Tuesday, February 07, 2006

MLB Preview 3: NL East

Atlanta Braves

Marcus Giles 2B
Edgar Renteria SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Andruw Jones CF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Ryan Langerhans LF
Brian McCann/Todd Pratt C

John Smoltz
Tim Hudson
John Thomson
Mike Hampton
Jorge Sosa
Horacio Ramirez
Kyle Davies
Roman Colon

A lot of questions with this lineup. Can Giles handle the leadoff spot full time (or when he's not hurt)? Where will Renteria be used? He's ideally a 2 or a 6, but realistically he can hit anywhere except cleanup. Can LaRoche and Francoeur put up the numbers they did last year? If not, who can produce at the bottom of the lineup? Atlanta's key bench player is 3B Wilson Betemit. 2B Pete Orr hit .300 in 150 at bats last year.
There's not much change in the rotation, and it's still a good one. The bullpen is the question. Chris Reitsma moves into the closer role after picking up 15 saves last year. The rest of the group is a bunch of young no-names. I give a lot of credit to Atlanta's minor league pitching coaches and talent scouts over the past 20 years. But how will this young group fare without Major League pitching coach Leo Mazzone?

Philadelphia Phillies

Jimmy Rollins SS
Aaron Rowand CF
Bobby Abreu RF
Pat Burrell LF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
David Bell 3B
Mike Lieberthal C

Jon Lieber
Brett Myers
Corey Lidle
Randy Wolf
Ryan Franklin
Ryan Madson
Gavin Floyd
Ricardo Rodriguez
Robinson Tejada
Eude Brito

Last year, Philadelphia's normal lineup had Abreu hitting 3rd, Burrell 4th, and Utley 5th. That order relied heavily on Burrell's career year. If Pat the Bat goes back to his old ways, the Phils may have to move Utley to 3rd and slide the other two down. Could Abreu, often accused of lacking passion, handle the cleanup spot? There's a good chance Howard will hit a sophomore slump, which could be trouble for the bottom of the lineup. The top of the lineup is set. Rollins is a more than capable leadoff hitter when he's healthy, and Roward will settle into the 2nd spot well in this lineup. The bench features a trio of very talented utility infielders - Matt Kata, Abraham Nunez, and Tomas Perez - and little else.
This is a decent rotation, but far from spectacular. Lieber revived his career last year; one wonders if he can repeat that performance. Myers, Madson, and Floyd are talented and young. Wolf is vastly underrated when healthy, and Lidle and Franklin are veterans innings eaters. The bullpen lost two big names in Billy Wagner (presumably) Ugueth Urbina. But, they still have Rheal Cormier, and they added Tom Gordon and Arthur Rhodes. Gordon returns to the closer role after a few years as a setup man in the Bronx. Cormier and Rhodes are two of the best LOOGies in the game, and veteran lefty Aaron Fultz is good in his own right.

New York Mets

Jose Reyes SS
Paul LoDuca C
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
Clifford Floyd LF
David Wright 3B
Xavier Nady/Victor Diaz RF
Kaz Matsui 2B

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Steve Trachsel
Victor Zambrano
Aaron Heilman
Alay Soler
John Maine

It may not be obvious, but this is a much better lineup than last year's. LoDuca is a veteran "baseball guy" who has good bat control and a knack for getting on base. Delgado obviously steps right into the middle of the lineup. Wright put up a very good 2005 after an equally good, albeit abbreviated, 2004. I'd personally be surprised if he slumps this year. Nady, a former super prospect for the Padres, may not be the answer in right field, but he's at least an answer in right, and a solid one at that. The bench features a host of names that you probably recognize, but who may or may not actually do anything this year. Those names include: Ramon Castro, Jose Valentin, Julio Franco, Chris Woodward, and Endy Chavez.
The Mets went from about 25 starters to 5. Zambrano and Heilman are competent enough to be 4th and 5th starters. The only question is the age at the top of the rotation, and who else can step in when that age starts to show. The bullpen, a major source of frustration in 2005, has added closer Billy Wagner. He should have a good year this year, but it will be interesting to see how he does towards the end of his contract. Again, it's that age thing. Duaner Sanchez and Chad Bradford return from solid seasons, and they're joined by former Baltimore closer Jorge Julio. For more Mets insight, I'll defer to Dave on the message board.

Florida Marlins

Pokey Reese 2B
Alfredo Amezaga/Hanley Ramirez SS
Mike Jacobs 1B
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Jeremy Hermida RF
Miguel Olivo C
Chris Aguila LF
Eric Reed CF

Dontrelle Willis
Sergio Mitre
Brian Moehler
Jason Vargas
Josh Johnson
Scott Olsen
Logan Kensing
Nate Bump

It's two years too late, but the Marlins have once again performed their post-championship fire sale. Really, I have no clue what to do with this lineup. The entire outfield is new. I want to say Hanley Ramirez is a top prospect, but I honestly can't remember. No, Reese probably doesn't belong in the leadoff spot. But, he brings a spectacular glove, and I'm happy to see him back in someone's starting lineup again. Jacobs is actually a rather good young player, and Hermida is decent in his own right. The bench is headlined by 3B/1B Wes Helms, once a young up-and-comer in the Atlanta system, and C Matt Treanor, better known as the husband of Olympic beach volleyball star Misty May.
"Sergio Mitre is the #2 starter?!" Yeah, I said the exact same thing. I really don't know what else to say about this rotation. Willis and Mitre should both make the World Baseball Classic (Mitre for the Mexican team. And, um, I really hope Willis' arm doesn't fall off. That's about it. Former Cubs closer Joe Borowski will get a second chance in Florida. He'll need help, but I'm afraid he may not get any. Look for a basement finish in the NL East for the Marlins.

Washington Nationals

Ryan Church CF
Nick Johnson 1B
Jose Guillen RF
Jose Vidro 2B
Alfonso Soriano LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Brian Schneider C
Christian Guzman SS

Livan Hernandez
John Patterson
Ramon Ortiz
Brian Lawrence
Tony Armas
Ryan Drese

What this lineup should not look like ever: 1. Soriano, 2. Guzman, 3. Johnson. Plain and simple, Soriano is not an on-base guy. Guzman belongs no where near the top of the lineup. He probably doesn't belong near the middle or the bottom, either. (I'd probably give the "fundamentally sound" Jamey Carroll a shot somewhere in the infield in Guzman's stead.) And Johnson may have had a breakout season, but he's still not the star he was predicted to be. I like this lineup the way it is, for the most part. No one stands out as a leadoff hitter, though. Church wins by default. If Zimmerman has a good season, he could move up to leadoff, or flip-flop with Johnson in this order. Schneider is underrated as a catcher, but not great. The bench features a cavalcade of "names": both Marlons (Byrd and Anderson), C/1B/OF and former token All Star Robert Fick (who looks like the backup catcher with no one besides Schneider listed at that position), OF Michael "I wear #24 because I think I'm as good as Ken Griffey, Jr." Tucker (I'm not making that up), and UT Damian Jackson.
Last year's rotation relied on career years/resurgencies from Hernandez and Patterson, and from Drese to some extent. Lawrence is a good young talent, overshadowed in San Diego by Jake Peavy. Together, this group can be surprisingly good or surprisingly mediocre. The bullpen actually looks decent. Chad Cordero, coming off a very good season, is supported by Luis Ayala, Joey Eischen, Gary Majewski, Jon Rauch, and newcomer Mike Stanton.