2012 Baseball Season Preview - NL East
by Steve Farace
The NL East looks as though it will continue its reputation of being the toughest division in the National League. The Phillies are the Phillies and the Braves are the Braves. The Marlins beefed up their payroll and the Nationals took another step closer. The Mets, well let me stop before my eyes get watery...
Here is how I see the division unfolding:
1. Philadelphia Phillies
This is a team that will be without 2 of their thunderous bats for an undisclosed amount of time. Ryan Howard will likely be out until the end of May or early June and for the second time in 2 years, there is no timetable on a return for Chase Utley. They still have a very capable lineup that will now be anchored by the veteran at shortstop, Jimmy Rollins and their new stud outfielder, Hunter Pence. That being said, the Phillies are all about their pitching. They have lost one of their big 4 in Roy Oswalt, but are still armed with the nukes in Halladay, Lee and Hamels. They will not have to score many runs to get these guys victories when they are dominating the rest of the National League.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are going to need a few things to go right in order to finish in second place in this division and make a run at a playoff spot. They will need Freddie Freeman to be the man he is thought to be and they need Jason Heyward to return to his rookie form. Chipper Jones has announced his retirement at the end of this season, but I still think he can have a decent season. Dan Uggla needs to get off to a strong start and not bat below the mendoza line for the first half of the season as he did last year. The Braves pitching staff is made up of a solid core of good young talent and if they can find a way to bridge the gap between the starts and Craig Kimbrel, the might make a series run (and perhaps this time they won't choke).
3. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have a new stadium and a new name. Now the Miami Marlins, they have spent a ton of money during the off-season. They made a huge splash when they stole Jose Reyes away from the Mets and signed Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell. They were able to move Hanley Ramirez over to third base and now could possibly have the best left side of the infield in baseball. So, that's the good news. Here is the potentially bad news - injuries. The injury bug has struck players on this team before. They desperately need Josh Johnson to stay healthy and Reyes and Hanley need to stay healthy as well. IF they all stay healthy, the Marlins could make a serious run at the Phillies for the division.
4. Washington Nationals
The Nationals have also been able to improve. They get Strasburg for a full season and pulled off a big trade with the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez and signed Edwin Jackson to sure up their rotation. They also have Morse, Zimmerman and Werth in the heart of their lineup with some nice complimentary players around them. They have some things to work on with both the pitching and the hitting, so I think they are a year away from competing in this division.
5. New York Mets
This hurts. I hate Bernie Maddoff. The Mets had a disaster of an off-season. They lost Jose Reyes, angered their fan base, and signed 17 closers. Let's talk lineup, eh? The Mets lineup is not all that bad. They have a young core of players that could produce a lot of runs (they actually scored more runs than the Phillies last year). Can David Wright stay healthy? Probably not. Will he be traded? Probably not. Ike Davis showed that he can be solid last year and so did Lucas Duda. The pitching is a different story. For the love of what's good in this world, please give Mike Pelfrey the Oliver Perez treatment. Johan Santana is back and looks to be throwing just fine in spring training. R.A. Dickey is going to give you solid pitching and Jon Neise has a new nose (paid for by Carlos Beltran). Their bullpen is much improved, but if their starting pitching falters, that won't matter. Give the Mets another 2 (or 5) years before they can compete again.