BY: Michael Collins
5th: New York Mets (61-101)
I'm not sure that the Mets will even be able to manage 5th in a five team division. This roster looks absolutely wretched. Here is their opening day lineup: Andres Torres - cf, Daniel Murphy - 2b, David Wright - 3b, Ike Davis - 1b, Jason Bay - lf, Lucas Duda - rf, Josh Thole - c, Ruben Tejada - ss, Johan Santana - lhp. That's not exactly going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
Johan Santana is still a quality pitcher, but he may never be the same Santana who once dominated hitters and gave you 200 innings in a season. Given that Santana is the Mets ace this year, that doesn't bode well for their starting rotation.
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4th: Miami Marlins (78-84)
The Marlins made a lot of big moves this off-season, including taking the entire team south to their new ballpark. There will be a certain amount of excitement in Miami, and new additions - such as Jose Reyes and Carlos Zambrano - may help to a certain degree. But the Marlins still lack depth in both pitching and on the bench. Look for them to make some noise early in the season, but after the All-Star break you'll see them slide. Look for a fire sale in Miami right around the trade deadline. This team will be completely re-vamped for next season.
3rd: Washington Nationals (82-80)
The Nationals are definitely taking steps in the right direction. If things go badly for the Braves and/or Phillies on the injury front, the Nats could potentially challenge for a Wild Card spot with some luck. But the Nationals need more depth in both the starting rotation and the bullpen to truly be able to challenge in this division. Ace Stephen Strasburg can be dominating, but the questions linger as to his durability. Number two in their rotation is Gio Gonzalez, who definitely is on the way up, but still has problems with control at times. The Nats are also lacking some real pop in the middle of thier lineup. It will be a good season in Washington, but most likely will fall short.
2nd: Philadelphia Phillies (88-74)
On paper I still think the Phillies are the class of this division, but some aging players and injuries throughout the season are going to derail their grasp on first place. I don't know if we are ever going to see the Chase Utley of old given his continued knee problems, and Ryan Howard is out of their lineup until at least June after tearing his achilles tendon during last year's playoffs. Even then it's uncertain if he'll be able to contribute the way the Phillies need him to. The Phils still have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, and that's going to keep them in a lot of games. But last year's bullpen issues will most likely creep into play again, and that's going to be the biggest factor in keeping them from winning this division.
1st: Atlanta Braves (91-71)
The Braves had all the pieces in place last season to begin their climb back into winning the NL East, but the wheels fell off in September, and the rest is history. Don't look for that to happen again this year. The Braves bullpen is probably the best in the National League, and they will probably put up some of the biggest offensive numbers Braves fans have seen in many years. The only real question mark for the Braves is starting pitching...which sounds odd to say. Tim Hudson is out until at least the beginning of May after back surgery in the off-season, and two guys that they really needed to step up - Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy - looked a bit shaky during spring training. Tommy Hanson is going to have to become the workhorse for this pitching staff with the departure of Derek Lowe, and Mike Minor will need to continue the success he had during the spring. Some late spring additions to the roster brought some needed veteran presence to both the bench and the bullpen. The Braves should make Chipper Jones final season a memorable one.
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