2011 National League East Preview
Strengths: The Nationals can only go in one direction: Up. They added some key pieces in OF Jayson Werth and 1B Adam LaRoche. Rookie sensation SP Stephen Strasburg hopes to pitch before the end of the season after undergoing surgery last year. If he’s half as good as he is hyped to be, the Nationals have a number-one pitcher for years to come. 3B Ryan Zimmerman will also be a key player in 2011.
Weaknesses: Losing 1B Adam Dunn doesn’t hurt so bad when you pick up Jayson Werth, but his presence will be missed. The pitching staff is scary to look at, in a bad way. SP Livan Hernandez and SP Jason Marquis are way past their prime, and the rest of their pitching options are young guys with little experience.
Analysis: It’s hard to predict good things for a team with no pitching. They made some big off-season moves, acquiring Werth and LaRoche, but the offense they provide isn’t going to be enough to turn this team around. Manager Jim Riggleman is going to have to work a miracle to save this team from itself.
Prediction: 5th in NL East
Strengths: SS Hanley Ramirez continues to put up solid numbers year after year, but currently lacks a capable supporting cast. C John Buck just signed on with Florida and brings with him a solid bat to help in the middle of the lineup. 1B Gaby Sanchez is coming off a strong rookie season of 19 HR and 85 RBI and will be looking to contribute. On the mound, SP Josh Johnson and SP Anibal Sanchez are joined by veteran SP Javier Vazquez. They should put together solid seasons.
Weaknesses: Losing the bats of 2B Dan Uggla, OF Cody Ross, and IF Jorge Cantu are going to leave the Marlins with more young players in the dugout. It’s hard to see the Marlins finishing above .500 with so many unproven players.
Analysis: Florida always seems to be a hotbed for young talent, but they keep getting rid of future stars early in their careers. During games, their fan attendance is always terrible. Who knows how long this team will last? Hanley Ramirez can be their savior if he can develop into a leader both on and off the field.
Prediction: 4th in NL East
New York Mets
Strengths: SP Johan Santana, SP R.A. Dickey, and SP Mike Pelfrey look to lead the charge in 2011. 3B David Wright bounced back in 2010 after a disappointing 2009 season and hopes to continue his success this year. OF Jason Bay appears to be concussion-free, and 1B Ike Davis is coming off a solid rookie season.
Weaknesses: RP Francisco Rodriguez will close games for the Mets if he can avoid more off-the-field incidents. OF Carlos Beltran will try to stay healthy after two disappointing seasons, and veteran 2B Luis Castillo hopes he has another good year in him.
Analysis: The Mets will be sticking with many of the same players from 2010, but time is not on their side. OF Angel Pagan has been a nice surprise, bringing both speed and power to the team over the last few seasons. This veteran team will need to peak together if they want to make a run at the NL East title.
Prediction: 3rd in NL East
Strengths: Rookie OF Jason Heyward lived up to the hype in 2010, belting 18 HR and driving in 72 runs. C Brian McCann and OF Martin Prado will also return in hopes of exceeding their successful 2010 campaigns. Power-hitting 2B Dan Uggla joins the team, adding more depth to a very capable lineup. Veteran SP Tim Hudson will lead the starting rotation, coming off of a 17-9 season.
Weaknesses: With the impending retirement of shutdown closer Billy Wagner, the Braves will look to rookie RP Craig Kimbrel to finish out games. He has great stuff and could turn out to be a pleasant surprise for Braves fans. 1B Derrek Lee’s time in Atlanta was short lived, and they have to call upon another rookie, Freddie Freeman, to man the corner.
Analysis: The Braves pitching staff is solid all-around, and if SP Tommy Hanson can bounce back from a mediocre sophomore year, he will be a great pitcher to have at the bottom of the starting rotation. A nice mix of rookies and veterans should help the Braves compete for the division, but matching up with the Phillies is going to be a monumental task. New manager Fredi Gonzalez has his work cut out for him.
Prediction: 2nd in NL East
Strengths: The prodigal SP Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia, yet again, to team up with SP Roy Halladay and SP Roy Oswalt, making one of the most fear 1-2-3 punches in the game. Did I forget to mention that their offense features sluggers like 1B Ryan Howard, OF Raul Ibane,z and 2B Chase Utley, too? The Phillies are prepared to take hold of the NL East early in the season, then run away and hide until playoff time.
Weaknesses: If there is one weakness on this team, it is in right field. OF Ben Francisco and OF Ross Gload will be fighting for that spot, and then trying to hang on for dear life. They may be the only guys in the Phillies lineup that opposing pitchers won’t be afraid to face.
Analysis: With a starting rotation as dominant as the Phillies’s, and Brad Lidge closing the game, you will be hard-pressed to find a team that can match up with these guys in all aspects of the game. The offense struggled a bit in the playoffs, and losing OF Jason Werth will be a minor inconvenience. The Phillies should have no problem defending their NL East crown.
Prediction: 1st in NL East