New looks and new hopes in the East (NL East Preview)

The National League East is a division of dominance as there has been a pattern of one team dominating the division over and over. It is not only one team that has dominated though as a number of teams have been able to assert their dominance over the years. As one of the oldest divisions in the MLB many teams have had their chance to be the dominating force in the division. No team did it more than the Atlanta Braves put together the longest division winning streak in baseball. For an entire decade, 1995-2005, the Atlanta Braves won the division becoming one of the most dominant teams in their own division. Since 2005 the Braves have not gotten back to the top but another teams has taken over the dominant spot. The Philadelphia Phillies made a real effort to come back to the top in 2007 and they did just that winning the division and a year later winning the World Series. Since 2007 the Phillies have been the strongest team in the division winning every year since then and always being a favorite for the World Series. This year they will be looking to win the division again but almost every other team in the division has improved and will look to begin their own period of dominance. They will be trying to do this in 2012 as many teams will have new looks in what could be one of the most competitive seasons for the East.

 

Atlanta Braves

 

 

The Atlanta Braves are 6 years removed from their decade of dominance and have not been the force they once were. This was true of last year when they fell out of the division race as the Phillies once again stood on top. The Braves had their shot at making the postseason though as they had a big lead in the wild card race. They held an 8 ½ game lead in the National League Wild Card race putting them in great position to make the postseason. Then the Braves went 9-18 in one of the largest September collapses in MLB history that culminated in the last day of the season. In the last day the Braves still had a shot at the wild card if they could win their game against the Phillies to take the wild card spot and prevent the final collapse but it was not to be as they lost and the Cardinals won officially eliminating the 8 ½ game lead. This year the Braves will be looking to put the collapse behind them and try to get back to the postseason. For the Braves it may not be their dream season though as they really did nothing to change their team from last year adding nobody and losing a few pieces. If the team can get by the mental aspect of collapsing last year they may be able to finish near the top of the division. The fact that they have done little to improve while other teams have done much more may hurt them as they will likely not challenge for the top spot but may be in a battle for second and possibly a wild card berth.

 

Strength:

Pitching

– The starting rotation is solid with Tim Hudson leads a young rotation with some great potential while the bullpen is shaping up to being a good option if the young pitchers have a bad day with Craig Kimbrel ready to close

 

Weakness:

Batting Power

– The Braves do not have a lot of power in the batting order as they will depend on Brian McCann and Dan Uggla for most of the offence while the rest of the team does not seem to be able to get anything out of the park

 

Biggest Addition:

Nobody

– Aside from a few transactions to provide depth to their farm system the Braves essentially made no moves to improve their teams as they stayed with the same lineup as last year

 

Biggest Loss:

Alex Gonzalez, SS

– Gonzalez was a good bat in the lineup that the Braves will miss and when he left in the offseason the Braves lost a part of their lineup that they desperately need this season if they hope to make it back to the postseason

 

One to Watch:

Freddie Freeman, 1B

– The Braves have had a string of some great young talent and Freeman is the next in line as the 22-year-old could was one of the best rookies last year with some good potential for power and will look to provide some needed power in the lineup

 

Miami Marlins

 

 

 

 

 

The Marlins have been a very strange team over the past few years as they have had spurts of greatness and moments of less than greatness. Unfortunately for Marlins fans the times where the team was not great outweigh the times of greatness. They have won the World Series twice, in 1997 and 2003, but have failed to be consistent. With this came a dramatic drop in-game attendance in Miami where winning teams draw crowds while losing teams are forgotten for any number of other activities. Last year this trend continued as the Florida Marlins routinely played in front of empty seats and continued to lose. The Marlins ended their season in last place with a 72-90 record and had never truly been in a race for a postseason spot. This is what sparked an offseason of extreme change for the Marlins as everything about the organization changed. The management seemed to be sick of losing and so they began the biggest change in the MLB. They changed their name to the Miami Marlins and changed their symbol and colours to go along with a brand new stadium, Marlins Park, and a new attitude. The Marling also went on a spending spree signing some key free agents like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Along with the players the Marlins signed outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen to provide a new attitude. The Marlins have made a real commitment to become a new team this year and it could pay off as they could show one of the biggest turnarounds this year. If they play to their potential the Marlins could fight for the top spot but if the teams tears itself apart they could finish at the bottom again.

