Sunday, February 29, 2004

MLB Preview #4: NL East

Atlanta Braves

Rafael Furcal SS
Marcus Giles 2b
Chipper Jones LF
Andruw Jones CF
JD Drew RF
Mark DeRosa 3b
Adam LaRoche 1b
Johnny Estrada C
Russ Ortiz
Mike Hampton
Horacio Ramirez
John Thomson
Bubba Nelson
Jung Bong
Jaret Wright
The Braves' new philosophy is, "our rotation won't scare you any more, but our lineup sure will." The only problem is, the lineup doesn't really look that scary either. Giles and Chipper Jones will do alright, but Furcal's been slipping, and Andruw Jones has never hit for high average. Plus, JD Drew is decent, but he's no #5 hitter. Round out the lineup with Mark DeRosa and two rookies, and add in a rotation that's 75% no-names and control problems, and this may be it for the Braves. The good thing is that they have a good, young nucleus to this team, so any rebuilding effort in the near future should come rather smoothly.

Florida Marlins

Juan Pierre CF
Luis Castillo 2b
Mike Redmond C
Mike Lowell 3b
Jeff Conine LF
Miguel Cabrera RF
Hee Seop Choi 1b
Alex Gonzalez SS
Josh Beckett
Brad Penny
Carl Pavano
Dontrelle Willis
Darren Oliver
AJ Burnett
Who is Mike Redmond and why is he batting third? Well, he's the same guy who hit third for the Marlins last year when Pudge Rodriguez wasn't in the lineup. Pierre and Castillo are great at the top of the order, and Lowell is great in the middle, but unless Cabrera and Choi both have the breakout seasons to end all breakout seasons, this team is a bat or two away from solidifying a return to the postseason. The rotation looks pretty solid, now that most of their 25-and-under-Tommy-John-club members are gone. Beckett has a load of expectations on him this year. They're set so high, that even if he doesn't reach his expectations, he can still sneak in with a decent season. Pavano and Oliver will be the workhorses, and if AJ Burnett ("AJ" stands for Athomas John, apparrently) can stay healthy, the Marlins will do OK. Of course, you'd better hope that they enter the ninth with a comfortable lead, or else it's up to (gulp) Armando Benitez.
(An interesting aside: back when the Expos were looking to trade away Pedro Martinez, they came down to the decision of getting Pavano from the Red Sox or Bartolo Colon from the Indians. The Montreal brass thought that Pavano would turn out much better than Colon, and that's why Pedro is in Boston to this day.)

Philadelphia Phillies

Marlon Byrd CF
Placido Polanco 2b
Bobby Abreu RF
Jim Thome 1b
Mike Lieberthal C
Pat Burrell LF
David Bell 3b
Jimmy Rollins SS
Kevin Millwood
Randy Wolf
Vincente Padilla
Eric Milton
Brett Myers
On paper, this is a great team with a solid bench (Shawn Wooten, Tomas Perez, Ricky Ledee, and Doug Glanville), and the addition of the lights-out closer Billy Wagner was a great deal. However, in Philadelphia, baseball is not played on paper but on NexTurf (well, actually, now they play it on real grass - not to be confused with the "real grass" the Mets play on - in the new Citizens Bank Ballpark). In reality, Polanco should probably be a utility player, Abreu would be hitting leadoff if he would quit whining about it, and Pat Burrell has yet to come close to his potential. Add in the injury bug for Liberthal, Bell, Milton (yeah, he'll stay healthy, right), and Thome (chronic bad back), and I think it'll be another close but no cigar for the Phillies. I'll at least give them credit for making the team decent before moving it into the new park, instead of trying to make a fortune off of a crappy team in a new park (as most bad clubs have done recently).

Montreal Expos

Brad Wilkerson CF
Orlando Cabrera SS
Jose Vidro 2b
Carl Everett LF
Tony Batista 3b
Nick Johnson 1b
Terrmel Sledge RF
Brian Schneider C
Livan Hernandez
Tony Armas Jr.
Zach Day
Tomo Ohka
Claudio Vargas
Orlando Hernandez
Well, on the plus side, Rocky Biddle has turned into a solid closer, which the Expos will need with the loss of Scott Stewart. On the negative side, the lineup starts out well but goes quickly downhill. The 1-3 guys are good. Everett and Batista are solid, but you won't get anywhere if they're your 4-5. I'm still not sold on Nick Johnson at all, either. Having both Hernandezes in your rotation would look great if this were 1996. Day has some promise in his sinker, but other than that, there's not much to talk about on this pitching staff other than Biddle.

New York Mets

Jose Reyes 2b
Kaz Matsui SS
"Clifford" Floyd LF
Mike Piazza C
Jason Phillips 1b
Mike Cameron CF
Ty Wigginton 3b
Roger Cedeno/Timo Perez/Karim Garcia RF
Tom Glavine
Al Leiter
Steve Trachsel
Jae Weong Seo
Jeremy Griffiths
Aaron Heilman
Scott Erickson
OK, the lineup was just a guess (how I'd probably play them), so Dave, feel free to rip me apart. I've listed Cliff Floyd here as "Clifford," since apparently Peter Gammons can never just call him "Cliff" (he uses full first names for a few people - I should keep a list and use it as a future column). Cameron's hitting has been spotty at times (two years ago he had 4 homers in a game, then virtually none for the rest of the season), and he's never put up a high average. Trade him in for one good OPS guy, and this would be a lineup to watch. As for the rotation: Glavine, Leiter, Traschel, and Erickson? If this were 6 years ago, I'd definitely say look out for them. Fortunately, the presence of Heilman et al. proves that the Mets do have some hope for the future. This may be another rough year at Shea, but I'm going to bet it won't be too long before Dave doesn't have to drink heavily before going to the ballpark.

A Random Thought on Stadium/Arena/Court/Field Names

A recent trend has come about to not only name a stadium or arena, but to also name the field or court itself (for example, Coach K Court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium). Here's my opinion of the best and the worst:
The worst: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati. It's a brand new stadium, and you have the gall to call it The Great American Ballpark? It's not even that great! I'm sorry, but I think that's an honor reserved for Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, my friend.
The best: (John and Nell) Wooden Court, Pauley Pavillion, UCLA. Why yes, that is in fact a wooden court. Very perceptive of you.

Coming up this week: Weekend in Review, including the man of 1000+ nicknames and 20+ points, bubble watch (women fall to Rutgers, again), Transaction Wire, and the NL Central preview.