The Nationals surprised just about everyone last year by starting off hot and two months in, ascending to first place where they sat for nearly five glorious weeks. The goal in the offseason was to add offense and pitching. If Alfonso Soriano joins the outfield, they should be solid with either Brandon Watson or Ryan Church in center, Soriano in left, and a healthy Jose Guillen in right, and with Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, Jose Vidro and Nick Johnson around the infield there aren’t any easy outs. Hear that Guzman! The Nationals need Livan Hernandez and John Patterson to be near perfect, as they will be rolling the dice with Ramon Ortiz, Mike Hinckley, Jon Rauch, Tony Armas, Ryan Drese, and the newly acquired Pedro Astacio filling out the starting rotation. The bullpen is solid though, with Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, and Gary Majewski looking for a repeat of last year’s success.
Call it addition by subtraction, the Phillies sent Jim Thome to the White Sox for outfielder Aaron Rowan who will start in center, in a move that will give first base to the monstrous Ryan Howard. Howard, with his David Ortiz-like physique and swing, should send many a rocket out into the rightfield redbrick walkway. With David Bell at third, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Howard around the horn, the Phillies look to be set for a run in the next few years. Holding on to Bobby Abreu, picking up Rowan and the keeping resurgent Pat Burrell makes for an unheralded but imposing lineup. The Phils could surprise some folks. The consistently consistent Jon Lieber anchors the rotation, and Tom “Flash” Gordon tries to replaces Billy Wagner, who the Phillies inexplicably allowed to move to the Hated Mets.
By the time this crop of everyone else’s prospects matures, the Marlins should find themselves out of Florida. A season full of rainouts lies ahead for new manager Joe Girardi, who hopefully was aware of the impending fire sale when he signed on to lead his first squad. Rumors of the impending trade of Miguel Cabrera are, not unexpectedly surfacing. They know they’ll win at least 20 with Dontrelle Willis on the mound, even if he has to score the runs too. Look for Jeremy Hermida, Hanley Ramirez, the much-hyped Boston prospect, and Mike Jacobs who hammered a few for the Mets when given the chance last season. Last place is almost a given.
The Baby Yankees are going for it, and why not? How long will Pedro Martinez continue to dominate. The Hated Mets pleased the Shea faithful by signing Billy Wagner to replace the maddening Braden Looper, then went and not only took Carlos Delgado away from the Marlins to play first, but signed the solid Paul Lo Duca to catch, ending Mike Piazza’s tenure in NY. Questions remain with the underwhelming Kaz Matsui at second, and either Victor “the Adventure” Diaz, or Xavier Nady in right, but with Jose Reyes and David Wright firmly established, and Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran’s bats in the lineup they should have no problems scoring runs. The Mets are counting on Pedro’s bum toe, Tom Glavine’s continued resurgence, and the continued improvement of Aaron Heilman, to offset, the guaranteed not to be above .500 records of Carlos Zambrano and Steve Trachsel. Either way they get a new Baby Yes tv Station, and a few more SUBWAY commercials.
I want to go on record as being the first writer in 15 seasons to incorrectly pick the Braves to win the NL East. So here goes, The Braves will once again win the NL East, no doubt about it. Anytime the Jones Boys, Chipper and Andruw are in the lineup it’s trouble. The Braves showed just how deep their system goes last year. They started the season with Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan in the outfield and quickly introduced the amazing Jeff Francouer and the solid Ryan Langerhans to the Majors. Catcher Brian McCann stepped up when Johnny Estrada was steamrolled by the Angels Darrin Erstad. Edgar Renteria replaces the beloved Rafael Furcal at short. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson were worn out as the season ended, but both have scary, scary, scary stuff. Mike Hampton will miss the season with elbow surgery, John Thompson, Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa round out the starting five. Listen for Manager Bobby Cox’s soothing words of encouragement out of the ill-placed mics all season, “C’mon Chipp! C’mon Rochee! C’mon Andruw!
DC Daily’s NL EAST PREDICTIONS
2) NY Mets