The Philadelphia Phillies‘ starting rotation looms in the distance like a monolith. Baseball fans talk about it the way the druids (fact check?) must have whispered about Stonehenge on the pilgrimage path. Last year I watched Cliff Lee eviscerate AL West hitters, Roy Oswalt is one of my all-time favorites, and Doc Halladay performed miracles last year.
But have you looked at their whole lineup? Ibanez, Polanco, and Rollins ring with the brass buzz of faded peaks; Valdez and Francisco who? That they even gave Luis Castillo a tryout shows some sweat under their collar. In the wake of the Utley injury news, that leaves Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz as the meat of the lineup. That’s some Grade C beef.
This monolith has a shaky foundation.
Verdict: The Atlanta Braves will win the NL East!
Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are like moonshine runners: high performance and low profile. Tommy Hanson is everything you want in a young starter, and if Jair Jurrjens and some other cat can hold the line at the butt end of the rotation, the lineup will pick up the slack. Maybe it’s just the residual charm of my young days watching Sid Bream and David Justice on TBS, but the lineup with Heyward, Uggla, McCann, Prado seems robust to me, with the youthful energy to play strong ball all season and outlast the aging Phillies.
There are questions for the Braves like anybody else, with Nate McLouth needing to rebound and a very young first baseman in Freddie Freeman. What I believe most is that this will be a thrilling pennant race between two very sound teams. The team that loses out will be the Wild Card entrant.
Braves sleeper: Freddie Freeman. I just watched him hit a double to the wall in Spring Training and it reminded me of Lou Gehrig.
Phillies sleeper: John Mayberry. He is a big slugging kid who dives into his swing.
I can’t keep the New York Mets‘ starting pitchers Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey straight. They’re like one composite decent Mets half-prospect pitcher. For the Mets to surprise, these guys will need to distinguish themselves. Ike Davis will need to put up big league first baseman numbers, and Jose Reyes will need to have one of his great years while David Wright maintains. Seems unlikely to happen all at once. Also, this outfield is suspect. Also, this team may be cursed.
Mets sleeper: Luis Castillo. Seriously, I think they’ll find him sleeping in the broom closet somewhere around June.
The Washington Nationals have a few strong pieces in Zimmerman and Werth, but their dusty place-holders like Pudge and LaRoche and Ankiel will clog up the works. Livan Hernandez is a street magician who’s always ten minutes ahead of the law, and Jordan Zimmerman may brush a Swiffer of hope across the top of the bookcase every fifth day. It sounds like I’m getting positive about this team, but I’m not.
Nats sleeper: Mike Morse. He’s very large.
Of all NL teams, the Florida Marlins are the most volatile, the perennial wild card that the wise fan never rules out. They could stay in the hunt, with their young players, their surprisingly solid-looking rotation with the NL version of Javier Vazquez and good years from Nolasco and Sanchez who have shown the ability to throw in the big leagues. I rarely find much love for a team that starts Wes Helms, but the upside of this squad could be really remarkable.
Marlins sleeper: Jesus. See Coghlan, Chris.