Whew…this UCB Predictions Project schedule is brutal. I just finished my AL predictions…and it’s already time for the NL!
I LOVE IT!!!
Before we get started, you can enjoy reading all of the UCB Predictions by going HERE.
Now, let’s get into it:
The NL East is an intriguing division this season…perhaps the most interesting in baseball, to be honest. With the complete overhaul of the Marlins’ organization, the up and coming status of Nationals baseball, the potentially 2011-hungover Braves, and the departure of a couple key pitching pieces for the Phillies coupled with Ryan Howard’s injury…the division seems poised to implode.
Last season, two playoff spots and a World Series championship were expected to emerge from the East. Between the Braves’ collapse and the Cardinals’ unbelievable run, neither came to pass. Instead, the Phillies’ coasted to a division title only to bow out in the NLDS, and the Braves were left to bicker about what exactly happened in September.
Now, the Phillies have said goodbye to Madson and Oswalt while signing Thome to fill the HUGE gap left by slugger Ryan Howard. Chase Utley is likely out for Opening Day…and suddenly the Phillies’ dominance in the East has evaporated. Perhaps it’s just what the Braves needed to restore hope a season after becoming infamous.
In the meantime, the Nationals have continued to inch closer to consistent, winning baseball, and the Marlins signed Jose Reyes to complement Hanley Ramirez – who grudgingly moved to third. Ozzie Guillen brought his flamboyant personality to South Beach, a brand new stadium, and an organization with a face-lift (he may be just what this edgy Marlins team needs) while the front office signed Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, and Heath Bell.
I’m considering drinking the Miami Kool-Aid.
So after all of that, let’s take a look at where the division could end up for 2012.
1. Phillies: With Lee and Halladay…it’s just too much to bet against this rotation. I still like the Phillies to win the division, but don’t expect them to win it easily. The gap for 2012 will be much closer than it was in 2011.
2. Braves: The collapse last season hurt…but the Braves are still fielding a solid, fresh lineup to contend. Chipper is another year older and set to retire at the end of the season, but Heyward is another year older as well. The hopes for the Braves’ season could rest on Fredi Gonzalez’ shoulders. Has he learned to adequately manage that Braves bullpen and keep his arms fresh for September? I don’t like the Braves as much as I did last season…but I still like them.
3. Marlins: The new-look Miami Marlins have a LOT of potential. Buehrle could be the calming veteran presence a team of hot heads needs. Zambrano could take being moved as a wake-up call and finally learn to keep his temper in check. Ramirez could welcome the chance to play third beside the freshly groomed Reyes. Heath Bell could lighten the mood in the ‘pen with his playful personality. And Ozzie Guillen could be the one manager in baseball capable of taking the individual chips on each player’s shoulder and focusing it into a collective competative edge. But it could all go wrong just as easily.
Without warning, Zambrano could lose it again. Buehrle could prove to be too midwestern for this South Beach squad to respect. Bell could end up being an oddity on a team full of crack pots. Ozzie might view his new position as permission to be over-the-top Ozzie. And Ramirez and Reyes could end up resembling those brothers on Major League 3: Back to the Minors who couldn’t stop squabbling over balls hit up the middle. Maybe Guillen can use a couple of bungee chords in Spring Training to help them stay in their zones.
All in all, the Marlins should be good enough to improve to third in the division…but watch out. If all goes well, this team could make a charge and contend for one of those Wild Card spots. The Braves should be worried.
4. Nationals: The Nationals are getting better…and in a different year, I would expect them to finish third…but the improvements in Miami are proving ill-timed for the still fledgling squad. The Nationals’ time is coming, but it’s not here yet.
5. NY Mets: The poor Mets are stuck in last place this season. It’s not that they won’t improve from 2011 as much as all the other teams in their division are just getting better. Don’t expect much from the “other team from New York” in 2012.
*Potential Surprise: If the Marlins can pull it together, I won’t blink at a second place finish and/or a Wild Card spot this year…remember, there’s two in 2012.
That’ll do it for the NL East! Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section below.