The National League East in 2009


In previous years, I’ve used the six divisional columns to predict records and make comments about the teams. This year, I’m debating the records part. There will still be a summary column… so I’m thinking of putting records over there if I do them.

For now… let’s take a look at the NL East. The listing of teams is in the order I’m predicting the division to finish.

I’m finding that each division has a special feeling to it. The AL East is, simply put, a beast of a group. The Toronto Blue Jays will be good enough that, with Roy Halladay leading the way, they could probably win a playoff series against a few of the 2009 division winners. (I kid you not. Pick your winner in the NL West and I give the Jays a shot against them. Of course, Hallady may not even be wearing a Toronto uniform by August… but that’s another story… and actually another idea of why the AL East is so brutal to be associated with if you can’t get beyond being average.) Anyway… the Jays are going to finish fourth in that division. And, they won’t be the only team not making the playoffs out of it, since only the winner and possibly the wild card winner could advance from the group.

That said… here we are in the NL East. And, truth be told, it’s pretty darn good and deep as well. Toss out Washington, and there is some quality play to be turned in by the other four clubs. The problem? Well…

None of them are great. Certainly not AL East level great. They’re all just pretty good.

New York Mets ~ Ok… let’s say by some miracle, the Mets do make the playoffs. Can you tell me their starting rotation? And as you sit down with their roster and try to determine whether or not they’d go five deep at any point in the playoffs… and whether or not that might mean Freddy Garcia is some sort of option… I want you to consider that as spring training continues and I ask you that, word out of Mets camp in mid-March was that Johan Santana wasn’t just going through some general aches and pains. He’s looking better, but even if he is fine, the Mets rely on him so much that his arm troubles are worth filing away in your mind for the arrival of July and August.

Now Garcia is on the edge of being released… will likely end up in the minors at best… and I still have questions about New York’s pitching staff. (I hate using Boston as a comparison piece, because I get the feeling I may be doing that with them as a source against a few teams while developing this view of what 2009 looks like right now, but it works so bloody brilliantly.)

The Red Sox have added players like John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli to their team for 2009. The idea is that as part-time contributors or limited-duty players, guys like these will be huge difference-makers. And there is no room to argue this. Being able to add Smoltz to the team, and then place him on the shelf until June or July, is a luxury few teams could afford. And yet, having him as a starter in the five-man rotation for August, September and October could be a major factor in winning a championship, with him holding a playoff MVP trophy.

Funny thing though, the players Boston is tinkering with… like Smoltz and Baldelli and Brad Penny… are just that. Tinkering. The Sox still send Beckett, Matsuzaka and Lester to the mound regardless of Smoltz and Penny. The Sox are still working with Buchholz, Masterson and Bowdin as options regardless of Smoltz and Penny. The Sox will be strong and good without Smoltz and Penny. And the Sox might be borderline unbeatable with them.

On the other side of this comparison, the Mets invested in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. And, honestly, both of them are good signings (or acquisitions depending on how you want to describe bringing in Putz). They form a pretty good end-of-the-game package… provide some depth in case of injury… and allow for some flexibility in giving some rest over the haul of 162 games. The thing is… neither one of these guys is tinkering. For the Mets to be good, both of these guys will need to be good. And for the Mets to be great? Well… let’s list it off… to be great…

Santana having a strong year is an obvious beginning, but they’ll need John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey to be consistent all year.

Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado will need to meet or exceed career averages, with at least one being solidly in the MVP hunt. (And I mean solidly in the hunt for MVP. Not “the team is playing better than .500 and since it’s from New York it gets alot of press so one of their players must be mentioned when discussing the MVP” in the hunt.)

I mentioned Putz and Rodriguez… well… that bullpen better turn up a decent third or fourth arm. Considering the year-to-year inconsistencies involved in relief work, say what you will, I don’t trust any of those other guys.