 

Strength:

New Commitment

– Really there is too many changes in the team to say what they do best but these changes do provide some insight as the renewed commitment will be their biggest strength with the management sure to do anything they can to help the team win

 

Weakness:

Locker Room Chemistry

– The team has overwhelming talent on paper but the biggest thing that can stop them is the ego in the locker room as Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes will need to find a way to co-exist together as both have super egos that may lead to a rift in the locker room

 

Biggest Addition:

A number of players

– There are too many to say which one is the biggest as the three biggest will be Jose Reyes (SS), Mark Buehrle (LHP), and Heath Bell (RHP) these three will be the key to the Marlins season as they will need to play up to their potential if the Marlins hope to win

 

Biggest Loss:

Jose Lopez, INF

– It is hard to say that there is a big loss with so many additions to fill the holes but Lopez did provide a calming veteran presence that may have come in handy with the young brash infielders on the team

 

One to Watch:

Logan Morrison, LF

– So many big names means some players may fall through the gaps but Morrison will try to make a name for himself anyway with a very outspoken attitude and some serious chops at the plate to back his mouth up

 

New York Mets

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Mets are in some serious trouble and have been for the past few years as they are one of the worst managed teams in the league. It doesn’t help much when they sit down the road from one of the best-managed teams in the league. With the New York Yankees in the same city the Mets have constantly been compared to the pinstripes. This is not a good thing either as the Yankees are one of the most legendary teams in baseball while the Mets are only famous for being terrible. They have had some bright spots though winning the 1986 World Series and winning the division 5 times. Last year was not one of these bright spots as the Mets finished in 4th place with a 77-85 record. Worse than their record though were their financial issues as the Mets’ owner, Fred Wilpon, was named in a lawsuit involving Bernie Madoff. With the lawsuit the Mets were unable to make any moves as assets were frozen and there was no ability to sign anyone. With that the Mets suffered throughout the season and into the offseason where they lost some key players simply because they did not have the money to sign any of them. In March the Mets looked to put this all behind them as they signed a $162 million settlement with the victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme and ended the court case against them. The Mets will try to put this all behind them this year but may end up counting this as a lost season with few good additions and more good players lost they will just try to salvage the season and may end up at the bottom of the division.

 

Strength:

Starting Rotation

– Their starting rotation remained mostly intact as they kept their ace Johan Santana who will be coming off of surgery and hoping to be his old self with Jonathan Niese and Mike Pelfrey looking to provide support

 

Weakness:

Management

– It was not completely the Wilpon’s fault but they have essentially guided the team into massive debt and seriously hurt their potential to be a competitor for the forseeable future meaning that the management is their biggest weakness

 

Biggest Addition:

Andres Torres, OF

– The Mets did not have many options to make an addition and did most of their improvements through trades including getting Torres who will provide some solid hitting and more importantly some speed on the base paths

 

Biggest Loss:

Jose Reyes, SS

– Thanks to financial issues the Mets could not afford to keep the 2011 batting title champion in Reyes as they lost the best bat in their lineup and some great speed that will hurt their offence greatly

 

One to Watch:

Ike Davis, 1B

– Davis was on his way to being a legitimate star in his sophomore season in 2011 until he was hurt in a collision in the outfield but he will try to recover from this injury to meet his potential this year and provide the Mets with another superstar

 

Philadelphia Phillies

 

 

 

 

 

