As the 2010 regular season approaches the Braves look to dethrone the 3-time defending NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies; and with the additions the Braves have made this off-season they sure have a shot. Unfortunately, the Braves aren’t the only team that improved their roster; every team has made key additions that will definitely create a competitive 2010 for the NL East division. Let’s look at what each team will bring to the table this season:
Philadelphia Phillies: Two words—Roy Halladay. The rich get richer as the Phillies added arguably the best pitcher in MLB in Halladay, giving them a strong 1-2 punch at the front of their rotation with Cole Hammels poised to show that the 2008 season was no fluke. Hammels has been working hard all winter to re-gain his dominance, and be the Hammels of old, instead of the “Hollywood Hammels” we saw last year. THANK GOD that the Phillies decided to trade LHP Cliff Lee after the acquisition of Halladay; a move I’m still not 100% sold on, but as a Brave fan all I can say is PHEW!
The Phillies also added a couple other players that will improve their club. Former Detroit Tiger Placido Polanco will serve as the new 3B and RP Danys Baez (former Brave) will serve as a big-time set-up man (or possible closer if Brad Lidge continues to struggle). Lastly, Former Marlin Ross Gload will serve as a back-up 1B and top-line pinch hitter; remember the Braves tried to sign Gload at the Winter Meetings. This gives the Phillies a dangerous bench with Gload joining bopper Greg Dobbs and underrated Ben Francisco, who came to the Phillies with Cliff Lee last July.
There are no weak spots in the Phillies lineup, but the one spot they may struggle is their starting rotation. Obviously with Halladay and Hammels at the top they are very, very strong, but after Blanton and J.A. Happ (let’s hope he doesn’t repeat his terrific ’09 season) the 5th spot is iffy. This spot will likely come down to 26-year-old Kyle Kendrick and the ancient one, Jamie Moyer, who I’m pretty sure can legally get a 10% discount at Denny’s this year.
Ultimately, the Phillies success will be determined by how Hammels and Lidge can rebound, or not, from last season’s struggles. Let’s just hope, as Braves fans, that they can’t be that good 4 years in a row.
Florida Marlins: This team has become one of the most consistent teams of late, finishing above .500 five of the last seven seasons. They just locked up SP Josh Johnson with a 4-year $39 Million extension that will see him with the Marlins as they move into their new stadium in 2012. They also have the 2009 batting champion Hanley Ramirez and 2009 ROY Chris Coghlan returning to give the Marlins a hell of a 1-5, joining Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross.
Johnson leads a strong starting rotation with Ricky Nolasco and Anabel Sanchez. The 4 and 5 are between power right-handers Chris Volstad and Rick VandenHurk, Lefty Andrew Miller, and RHP Clay Hensley, who has looked terrific this spring and may have the inside track on the 5th spot. As Braves fans know, it doesn’t really matter who the Fish throw out there, because they always give the Braves fits.
The one thing the Marlins struggled with last season was defense, finishing at, or near the bottom of the league the past two seasons. Manager Freddie Gonzalez had emphasized this fact this spring and looks to improve on the error total for 2010.
The Marlins always play tough within the division and will continue to do so as long as they have Han-Ram in the #3 spot.
Washington Nationals: The Nationals didn’t have the best 2009 season, losing 103 games and worse yet, losing young pitcher Jordan Zimmerman to Tommy John Surgery. The Nats added some veteran players this off-season starting with 15-game winner (and another former Brave) Jason Marquis. Along with Marquis, the Nats added C Ivan Rodriguez, 2B Adam Kennedy, RP Brian Bruney and CL Matt Capps. Though these aren’t perennial All-Stars, the Nats should be improved from top to bottom for the 1020 season. They have a legitimate top part of the order with SS Christian Guzman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman; a BIG TIME player. They have an up-and-coming OF Justin Maxwell, who the Nats expect to start in RF, and really looks like a solid player.
