This is the first of the rundowns of the divisions, so keep checking back for more later.
1. Mets – It’s hard to not pick them when you look at their lineup. I mean, seriously, with Jose Reyes at the top, followed by Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Beltran, and on and on, the lineup doesn’t take a serious fall until probably Jose Valentin in the 8 spot, and even then, he’s an excellent switch hitter (although much better from the left side). Their bullpen is top notch as well, with Billy Wagner anchoring at closer. So, their only weakness would be starting pitching. Their ace, Pedro Martinez, is a walking disabled list, and Tom Glavine is a thousand years old. Yet, Glavine can still pitch, and if Pedro can stay healthy, he is still in the top tier of Major League starters.
Phillies – Five words. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. ‘Nuff said right there. These two guys are quickly rising to the top of the ranks hitting wise. Howard is coming off his MVP year, and Utley is only starting is soon-to-be-many All-Star appearances. Pat Burrell has been steady, but many feel he is capable of much more than what he actually produces. There won’t be a problem with the hitting for this team. Starting pitching is above average for the Phils this year, with Brett Myers being their ace, followed by a more-than-capable Freddy Garcia (coming over from the White Sox), and a very, very good young Cole Hamels (watch out for him, he’ll be a Cy Young award winner before his career is over). That leaves the bullpen, which could be a problem area. Flash Gordon isn’t getting any younger, so time will tell if he can still produce the saves. Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary need to step up big-time in setup roles for the Phils to have a chance at the division title.
Marlins – Everyone wrote off the Fishes at the beginning of the season, only to have them in the thick of the playoff hunt until late in the season. They had a horrendous start, but bounced back quickly, thanks to a bunch of young stars. Most notable of these stars is Hanley Ramirez. He needs to continue what he was doing in September for them to overtake the Mets and Phils. Dan Uggla was also excellent, and would’ve won the ROY if Ramirez wasn’t on his team. Oh, and don’t forget they still have Miguel Cabrera, a man-child. Starting pitching could be a problem if Dontrelle Willis becomes the only feared pitcher on the staff. Last year, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez stepped up in their roles to provide the Marlins with quality starts and wins. If they keep that up, look out for the young starters. The bullpen, however, is a big question mark. Taylor Tankersley was brought in to become the newest closer, and along with him are a slew of others looking to win a job in the pen. If they don’t keep the leads the young hitters provide, the Fishes could fall a long ways to the bottom of the cellar.
Braves – The ageless Chipper Jones once again anchors the lineup from both sides of the plate. Also, his not-related cousin Andruw Jones is one of the best center fielders in the Majors, and has HUGE power. He just needs to work on hitting for average, with only a career BA of .267. Also, the Braves traded away one of the upcoming young stars in Adam LaRoche to the Bucs. They will be missing his bat come September. Starting pitching-wise, John Smoltz is still future HOF John Smotlz, and should have won the Cy Young last year if the pen could have saved a few of his leads. Tim Hudson needs to recover what he had in Oakland, cuz it sure wasn’t there last year. If that happens, look for the Tomahawk Chop to be in abundance at Turner Field. The bullpen may be a question mark if Bob Wickman starts to show his age and Mike Gonzalez fails (he was a stud at Pittsburgh last year). But, with a bunch of young guys filling in between the veterans, it might be a couple years before Bobby Cox can raise his pennant again.
Nationals – With one of the premier rookies last season, Washington might be better this time around. Might. Their offense could either be above average, or horrendous. The reason they were okay last year, Alfonso Soriano, ran away to the Cubs for mucho moo-la. Yet, Ryan Zimmerman will only continue to get better, Felipe Lopez has bunches of talent, and Nick Johnson is capable of a lot of power. It’s only harnessing the talent of these youngsters that will be the problem. Starting pitching was awful last year, with the Nats leading the League in ERA at 5.03. John Patterson is their ace, but after him, there’s a toss-up for the starter roles. The bullpen is good though, with Chad Cordero continuing to be a shut-down closer. Jon Rauch emerged as an excellent relief man last year as well. So, if the starters can stop the opposing hitters, and the hitters can manage to put a few runs on the board, the Nats might contend. But I doubt it.