Wednesday, February 21, 2007

MLB Preview #3: NL East

New York Mets

Jose Reyes SS
Paul LoDuca C
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
David Wright 3B
Shawn Green RF
Moises Alou LF
Jose Valentin 2B

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Orlando Hernandez
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Chan Ho Park
Alay Soler
Dave Williams
Mike Pelfrey

If Shawn Green and Moises Alou put up any kind of production this year - and they should - then this is by far the best lineup in the division, if not in all of the National League. If Green or Alou can't get the job done (or if Willie Randolph finally realizes that Shawn Green has no right playing the outfield in spacious Shea Stadium), there's still that Lastings Milledge guy. Last season, Reyes, Beltran, and Wright proved that they are young stars worthy of the hype. Carlos Delgado finally got some attention for the numbers he's been putting up for the past decade plus, and Paul LoDuca put in another solid Paul LoDuca performance. If there's any question, it's whether ageless Andy de la Riva look-alike Jose Valentin can again play second base for a full season. If not, the Mets will be forced to see wheter Anderson Hernandez is ready for the job. The bench features Julio Franco, who was playing in the majors before Reyes, Wright, and Milledge were born (not that that should surprise anyone), a comeback attempt by Damion Easley, and defensive star Endy Chavez.
The Mets may be thankful that this year's team is built around offense. New York spent the entire winter looking for a starter to complement Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez (and to fill in while Martinez is hurt), and all they got was this lousy Chan Ho Park. If Park doesn't work out, of course, there's always Mike Pelfry - that is, assuming he (like Milledge) aren't used as trade bait this year. If the rotation fails them, the Metropolitans can always rely on their bullpen, led by Billy Wagner, who continues to be one of the best closers in the game. Aaron Heilman, another Met rumored to be trade bait, leads the list of setup men that features a "trimmed down" Guillermo Mota, Pedro Feliciano, a (hopefully) healthy Duaner Sanchez, Royals reclaimation project and sometimes French comic book hero Ambiorix Burgos, Mighty Mighty Earmuff Bandit Dave Williams (no really, he's from Anchorage), Scott Schoeneweis, and Jorge Sosa. At least name recognition isn't a problem in the Shea pen.

Philadelphia Phillies

Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino RF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Pat Burrell LF
Aaron Rowand CF
Wes Helms/Abraham Nunez 3B
Rod Barajas C

Jon Lieber
Brett Myers
Freddy Garcia
Jamie Moyer
Cole Hamels
Adam Eaton
Ryan Madson
Scott Mathieson
Eude Brito

Try as they might, the Phillies still can't put together a winner. This team has its stars - Rollins, Utley, and Howard - and its supporting cast - Burrell and Rowand - but this just doesn't look like a lineup that can compete with the Mets. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Maybe Shane Victorino or backup Jayson Werth will break out this season. Maybe the Wes Helms/Abraham Nunez platoon (if that's how Charlie Manuel chooses to play it) will prove surprisingly effective. Or maybe not.
The pitching rotation could go either way. Lieber's always a question mark. Digger Phelps' son-in-law (Jamie Moyer) will probably still surprise a few people with his masterful changing speeds. But was the signing of Adam Eaton enough? And is top prospect Cole Hamels ready for the show? If not, the Phillies will have to expect big things from its bullpen. Tom Gordon did very well in his return to the closer's role, but can he repeat his 2006 success? If not, the Phillies may have to turn to Antonio Alfonseca or other members of its supporting cast, including sometimes-starter Ryan Madson and Rule V pickup (from Cleveland - go figure!) Jim Ed Warden.

Atlanta Braves

Ryan Langerhans LF
Edgar Renteria SS
Chipper Jones 3B
Andruw Jones CF
Brian McCann C
Jeff Francoeur RF
Scott Thorman/Craig Wilson 1B
Martin Prado/Kelly Johnson 2B

