The Philadelphia Philips
The Phyllis won their fifth consecutive title last season but was upset by the San Francisco Giants in the National League finals. The fact is that the Giants did the unthinkable and out-pitched the Phillies. For a nice fix, the Phillies signed another left-handed ace free agent, Cliff Lee.
What a rotation they have built! If they stay healthy, the rotation will begin with Roy Halladay, followed by lefty Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. This is a rotation that may be the best ever assembled.
In the bullpen, Brad Lidge will start the season on injured reserve. Young Ryan Madson is a capable closer and the rest of the bullpen is like last year’s version.
Pitching is not the problem for the Phillies who were quiet in the off season. The Phillies are aging and injuries are likely. The biggest loss the Phillies encumbered was the loss of right fielder and right-handed hitter Jayson Werth. Rightfield will now be managed by committee.
If baseball is 90 percent pitching, nobody, not even the Giants, is out pitching this group.
The Atlanta Braves
The biggest change in Atlanta will be at the helm. After 25 years as manager, Bobby Cox has stepped aside. Former Marlin coach Fredie Gonzalez has big shoes to fill. Gonzalez takes the reins of a team in transition.
The Braves do boast a strong pitching staff. Tim Hudson is the ace but Derek Lowe logs a lot of innings and racks up wins. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrgens are set in the third and fourth slots. Gonzalez will decide on his fifth starter. In most divisions, the Braves starters are strong.
The Braves let Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito go and have turned the closing role to George Sherrill or Scott Linebrink or young lefty Jonny Venters. The bottom line is that the bullpen is solid.
The pickup of 2B Dan Ugla from Florida fills a nice whole in the lineup. The return of Chipper Jones will keep the Braves in contention. Martin Prado will be moving to the outfield. His bat is worth the risk.
The Braves will be in contention and at worst could capture the wildcard berth once again.
The New York Mets
Sandy Alderson takes over as GM. Alderson retained JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta to help save the team. The threesome has work to do. The team is strapped for funds thanks to Bernie Madoff and will have a difficult time contending this season.
Ace Johan Santana will return around mid-season so Mike Pelfry will lead the staff. Knuckleballer RA Dickey will put his stuff to work and hope to match last season’s 2.84 ERA. John Niese has a year under his belt but will have to step up this season. Chris Young, Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee are battling for the open spots.
Francisco Rodriquez will be back in the closing role and his setup guys look good. Bobby Parnell is a flamethrower and DJ Carrasco will add stability to the pen.
In the infield, the ss Reyes, 3b David Wright, 1b Ike Davis are set. Louis Castillo and Daniel Murphy will alternate at second base. The outfield is set with Beltran moving to right to make room for speedy Angel Pagan in center and Jayson Bay in left. The Mets are solid in the field and have a relatively strong lineup. Davis, Reyes and Beltran must stay healthy to reap the rewards.
The Florida Marlins
The Florida Marlins have talent. If they could get a synchronized effort, this team could surprise. Their ace is strapping Josh Johnson who is as good as there is. Despite tiring toward the end of the season, Johnson pitched 229 innings and surrendered less than one hit per inning. He also has 2.30 ERA and fanned more than nine batters per game. The addition of Javier Vasquez may help stabilize the rotation. Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstaad and Anibel Sanchez will round out the rotation. The threesome racked up 39 wins last season.
The biggest loss the Marlins had was 2b Dan Uggla. His spot will be manned by Omar Infante. All-word shortstop Hanley Ramirez must stop sulking and display some leadership. Gaby Sanchex will anchor 1b and John Buck will be behind the plate. Wes Hems and Emilio Bonifacio will contend for the 3rd base job.
The outfield is young. Led by Mike Stanton (22 hrs), Chris Coghlan and Logan Morrison will cover plenty of turf. The threesome are all under 25 years of age. Coghlan and Morrison were moved to the outfield to keep their bats in the lineup.
This is a young team that will improve as the season goes on. If Ramirez is stable, this team can make a move.
The Washington Nationals
When you think Washington, you have to think Stephen Strassburg. Alas, the Nationals’ biggest stud is in the pasture undergoing rehab for his arm trouble. The Nationals went after Jayson Werth with purpose and signed the outfielder to a $126 million multi-year contract.
The Nats also added Tom Gorzelanny from Chicago to bolster the staff. Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and John Marquis round out the first four starters. Jordan Zimmerman may get the nod for the fifth spot. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard (11 wins in 2010) are the only reliable bullpen fixtures.
Ivan Rodriquez, Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores are contending for the catching role. Adam LaRoche replaces Adam Dunn at first base. Ryan Zimmerman is a bona fide All-star at third.
Joining Werth in the outfield will be Rick Ankiel (Braves) and speedy Nyjer Morgan in center. This is the most solid outfield the Nats have ever put on the field.
The Nats are better this year than last and if Strasburg makes it back good things can happen, especially for the gate. Strasburg has star power and this improved team may even score some runs for him.
The Pittsburgh Pirates
The worst team in the majors in 2010, the Pirates had a busy ad productive off-season. This team is far superior to last year’s squad and with a few breaks could make some noise this season.
Starters Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen were signed this winter and will lead the rotation. Four players are battling for the remaining three slots. Paul Mauholm, Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald and Charlie Morton are all in the mix. McDonald has a live arm and plenty of stuff but could not crack the Dodger rotation. He is a budding star.
The bullpen will be led by strikeout artist Joel Hanrahan. Evan Meek and Chris Resop will add support. The Pirates unloaded Octavio Dotel and this looks like a more inspired group.
Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz hold down the outfield. They will also be asked to increase the run tally. All three have power. Pedro Alvarez is solid at third. Second basemen Neil Walker nearly hit .300 last season and Lyle Overbay will add stability to first base. The catching position is up for grabs between Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit.
These Pirates should realize there is nowhere to go but up. Play hard in Pittsburgh and the turnstiles might be more active.