Sunday, March 19, 2006

Predictions: NL East

When you think about what Atlanta has been able to accomplish over the past several years, it is absolutely amazing. Each year, it seems like there is supposed to be one team in the NL East that is supposed to knock the Braves off their perch atop the division. But Atlanta just keeps rolling along, winning division title after division title.

It's hard to pick against the Braves. Every year they seem to be able to find a way to get it done. Their past success is a testament to the ability of Bobby Cox and his long-time pitching coach "Rockin" Leo Mazzone. But this year will be different. Mazzone is now managing in Baltimore and the Braves are not the same team as in years past. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are a year older, Mike Hampton is still injury prone, Chipper Jones is bound to eventually slow down, and the ageless wonder, Julio Franco, is now with the Mets. The Braves streak will come to an end in 2006.

The Mets made a splash in the off-season, signing free agents and making trades. Of course, they did the same thing last year and it didn't do them much good. But things will be different this year. Expect the Mets extravagant spending to pay off this year. One thing that could hamper them is the health of Pedro Martinez. If Pedro can get healthy, he will lead the Mets to the division title. If he battles injuries all season, it will be tougher for the Mets, but expect them to still be there in the end.

Philadelphia is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. What does that mean? I don't know. Nevertheless, it feels right saying it about the Phillies. I don't expect much from them this year, even though they should be a powerful offensive team. The Phils never seem able to put it all together and I don't expect that to change this year.

The Nationals were involved in several trades during the winter, but I honestly don't know what they were trying to accomplish. For instance, why did they sign Alfonso Soriano? He's overpaid and they already have a second baseman. In my eyes, it didn't seem like Nats GM Jim Bowden had a plan. It's too bad. Frank Robinson deserves much better.

Speaking of managers who deserve better, what can you say about poor Joe Girardi? He signs on as manager of the Marlins and then almost all of the players on the team are traded out from under him. If Dontrelle Willis can pitch every inning and Miguel Cabrera can hit every at bat, then the Marlins might have a chance to win a few games. Since that is unlikely, I expect the Marlins and their first year manager to have a very long, unsuccessful season.

Here's how the NL East will look at the end of the season:

1) New York Mets
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Philadelphia Phillies
4) Washington Nationals
5) Florida Marlins

Next time, the AL Central.


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