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BASN’s 2007 MLB Previews: Scouting The NL East
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 27, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Again today and over the next four days, BASN will take a look at all six divisional races in Major League Baseball. So, by the time the first pitch is thrown at Busch Stadium on Sunday night, you’ll know whose going to do what in baseball this season.
Yesterday, we took a look at the battle in the AL East. Today we switch over to the National League East. Early in spring training, Jimmy Rollins said his Phillies would be the team to beat in 2007. Do we agree with Mr. Rollins? Follow and see.
(Teams listed in order of predicted finish).
1. NEW YORK METS
What it really came down to is that GM Omar Minaya just refused to overpay for guys like Barry Zito, Dice-K, and others during the off season. He’s betting that John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey either have or will mature quick enough. It’s a bit of a gamble especially given the impatient nature of New York sports fans and media. However, one also gets the feeling that Omar The Dealmaker is working on something behind the scenes as well. The Metsies may wind up being involved in a few more slug fests than they were last year, but they do have the kind of lineup that can bop with the best of them. They won’t have the division won by the 4th of July this year, they’ll definitely will have to earn it this season.
Outlook: Don’t be surprised if the improving Pelfrey becomes the team’s No. 3 starter before the season is over. One of the main reasons why they should repeat in the East is a still strong bullpen. Losing Duaner Sanchez for the first three months will hurt, but adding Scott Schoeneweis and getting Guillermo Mota back from suspension should ease the blow a bit. Despite what Mr. Rollins thinks, this is still the team to beat in the East.
2. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
No one doubts the fact that GM Pat Gillick did what he had to do during the off season to improve the Phillies. Ex-Chisox workhorse Freddy Garcia will work well with youngsters Cole Hamels and Brett Myers. And a lineup with the aforementioned Rollins, Chase Utley, MVP Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell is more than formidable. But for Philly to have the rest of the league take notice will be a fast start. Since winning the pennant in 1993, the Phils have only had four winning Aprils. In fact, over the last five years Philly has only had one winning April (15-12 in 2003). If this is their year, they’ll get the chance to prove it early. 19 of their 26 games in April will come against division opponents including the first nine games of the season (three each with Atlanta, New York, and Florida). By the way, the Phils went 17-5 in April during that ’93 season.
Outlook: This team is a good mix of youth and experience. Don’t be surprised if Gillick shops around to get another reliever to help out Flash Gordon. If they get out to a fast start, the East is there for the taking. If not, they may have to settle for the wild card. Either way, this squad has the look of a playoff team.
3. ATLANTA BRAVES
Braves fans will tell you that 2006 was just a blip on the system and that they’ll definitely be back in the hunt in 2007. Yes, the face of this franchise has definitely taken a more youthful appearance. Guys like C Brian McCann, OF Jeff Francoeur, and P Chuck James are more of Atlanta’s nucleus than the Jones’ boys. However, the one thing that has been a constant for Bobby Cox over the years (i.e. strong starting pitching) has been slipping just a bit. Yes, John Smoltz is still strong, but he along with guys like Mike Hampton and Mark Redman are getting a bit long in the tooth. Adding a quality closer like Bob Wickman to a bullpen that already includes fireballers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano will be a help. But it’s getting to them that may be the long term problem.
Outlook: The youngsters can definitely hit with the Mets and Phillies. Sprinkle in the Jones’ boys and guys like Edgar Renteria and this has the makings of an awesome lineup. However, I’m not quite sold on the starting staff for the long haul. Atlanta will need guys like Tim Hudson to return to his old self before they can even think about the postseason. If he does, they’ll be back in the hunt very soon.
It’s now Fredi Gonzalez’s turn to babysit…….I mean manage this very young team that showed their fans both sides of the fence in 2006. While they rebounded from a dismal 11-31 start and made seemingly great strides under Joe Girardi, the question will be just how much will the kids miss him. Management is hoping that Gonzalez will be a calming effect after last year’s terse ending with Girardi. If this team is allowed to stay together, the Fish will be serious contenders very soon. Just how soon? Consider this: last year’s team became the first team in MLB history to have four rookie pitchers win 10 or more games. And they’ve been adding even more arms to offset a lineup that’s sprinkled with some good young bats.
Outlook: Can we call them contenders yet? Not quite, but they aren’t quite pushovers either. If they don’t rest on last year’s laurels they can be a very pesky team whose bright future isn’t that far away. Just to repeat what we said earlier, if management allows these kids to mature and stay, the payoff could come much sooner than folks think. Now it’s just a matter of what city they’ll be playing in the about 2-3 years.
5. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Not to say that the cupboard is bare in D.C., but reports this spring said Old Mother Hubbard took a look at this year’s National pitching staff and did a Florida Evans-like “DAMN, DAMN, DAMN!!” With guys like Matt Chico, Jason Simontacchi, and Tim Reddings on the roster, new manager Manny Acta will have to keep a stiff upper lip throughout the season. The Nats will also have a hard time scoring runs as well this year. All-Star 3B Ryan Zimmerman will be the main cog of a lineup that doesn’t have much pop, especially with cleanup hitter 1B Nick Johnson still recovering from a broken leg suffered last September.
Outlook: Frank Robinson was able to squeeze 71 wins out of this team last season and he was shown the door. You get the feeling that the franchise will spending the entire season recovering from that slight to Robby. Call if the Curse of Frank and it may last a helluva lot longer than the new owners and management think.
Tommorrow: The AL Central.