Hello Again, friends. I've been a little under the weather the last couple days and haven't had a chance to post this, but it's time for the NL East fantasy preview!!
Where to start with the NL East? Of the five teams, one is the clear and obvious favorite, one could win the wild card, one is the constant over achiever, one is the young team on the brink of putting it all together, and the other is the New York Mets. (Zing!) Anyway, enough about how terrible the Mets are, let's get on with the post, and determine the standings for the NL East
1. Philadelphia Phillies
I mean, come on. Not picking the Phillies would just be dumb here. Despite being an older team with some bonafide injury risks, the Phillies have been the team to beat in the NL East since 2007. This will not change in 2011. They have improved their record every year since 2006, reaching the high water mark of 97 wins in 2010. They might even be better than that in 2011.
Offensively, the Phillies have pretty much the same team coming back for another run at the division title this season. This is a good thing because they have some proven big league hitters that will put up numbers. It could also be a bad thing, because old people get hurt. That's why they made the "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials. It happens, and it may already be happening to the Phillies. Chase Utley's status is, as of yet, unknown. His ailing right knee might just need rest and rehab, or it might need surgery. Either way, the fragile 2B, who missed 47 games last season due to injury, might be a huge risk this year. Especially as an early round pick. 3B Placido Polanco and his weirdly shaped head are dealing with an elbow injury. Raul Ibanez is 39 years old, and youngster Domonic Brown will be missing a month with a broken hand. Jimmy Rollins is not that good (there i said it), but he'll be solid in this lineup if he's healthy. The Phillies did lose Jayson Werth to free agency this season, but any time you have Ryan Howard in your lineup, you're going to be OK. Shane Victorino setting the table for him will also help.
So, with such an aging and injured offense, how will the Phillies win so many games this season? Look no further than the 4-headed monster (plus Joe Blanton) that is their starting rotation. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels can win any night they pitch. This will make the Phillies very tough to beat. Last season, those 4 combined for 58 wins and a 2.84 ERA. Put them all on one team, with a solid offense, and the division is in trouble. As far as the bullpen goes, a solid middle relief core leading up to Brad Lidge should be pretty good. That is assuming that the good Brad Lidge shows up healthy (He's dealing with some arm issues this spring) and ready to go.
My Prediction? 99 Wins, and maybe a World Series appearance for them again in 2011.
Fantasy Notables: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley (Despite Injuries), Jimmy Rollins, Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge
Fantasy Sleepers: Carlos Ruiz and Ben Francisco. Ruiz is a catcher who can hit .300, with a little bit of pop to go along with it. Ben Francisco might see a lot of playing time this season. Domonic Brown is hurt, Raul Ibanez is 38 going on 50. The Ben Francisco Treat could really benefit from both of those.
Fantasy Poison: Raul Ibanez is old, i can't stress that enough. He was also very bad last year. Just say no.
2. Atlanta Braves
Last year, the Braves won 91 games and snuck into the playoffs as the wild card, losing in the first round to the Giants. Overall, a good season, and a welcome return to the playoffs for a team that once won 14 out of 15 NL East titles. This year, a new manager (Fredi Gonzalez) will try to lead the team to the top of the East again. It won't happen, but the Braves won't be far behind the Phildos.
Offensively, the Braves added slugging second baseman Dan Uggla, who is coming off a career year for the Marlins. If he can come close to his .287 33/105 from 2010, the Braves will be ecstatic. Brian McCann is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball, but the real star of this offense will be 21 year old Jason Heyward. He's going to be special, and it could happen in 2011. A healthy Chipper Jones should contribute to the offense, although his days of being an elite producer are behind him. Martin Prado continues to improve every season, and could put up close to 20 homers this season. The two big questions are center field and first base. Will rookie Freddie Freeman be able to handle the big leagues? Will someone in center hit over .200? For their sake, I hope so. Where have you gone, Otis Nixon? (I think I saw him in an episode of AMC's The Walking Dead... Good lord he's ugly!)
Pitching shouldn't be an issue for the Braves. Their rotation is anchored by a healthy Tim Hudson, who won 17 with a 2.84 ERA last year. Tommy Hanson burst onto the scene in 2009, and was solid in 2010, but his true breakout could come in 2011. Jair Jurrjens (Biergen Flurrgen) is looking to put an injury plagued 2010 behind him, while Derek Lowe will hold his own. The 5th spot could go to youngster Mike Minor, who struggled a bit last season but appears ready to pitch in (see what I did there?) this season. Bullpen-wise, the Braves might have the best of the division, and that's without the retired Billy Wagner. Craig Kimbrel looks ready to take the closer's role and no other regular reliever on the team had an ERA over 3.00 last season. If you don't get to the starters, you're not beating the Braves in 2011.
My Prediction? 94 wins, and the wild card.
Fantasy Notables: Dan Uggla, Martin Prado, Alex Gonzalez, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hunter, Craig Kimbrel
Fantasy Sleeper: Freddie Freeman. Tough to say how Freeman will do in his first season. If he approaches Jason Heyward's 2010 numbers, the Braves will be very happy.