And, I’ll say it again here. I have told anyone that will listen that I don’t trust Rodriguez as a closer. Oh… he’s good. Very good. But he’s not dominant. It’s possible I wouldn’t rank him in the top five closers in the game. He just hasn’t been… well… have you checked out his recent playoff stats? Against Boston in 2007 he posted an ERA of 54. I’ll say it again… because it’s not a misprint… one-third of an inning… two earned runs… 2007 ERA against Boston in the playoffs of 54.00. (“But Bob… Boston won it all that year. And it’s a crummy third of an inning. That’s not much of a sample size.”) Well… yeah… he simply has sucked in the playoffs against Boston. In 2008 he was brutal (7.71 ERA in 2+ innings of work. And in 2004 he turned in a 3.86 era when the Angels lost to the Red Sox. And absolutely he wasn’t the reason they lost. (Or at least not the only reason.) Perhaps you could say he does fine when “Boston” or “Red Sox” isn’t on the other team’s playoff jerseys. I wouldn’t debate that being possible. But his career ERA goes up in the playoffs… that is a fact… and he doesn’t save as high a percentage of his appearances in the playoffs. You go check out Rivera or Papelbon, look over what they’ve done in the playoffs for their careers, and get back to me on that. Ok? Really.

Do you realize he only has 3 playoff saves? It’s true. So tell me… was he brought to New York to get the Mets into the playoffs? Considering the past two seasons, you might be tempted to argue he was. But I think they brought him here hoping he’d help them win in October, not just get there. And I don’t see the evidence that he is a reliable factor in October wins.

Something else to consider. I didn’t investigate the numbers, but I believe like 13 of the Mets 25-man roster participated in the WBC. One player… Oliver Perez… participated and didn’t pitch much. So, he’s actually behind in his work for having taken part.

This team could find itself in a funk.

Atlanta Braves ~ If any team could be viewed as having a good past few months… even though those months went nothing like they had planned… Atlanta may be that club.

I honestly believe they thought Tom Glavine would be joined in their locker room by John Smoltz and Jake Peavy. They’ve got Glavine… and not only is that it, but word is Glavine may end up getting forced out of the rotation before summer 2009 officially arrives as a season in June.

Derek Lowe should end up being a solid addition. (We’ll have to wait and see on the idea of “strong” addition.) Javier Vazquez isn’t a bad risk. And, while it’s not where I might have looked for my club, Kenshin Kawakami and Garret Anderson will help a winning club. (If they don’t win… Anderson becomes little more than a roster filler, and unfortunately not one that will be in great demand by the trade deadline in July.)

Here’s what I’m thinking… this team needs time. There are a few injured players (pitchers mainly) that should be back during the season. They have some adjustments to make and some wrinkles to iron out. They shouldn’t win this division. They should finish with a very good record… high 80s… behind New York and Philadelphia.


If New York and Philly dog it early and don’t play well… and Philly really does have a history of coming out of the gate slowly… this is the most perfect example of a club that will smack you over the head late in the year if you don’t step on their necks early.

No… seriously…

Tim Hudson is recovering and could be available in August. Tommy Hanson… youngster sent to the minors to start the year, with lots of good press and a solid spring too… will be pushing for a call from the big club. And the list goes on and on that this team could add without making a trade. So the question is… will New York and/or Philly put them far enough in the rear view mirror before those additions are made?

Philadelphia Phillies ~ This is wrong. They should win this division. Why the heck do I have them third?

Chances are their defense, especially around the infield (at least in the middle of the infield), is the best in this division and maybe the National League. The starting pitching starts out strong and stays at average or better all the way down the line. And they can certainly score runs.

I guess a part of it for me is a gut feeling I have here, and that feeling serves me well at some times and empties my wallet at others. I don’t see how these players feel they have anything to prove. Probably one of the most useless concepts in sports, especially professional sports… the idea of who wants it more… but for a couple of years they have been publicly giving the Mets wedgies, and last year they won a title while holding the Mets upside-down over a toilet for a swirley. Exactly what’s left except cashing some checks?

