting closer B.Lidge. That allows last year's closer B.Myers, to become their opening day starter to take pressure off the young lefty phenom C.Hamels who becomes the #2.

Add the nice additions of veteran bats G.Jenkins, S.Taguchi, and new starting 3B P.Feliz. The confident Phillies are much deeper in areas than last year's squad.

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