Fantasy Poison: Nate McLouth. When you hit .190, you shouldn't be drafted the next season. What happened to Nate McLouth?
3. Florida Marlins
Ah, the Marlins. They're always pesky and tough to beat, but financial issues always handcuff them. This off-season, they again traded one of their best hitters because he was too expensive for them to keep. Hopefully, now that they swindled Major League Baseball into helping them build a new stadium, they'll be able to generate more revenue and keep their younger players.
The Marlins offense has some very interesting names in it. Mike Stanton (no, not that Mike Stanton), will hit 40 home runs this season. You heard it here. Print it. If Hanley Ramirez gets his head out of his ass, he'll bounce back to his 30/30 days in no time. Youngsters Logan Morrison and Gabby Sanchez can hit. Sanchez was the Marlins every day first baseman last year, putting up 19 HR and 85 RBI. Morrison looks to take over left field this season, after coming up in the 2nd half of 2010 and showing his various talents at the plate. Also, look for Chris Coghlan to bounce back to his 2009 Rookie of the Year form as well, now that he's healthy.
Pitching could be the Marlins weakness in 2011. Josh Johnson is an ace, and Ricky Nolasco has ace potential, but after that it might get iffy. Anibal Sanchez had a great comeback from injury in 2010, but he's fragile. Javier Vazquez is coming off the worst season of his career, but the heavy lights of the Bronx won't be on him this year, so he could bounce back as well. Sophomore Alex Sanabia will battle Chris Volstad for the final spot. Neither of those guys will win 20 games, but they could prove to be solid contributers. The Marlins bullpen will undoubtedly be their weakness in 2011, even with the addition of lefty Randy Choate. Closer Leo Nunez will be solid, but unspectacular.
My Prediction? 84 wins, but no more.
Fantasy Notables: Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez
Fantasy Sleeper: Alex Sanabia. In a 12 start audition in 2010, Sanabia had a 3.73 ERA. Not bad for a 21 year old. If he wins the 5th starting spot, he could do some damage. If not, he'll be among the first call ups when a starter is needed.
Fantasy Poison: I know he hit .281 with 20 home runs last year, but John Buck is not good.
4. New York Mets
As you recall, I already wrote a whole post about the Mets and how terrible they'll be, but even I can't pick them to finish behind the nationals. Not until 2012, anyway.
Here is a Link to the full Mets Preview.
My Prediction? 75 wins... wah
Fantasy Notables: David Wright, Carlos Beltran (if he makes it onto the field), Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, Ike Davis, Johan Santana (Keep in mind he's out until June/July), Jonathon Niese, Francisco Rodriguez
Fantasy Sleepers: Angel Pagan. They're finally giving him the center field job from the start, he could steal 40 bases and hit 10-15 home runs.
Fantasy Poison: 2B. Whether Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy or the manager's favorite, Luis Hernandez, it doesn't matter. They won't help your fantasy team.
5. Washington Nationals
Watching them in 2010, it was obvious that the Nationals were set to turn things around in 2011. That is until Stephen Strasburg got hurt and had Tommy John surgery, assuring that he won't throw another Major League pitch until late 2011 at best. Thusly, 2011 will once again be an unexciting last place finish type of year for Nationals fans.
The team has improved it's hitting significantly, however. They added sluggers Jayson Werth and Adam Laroche to surround third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. All three of those guys are capable of 20-30 home runs and 100 RBI. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa showed some promise in their rookie seasons, and they will try to solidify the middle infield in 2011. Ivan Rodriguez is the catcher for now, but youngster Wilson Ramos is lurking in the shadows (Muahaha!). One guy we might see late in the year is Bryce Harper. There are people that think he could make the opening day roster at age 18, but the Nationals are wisely holding off on rushing the phenom. He won't contribute significantly to the team this season, but he's one to watch for next year.
Without Strasburg, pitching is suspect. According to the Nationals official site depth chart, Livan Hernandez is their number 1 starter... so... yeah. That'll do, pig. Jordan Zimmermann (no relation to Ryan) is 25. In theory, it should be time for him to start fulfilling the promises that scouts have been making about him for years. Other than that, the starting rotation picture is pretty bleak. In the bullpen, Former 1st round pick Drew Storen is the closer. With his nasty repertoire, he should be an ideal candidate. If the Nationals win enough games, he should get a good amount of opportunities to fill up the saves category. The rest of the bullpen won't hurt the team either, as Burnett, Clippard and Co. should be solid.
My Prediction: 73 wins. Not yet, Mets fans.
Fantasy Notables: Adam Laroche, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond (SS), Jayson Werth, Drew Storen
Fantasy Sleeper: Mike Morse. In 266 ABs last year, the 28 year old hit 15 home runs. If given serious playing time, he could do some damage to NL East pitchers.
Fantasy Poison: I know people like steals, but Nyjer Morgan will only hurt your fantasy team. No matter how many Gatorade bottles he poops in.
There you guys have it. No real surprises, and the Mets live to fight another day. If they don't improve next year though, they will be looking up at the rest of the division in 2012.
Image courtesy of: http://thesportsreportgirl.com/Logo%20Pics/NL%20EAST%20Logo.jpg