Sunday, April 02, 2006

The NL East Preview: “The Atlanta Braves and Four Other Teams”
By Ben Valentine

Will it ever end?

That’s the obligatory question when writing a preview of the NL East every year, and of course you get some yeses, you get some nos, but in the end only one thing ever matters.

The Atlanta Braves are always crowned division winners at the end of the regular season.

Set your watch to it. Then also know it’s about time for the best regular season team in baseball history to revert to the mediocre bunch of playoff performers they always are. For the life of me, I still haven’t figured out why that is, but that’s not for a season preview column. Check back in October and maybe I’ll have figured out why the Braves will inevitably not win the World Series again.

Oh yeah, the Mets made a lot of moves. Don’t look at the starting rotation though. It causes nightmares. Of course that’s slightly better than the Phillies entire pitching staff which without fail will be one of baseball’s worst. MLB picked the Marlins’ WS carcass clean and Jim Bowden did the same to the mediocre Nats of last year.

Did I just write my whole preview in one paragraph? It appears I did. Well read on for the reasoning behind these claims in my NL East Preview. I mean you just can’t take what I say at face value, right?

Atlanta Braves: “See you in October.”

Why they’ll take the crown: They’ve won it every year since 91’ except 94’. Do I need to list a reason? Okay, how about they won it last year with lots of young guns, like Jeff Francouer, Ryan Langerhans, Brian McCann. Those guys should improve this season. The starting pitching isn’t spectacular, but it’s probably the best top to bottom in the division.

Why the unthinkable is thinkable: Leo Mazzone is gone. Some will argue that’s the Braves worst loss in this fifteen year run. We’ll see how it affects the staff. John Smoltz is getting up there and the young arms, such as Kyle Davies and Jorge Sosa, are talented but unproven. The bullpen is a potential mess with Chris Reitsma closing it out and another young one with a great last name, Joey Devine, waiting in the wings. Andruw Jones probably won’t repeat his 2005 and Chipper Jones is on the decline.

The Verdict: How do you pick against them at this point? I can’t. We will see you in October, where you’ll crash and burn yet again.

New York Mets: “The division is ours; as long as Pedro starts 100 games and pitches an average of eight innings.”

Why they could end the run: The offense might be the most talented group in the division, and that includes the Phillies. The Mets actually were an underrated offensive team last year, and the addition of Carlos Delgado along with some improvement from Carlos Beltran will make them explosive. Jose Reyes and David Wright, both just 23, figure to improve their games. Billy Wagner should be light years more reliable than Braden Looper was last year.

Why they probably won’t: The starting staff is a train wreck waiting to happen. Incredibly the Mets went from having a very solid staff in Pedro Martinez, Aaron Heilman, Jae Seo, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel to having one featuring Victor Zambrano and Brian Bannister thanks to their own ineptitude. The team will be lucky if they can get someone other than Pedro in that five to post an ERA under 4.00. Cliff Floyd has never put together back to back great seasons, so expect a decline this year. Can Reyes make it through a full season again?

The Verdict: The Mets have the players to make a run at the postseason. Their pitching is weak, but given the injury probability of their starters (Zambrano already went down Friday), they maybe forced to use Heilman in the rotation, thus improving it. They also have the chips (Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfry) to get another starter midseason, if need be. Barring a horrific start which prevents them from making any midseason acquisitions, they’ll be in it to the end.

Philadelphia Phillies: “Crapping the bed since our inception, 1980 excluded.”

Why they could FINALLY do it: After being hyped as the team to take out the Braves the last few years, those boys from the city of brotherly love have been relegated to third place according to most publications. So off the radar, is this the year they do it? Their offense is playoff worthy; featuring formerly underrated Bobby Abreu, previously overrated Jimmy Rollins and currently enigmatic Pat Burrell. Ryan Howard has shown world class power at every stop in his minor league tour and didn’t slow down when he hit the bigs, jacking 22 homers in just 312 ABs last year. Yep, this lineup is stacked.

