January 31, 2007

Scouting out the enemy

Ted Berg at SNY, breaks down the strenghts and weaknesses of each team in the NL East and where they will finish:

The Mets enter the 2007 as the clear-cut favorite to win the National League East. They return most of the same team that steamrolled the division in 2006 en route to finishing with a 12-game lead over the second-place Phillies. Sure, the Amazins have a few question marks heading into Spring Training, most notably in the back end of their starting rotation, but the young core of stars -- David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran -- will be back. The Mets have added Moises Alou, a veteran right-handed power bat to compliment Carlos Delgado's left-handed one. Plus, the bullpen that carried the starting rotation at times in 2006 will be as strong - if not stronger - with the addition of several new arms.

That said, the Phillies, Marlins, Braves and Nationals won't go down without fighting. With a few key injuries or a regression from some of the budding young stars, the Mets could very well find themselves right in the thick of things come September, not comfortably ahead like they were last season.

Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: The Phillies return a powerful starting lineup featuring star second baseman Chase Utley and reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard. Though shortstop Jimmy Rollins doesn't get on base enough to be a great leadoff hitter, he does provide a spark in the field and on the base paths. Pat Burrell hasn't turned into the star many thought he would be, but he has been a steady, solid-hitting outfielder who for whatever reason absolutely destroys Met pitching.
The Phils acquired Freddy Garcia in a trade with the White Sox and now can boast of the deepest starting rotation in the division. Young left hander Cole Hamels has the makings of a star, and Brett Myers has been much better on the field than he has been on the streets of Boston.

Weaknesses: The Phillies have something of a hole in their outfield, as projected starting rightfielder Shane Victorino has speed and some plate discipline but nothing like the type of power most teams expect from that position. Centerfielder Aaron Rowand has been inconsistent over his career.

Philadelphia will also lean on a few questionable starters. Adam Eaton, who has never in his career even been an average Major League pitcher, was signed to a three-year, $24.5 million contract. Jamie Moyer is 44 years old and may break down at some point, though he hasn't yet.

Where they'll finish: The Phillies have an imposing lineup and a solid -- if unspectacular -- pitching staff. They have all the pieces in place to contend for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, but they'll have to put them all together - something Philadelphia teams have been traditionally unable to do.
Atlanta Braves

Strengths: John Smoltz and Tim Hudson will head a Braves rotation that may also be bolstered by the return of injury-plagued former Met Mike Hampton. Chuck James pitched well in his 18 starts for Atlanta last season.
On the offensive side, Andruw Jones is always a threat. Catcher Brian McCann had an unbelievable year at the plate in 2006, and Chipper Jones, when healthy, is still a great offensive player - as much as Mets fans hate to admit it.

The Braves also brought in Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano to set up for closer Bob Wickman. Gonzalez and Soriano are both great young bullpen arms, probably better than Wickman. Don't be surprised if one of them takes over the closer role at some point in 2007. Soriano has a long history of injuries, but he did come up as a starter back in 2002, so it's not inconceivable that he will be stretched out into a rotation spot.

Weaknesses: The Braves have major question marks at several spots in their starting lineup. The departures of Adam LaRoche and Marcus Giles leave a gaping hole on the right side of the infield, and Jeff Francoeur did not live up to the promise he showed in 2005 last season. He posted a miserable .293 on-base percentage, an inexcusable number for a Major League rightfielder. On top of that, there's no guarantee that Chipper Jones will stay healthy for the whole season, and his absence would render the Atlanta lineup very weak.
While both Smoltz and Hudson are solid, neither has been spectacular for several seasons. Hampton is nothing like a sure thing, and potential fifth starter Kyle Davies posted an 8.38 ERA last season. 8.38. Not good.

Where they'll finish: Even after 2006, it's difficult to imagine the National League playoffs without the Braves in them. Still, the Braves finished 79-83 last year and did very little to improve themselves in the offseason. While there's always a chance they'll start doing whatever it was they used to do and go back to dominating division play, all signs point to a fourth-place finish for the Braves in 2007.

So by Ted's estimation, the end result will be:

1. Mets
2. Phillies
3. Marlins
4. Braves
5. Nationals

No comments: