MLB 2010 – National League East


I need to change things around.

Do something a bit more fresh.

See… as the NFL season was wrapping up, I realized that at times there really isn’t much of a difference between what I’m trying to do for this web site and what you can access out there already. It’s a problem I’ve run across at time before. There are some great sources available to you, and unlike me many of these people writing the material actually get to attend spring training, gather quotes from the players, and seek out the opinions and expertise of coaches, agents, and front office types.

And that makes things difficult when I’m giving you observation and opinion.

It works great when I bring the Dogs into the picture… it’s kind of cute when Molly and Gus kick our butts making selections. Heck, I even find myself enjoying it when they do really well.

But the reality is that need to have some solid material involved, and perhaps present it with a slightly off-center view of things. Basically, give you a different look at things.

So this year as baseball approaches… we’re going to try something a bit different. It might work… it might not… and it probably needs another year or two of work to sort out… but we’re going to give it a try.

For each team, I’m going to break things down into a before-and-after segment. I’ll give last year’s record and what I expect for this season along with changes in personnel. Then I’ll put together best-case and worst-case opinions on each club.

I don’t promise perfection. In some cases there’s only so much to share, so forgive it if you have heard all there is to know about the Colorado Rockies. On other cases there really isn’t much more going on other than exactly what we already know. But I do think this will ultimately allow me to improve upon an effort I enjoy doing… and I just want to do it a bit better.

Ok… the National League East. Is it baseball’s best division?


The New York – Boston – Tampa connection still makes the AL East tough to top if not the one to top. Though I readily admit that with Baltimore and Toronto set for interesting years, the AL East isn’t such a clear-cut leader.

So we’ll also note that out West Seattle – California – Texas make an interesting combination.

And without much debate, I wouldn’t place the NL East over either of those divisions.

So… is this the best in the National League?

Again… I have to say no.

Philly may well be the best team in the National League… and they can fight for the right to be called the best team in baseball. But after that there are simply too many questions marks. Seriously… Atlanta… Florida… New York… could any of those teams finish with less than 80 wins? If you say no, you haven’t been watching the past few seasons, especially 2009 for the Mets. And with what we’re going to see chasing division titles in the Central and the West, the National League East might very well be the weakest division in the National League.

Philadelphia Phillies
What I expect in 2010: 93-69, playoffs

What they did in 2009: 93-69, lost World Series

Key personnel changes: Love the trade for Roy Halladay… sort of. (More on that in a second.) Gave up Cliff Lee to get him. (The reality of viewing this trade is very simple… as far as prospects are concerned, never complain when a team with the ability to win it now gives up a bit of the future to try and win it now. The real thing here is Lee departing… Halladay should be an upgrade over Lee, Philly puts a ribbon on the deal.) Danys Baez is a name I’m intrigued by. He had a decent year for the Orioles in 2009 and at just 32 years old could be respectable in seventh or eighth inning work. While he hasn’t shown it elsewhere, his closer efforts in Tampa in 2004 and 2005 weren’t too bad either for a club looking to stabilize a 2008 strength and 2009 weakness. It’s a good move for Philly that could pay off much bigger than anyone is mentioning.

My expectations: I absolutely do feel that Philly improved the club in a few areas… most notably by bringing in Halladay and also Baez (Remember… Lee was just a partial-season contributor in 2010.)

That said… I’ll give them the same record because: (1) In my experience. Philly has a history of underachieving. No… wait… that’s not right. Wrong word. They have a history of settling. Well… maybe that’s not right either. Ok… let’s try this… I often think they should be playing even better than they actually are. In the past they would win 7 out of 10 and seem great because of it. But if you looked close, they probably should have won all 10. I do see the best National League team here, and I don’t see a weakness heading in to the playoffs. But I don’t know if they’ll be truly pushed in the division… leading to some steady, so-so play in September. And I do think that some of the tough games in the division will lead to a reduced record. (In short… Florida and Atlanta are going to be pains in Philadelphia’s rear.)

What Philly has going for them is easy to see. Unlike the other clubs in this division, the Phillies have multiple ways of winning over extended periods of time. For instance… their offense could destroy opponents, their defense could keep games close, and their pitching could shut people down. The trick is… they may not be the best at any of these in the division.

Braves might have a better rotation… Mets might have a better offense… and so on. But… those clubs just as easily might not be better. The Mets, as an example, have all sorts of health concerns and other questions. The Mets will be without Beltran to start the year, have Reyes returning after effectively missing last season, want Wright to look better in a power role than he did in 2009, need to bring Bay on board… and so on. Does Reyes – Beltran – Wright – Bay look good in some fashion as the content of a batting order? Sure does. Given the past three seasons or so though… I don’t think any part of that group frightens Philly.

Where I’m going with this… the Phillies might be the most balanced team in baseball. If the Braves don’t have the best pitching in the division, they will not win this division. If the Mets don’t stay healthy, they will not win this division. If Jupiter and Saturn don’t align during the full moon of August, the Marlins will not win this division.

But the Phillies could struggle with their rotation and still win 90-plus.

The Phillies could struggle offensively and still win 90-plus.

The Phillies could have problems on defense and still win 90-plus.

And so… I expect the Phillies to play above average in pretty much all aspects of the game and, you guessed it, win 90-plus.

I don’t think they’ll win the division by running away with it, but the reality is that the season run for the NL East crown won’t be as close as the standings suggest.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): What you don’t hear people talking much about is what happens if Halladay and Hamels don’t deliver. And that could be their disaster.

The Phillies have to be included in any conversation about the best offense… the best defense… the best pitching in the league. Mentioned that already, and gave them the division title because even if they aren’t tops in any category just by being so high in all areas they should be very successful. If Philadelphia doesn’t make the playoffs, they have unexpected problems that few could have predicted… simple as that.

So we’re talking about a playoff meltdown as their problem.

We haven’t seen Halladay pitch in the playoffs. Ever. Hamels is in spring training right now as word spreads about how good he looks and… hey, it’s spring time, and the days are getting longer, and the weather is getting better, and the girls are looking prettier, and every baseball player is in the best shape of his career heading into a season filled with high expectations. Of course Hamels looks great.

Behind the dynamic duo we’re talking about Blanton and Moyer and so on. Capable guys when it comes to regular season pitching… also “I’m not betting on them but not lost causes” when it comes to playoff pitching… definitely not scaring anyone pitching.

I don’t see any of the teams behind them catching the Phillies. Could happen… not likely… would need lightning-in-a-bottle stuff to happen. But this year I believe is going to see some of the best starting pitching face off in the National League playoffs. And in Philly, that lead dogs will need to deliver.

Atlanta Braves
What I expect in 2010: 90-72, playoffs

What they did in 2009: 86-76

Key personnel changes: Let Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano go (Soriano traded). Added Billy Wagner. Traded Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera. Here’s the funny thing… they had a surplus of pitching, wanted to get rid of someone like Vazquez, and even though everyone knew it I believe they ended up trading him below what his value should have been… the Yankees had a surplus of outfielders, wanted to get rid of someone like Cabrera, and they probably traded him for above his value. Sure… other players were involved… but realistically, the Yankees won this one. The only trick is going to be whether or not Cabrera is more effective for the Braves than a pitcher they didn’t really want in the rotation would have been. Unfortunately… the reality is that you can never have too much starting pitching. I say this backfires on them. Anyway… Eric Hinske. There’s a good luck signing. Troy Glaus… well… now we’re digging.

My expectations: There is a very good chance I have them about 5 wins too high, and that my initial impressions of Tommy Hanson along with my respect for Bobby Cox is leading to me setting them up for a nice farewell in Cox’s last season that really won’t develop this way.

Doesn’t matter… I can’t help it.

The main part of this staff is actually Hudson and Lowe. I know… I know… people are babbling on and on about Jurrjens and Hanson. That’s fine. And the postseason possibilities for Atlanta will likely be determined by the success of the two getting the attention. But for the sake of argument, let’s meander out to LA where we have Billingsley and Kershaw. Who is steadying the ship if those two fail for the Dodgers? If those two lose, are there any guarantees the Dodgers don’t lose five in a row? (Go ahead… this is your chance to make a Vincente Padilla argument.) So if we can approach this preview wishing the Braves health and expecting some inconsistent starts from the inexperienced, then I think the advantage Atlanta brings to the field over the Marlins and Mets and Nationals in this division isn’t top of the rotation pitching, it’s the potential of rock steady veterans in the middle of the rotation.

