Today marked the first spring traning game against major league competition for the Tigers. So in honor of that I thought I would start my season previews for the MLB, starting with the NL East. Here we go!
2007: 84-78 3rd place
My new hometown team, returns almost totally intact from last year's team. The loss of Edgar Renteria is negated by Yunel Escobar, who put up nearly identical stats as Renteria. Andruw Jones is replaced by Mark Kotsay. The offensive production was about the same for both last year, but Kotsay's glove is a downgrade. Add to that Kotsay's back injury that caused him to miss over 100 games last year. Kotsay might not have to man centerfield long if any of the Braves outfield prospects like Brandon Jones or Jordan Schafer have a great spring. CF is really the only weak spot on the field for the Braves. The infield corners have big bats in Chipper Jones (who seems to hit .300 with 25 HR and 95 RBI every year) and a full season with Mark Teixeria. Add to this Jeff Francouer and Brian McCann, one of the best catchers in baseball, and you
have a line-up that could be a top 3 in the NL in runs scored. On the Pitching side of things, Tom Glavine is back bringing his 303 career wins with him. Glavine joins John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, coming off his best year as a Brave, at the top of the rotation. This top 3 has won over 600 games in their careers. Chuck James makes a good fourth as he has won 11 in his first 2 seasons as a started. The number 5 spot will be a competition between and healthy(?) Mike Hampton, Jo-Jo Reyes, or former Tiger prospect Jair Jurrjens. Hey speaking of former Tiger prospects...there's Omar Infante! As for the bullpen, the back end in in good shape with Mike Gonzales to set-up and Rafael Soriano to close. The pitchers that lose out on the 5th spot could join Pete Moylan and Ron Mahay to help out the middle relief section of the bullpen.
Pivotal Players: Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Both are over 40 and injuries to either could force a trial by fire of the Braves pitching prospects
Non-roster Invitee of note: Javy Lopez. With no real experience behind McCann, Lopez could make it as a back-up.
2007: 71-91 5th Place
The other big news out of South Florida this offseason was that the Marlins would be getting a new stadium. The bad news that is if Jeffery Loria is still in charge, by the time the new stadium opens it gates in 2011 many of the future stars on the 2008 with be in other teams uniforms when they play in it. The offense will focus around the trio of Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Josh Willingham. Filling the huge hole (not a fat joke I swear) left by Miguel Cabrera is former Angels blue-chip prospect Dallas McPherson. McPherson voted was the top player in the Minors by the Sporting News in 2004, but injuries and Chone Figgins limited him to only 101 games in the Majors since 2005. The Marlins also brought in Luis Gonzales (who is roughly twice the age of Cameron Maybin) maybe as a mentor to the young team, or simply to drive up the average age. As for the pitching staff...did I mention how young this team is? The only way to gain experience is to play, and this pitching staff will be learning a great deal this year
Pivotal Player: Andrew Miller. Cameron Maybin is expected to develop into a 5 tool player and his shaky debut can be overlooked, Miller on the other hand started off in the Tigers rotation in May and ended the season in A ball after giving up 17 runs in his last three starts. He needs to return to the top pick form for the trade to look close to even for the Marlins
Non Roster Invitee of note: Jorge Cantu. Once a bright spot on a dismal Tampa Bay team, after being cut mid-season last year, will have to fight to make it back to the majors.
