The slow yet sudden demise of the Braves' dynasty created a chaotic quagmire in the National League East. This division is filled with strange, confusing teams...not the least of which is the once-mighty Atlanta squad itself. With the N.L. East, more than any other division, I'm basing my predictions on hunches rather than stats. Something about this division just feels a little bit off. Plus, going by the stats, the Phillies should be the five-time defending champs by now.
OK, the Mets have absolutely no starting pitching. None. The decaying corpse of Tom Glavine might be good for 12 wins, but he's not an ace by any stretch of the imagination. Pedro might be be back for the second half, but if he is, who knows what's he'll actually be? I won't even mention any of the other starters by name for fear of insulting legitimate major league starting pitchers with guilt by association. By all rights, the Phillies should win this division. However, the Mets' pitching wasn't much better last season, and they ran away with the title. Moreover, Omar Minaya has a ton of money to spend on in-season acquisitions, should any opportunities present themselves. Failing a trade, I expect Willie Randolph to make a piecemeal rotation work, move Aaron Heilman into a starting role, or pull some other rabbit from his cap. D-Dubs and Reyes will do the rest.
Everybody's favorite underachievers. The Freddy Garcia trade should help. Howard and Utley should be beasts again. The starting rotation should be deep and could be spectacular if Cole Hamels hits. I like the Phillies for the Wild Card, but they'll find a way to screw up the division race. They always do.
The Braves will be better, but not good enough. The LaRoche and Ramirez trades rebuilt a shaky bullpen, but Bob Wickman remains installed as closer. Which is not OK. A lot depends on the production, or lack thereof, the Braves receive from Scott Thorman and Kelly Johnson. Jeff Francouer is still a waste of humanity. I hope Mike Schmidt rapes him, screaming into his ear about the evils of strikeouts the entire time. The bottom line...not even close to enough starting pitching to seriously contend.
This team's chances would be a lot better if Joe Girardi were still the manager. And if their owner, the Prince of Darkness, fell into a sinkhole. The Marlins will be feisty and cute, but not all that good. The gaping hole in centerfield isn't going away. Bullpen problems will linger on all year. Uggla will turn back into Uggla. Hanley Ramirez might regress as well. The starting pitching will be exciting, inconsistent and injury-prone.
By mid-June, the Nationals are going to officially change their name to "The Woeful Nationals." There is no worse team in baseball, and some AAA teams might give the Nats a run for their money. The Nationals problems are twofold: 1) They aren't even close to recovering from the years of MLB's inept ownership of the franchise, which destroyed the farm system and the major league roster, and 2) Jim Bowden is a ree-ree. Not trading Soriano at the deadline last year bordered on criminal neglect. Washington won't see a fourth-place finish any time in the next three years, at least.