Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL East

This is the second in a series of posts providing an extremely early look at the 2008 MLB season. My previous post, covering the NL West, can be found here. While I recognize that there is still much to be done this off-season (free agent signings, trades, position battles during spring training), it is still interesting to see the shape of teams as they stand now.

This series will continue each Monday through February 18, which is also the day that the Twins will hold their first pitchers and catchers workout. I hope you enjoy reading the series, and when my predictions are woefully wrong 10 months from now, you can make fun of mercilessly if you so desire. The actual numerical predictions for the NL East can be found at the bottom of this post, after a capsule summary of each of the teams.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Projected Rotation

1.) John Smoltz
2.) Tim Hudson
3.) Tom Glavine
4.) Chuck James
5.) Mike Hampton

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Rafael Soriano
2.) Peter Moylan
3.) Mike Gonzalez
4.) Will Ohman
5.) Manuel Acosta

Position Players
C - Brian McCann
1B - Mark Teixeira
2B - Kelly Johnson
3B - Chipper Jones
SS - Yunel Escobar
LF - Matt Diaz
CF - Mark Kotsay
RF - Jeff Francoeur

The Braves rotation is good, but aging. John Smoltz remains the ace, and will turn 41 during the season. Tom Glavine returns from the Mets, and will turn 42 just before the start of the season. Mike Hampton will be 35 for most of the season -- and he's coming off a season in which he did not pitch due to injury. Despite the age, if Smoltz, Glavine, and Hampton can stay healthy they should get plenty of health from a still very potent Tim Hudson, along with moderately strong performances from Chuck James. The bullpen is good, but Rafael Soriano is not really a proven closer. Mike Gonzalez could potentially take over the role if Soriano doesn't nail it down. If the top three can produce like they did last year, the Braves should stay in games late.

The lineup is potentially strong, but the loss of Andruw Jones will probably hurt the Braves. The recently acquired Mark Kotsay is not going to come anywhere near Jones potential offensively (although last season's nosedive by Jones offensively makes him a little easier to replace). Mark Teixeira, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann should provide solid offensive production, and players like Francoeur and Diaz could be strong contributors. Of course, it's also possible that the younger players in this lineup will nosedive -- and if that happens the Braves will struggle to score runs, even with the presence of the big three in the lineup.

Florida Marlins
Projected Rotation

1.) Scott Olsen
2.) Sergio Mitre
3.) Andrew Miller
4.) Mark Hendrickson
5.) Rick VandenHurk

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Kevin Gregg
2.) Justin Miller
3.) Matt Lindstrom
4.) Taylor Tankersley
5.) Lee Gardner

Position Players
C - Mike Rabelo / Matt Treanor
1B - Mike Jacobs
2B - Dan Uggla
3B - Jorge Cantu
SS - Hanley Ramirez
LF - Josh Willingham
CF - Cameron Maybin
RF - Jeremy Hermida

The Marlins rotation is, to be polite, a bit of a work in progress. Dontrelle Willis is gone, and Scott Olsen becomes the ace by default. Unfortunately, the best ERA turned in by any of the Marlins 2008 starters in 2007 was Sergio Mitre's 4.65 -- and it probably isn't going to get a lot better than that this year. The Marlins will, to say the least, give up a lot of runs in 2008. Andrew Miller is by far the most interesting name in the rotation, having been acquired from the Tigers in the recent uberdeal. If he establishes himself in 2008, he could be a rare bright spot in the rotation. The bullpen is similarly rough. Kevin Gregg established himself as a legitimate closer in 2007, but the rest of the supporting cast is really merely adequate -- most of them should have solid but unremarkable ERA's between 3.00 and 4.00 this season.

The Marlins lineup is particularly interesting, with a mix of young prospects who've already made it in the bigs to big names who haven't yet established themselves. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is now the biggest, most proven name on the field for the Marlins after his .332/29/81 numbers in 2007. Double play partner Dan Uggla, who had a great rookie season in 2006, regressed a bit in 2007 -- but his power numbers at least stayed consistent. If the highly talented but still relatively unproven outfield of Willingham, Maybin, and Hermida can take positive steps in 2008, the Marlins could put some runs on the board.

New York Mets
Projected Rotation

1.) Pedro Martinez
2.) John Maine
3.) Oliver Perez
4.) Orlando Hernandez
5.) Mike Pelfrey

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Billy Wagner
2.) Aaron Heilman
3.) Matt Wise
4.) Pedro Feliciano
5.) Scott Schoeneweis

Position Players
C - Brian Schneider
1B - Carlos Delgado
2B - Luis Castillo
3B - David Wright
SS - Jose Reyes
LF - Moises Alou
CF - Carlos Beltran
RF - Ryan Church

Pedro Martinez pitched in just five games in 2007, but he was very, very good in those five games, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA and a 32-7 K-BB ratio. If that's any indication of how he can perform throughout 2008, the Mets will once again have a legitimate ace at the top of the rotation. Much of the rest of the rotation is a question mark. Both John Maine and Oliver Perez had very good 2007 seasons, but they have never consistently delivered from season-to-season at the big league level. And will this finally be the season where age catches up with Orlando Hernandez? The Mets would also love to upgrade on Mike Pelfrey -- and may be the front-runners to land Johan Santana from the Twins if the right combination of prospects can be agreed upon. If they acquire Santana to go with a healthy Martinez, and if Maine and Perez deliver again, this will be a formidable rotation. The bullpen is also quite good, although Billy Wagner isn't getting any younger. Duaner Sanchez could also return to a solid bullpen to make it even better.