John Smoltz
Tim Hudson
Chuck James
Kyle Davies
Mike Hampton

Atlanta's biggest question looks to be its leadoff spot. After losing both of 2005's top-of-the-lineup hitters (Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles), who will take the top spot? Renteria could handle the role, if Bobby Cox was up to it. I went with Ryan Langerhans, but that's a blatant guess. Langerhans is a solid ballplayer, but can he hit well enough to play LF full time on a championship caliber team? I guess the answer to that is "no," as Langerhans was the starting LF for a 2006 Atlanta team that only finished third in their division. The addition of Craig Wilson is a good one. Not only can he play first if Scott Thorman isn't ready for the role, but he can also fill in for Langerhans when necessary (and play 3rd and catcher in a pinch). Of course, in getting Wilson the Braves gave up Adam LaRoche, but in addition to Wilson they picked up one of the top shortstop prospects in the game. But that's the future. This year, Atlanta's next question is Marcus Giles' replacement at second. There are quite a few people who could fill that role, including Prado, Johnson, and utilitymen Chris Woodward and Pete Orr. I suppose that Willie Aybar and Tony Pena II are also longshots, if they're up for a position change. In addition to the names listed above, the Atlanta bench also features outfielder Matt Diaz, who could be the next Jeff Francoeur, or the next Matt Franco (not that there's anything wrong with that).
The Atlanta rotation isn't what it used to be, but John Smoltz is still kicking (but most likely taking his shirts off now before he irons them). Tim Hudson struggled last year by Tim Hudson standards, but he's still a decent top-of-the-rotation pitcher. If the Braves can get any production out of Mike Hampton, or even any starts out of him, it will be a plus. Last year, Chuck James surprised a few people with an 11-4 record and a 3.78 ERA. Better yet, he did it in only 119 innings, so his arm should still be fresh for this season. Kyle Davies struggled last year, but he still has time to develop into a good pitcher. After a few years of unrest, it appears the bullpen has finally settled down. Bob Wickman will return as the first established closer Atlanta has seen in a while. He'll be supported by talented setup men Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Lance Cormier, Chad Paronto, and Tanyon Sturtze. Top prospect Anthony Lerew will try to rebound from a disasterous 2006 to make the 2007 edition of the Braves bullpen.

Florida Marlins

Hanley Ramirez SS
Dan Uggla 2B
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Josh Willingham LF
Mike Jacobs 1B
Jeremy Hermida RF
Miguel Olivo C
Alfredo Amezaga CF

Dontrelle Willis
Josh Johnson
Scott Olsen
Anibal Sanchez
Ricky Nolasco
Sergio Mitre
Logan Kensing

This young team was so good in 2006 that it got its manager fired. This year, almost everyone returns, and they're all a year older and wiser. It appears that veteran utilityman Alfredo Amezaga has finally found an everyday home in center field for the Fish. The only thing Florida should worry about (besides having the team charter replaced by a 60-year-old prop plane) is having half the lineup enter sophomore slumps. The bench features C Matt Treanor - husband of Olympic beach volleyballer Misty May-Treanor (she's the short brunette that plays with the tall blone one), Aaron Boone, and a quartet of hungry young outfielders trying to prove that they can hit well enough to stick in the majors: Reggie Abercrombie, Joe Borchard, Eric Reed, and Cody Ross.
Like the lineup, the pitching rotation can only be stopped by sophomore slumps. Everyone knows that Dontrelle Willis is a proven commodity. But Scott Olsen and Josh Johnson both posted winning records last season, and Ricky Nolasco went 11-11. All Anibal Sanchez did was go 10-3 and throw the first no hitter the majors had seen in 2+ years. So if the starters weren't losing games for the Marlins, who was? It must have been the no-name bullpen. But hey, if your payroll's only $20, you have to cut corners somewhere. If the Fish want to win again (and, of course, disband a year later), the bullpen is what they need to improve. That is, after they lock up Miguel Cabrera long-term, of course.

Washington Nationals

Ryan Church/Kory Casto LF
Felipe Lopez 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Nick Johnson 1B
Austin Kearns RF
Alex Escobar/Nook Logan CF
Brian Schneider C
Christian Guzman SS

John Patterson
Mike O'Connor
Billy Traber
Shawn Hill
Jason Bergmann
Jerome Williams
Tim Redding
Beltran Perez

The Nationals basically have four guys - Casto, Logan, and Indians castoffs Church and Escobar - fighting for two outfield spots. Unfortunately, they do not have anyone fighting Christian Guzman for the shortstop role. Of course, the wise thing would be to sign a second baseman (too late - someone just took Ronnie Belliard!) and move Felipe Lopez back to his natural position at short. (A wiser thing would have been to not trade their starting second baseman, Jose Vidro, to a team that already had a starting keystone sacker.) Going into last season, everyone knew that Ryan Zimmerman was already a star with the glove, and the question was whether he could hit well enough to play every day. How's .287 with 20 HR and 110 RBI in cavernous RFK Stadium? Oh, and I'm finally willing to admit that Nick Johnson's a legit player. I'm sure my past criticism had been keeping him up at night.... And for all the criticism Austin Kearns takes, he had a decent 2006 with 24 HR and an .830 OPS.
The Nationals have some options for their rotation, and anyone who isn't named a starter can help out in a bullpen that already looks pretty decent. Chad Cordero is a top closer, and he will be supported by Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala. Micah Bowie, a player who was considered a top prospect when he was traded by Atlanta to the Cubs for Jose Hernandez and Terry Mulholland in 1999, has resurfaced and will also try to earn a spot in the Washington bullpen.