New York Mets
2007: 88-74 2nd Place
The Mets had a great season last year with the exception of a bad 3 weeks. The problem was the bad three weeks were the last 3 of the season. Going 6-13 to finish the season and missing out of the playoffs calls for change. And did change ever happen. The Mets now have Johan Santana. Santana had an "off year" if you look at his W-L record. But if you look closer in only 2 of his 13 losses did he give up more than 4 earned runs. His ERA was still under 3.50 and he still struck out 200+. He also comes to a team that was 3rd in the NL in runs scored, as opposed to Minnesota which was 12th in the AL. Most of the offense comes from 3B David Wright who would more than likely been the NL MVP had the Mets not faltered down the stretch. Wright is flanked by Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado to anchor the offense. The pitching staff behind Johan is a mix of young (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey) and old(Pedro, Orlando Hernandez). The loss of Glavine can easily be quelled by a healthy Pedro Martinez. But if/when he gets hurt the Mets have arms ready to pick up the slack. Middle relief could be an issue, as other than Aaron Heilman I don't really see a bunch of reliable arms. If it is a problem look to Omar Minaya to make moves to fix the situation. The Mets open a new ballpark next year and they won't be happy unless they win some pennants this year to hang
Pivotal Player: Carlos Delgado. Injury problems slowed him last year. It was the first year in the Majors since playing full-time where he did not have over 90 RBI and 25 HRs. An improved output from him will be key to the Mets success
Non-roster Invitee of note: Fernando Tatis. Hit 2 grand slams in one inning in 1999. Out of baseball since 2006, may in fact be Dominican Brady Anderson
2007: 89-73 1st Place; Lost in NLDS 0-3
Jimmy Rollins said last spring training the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. A Mets collapse proved him right, and more than likely swayed MVP votes his way. The 20-20-20-20 season may have helped as well. This year they try to actually win a playoff game. They lost CF Aaron Rowand, who must have hit that centerfield wall super-hard last season, as he has signed with the Giants. He will be replaced by Shane Victorino who moves over from RF. To replace his home runs, they signed Geoff Jenkins. The Jenkins signing strikes me as odd, since they already have a player in LF that pretty much does what Jenkins does in Pat Burrell. And by what he does I mean hit a home run or strikeout. To Burrell's credit he can draw a walk, as he had over 100 BB last year. Pretty good for a .256 hitter. The holes at 3B and the bullpen were addressed by the signing of Pedro Feliz, and the trade for Brad Lidge. So the Phillies still have holes at 3B and the bullpen. Lidge might benefit from a change of scenery, in any other city than Philly. One blown save and he'll need body armor to protect the rain of D batteries coming at him in the bullpen. Feliz has an OBP of .297 which ranked 28th out of NL 3B's. Frankly Greg Dobbs and Wes Helms are better options and money spent on Feliz could have gone for some pitching. As pitching goes, there's Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick and not much else. Brett Myers is in the rotation now, but might have to go back as the closer if Brad Lidge stays hurt or returns to head-case status. Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer round out the back of the rotation with ERAs over 5 last year. In that tiny park they have, the quality of the pitching will decide how far the Phillies go.
Pivotal Player: Brad Lidge. If he can keep his mind and body healthy, it will keep the pitching staff from having to reorganize and turn all those runs the Phillies score into wins.
Non-roster Invitee of note: Kris Benson. If his arm is back, it would be a major boost to the starting rotation.
2007: 73-89 4th place
The Nationals won a surprising 73 games last year, thanks in part to a career year from Dmitri Young. This year they hope the part of the player with a troubled past turning it around is played by Elijah Dukes. He joins former Met OF prodigy Lastings Milledge in the outfield with free swinger Wily Mo Pena. The also signed embattled Paul LoDuca to complete with two former Brewers (Johnny Estrada and Chad Moeller) behind the plate. They all look to try to help 3B Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman played in all 162 games and led the team in almost all offensive categories. Zimmerman needs the help the Nats were dead last in runs scored in the MLB last year. As for pitchers, last year they had a staff ravaged by injuries. 7 pitchers started 10+ games, and that doesn't include Opening Day starter John Patterson. He only had 7 starts in a injury shortened season. The young arms of Jason Bergmann, Shawn Hill, and Matt Chico should be a little better this year. The bullpen has one very good closer in Chad Cordero. The question is will the new bats be enough to give him a lead to keep safe.
Pivotal Player: Elijah Dukes. He's received another change in a new city. He could really help the team, or be a clubhouse distraction
Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Bret Boone. No not Aaron Boone, who is under contract to the Nats. His older brother Bret. Last played in 2005. Retired during Spring Training in 2006. Yeah, that Bret Boone
The Marlins are young and will lose, a lot. The Nationals just don't have enough talent to complete in a brutal division. The Braves, with a full season of Teixeria, have enough offense to complete with the Phillies and the Mets. It will come down to pitching. The Braves have enough to put them ahead of the Phillies, but not the Mets
1) NY Mets
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Philadelphia Phillies
4) Washington Nationals
5) Florida Marlins