The lineup is filled with talent, from David Wright and Jose Reyes in the infield to Carlos Beltran in Center. The two major holes are behind the plate, where offensive black-hole Brian Schneider will replace Paul LoDuca, and in right field, where Ryan Church will apparently roam. Church is not the offensive drag that Schneider is, but he also won't exactly excite many Mets fans. Despite the presence of these two, the lineup should still be strong enough to help the Mets compete with anybody in the National League this season, especially if Carlos Delgado recovers from his 2007 slump at the plate.

Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Rotation

1.) Cole Hamels
2.) Brett Myers
3.) Kyle Kendrick
4.) Jamie Moyer
5.) Adam Eaton

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brad Lidge
2.) Tom Gordon
3.) J.C. Romero
4.) Ryan Madson
5.) Chad Durbin

Position Players
C - Carlos Ruiz
1B - Ryan Howard
2B - Chase Utley
3B - Greg Dobbs
SS - Jimmy Rollins
LF - Pat Burrell
CF - Shane Victorino
RF - Geoff Jenkins

The top of the Phillies rotation is loaded with young and impressive talent, while the bottom is filled with aging or relatively ineffective veterans. Hamels, Myers, and Kendrick should continue to develop this season, and the success of the Phillies in 2008 will largely depend on how they perform. Jamie Moyer regressed last year, and is no longer a top of the line talent -- but his ability to mentor the youth is undoubtedly worth something to the team. There are indications that former Twin and constant headache Kyle Lohse may return to the Phillies after lowering his asking price, and as hard as it is to believe he would actually improve the rotation by replacing Adam Eaton. J.D. Durbin, another former Twin who went through a series of teams in 2007, may also get a chance to step into the rotation if he performs well in Spring Training. The bullpen is a concern. The recently acquired Brad Lidge will presumably get the first chance to close ballgames, but whether he can fulfill that role remains to be seen. Tom Gordon remains with the team as a setup man, but could end up in the closers role if there is trouble. J.C. Romero had a remarkable 2007 (1.92 ERA in 74 games -- although that's just 56.1 innings), but Twins fans know that that might not last. Other than those three, we're in the realm of close your eyes and pray.

All told, the offensive ability of the Phillies infield is as good as any in baseball, even with the unproven Greg Dobbs at 3B. The outfield is a bit more problematic, especially after the departure of Aaron Rowand to "greener" pastures in San Francisco. Veterans Geoff Jenkins and Pat Burrell should, as usual, deliver some power while hitting between .250 and .260. Shane Victorino presumably will take over in CF, and while he's not a bad player he's also not likely to really 'wow' anyone. Jayson Werth, meanwhile, will be waiting in the wings in case someone struggles.

Washington Nationals
Projected Rotation

1.) Shawn Hill
2.) Jason Bergmann
3.) Matt Chico
4.) Tim Redding
5.) John Lannan

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Chad Cordero
2.) Jon Rauch
3.) Luis Ayala
4.) Saul Rivera
5.) Jesus Colome

Position Players
C - Paul Lo Duca
1B - Dmitri Young
2B - Ron Belliard
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
SS - Cristian Guzman
LF - Wily Mo Pena
CF - Lastings Milledge
RF - Austin Kearns

I expected the Nationals to be historically bad in 2007, largely due to their starting pitching. Instead, they were bad but not absolutely terrible, and in many respects it was because of better than expected starters. Shawn Hill in particular deserves a mention for turning in a 3.42 ERA in 16 starts (although just 65 K's in 97.1 innings, which is rather on the low side). Take the listed names as starters for the Nationals with a grain of salt -- quite a few guys are likely to get looks in Spring Training, and a whole lot of them will probably get starts in the regular season as well. The bullpen is surprisingly strong (for what was expected, anyway), and is rather remarkably still being anchored by closer Chad Cordero, who has been trade bait for a couple of years now. This bullpen is by no means dominant, but as with the Marlins they'll at least have a chance of holding any leads that they are given.

Other than Ryan Zimmerman at 3B, the Nationals organizational philosophy for position players appears to be to collect as many misfits as possible and give them a chance to play every day. The outfield is particularly interesting, with projects Wily Mo Pena and Lastings Milledge getting starting spots and Elijah Dukes waiting for his chance. Paul Lo Duca will be an offensive improvement over Brian Schneider behind the plate. My big question is what the Nationals will do with former first baseman Nick Johnson, who missed all of 2007 with an injury, now that Dmitri Young became a rather unexpected solid contributor to this team. Also, will Cristian Guzman back up his .328 batting average (albeit in just 174 AB's), or will he return to his normal Washington form as a vastly overpaid anchor?

1.) Philadelphia Phillies (94-68)
2.) New York Mets (93-69)
3.) Atlanta Braves (86-76)
4.) Florida Marlins (80-82)
5.) Washington Nationals (70-92)

Top to bottom, I think the Phillies are the best team in this division -- but I think the Mets will give them a battle throughout the season. If the Mets acquire Santana, I'll revise my projections and pick the Mets to win the division, but for now I'm giving the Phillies the edge due to what I see as, overall, a superior offense and slightly better pitching. The Braves should prove to be an interesting team in 2008, but I think their pitching will regress just enough to keep them relatively far behind the Phils and Mets at the top of the division. I'm being a little bold in predicting that the Marlins will finish as I as I have them, but I think the offense will be consistently good while the pitching will improve throughout the season. As for the Nationals -- I don't really know what to think. When I look at the team, I still don't think they have much there, and I think they overperformed in 2007.



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