With the start of the 2010 season just days away, it’s time for the unveiling of the season previews. Most of the clubs have already finalized their rosters in advance of Opening Day, so it’s time for predictions!
There will be previews for the NL East, Central and West followed by AL previews for the East and West and then a team-by-team breakdown of the AL Central. When we’re done, we’ll wrap it all up with an awards projection in advance of Opening Day.
Feel free to bookmark these posts and throw them in my face later when all goes terribly wrong.
NL East (in predicted order of finish)
1- Atlanta Braves
The Braves will try to send manager Bobby Cox out with a winner and he might just have the club to make it happen. Catcher Brian McCann could be an MVP candidate now that his vision issues have been corrected, and Chipper Jones is poised for a rebound after a disappointing 2009 campaign. The pitching staff will again be the foundation for yet another divisional crown under Cox. Look for a bounce-back season from Derek Lowe as well as a healthy Tim Hudson. Jair Jurrjens should continue to pitch well and new closer Billy Wagner is back to his pre-injury form.
The key to this club will be if the veteran players can stay healthy and perform. Troy Glaus is capable of hitting 40+ homers and should be able to better withstand the season after moving over to first base. 20 year old right fielder Jason Heyward should be a runaway candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
2- Philadelphia Phillies
After three straight division crowns, the Phils will be back in contention again this year. The LH thump of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will be complimented nicely by the addition of Placido Polanco in the two-hole. To put it mildly, offense will not be a problem for the Phillies. The pitching staff is anchored by the prize of the offseason in Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Cole Hamels looks poised for a nice rebound after not pitching well last year. After that, manager Charlie Manuel will have to hope for strong seasons from J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton.
The bullpen will likely be the biggest area of concern in Philadelphia as closer Brad Lidge and set-up man J.C. Romero are still on the mend. Lidge wasn’t good last year and any kind of a setback in his recovery will throw the bullpen into a tizzy. Sure, Kyle Kendrick can do the job in the ninth, but the bridge to get there seems shaky at best.
3- Florida Marlins
The Fish had better get off to a strong start if manager Freddi Gonzalez plans to keep his job. Owner Jeffrey Loria has fired winning managers before and Gonzalez was on his way out after last year (when the Marlins won 87 games) before Loria was talked out of the decision. A very good group of young arms will keep the Marlins close for a while, but this division is too tough to for the cash-strapped Fish to win.
Josh Johnson could challenge for a Cy Young award soon, and Ricky Nolasco has the stuff to be an ace as well. LH Nate Robertson will need to be effective as a starter in Florida to offset the LH sluggers in the East. The offense will be okay with Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, but the team would get a huge boost if perennial prospect Cameron Maybin can finally grow into a solid major leaguer.
4- Washington Nationals
The Nats will be much improved from the club that was the worst in baseball over the past two years. manager Jim Riggleman righted the ship a bit when he took over mid-way through 2009. A full season of Nyjer Morgan at the top of the order will help jump-start the offense. Newcomers Adam Kennedy and Pudge Rodriguez will add depth to a lineup that also features Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham.
The pitching staff was the biggest area of need and the Nats addressed it with gusto. Jason Marquis provides a quality starter to add to holdover John Lannan, and Stephen Strasburg will be there by June at the latest. He should arrive about the same time as Drew Storen, who scouts say can pitch the eighth inning right now. They’ll need him to, as the bullpen looks like a mess, even with new closer Matt Capps.
5- New York Mets
There is no question that this club has the talent and resources to compete, but a slew of injuries destroyed their 2009 season. 2010 isn’t starting much better as Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes will again start the year on the shelf. They moved the fences in a bit at Citi Field which should help David Wright’s power to return. The addition of Jason Bay gives the lineup more pop, but he and Wright can’t do it alone.
They have a bona fide ace in Johan Santana but many question marks follow in the rotation. They would need the offense to carry this club, but in that park with those injuries, I just can’t see it happening. Look for GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel to both be replaced at season’s end, if not sooner.
Check back later today for a preview of the NL Central