Yup. They have brilliant potential. They also, when healthy, have some very strong depth.

Here’s another way of looking at it. If I told you Lowe and Hudson were lined up against Halladay and Hamels during a weekend series… would you be stunned if I claimed that the Braves would outpitch the Phillies and win those games? Probably not. Lowe and Hudson are quality guys. You could see that. Now take any two pitchers from the Mets not named Santana and put them against Halladay and Hamels. Yeah… if I tried to give the Mets those two games you would be stunned.

Pitching will determine everything for Atlanta. Simple as that.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzelez gone from the bullpen? Yeah… not liking that. Sure, relief pitching can change from year to year. But those are tough losses to recover from. Billy Wagner is nice, but he wasn’t exactly out there all the time and piling up you-can-count-on-me bonus points in recent years. There’s no net for this bullpen.

I know they felt like their starting pitching was secure enough to get rid of Javier Vazquez… and I would have traded him too… but has a trade ever failed for both teams? If so… losing Vazquez could be a bad thing for Atlanta’s staff, and adding Melky Cabrera (who I’m not sold on… at all) might not get them much to offset the loss. The Yankees can rebound from such mistakes… for the Braves it could kill their playoff hopes. I think they could have gotten more for him. (Maybe that’s just me.)

Offensively this club should surprise some people. Looking over the roster I give them what I have learned to consider Texas-potential. I’ll get to that full concept more when I review the Rangers, but the general idea is that whenever you think about them, you are never under the impression the Texas Rangers could possibly have a quality batting order from top to bottom. Quick… pick a season and name the best offenses. Chances are Texas never really comes to mind. Then one day the Rangers arrive to play your favorite team, and you settle in to watch the start of the game, and they flash those stats on the screen and your jaw drops when all of the Texas hitters appear to be batting around .310 with .395 on-base percentages.

Here in Atlanta we find that McCann, Prado and Jones may be joined by the boy that wouldn’t leave, Jayson Heyward. And for all my criticism, Melky always has moments when I’m kicking an ottoman while watching him play because he’s contributed in some way… this club depends on it’s pitching, but it’s not hideous in other areas.

Florida Marlins
What I expect in 2010: 86-76

What they did in 2009: 87-75

Key personnel changes: Nada. They did nothing. Oh… wait… sent Jeremy Hermida to Boston, and I’m not even going to list him as an addition for the Red Sox. So there you go.

My expectations: What I do like about the Marlins is that they don’t seem quite ready to break any of this apart. They may have tried, and probably did try more than we know, but the team is basically intact and ready to head out in 2010 to build on 2009.

Hanley Ramirez is still affordable, so he isn’t going without a ridiculous haul being sent to Miami in return. Josh Johnson seems poised for great things. And there is plenty of young talent on the roster and in the system.

Everyone is going to expect 85 wins or so from this club, but chances are you’ll know fewer of the names taking the field here in comparison to any other team taking aim at a winning record.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Wow… take your pick on which way would be a surprise. Do you think 87 wins is low and they could contend for the playoffs? Then the surprise is where could it go right. Do you think I have them high already and it is going to fall? Then let’s talk about what will go wrong.

It’s very strange… but I think the Marlins are going to deliver a decent season with few shocks. They’ll always be hovering right around even, picking up perhaps a game or two each month on the way to mid-80s for wins. But if they do surprise me… I look for it to be by adding a player in an attempt to make the playoffs.

See, the funny thing is that this club could have a playoff run in them, and they could fall apart… but I don’t see either taking place unless something crazy, unpredictable, or just stupid happens. Why?

Well… consider San Diego for a second. See, they have Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. As we approach the end of June, chances are very good the Padres will be staring at some 70-games played and a losing record. For giggles, we’ll call it 32-38. It’s quite possible that San Francisco and Los Angeles will both be at or over 40-wins at that point, with Colorado ahead of the Padres in the standings, and heck, maybe even Arizona will be ahead of them and San Diego will be at the bottom of the division. And if that’s the case, San Diego may be looking to make some trades. And the targets of those trades for other teams are fairly obvious ones.

