The Oklahoma City Thunder have been ready to get this season under...
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 26, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Ct.– Sometime last September, several members of the 1965 Phillies and 1978 Red Sox decided to have an ceremonial toast at a local establishment. That’s a bar for you folks scoring at home.
We were also told that several members of the 1992 Houston Oilers were serving “Buffalo” wings and lite beers, but we haven’t been able to confirm that. What was confirmed was a huge blue and orange mural which read “Dear N.Y. Mets. Thanks for letting us off the hook!!!”
As you may remember, the Mets blew a seven-game lead in the final two weeks of the regular season to complete (all together now!!!) the largest collapse of a division lead in that space of time.
How Willie Randolph and his team responds to last year’s fall will speak volumes as to who wins the NL East this season. The Phillies and Braves will be in the wings waiting while both the Marlins and Nationals try to allow their youngsters to mature.
(Teams are listed by predicted order of finish)
1. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
To quote a well known prophet named Rollins, you have to beat the man to be the man. Thusly, the Phillies are clearly the team to beat in the NL East despite not making a lot of moves during the off season. Yes, they let OF Aaron Rowand go to Frisco but they added 3B Pedro Feliz and OF Geoff Jenkins to offset the loss. Yes, closer Brad Lidge will begin the year on the DL, but setup man Tom “Flash” Gordon should be able to hold the fort until his return. What could possibly be Philly’s downfall is a starting rotation that’s relatively thin after Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, and Jamie Moyer. While they may not be prohibitive favorites, Philly has enough to make a strong repeat run.
2. NEW YORK METS
There are some that think this team may have peaked in 2006 and will find it impossible to recover from 2007′s historic collapse. However, it’s not like the core of this team (3B David Wright, SS Jose Reyes, OF Carlos Beltran) aged 50 years over the off season. Adding the game’s best pitcher in Johan Santana should definitely improve a starting rotation that has questions after the first three slots. Despite their horrible finish, the bullpen is still relatively strong, but it will likely be taxed even more this season. New York will be in the race, but they may have to settle for a wild card berth.
3. ATLANTA BRAVES
The true unknown factor in the East in 2008 will reside in Turner Field. A lineup that includes a full season of 1B Mark Teixiera, a healthy Chipper Jones at 3B, OF Jeff Francoeur, and C Brian McCann has the looks of being potent. However, the club’s major strength from back in the day — starting pitching — is a bit of a question. Yes, Tim Hudson is solid, but John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have seen their better days and the fact that the club is still awaiting the return of Mike Hampton speaks volumes. Believe this — the loss of OF Andruw Jones will be felt more than the franchise will admit. Replacing him with oft-injured veteran OF Mark Kotsay until phenom Jordan Schaefer is ready. In the long run, those moves will likely hamper Atlanta’s dream of contending.
4. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
In many ways, manager Manny Acta should have been the NL’s skipper of the year as he had the Nats playing .500 ball late in the year thanks to timely hitting and a solid bullpen. Moving into a new hitter-friendly Nationals Stadium should help in the growth of the team as well. Adding bats like Elijah Dukes, Paul LoDuca, and Lastings Milledge will definitely help improve the offense which ranked last in the NL in runs scored. What’s going to be tough to watch is a pitching staff that at best is mediocre. Odalis Perez and Matt Chico will be anchors, but the best hurler is closer Chad Cordero. Yes, there will be more improvement, but a major move up the standings is still a few years away.
5. FLORIDA MARLINS
Whenever you feel bad about your baseball team, think of a psyche of a Florida Marlin fan. Yes, there aren’t many of them, but if they’re still loyal to this organization, there’s a sainthood in their future. Much like Michael Corleone, everytime they get ready to get excited, they get sidetracked and see a Cabrera or a Willis get traded. Yes, they’ve won two World Series, but whenever they been faced with increasing payroll, it’s fire sale time again. With players like SS Hanley Ramirez, OF Josh Willingham, and P Scott Olsen, it’s time for management to stop bitching about a new ball park (which they do need) and make a true commitment to the continuity of this team and their fans. Until they do this, they will be a fixture in the basement for years to come.
Tommorrow: The AL Central.