UCB Project: National League East

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. Over the last three days I have done the AL East, Central, and West. Today we hit the National Least East.

Last season saw the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves make the playoffs out of the National League East. The Braves led for most of the season behind their young rotation, but the loss of Chipper Jones hurt the team’s chances as they fell and just barely held onto the Wild Card.

5. New York Mets (71-91)
Not a familiar place for the Mets, but while their ownership continues to sort out their financial troubles the Mets will continue to struggle. They are a team with question marks everywhere and that could lead to a big roster turnover by the time the trade deadline comes around.

On the offensive side of the ball Carlos Beltran is sliding over to right field in the hopes that he can play regularly since he can’t patrol centerfield quite like he used to. Beltran and Jose Reyes are in the walk years of their contracts, so you can bet that they will be giving it everything they have to raise their statistics. While the front five in the lineup are guys you know, the back half of the lineup has guys like Ike Davis, Josh Thole, and Brad Emaus. None of whom strike fear into the opposing team.

The pitching staff will wait for the return of Johan Santana, who is out until mid-season after shoulder surgery ended his 2010 season. The rotation isn’t anything special, but they do have a few gambles that might pay off. They signed Chris Capuano and Chris Young (no, not the hitter), who were both coming off of injuries, to round out the rotation in the offseason. Capuano went 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA over his final 6 starts for Milwaukee at the end of last season and I was surprised when they didn’t bring him back. Young went 2-0 in four starts with a 0.90 ERA for the Padres at the end of the last season.

The big question is whether this team will still be the same when the trade deadline rolls around. If some guys are having good years, you could definitely see them being willing to trade some of their key players to teams that need them in order to rebuild that minor league system.

4. Florida Marlins (76-86)
The Marlins hurt their offense when they dealt Dan Uggla to Atlanta in exchange for a handful of players. They will be looking at their young lineup to improve their performance to fill the gap without Uggla in the lineup. Mike Stanton is the young guy in the middle of the lineup that needs to turn in a great year in order to help the Marlins exceed my 76 win expectation for them.

Their rotation is still strong. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez might not be known by everyone, but they each turned in great seasons last year. Javier Vazquez will join the team to add a veteran presence to that rotation.

The question for the Marlins will be the development of their young players. Will Stanton turn into a superstar and how will rookie Matt Dominguez adjust in his jump from Double-A, where he hit just .257, to the big leagues?

3. Washington Nationals (81-81)
I’m predicting a .500 season for the Nationals? No, I’m not smoking anything. I think the Nationals are one of the teams that everyone will underrate entering this season, but I expect them to be solid. The addition of Jayson Werth is big for the team, though expecting him to duplicate the numbers he put up in Philadelphia is naive. They have a solid lineup and if outfielder Michael Morse can continue to do what he did in the second half of last season, he could be a difference maker in that lineup.

The pitching staff is greatly downgraded with the loss of Stephen Strasburg, but it is still solid. Livan Hernandez is one of those pitchers that can eat innings and capable of spitting out a gem on any given night. John Lannan is a solid option if he can get back to his 2008 and 2009 numbers. Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny will hopefully be solid for the Nats on the back end of the rotation.

The question here is how will the team react without Strasburg. Will Jayson Werth be able to carry the team? The pitching staff is fairly solid, but the offense will be what makes the difference.

2. Atlanta Braves (96-66)
The Braves made some great additions during the offseason. They brought in Dan Uggla to add another offensive threat to their lineup. Combine him with Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and hopefully a healthy and productive Chipper Jones and you could have the makings of a team that could make a run. Also, first base prospect Freddie Freeman could look to be a big part of the team this year too.

While the Phillies might have the names, the Braves pitchers have the stats. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are known commodities at the top of the rotation. Tommy Hanson is becoming capable of being the ace of a rotation and top prospect Mike Minor will likely make the rotation too.

There aren’t many questions with the Braves. They lacked depth on offense and it cost them last season, but with the addition of Uggla and the hopeful emergence of Freeman this could be a playoff team once again. They might even legitimately challenge the Phillies for the division title.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (99-63)
It was pretty big move when the Phillies jumped into the Cliff Lee contest and stole him away from the Rangers and Yankees. This gives the Phillies potentially the best starting rotation in history. Lee will sort in with Roy Halladay (who he was traded for last season), Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels as the top-4.

With all the money being spent to court Lee, there was very little change on the offensive side of the ball as they continue to age. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have had problems staying healthy in recent years and Raul Ibanez will turn 39 this season. They will need to stay healthy and productive to give that rotation the best chance at winning games.

Age and health are the only two questions for the Phillies offense. Their pitching staff is likely deep enough to absorb an injury and continue to win, but the offense looks pretty thin right now.