Back to Miami and the Marlins. I don’t see any clear and understandable trades sitting here for Florida. In recent years, they’ve been rumored to be discussing acquiring some names at the trade deadline. (Go figure.) None of the contracts they have are of the must-move variety… that comes later.

So if they’re not playing well, I don’t expect a trade of Hanley Ramirez. And if they are playing well, they could try to bring in a player or two. Still, you can’t focus on the Marlins as a team likely to make any changes at all.

Personally, I think I already have them maxed out. Three teams above 87 wins? Not going to be easy in this division with the Mets likely to improve (at least a little). And in 2010 I see the Braves as a bit stronger than the Marlins.

New York Mets
What I expect in 2010: 83-79

What they did in 2009: 70-92

Key personnel changes: For me, it’s not what they did… it’s what they couldn’t do that matters. From November thru January it sure looked to me like no one wanted to go to New York. Heck, they added Jason Bay, and he dragged his heels along the way and really appeared to only sign with them because he had no choice. Took a chance on Gary Matthews… which will mean nothing because the guy is worth nothing. It’s a mess. Josh Fogg? Fernando Tatis? Kelvim Escobar? Basically this team had players on their roster that might or might not work out. And they brought in other players that aren’t any safer as risks. Since I liked Florida signing Kiko Calero last year, I should probably at least mention his new address.

My expectations: They are going to have… what… eleven or twelve pitchers on the roster?

Ok… they could have twenty on the roster by the time they get started… I trust two. Santana (one starter) and Rodriguez (the closer). And Rodriguez I don’t trust in the playoffs… only the regular season… but cue the Jim Mora clip here, because it’s way too early to be talking playoffs for the Mets.

Every playoff team I’m going to select this season has two potential dynamite starters (except Minnesota… and the Twins don’t face much division competition). San Francisco? Yup… two stars. St. Louis? The top two were competing with the very best in the National League last year. Atlanta has a deep, strong staff. Philly? Absolutely. Seattle… Boston… New York… all have two (or more) stars.

The Mets are crossing their fingers after Santana.

They’re starting their season with a patchwork batting order, with Reyes likely to drop in the order to cover for the missing Beltran.

And team chemistry? Ok… get this one…

The Mets acquired Gary Matthews, Jr. from the Angels, right? And Matthews was basically mad about his playing time in California. Fair assessment? (Sure it is.) So here we have Beltran out, and not a single person… not one… zero people… nobody is mentioning Matthews taking over centerfield until his return.

Things are just lovely here.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Come on… this is too easy. We’ll start with things going wrong… the more likely of the two.

Carlos Beltran was part of an off-season soap opera, and won’t be ready to start the year. In fact, it’s not so farfetched to say Memorial Day is a generous expectation for his return. So right out of the gate the idea of having Reyes, Beltran, Wright and Bay in the lineup gets chucked to the side of the road. We could be more than 40-games in before that happens. (In fact, I’ll make a prediction. Beltran won’t play 100 games this season. And that means that the power-packed options of the New York lineup will be limited to roughly 60% of the season together… at best.)

Johan Santana is great. Sure… it’s a definite plus. But with the Phillies likely getting 65 or so starts from Halladay and Hamels, and the Braves running Hanson out to the mound with their other young and talented (and experienced, especially if healthy) rotation, and Josh Johnson on the mound for Florida… well, what I’m getting at is simply that the roughly 32 starts from Santana may not prove to be a difference-maker for the Mets when other clubs are getting 32 starts from their quality guys. (And… note… most other clubs in the National League that want to talk playoffs are getting those 65 or so starts like the Phillies.) Santanat is great… but not that great when the bullpen is weak and the other four starters are all being looked at for improvement.

So… option number one… things go wrong and the Mets fall below .500.

Ahh… but hold on. Because option number two, many things go right and the Mets clear 85 wins and leave August looking at meaningful September games.

(Yes… I mean that. It is an option.)

See, I do like Oliver Perez. Probably too much… in fact I know too much… but I always think that in the National League a guy that has done it once could do it again. If you look at his career, every time he’s approached 30 starts he’s cleared 10 wins with a sub-4 ERA. (Yes… yes… I get it… it might not be injury. Poor pitching performance, especially all those years over 5.5 (and even well over 6) for his ERA don’t exactly earn you extra starts during the season.) But with a 4.54 career ERA, a .242 career batting average against, and a rough average of a strikeout per inning pitched, there is something to be said for the 29-year old lefty. (Of course, he walks everyone in the friggin’ park every time he starts, including ushers, hot dog guys and the first four rows of the home team side of box seats. I’m not telling you to give him a long leash. I’m just saying don’t discount him easily as the least likely guy to contribute something.)

