On The Mark by Mark Mayer | EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth in a six-part preview of each division in the major leagues leading up to the March 30 USA season opener between the Braves and Nationals in Washington, D.C.
The New York Mets did not win the NL East last year, but any discussion about the division starts with the Amazins.
The Mets made the biggest offseason catch, landing Johan Santana from Minnesota. Santana has the stats to be considered baseball’s best pitcher this decade. The two-time Cy Young winner is 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA. Add Santana with Pedro Martinez (if healthy) and the Mets have the arsenal to win the New York headlines against the Yankees.
The Las Vegas Hilton has the Mets a 5-9 favorite to win the division. Philadelphia and Atlanta are next at 3-1 apiece, followed by Florida and Washington – each at 60-1.
The Mets are formidable on paper, but past history shows that the Atlanta Braves will be a threat. And, don’t count out Philadelphia, which win the division. Washington is rebuilding, but a step ahead of Florida. The Marlins dealt Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit in their latest fire sale.
New York has the best team money can buy in the NL, but can they seal the deal? Last year the Mets blew a 7-game lead in the last two weeks to Philadelphia and missed the playoffs. So the brass offered Santana a ton of money and he bit the Apple. If the future Hall of Fame lefty lives up to his AL Cy Young form, the Mets should win the division this time. The big bats (David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado) are back and Jose Reyes (78 SB) is the premier leadoff batter. OF Ryan Church (Nationals) adds power.
Philadelphia is explosive, hitting 213 homers and stealing 138 bases. The infield is arguably the most potent in baseball with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. The fourth part was the slick acquisition of 3B Pedro Feliz from the Giants. Catcher Carlos Ruiz batted .333 to lead the club. Cole Hamels did everything for Philly last year and will be looked upon as the answer to the Mets’ Santana. The big question is whether Brett Myers (21 SV) successfully returns to the starting rotation and if Brad Lidge can fill the closer role after several rough years with Houston. P Jamie Moyer will be 45 in May.
Atlanta has a full season of Mark Teixeira (30 HR) and the return of past Cy Young lefty Tom Glavine. Mark Kotsay replaces Andruw Jones in center field. Kotsay adds speed, a good glove and a leadoff batter the Braves have lacked in recent years. Brian McCann, fan favorite Jeff Francoeur (105 RBI) and Matt Diaz have unlimited potential. Adding Glavine to a rotation topped by John Smoltz and Tim Hudson gives Atlanta the best 1-2-3 punch in the NL. New closer Rafael Soriano (47 hits, 70 K in 72 IP) is a stud.
Florida lost their leaders in home runs, RBI, wins and strikeouts. Now that’s a fire sale. What’s left is SS Hanley Ramirez, whose stats are so good (.332 BA, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 51 SB) that one wonders how long he’ll be a Marlin. You’ll need a scorecard to know the Marlins, but there is talent. Josh Willingham knocked in 89 runs and 2B Dan Uggla is one of the top infield sluggers. Scott Olsen (10 wins, 133 K) leads a young staff. Closer Kevin Gregg (32 SV, 3.54 ERA) is solid, but how many leads will he have in the ninth?
Washington takes the contrarian approach to Florida. The Marlins give talent away, while the Nationals take it. Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge arrive from the Mets. Dmitri Young (.320 BA) is back after a few years with the Tigers. Austin Kearns returns following a past life with the Reds. Pitchers Shaun Hill and John Patterson were in just 23 games between them. Matt Chico’s 4.63 ERA was best on the staff. Reliever Jon Rauch (8) led in wins! The Nats need 3B Ryan Zimmerman to have a career year.
Based on the current rosters, we rank this division: New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, Florida.
Infield: C Brian Schneider (Nationals), 1B Carlos Delgado, 2B Luis Castillo, 3B David Wright (.325 BA), SS Jose Reyes. Outfield: LF Endy Chavez, CF Carlos Beltran (33 HR, 112 RBI), RF Ryan Church (Nationals). Rotation: Johan Santana (Twins) Pedro Martinez, John Maine (15 wins, 180 K), Oliver Perez (3.56 ERA), Orlando Hernandez. Closer: Billy Wagner (34 SV).
Infield: C Carlos Ruiz (.333 BA), 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, 3B Pedro Feliz (Giants), SS Jimmy Rollins (41 SB). Outfield: LF Pat Burrell, CF Shane Victorino, RF Geoff Jenkins (Brewers). Rotation: Cole Hamels (15 wins, 3.39 ERA, 177 K), Brett Myers (21 SV), Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton. Closer: Brad Lidge (Astros).
Infield: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira (30 HR), 2B Kelly Johnson, 3B Chipper Jones (.337 BA), SS Yunel Escobar. Outfield: LF Matt Diaz, CF Mark Kotsay (Athletics), RF Jeff Francoeur (105 RBI), Utility: Willie Harris (17 SB). Rotation: John Smoltz (3.11 ERA, 197 K), Tim Hudson (16 wins), Tom Glavine (Mets), Mike Hampton, Jair Jurrjens (Tigers). Closer: Rafael Soriano (9 SV).
Infield: C Mike Rabelo, 1B Mike Jacobs, 2B Dan Uggla, 3B Jose Castillo, SS Hanley Ramirez (.332 BA, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 51 SB). Outfield: LF Josh Willingham (89 RBI), CF Cameron Maybin, RF Jeremy Hermida. Rotation: Scott Olsen (10 wins, 133 K), Sergio Mitre, Andrew Miller, Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), Rick Vanden Hurk. Closer: Kevin Gregg (32 SV, 3.54 ERA).
Infield: C Paul Lo Duca, 1B Dmitri Young (.320 BA), 2B Ronnie Belliard, 3B Ryan Zimmerman (24 HR, 91 RBI), SS Cristian Guzman. Outfield: LF Elijah Dukes, CF Lastings Milledge, RF Austin Kearns. Utility: Felipe Lopez (24 SB). Rotation: Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jason Bergmann, John Lannan, Matt Chico (4.63 ERA, 94 K). Setup: Jon Rauch (8 wins); Closer: Chad Cordero (37 SV).
Hilton’s projected wins: NY 93˝, Philadelphia 87˝, Atlanta 85, Washington 72, Florida 70.