The Phillies have been one of the more dominant teams in the MLB since 2007 when they won their first division title since 1993. In 2008 their dominance was on display again as they won the World Series. With the World Series win the Phillies became perennial favorites and last year they were in that spot again with what was considered the best pitching rotation in the league and possibly in the history of the league. The Phillies continued their 5 season dominance with this rotation winning the division again and getting into the postseason. In the NLDS the Phillies ran in to the hottest team in the 2011 postseason. The Phillies did not meet expectations from the beginning of the season as they were expected to win the World Series but fell short. They still had a successful season and continue their division dominance which is what they will try to do this year. The Phillies reloaded as they added a few key pieces to their offence and their pitching staff. The Phillies will look to meet expectations this year as they are focused on one goal, the World Series. The Phillies will be at the top of the division again this year although they may be in a bit of a fight this year. With the majority of the teams in the division improving the Phillies may be in the tail end of their dominance but they will be looking to keep it going as long as possible. The Phillies will likely not dominate the division as in the past but will definitely be a strong contender for the division crown once again.

 

Strength:

Pitching

– There is no question that the strength of the Phillies is their starting rotation with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee leading the way but the addition of closer Jonathan Papelbon provides some great late inning pitching making the entire group a tough one

 

Weakness:

Age

– The Phillies are simply running out of time as many of their stars are beginning to think about retirement meaning that the Phillies may see some wear and tear on the team that could hurt them in an attempt to get back to the World Series

 

Biggest Addition:

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP

– The Phillies never really had a lights out closer in their lineup as they depended on their great starters to go long in games but the addition of Papelbon could solve this problem is he can return to his former self

 

Biggest Loss:

Roy Oswalt, RHP

– One of the forgotten pitchers in the starting rotation full of stars, Oswalt was a solid starting pitcher who did not give any teams breaks when it was his day and his loss has taken a bit away from the depth of the starting 5

 

One to Watch:

John Mayberry Jr., OF

– The age of the Phillies is a concern but they do have some reinforcements including Mayberry who will likely not play every day this year but will get some solid playing time and look to carve out a spot with a solid bat and some good defence

 

Washington Nationals

 

 

 

 

 

The Washington Nationals are one of the younger teams in the MLB both in years as a franchise and in their lineup. The Nationals were the most recent addition to the MLB after moving from Montreal in 2005 and bringing back one of the most storied franchises in MLB history. As with most young teams the nationals struggled out of the gate even though they took over a franchise rather than starting from scratch. The Nationals spent a few years at the bottom of the league but they did get lucky in those years. Both years that the Nationals spent at the bottom of the league they were the winners of a special lottery. Both years the Nationals were in a position to take two of the best draft picks to come along in the history of the MLB draft. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were these two prospects and they have both met expectations. Unfortunately the young studs did not make as big an impression as they could with Strasburg suffering a major injury forcing him to undergo Tommy John surgery while Bryce Harper spent his year lighting up the minors. This year Strasburg will look to make his comeback while Harper may make his major league debut as the Nats look to finally make a push at the division. The Nationals are right on the cusp of being a true contender in the division as they have a young team with a lot of potential. It may be just a little too early for them to compete yet though as they may finish in the middle of the division with other teams looking very good.

 

Strength:

Pitching

– Strasburg was better than advertised before his surgery and if he can be as good after surgery this starting rotation could be one of the best in the league along with a great bullpen that can provide support if needed

 

Weakness:

Defence

– With youth comes mistakes and more often than not these mistakes come in the form of defence as the Nationals may see some problems with the middle of their infield this year that could really hurt them in a competitive division

 

Biggest Addition:

Gio Gonzalez, LHP

– Adding Gonzalez to a rotation with Strasburg and Zimmerman will make this rotation a great one as he will be able to provide a good strikeout pitcher with a vicious curveball that will provide a good change of pace

 

Biggest Loss:

Ivan Rodriguez, C

– The Nationals are a young team with some young pitchers and guidance from a veteran backstop and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez was that backstop but with his departure the Nationals will not have this solid presence to help them out

 

One to Watch:

Wilson Ramos, C

– With a legend leaving Ramos will have some big shoes to fill as he will need to control a group of pitchers that may fall in to some confidence issues as Ramos will need to be a presence in the back stop to keep the pitchers in the zone

 

Prediction:

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. Miami Marlins

3. Atlanta Braves

4. Washington Nationals

5. New York Mets

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