Why they’ll be booed loudly: Burrell is the Phillies’ answer to Cliff Floyd; he can’t put back to back great seasons together. But the real problem is the pitching. Brent Myers looked to finally put things together last year and Ryan Madsen’s got great stuff, but the rest of the staff leaves something to be desired. Corey Lidle stinks and Jon Leiber is only good when compared to what replaced him on the Yankees. Don’t go near the pen. It’s gasoline waiting to be poured on the fire. There’s a reason I call their closer “Trash” Gordon.

The Verdict: They’ll score. But they won’t pitch enough. Bullpens are overrated, but when the starters and the entire pen is a mess in that homer happy ballpark, you’ve got problems. Their offense will get them to 85 wins, but that’s probably it. In other words, they’re the same Phillies you’ve seen for the past four years.

Florida Marlins: “Curfews aren’t a problem. Our team isn’t allowed into most Miami nightclubs!”

Why they could be George Mason: Had to get a reference in there. Well this Marlins team isn’t actually as bad as people think. They’re not worse than the Royals. Heck I don’t even think they’re as bad as the Nationals. They still have Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera along with a boatload of talented prospects. Josh Willingham has smoked the minors and will contribute everyday splitting between catching and left field. The pitching is young and inexperienced, but will be helped by the expansive Pro Player Stadium.

Why it doesn’t matter if they’re George Mason: You see, the NCAA tournament is great because over a six game span anything can happen. So yes, the Marlins could go 6-0 at the start of the year, but that only gets them a 6-0 start. They still have another 156 games to play, in which they will probably do much worse than that. The youth will be inconsistent and the hitters will especially struggle to score runs. While the Willinghams and Sergio Mitres of the world are ready for the bigs, the Hanley Ramirez and Reggie Abercrombies are likely not. They’ll have to learn on the job, which is always an experience.

The Verdict: The Marlins will give some team fits this year because of the raw talent. But it’s so raw you could get food poisoning if you don’t wash your hands after touching it. Two years from now, this team could be something however.

Washington Nationals: “Washington DC was built on a swamp some 200 years ago and very little has changed. It stinks then and it stinks now.” ---Lisa Simspon

Why they could shock everyone: They did last year… despite giving up more runs than they scored. John Patterson had a break through year and figures to follow up on that, especially since he’s a fly ball pitcher at the Anti Coors. Chad Cordero is a good young reliever. Livan Hernandez will throw 220 innings. Ryan Zimmerman could be real good one day. Yeah… that’s about it. They really are bad.

Why they’re one of the worst teams in baseball: Hernandez figures to throw 220 mediocre innings. The bottom of the rotation is brought up by Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas Jr. and Pedro Astacio (when healthy). Even the RFK can’t save those three. The pen lost its best set up man in Luis Ayala for the season (thank you WBC). The offense, outside of Nick Johnson is abysmal. Oh and Johnson only plays 100 games a year, tops. Alfonso Soriano couldn’t hit on the road last year, never has had a good OBP, and is unhappy. Can you say .240 average with 21 homers? They sent their third best hitter, Ryan Church, to the minors. The team is carrying four catchers on roster. Brian Schneider is hitting behind Royce Clayton, who only won the SS job because Cristian Guzman got hurt. Did I mention Jim Bowden might be the worst GM in sports after Matt Millen?

The verdict: The Marlins may have had a fire sale, but with Willis and Cabrera they still have more top notch talent than the Nats, who don’t have anyone on that level. (Maybe Patterson or Johnson, but we’ll see what they do this year). The team is awful talent wise and unlike the Marlins, don’t have the room to improve or even show flashes of brilliance. So yes, they are the worst team in the NL East and quite possibly, the worst team in baseball. I wonder who would win a division that comprised of the Nationals, Rockies, Pirates and Royals. If they played only one other, do you think any team would be capable of going over .500?

Final Standings:


Blogger David Arnott said...

"I wonder who would win a division that comprised of the Nationals, Rockies, Pirates and Royals. If they played only one other, do you think any team would be capable of going over .500?"

Math says yes. Instinct says no.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Matt Brown said...

The Rockies would win that division. Want to know something REALLY crazy? I predict the Colorado Rockies will win the National League West this season. Which, come to think of it, isn't all that much different from finishing ahead of the Nationals, Pirates and Royals.

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Atlanta Attractions said...

"Math says yes. Instinct says no." ... you're very right about that David

3:24 AM  

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