Well… Ryan Howard decided to avoid the WBC. We’ll see if the traditionally slow starter benefits from what has been in all accounts a decent winter and strong spring training.

Chase Utley may be on the field when the season opens… which was unexpected when he had surgery back in November.

And man… I do like the way Hamels, Myers, Moyer, Blanton and several options they are kicking around looks as a roster of starting pitching for the full year. Keep in mind… that same group won it all in 2008. So while I may not pick it as even close to the top rotation in baseball… no one in Philly should give a damn about my opinion. The thing is, over 162 games, that front four is going to win more than they lose and set things up pretty nicely in reducing the contributions they need from the bullpen and fifth starter.

It’s a good club. Very good club. But I recall them being very good and hitting 86 wins or so year after year. Two good seasons… a championship… and I’m still not 100% convinced those 86 win days are over.

Florida Marlins ~ Hmm… they got rid of some players that meant nothing and, I suppose I would argue, they improved their bullpen. I like that. (I think.) For example…

Kiko Calero. Anyone know Calero’s story? Well… here it is…

Calero hit the major leagues at age 28 in 2003. He only tossed about 38 innings that year, but his 2.82 ERA earned some raised eyebrows. (51 strikeouts in those 38 innings didn’t hurt in raising the eyebrows.) So… when he returned for his second year in St. Louis and put up a 2.78 ERA people really paid attention. His strikeouts were down a bit that year, but in almost ten more innings he cut his walks in half and allowed fewer hits. He became a hot commodity of sorts at that point… probably hotter than he should have been… and he wound up in Oakland where, in the powerful American League, you could say he did better than holding his own in 2005 and 2006. Then… 2007… and the decline… and now here I am having to remind you that gosh darn it, in 2003 and 2004 alot of people wanted to figure out how to add this guy to their club.

Here he is in Florida. And the reality of it is simple… you might recognize the name, but chances are you don’t know much about him from 2007 or 2008 (he only pitched in 5 games in 2008), and so you probably think he’s here because no one else wanted him. And… that might not be far off.

The trick is… in a way that thought rings true up and down this Marlins roster. Beyond Hanley Ramirez, this team features alot of names you won’t recognize. And that roster is going to scrape along and fight for about 80 wins or so, but it just won’t be able to keep pace with this division’s big dogs for a full season. When you’re winning 5 out of every 10 games… that’s good. But when the other teams in the division are winning 11 or 12 out of every 20, that same 5 out of 10 pace has you falling further behind.

Not sure if I’m right about the Marlins? Ok. Time to test you. I’ll take your word on it… you’ll know if you had to look these up on your own. Tell me what positions these guys play… (And… I looked around and found more than four separate sources predicting that as of March 15th, these guys could emerge as starters for this club…)

Ricky Nolasco

Cody Ross

Anibal Sanchez

Andrew Miller

Gaby Sanchez

John Baker

Cameron Maybin

(While you pull up a search engine, do some looking around, and then decide if you should e-mail me a big-old-lie saying you knew more than four of them, I’m going to move on…)

Washington Nationals ~ There are some interesting names here… Adam Dunn… Daniel Cabrera… Josh Towers… no, really, Josh Towers. And what I mean by this is simply that I suppose you could argue that some of this roster has potential… or, perhaps… that some of these players could even contribute to a quality organization.

So why be so disappointed and use those names as a punch line?

Because I don’t get it. I don’t understand how this franchise spiraled so far out of control that they have absolutely nothing. Even Kansas City has a couple of prospects. If you’re running another team, find me one need you might have… just one… where Washington would be one of your first ten choices to call when thinking trade to address that need.

Are you calling for Jesus Flores?

How about Lastings Milledge?

Nick Johnson?

Really? Are you really calling Washington about Nick Johnson before you’ve called at least five or six other clubs about a different option? Because if you say yes, I’m saying bull. He’s had moments worth considering him an ok kind of player, but I’m sorry… 38 games in 2008 raises questions.

It’s going to be a long and ugly season in Washington. Really long. Really ugly.


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