As we continue to build a case that I’m crazy… I believe a 3-4-5 of Reyes-Wright-Bay can win some games while waiting for Beltran to return, provided they play up to their expectations and averages. (I’m not even asking for them to wear capes and play amazing ball… just that they play well. Heck… would you believe Luis Castillo hit .302 with a .387 on-base last year? It’s true. And .295 and .370 from him would not be a stretch considering his career numbers. Yup… the Mets could be ok.)

If this stuff happens… Perez winning more than he loses… a 3-4-5 delivering occasionally… the Mets can reach the mid-season at an even record or better. From that point on, anything can happen.

And let’s check something out here. In 2009 the Mets were being discussed in the same breath as Philadelphia. Remember? Before falling apart, the Mets were a possible division winner. What’s different between then and now? Basically Carlos Delgado out and Jason Bay in. That’s really about it.

Hey… let’s do something for fun. The following is never going to happen. Never… never… never. Understand? Not going to happen. But let’s kick it around.

Jose Reyes has been labeled injury-prone. He certainly didn’t help himself with that label in 2009. But reality has a funny way of getting distorted, and the fact is that between 2005 and 2008 he played at least 153 games each year, had over 680 at bats three times, and was showing solid development (especially getting to a reasonable on-base percentage). According to what I have from Cot’s, our man Jose is owed $9 million in 2010, with a not too bad $11 million on the schedule for 2011 as an option with just a half-million to buy it out. (If he’s going to get 1,300 at bats between the two seasons, the salary for both years is probably a bargain.)

Now… people are thinking Boston is worried about Josh Beckett’s long term health… yes? His contract is about done. Well… what if… again, never going to happen… what if we say Boston and New York are talking on the phone late in June. We’re going to apply the hang up theory to the call. Do you think one side would hang up if Reyes for Beckett was brought up? Now remember… the Mets would hang up if the Red Sox suggested Tim Wakefield for Reyes in a one-for-one. And… the Red Sox would hang up if the Mets wanted Beckett in an even trade for Oliver Perez. I’m not asking about that. I’m not being insane. I’m asking if Reyes for Beckett was raised, and Omar and Theo could talk about two or three other names to include to balance things out in their minds… would that suggestion cause one side to hang up?

I say no.

I say both sides are still listening.

Granted… everyone else in the Red Sox rotation would have to be pitching great (with Wakefield healthy)… and Beltran would have to be back and playing fine. But if the Mets need a pitcher (and we think they do), they don’t have much to give up. And while it may not be Beckett in the end… let’s talk Oswalt… Webb… I’m just kicking the tires here… would Reyes get them a top pitcher to pair with Santana?

Washington Nationals
What I expect in 2010: 65-97

What they did in 2009: 59-103

Key personnel changes: Chien-Ming Wang might be a solid addition… but let’s face it, if he does well he likely will be traded. Still, added with a surprisingly available-to-Washington Jason Marquis, this club might have an ok rotation for 2010. Granted… it’s basically all way too young or number four/five starters at best… but this club could cause some real headaches in August and September based on… yup… pitching.

My expectations: Dead last and worst record in baseball.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): If you don’t have a favorite team, and you want to climb on to one without looking like you’re picking someone obvious, the Nationals do have the makings of a decent, young team.

Back in Montreal, we had Guerrero, Martinez, and… well… you know the drill. Every year they were trading away another chip and leaving you shaking your head. How could the Expos keep giving up such young talent and yet keep bringing up more? It was sad to watch it fall apart.

Welcome to Washington. Where Ryan Zimmerman is playing third base and being joined by young talent like Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond. The much-hyped pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg may not be far off.

If they commit to being a good team, are willing to spend a bit of money, and don’t let the front office screw it up… in 2012 this club could challenge for an even record. I’d say next season is possible with a few additions and free agent signings, but I don’t think many free agents will be willing to head to Washington next year without (a) being overpaid, or, (b) having no other alternatives.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at