Yeah…I’m mentally 13 years old. But you all knew that anyway, right? Okay…down to business…sizing up the NL East:
First Place: The Philadelphia Phillies
When you talk about the Phillies, it almost feels like you’re talking about a team with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID – otherwise known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Their rotation is s-o-l-i-d. I’m still waiting on Cliff Lee to introduce the Phillies’ rotation as, “This is my brother Roy, and this is my other brother Roy.” Their offense…eh. On paper, their offense is nearly as intimidating. Howard, Utley, Ibanez, Polanco, Rollins, Victorino, and even the young Dominic Brown. But flip to the next page for the medical report, and things look less sunny. Utley’s entire 2011 season is in doubt, Polanco is tagged as “iffy,” and Victorino has discovered a tendency to run into things/people at random. Even Dominic Brown – the next big thing – is struggling with boo-boos. Throw in the rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-now-what status of Blog-Hatin’-Ibanez, and who the hell knows what to expect from this lineup? I do know this, the absence of Werth looks worse now with the Utley concern. But…for me…all that means is that Philly’s rotation has a bigger piece of the pie than they’d like…and the offensive uncertainty leaves the Phillies vulnerable. In the end, however, I think they’ll pitch themselves into first place. (I still think the Mets’ front office sat around last week and thought, “How can we close the gap between us and Philly?”…and some genius said, “Send ’em Castillo!!!”)
Second Place: The Atlanta Braves
This is an interesting team. One could argue that the team is in for an identity shift with the departure of the truly loved Bobby Cox…but I don’t think so. Freddi Gonzalez is a helluva manager, and possibly a great fit for this southern team. He’s got an old school feel to him (I mean, come on…benchin’ Hanley Ramirez for lack of hustle? Awesome…Dusty Baker would’ve probably quoted the first amendment or somethin’…”Well, it’s a free country…”) and a good head on his shoulders. I think the loss of Cox…although sad…will be a lot easier to swallow with Freddi at the helm. Of course, the players still have to get it done. To me, the Braves are the antithesis of the Phillies right now. Their rotation is good enough to get it done…but their offense is gonna’ win games for them. Heyward, McCann, Uggla, and the ever-popular leadership of Chipper Jones (assuming he holds up) are an offensive force in their own division…especially one in which the Phillies are showing their vulnerability already. The X factor this year? Maybe Nate McClouth. He’s having a decent spring and may be ready to bounce back and flash his stuff once again in a division that doesn’t have much to offer beyond the Phillie’s rotation and Josh Johnson. The XX factor? The departure of mighty Joe Thurston. Come on…just the fact that Joe ain’t around no more has to gain you a couple notches in the Karma department, right? Anyway…the Braves have a shot this year. If Philly’s rotation doesn’t hold up all season, and if their offensive cracks begin to spread…Atlanta may push a bit harder than Philly would like.
Third Place: The New York Mets
The Mets’ pitching situation is almost as entertaining as their front office snafus. Oliver Perez was just put out of his misery after Mets leadership said “he doesn’t have any velocity left, he can’t start, and he can’t come out of our ‘pen.” So…um…what else is there? Nothing left but to hit the lever on the big salary toilet they use to flush $12 million away over at Citi Field. Ouch. Throw in the mirky Johan Santana recovery situation (“He’ll pitch in June/July…” or “He won’t pitch in 2011…” or “You say I ain’t pitchin’ in 2011…you a LIAR!” or…oh, you get the point) and the Mets’ starting rotation is not their strong point. Still…if they can stay healthy, they do still have David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and a rejuvinated Jose Reyes. Of course, it doesn’t look good for Beltran…and when has Reyes been able to put together a stellar, often-predicted “OOO-AAHHH” season in the last couple years? Much less stay in the lineup…? Honestly, if it wasn’t for the effort-less showing by the Marlins, I might slap the Mets a bit harder…but as it is, they should be able to generate enough offense to hang around in third…and with the front office dangling the Johan Santana comeback possibility, they may be able to trick this team into thinking they’ll get a good ‘ol “Just-As-Good-As-A-Trade” boost in July (pulled that one right outta’ the ‘ol St. Louis Cardinals Front Office Handbook). Sorry, Mets fans…but you know that image you have frozen in your heads of Beltran staring at a Waino curveball? Good news is…you won’t have to go through that again this year.
Fourth Place: The Florida Marlins
Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez. For my money, that’s it. This team is going to notice the loss of a bat like Uggla…especially when he’s beating them over the head with it in their own division. And their serious lack of effort thus far on the field is just flat out…well…flat. Listen, when the owner has to go all Jerry Jones on you, you know you got issues. I don’t honestly know what to expect from a Marlins team anymore…but I know I don’t expect much. They don’t look promising to me. Of course, that could just be the Joe Thurston factor. He’s good for at least…I don’t know…four or five losses on his own, right? And, you have to figure that at a team like Florida will come up with more opportunities for a guy like Joey-T to fill in…right? Ugh…that’s all I have to say about that. I can’t get behind a baseball team that doesn’t even get behind itself. Side Note: Maybe the Marlins should follow the Rays example and change their name. I’m thinking…the Florida Flounders. BAM!
Fifth Place: The Washington Nationals
Look…I love Rick Ankiel and always will…but when the talk of the team is Ank the Tank in CF, you know you got problems. Of course, one could argue that a team who puts its starting CF position up for grabs in Spring Training had problems to begin with…but I won’t go there. Zimmerman is, of course, a stud…and this team does have some intriguing guys on the squad (Morgan, Hairston, etc.), but haven’t they always had that? Dunn, Dukes, etc. And it just never works out for them. Personally, it takes a lot to escape a losing culture in your own home town…especially when you’re looking up at the Phillies and Braves in your own division…and I just don’t see the Nats getting out of the cellar this year. It seems like they were really hoping for Strasburg in 2011 (oops) and are still looking to the future (Harper, Strasburg, etc.). The present just isn’t their friend.
Well, that’ll do it for today’s U.P.P. (*snicker*). Don’t forget to check out the fourth edition of the Cards N Stuff “State of the Nation” podcast in a previous post, and mark your calendars for upcoming U.P.P. dates (DOH! okay…maybe 13 is a bit too mature for me). Tomorrow, we tackle the NL Central…and we know how much fun THAT’S going to be, right?