Before I begin my NL East season preview, I’d like to take a few sentences to thank John Russo for not assigning me the AL West this year. That division is almost as exciting as a glass of milk. Key word being “almost.” Milk can spoil and that’s exciting.
Expectations: Will lead the league in wheel chairs.
Key Addition: RP Jonathan Papelbon (signed from Boston)
Key Loss: SP Roy Oswalt (free agent)
Projected Record: 100-62 (get 100th win on last day)
Summary: As mentioned in my last column here on TTB, the window is closing. However, it hasn’t shut quite yet. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. While the Nationals and Marlins have certainly gotten better in the off-season, they’re not there yet. The Phils are still the cream of the crop and it’s still their division to lose.
The addition of Jonathan Papelbon gives the Phillies their first closer since the 2008 version of Brad Lidge (the 2009, 2010 and 2011 updates sucked. Thanks, Windows) and Jim Thome gives the Phils a nice bat off the bench and a healthy achilles on first base. Re-signing Jimmy Rollins gives the Phillies a healthy infielder (for now) and guarantees all of us our daily dose of first pitch pop outs.
Perhaps the last two seasons have showed us that the Phils are no longer the king of the National League, but with the Phillies returning three of their four-horseman on the mound, it’s going to be very difficult for the rest of the East to win games head-to-head against the Phillies. Until someone else can beat them in a big game in September, the Phillies will continue their dominance of the NL East.
Expectation: Will have more wins than their single-A affiliate. Go Suns Go!
Key Addition: SP Gio Gonzalez (acquired from Oakland)
Key Loss: OF Laynce Nix (signed with Philadelphia)
Projected Record: 85-77
Summary: I’m not sure if I actually think the Nats will win 85 games or if I’m just rewarding them for such a stellar off-season. The Nationals took a page out of the Phillies’ notebook, establishing a solid pitching staff that can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’ staff. The additions of Gio Gonzalez, a 2011 all-star with with the A’s, and Edwin Jackson, a right-hander from the defending World Series champs with a 2011 ERA of 3.58, give the Nats three solid starters, assuming Stephen Strasburg builds off his 1.50 ERA at the end of last season. The Nats also gave all-star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman an eight-year deal, establishing him as the face of the franchise.
The Nats took a big step in the right direction with all these moves. The Nats have always played the Phillies pretty tight, and these moves will only make those games even closer. However, the team will still fail to win the division in 2012. They still lack the big game experience that the Phillies have, which will become more important down the stretch. But these acquisitions set themselves up to compete for the NL East crown for years to come. Baseball is back in DC.
Expectation: Despite the name, stadium, coach and roster change, they will still be the Marlins. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Key Additions: SS Jose Reyes (signed from NY Mets, RP Heath Bell (signed from San Diego) and SP Mark Buehrle (signed from Chicago White Sox)
Key Loss: P Burke Badenhop (signed with Tampa Bay)
Projected Record: 82-80
Summary: The new “Miami” Marlins followed the same formula the city’s basketball team used a year ago: sign everyone. With the franchise moving into their own stadium, the Marlins wanted to make sure they could put butts in the new seats, acquiring Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen. These changes certainly make them the most improved and perhaps the most exciting team in the NL, as far as personality goes.
However, you can buy players, but you can’t buy a team. A roster this different from 2011 will take time to gel, and after my nightmare experience with the Eagles’ “Dream Team,” I’ll wait a little longer before I start sipping the Kool-Aid.
Expectation: Won’t fall apart late in the season, and if they do, no one will care
Key Acquisition: none.
Key Loss: SP Derek Lowe (traded to Cleveland)
Projected Record: 75-87
Summary: If finishing 2011 with a record of 10-20 to lose the wild card race isn’t depressing enough, it appears 2012 may make Braves’ fans want to tomahawk chop their own heads off.
Tommy Hanson’s head hurts because he can’t drive, Tim Hudson is recovering from lumbar spine-fusion surgery – whatever the hell that means – and Chipper Jones is singing “Should I stay or should I go?”
The only reason why the Braves won’t finish in last is because the Mets are still considered a professional baseball franchise. There are a lot of vibes in the Braves’ locker room, and they’re all bad. On second thought, 75 wins might be generous.
Key Addition: RP Frank Francisco (signed from Toronto)
Key Loss: SS Jose Reyes (signed with Miami)
Projected Record: 55-107
Summary: Maybe the record is a little harsh, but I just can’t see the Mets winning games.
They’re a big market franchise that plays like a minor league team, and I only hear about them unless they do something stupid or settle on a law suit against Bernie Madoff. The Mets have let go of a lot of players and a lot of salary as of late, so they are clearly in rebuilding mode and rightfully so.
A big reason for the team’s woes over the past two years is Johan Santana. When he’s on the mound he’s one of the best in the game. The problem is getting him on the mound. The ace lefty has been plagued with multiple injuries since 2010, and unless he can stay healthy, the Mets are as dead as a door nail.
The same applies to David Wright, who may miss significant time due to a ribcage injury. Ouch.
The only saving grace for this team is the development of Ike Davis into one of the top hitting first basemen in the NL. And with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both jumping ship to the AL as well as Ryan Howard on the shelf, Davis could be an All-Star.