Wednesday, February 16, 2005

MLB Preview 3: NL East

Atlanta Braves

Rafael Furcal SS
Marcus Giles 2B
Raul Mondesi RF
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian Jordan LF
Johnny Estrada C
Andruw Jones CF
Adam LaRoche 1B

Tim Hudson
John Smoltz
John Thomson
Mike Hampton
Horacio Ramirez

This is a good lineup, if Mondesi and Jordan can still perform, and if Estrada's year wasn't just a flash in the pan. The only thing close depth on offense is in their infield - Julio Franco and Nick Green - include Wilson Betemit if you think he's going to break out this year.
The rotation has experience if nothing else. All they have to do is get it to Bobby Cox's endless bullpen and hand the ball to new closer Danny Kolb. If Kolb can do well in Milwaukee, imagine what he can do on an Atlanta staff.

Philadelphia Phillies

Jimmy Rollins SS
Chase Utley/Placido Polanco 2B
Bobby Abreu RF
Jim Thome 1B
Pat Burrell LF
Mike Lieberthal C
David Bell 3B
Kenny Lofton CF

Brett Myers
Randy Wolf
Vincente Padilla
Jon Lieber
Paul Abbott
Corey Lidle
Gavin Floyd

Rollins and Thome are strong. Abreu had a good year batting in front of Thome - look for him to repeat. And, finally, Pat Burrell was able to play at his expectation level. Other than that, this isn't a division winning lineup. Lieberthal is a good hitting catcher, and Bell and Utley are good role players. But will Lofton be agreeable? And can more than Rollins, Thome, Abreu, and Burrell produce consistently, or even stay healthy consistently?
The rotation has a lot of great middle of the rotation names, but someone will need to step up and be a dominator if this team wants to go anywhere. If they do, their bullpen, again lead by Billy Wagner, shouldn't be anything to worry about.

Florida Marlins

Juan Pierre CF
Luis Castillo 2B
Miguel Cabrera LF
Carlos Delgado 1B
Mike Lowell 3B
Paul LoDuca C
Juan Encarnacion RF
Alex Gonzalez SS

Dontrelle Willis
Josh Beckett
AJ Burnett
Al Leiter
Ismael Valdez
Logan Kensing
Nate Bump

Throwing a healthy Delgado in the middle of this lineup makes it look really nice, arguably the best in the division (it'll take a healthy Lowell and good years from 6, 7, and 8).
The rotation will need bounce-back years from Willis and Beckett, and the long awaited breakout of Burnett. The veteran Leiter in the middle of the rotation will help from an experience standpoint. Meanwhile, the addition of Guillermo Mota turns a so-so bullpen into a pretty good one.

New York Mets

Jose Reyes 2B
Kaz Matsui SS
Carlos Beltran CF
Mike Piazza C
Clifford Floyd LF
Mike Cameron RF
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B
David Wright 3B

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Kris Benson
Steve Trachsel
Victor Zambrano
Jae Seo
Matt Ginter
Tyler Yates
Aaron Heilman

Well, you can't buy championships, but little can stop you from trying. This lineup is an interesting one - Reyes, Piazza, and 6 #2 hitters. The emergence of Reyes and Wright are key, of course. But, if Floyd and Cameron can produce, and Mientkiewicz can get back to being a .320 hitter, the Mets will do OK in this division. Speaking of Cameron, who expects to move to right, isn't it interesting to have him and Andruw Jones in the same division? Both are 4-tool players, and in each case the lacking tool is hitting for average. The Mets have one of the deepest benches in the NL East. Jason Phillips, Miguel Cairo, and Super Joe Ewing will back up the infield, while former Expo Ron Calloway, fantasy star Victor Diaz, and Eric Valent back up the outfielders.
The rotation looks really good on paper (but, of course, you don't play the game on paper - you play it on grass). Pedro will play well if the team plays well. Benson has been blasted for his poor numbers, but those numbers will look a lot nicer when they're supported by a lineup not wearing gold and black (sorry, Andy). Everyone has Victor Zambrano tabbed as a sleeper this year, and with any luck Heilman will return to his superprospect form. A big name or two in the bullpen by the trading deadline will help, but other than that the pitching staff is pretty much set.

Washington Nationals

Brad Wilkerson 1B
Endy Chavez CF
Jose Vidro 2B
Jose Guillen RF
Termel Sledge LF
Vinny Castilla 3
Brian Schneider C
Christian Guzman SS

Tony Armas
Zach Day
Livan Hernandez
Esteban Loaiza
Tomo Ohka
John Patterson
Jon Rauch
Claudio Vargas

This is just one of a possible 100 lineups with the replaceable parts on this team. Throw Alex Escobar or hot prospect Ryan Church in the outfield. Move Wilkerson to the outfield if Nick Johnson finally decides to show up. Heck, why not let Frank Robinson return to his player-manager days?
The rotation is not as bad as it looks. I'd go into detail, but I don't want to think about it too much and end up changing my mind. The bullpen? Well, when I'm looking at the entire staff and have to ask, "who's the closer?", they're in trouble. Rocky Biddle, used as a closer and a spot starter (hey, if he's good, you might as well give him playing time) last year, will miss most of the year with a shoulder injury. So, the Washington staff will need some help.