Their starting rotation will be led by Marquis and LHP John Lannan, who though won’t blow anyone away with his fastball, but just gets outs. The back end of their rotation is weak with Lefty Scott Olsen, RHP Garrett Mock and whoever else they can get with a pulse that day. The Nats also have one other guy expected to be there at some point this year; you may have heard of him…Stephen Strasburg. He has looked great this spring, but will likely begin the season in the minors to gain seasoning before joining the big club in D.C. I wonder what will happen when Strasburg faces Jason Heyward…it just may open another dimension.
Ultimately, the Nationals will not be contenders for the NL East Division this year, but they will not be as bad as last year; I think.
New York Mets: The Mets had an injury-plagued 2009 season and it looks like they are picking up right where they left off. SS Jose Reyes who missed most of 2009 with a leg injury has been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid and will miss most, if not all of spring training; probably some of the regular season as well. OF Carlos Beltran had off-season surgery on his knee, which wasn’t exactly in the Mets’ plans, but none-the-less will cost Beltran a couple months (at least) of the regular season. Oh yeah, and CL Francisco Rodriguez missed over a week with pink eye!
The Mets did make some off-season acquisitions that could help them stay competitive this year. OF Jason Bay signed a 4-year $66 Million deal to become the new cleanup hitter. Bay, who the Red Sox deemed too much of a health risk to offer big money, will give the Mets a good 1-2 punch with 3B David Wright, who looks to improve on his power numbers from 2009. Wright hit a career-low 10 HR in 2009, which may, or may not have had something to do with the MASSIVE outfield in Citi Field. The Mets also signed C Rod Barrajas (after trying to get deals done with Bengie Molina and Yorvit Torrealba) and traded for OF Gary Mathews Jr.
The rotation will once again be led by Johann Santana (if he is healthy of course) who also missed a good part of the 2009 season. The rest of the rotation however, is a question mark. Will John Maine be able to come back from missing all but seven games in 2009? (It sounds like a broken record, I know) Will Mike Pelfrey regain his 2008 form? Which Oliver Perez will show up this season? There are a lot of “ifs” for the Mets this year, not a good sign. They lost out on free-agent pitchers John Lackey and Joel Pinero, whose first choice, like Molina was the Mets.
There are a couple bright sports for the Mets though, with two 21-year-old prospects; SS Ruben Tejada and RPH Jenrry Mejia. Tejada may open the year as the Mets starting SS and Mejia would be a super set-up man for K-Rod, but many think the Mets would be rushing these players too much, therefore potentially ruining them. But hey, it’s the Mets…
The odds are in the Mets favor in terms of the number of injuries for the 2010 season, but there are so many question marks that it doesn’t look good for them this year. Sorry NY.
Atlanta Braves: One of the hottest teams in the second-half of the ’09 season, the Braves have made some major off-season moves that could put them in prime position for a playoff spot in 2010. It starts off with CL Billy Wagner and set-up man Takashi Saito. Troy Glaus is once again healthy and will look to regain his power-hitting form and be the right-handed power bat the Braves need. Eric Hinske is a great bench guy and relievers Jesse Chavez and Mike Dunn are looking better and better every day. Oh yeah, and they have Jason Heyward, ever hear of him?
The Braves have lost their best pitcher from a year ago in Javier Vasquez, but with Tim Hudson returning from Tommy John Surgery, a full season from Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe’s new sinker grip and Kenshin Kawakami’s higher comfort level, the Braves could potentially have the best starting five in the league. They have a solid bullpen, with Peter Moylan adding a change-up named “Dave,” and a shut-down closer in Wagner.
Can everyone stay healthy? Can Glaus be his old-self? Can Chipper rebound? Will Nate McLouth ever get a hit? I say yes to all. AND from what I hear, Heyward is expected to hit at least 70 HRs.
Here is what I see happening in the NL East this year:
Team W L GB
Phillies 95 67 —
Braves *(Wild Card) 92 70 3
Marlins 88 74 7
Mets 78 84 17
Nationals 70 92 25
The Phillies just look too strong. I have never, ever picked against the Braves to start a year, but I guess there is a first for everything. Hopefully (for Braves fans) it won’t turn out this way, but I will be happy just getting into the playoffs. Because once you’re in…it’s a whole new ballgame!
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Until Next time…Go Braves!