I love all sports, but baseball is my first love. Over the next 5 weeks I'll be providing a 2012 MLB season preview, looking at each of the 6 divisons. Let's get it started!
2012 Bro Council NL East Preview
While the Red Sox got all of the attention for their collapse last season, it was the Atlanta Braves that had the biggest collapse of 2011.On September 6th, the Braves had an 8.5 game lead in the wild-card, only to see it evaporate as the eventual champion Cardinals staged a miraculous comeback. While on paper the Braves were only an 89 game winner expect more from them this year. They had the top 2 rookies in the NL last year in closer Craig Kimbrel (46 saves) and 1B Freddie Freeman (21 homers).
Their starting lineup boasts multiple All-Stars in C Brian McCann, 3B Chipper Jones, and 2B Dan Uggla. The Starting Rotation is one of the better ones in the NL, but probably only the 3rd best in the Eastern Division. Led by veteran Tim Hudson and young star Tommy Hanson, the pitching staff should carry the team to at least 95 wins this year.
Prospects to watch: SP Julio Teheran and SS Trevor Pastornicky. Teheran dominated AAA last year and should make the rotation as the #5 guy, while Pastornicky should be the starting SS after batting .314 with 27 steals last year in the minors.
The future looks strong for the newly re-branded Miami Marlins. They enter their new stadium this year, and with it almost a completely new team. $191 million dollars of offseason spending landed the Fish a new starting SS in Jose Reyes, a top of the rotation starter in Mark Buehrle, and a new closer in Heath Bell as well as their new manager in Ozzie Guillen. The Marlins have some great young talent to pair with their new and pricy acquistions, which should help propell them to the playoffs this season. Joining Reyes on the left side of the infield is incumbent SS Hanley Ramirez, making the move to 3B this season. Their lineup also boasts 1B Gaby Sanchez, who hit 19 home runs last year, RF Mike Stanton - 34 home runs, LF Logan Morrison - 23 Home runs, and former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan in CF.
In addition to Buehrle the rotation has Star pitchers Josh Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, and Anibal Sanchez, making this one of the more complete teams you'll see this year.
Prospect to watch: RP Alex Sanabia. Sanabia put up 15 wins over 2009 and 2010, but lost almost all of 2011 to injury. He's got a chance to be an impact reliever out of the bullpen this year after a brief call-up last September.
New York Mets
The Mets are one of the more perplexing teams you'll see this year. They have all of the potential in the world and a great chance to compete with the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies. The Mets are set at the corners with young star Ike Davis manning first base, and perennial All-Star David Wright at third. The team also has Jason Bay in Left Field, but he has struggled so far in his Mets' career after great seasons with the Pirates and Red Sox. There's talent in the Rotation, if they can stay healthy. Leading the way is 2-time Cy Young Winner Johan Santana, who missed all of 2011 with injury.
Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee and R.A. Dickey have all had success in the majors, but can it be sustained, and in the case of Pelfrey, can he bounce back from a terrible 2011? The offense should benefit from the Mets moving their fences in after 3 seasons of weak offenses, but how much will that really matter?
Prospect to watch: SP Chris Schwinden. Schwinden has a chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training after 29 wins over the past 2 years at AAA Buffalo.
As much as it pains me to say it, the Phillies are the class of the NL East. (Editors Note: As a Phillies fan, it makes me glad that he has to say that.) They are filled with names of current and former All-Stars, MVP's, Cy Youngs, and future Hall of Famers. Catcher is probably the weakest position on the team as Carlos Ruiz hit .283 with 6 homers last year. Around the diamond you have 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, SS Jimmy Rollins and 3B Placido Polanco. Backing them up are Jim Thome, who ranks 8th all time in Home runs and Ty Wigginton, who has been a solid MLB regular for years now.
In the outfield are Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and a potential platoon of John Mayberry and Domonic Brown, both highly regarded young players. If the offense hits a cold streak though it doesn't get any easier as day in and day out you'll face the best pitching staff in baseball. Led by Cy Young Winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee the team also has Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick, and Dontrelle Willis. If you have any plans of coming back late in the game you'll be running into resistance there as the Phils signed the best available free agent Closer, former Red Sox player Jonathan Papelbon.
This team should dominate this year and should be the division champs, barring any unforseen circumstances.
Prospect to watch: Domonic Brown. Brown was the prosect the Phillies refused to include in any of the deals they've made the past few years. There's a good reason for that.
Once the laughing stock and bottom feeder of the NL, the Nationals are a team on the rise. They have the makings of a powerhouse rotation with the acquistions of SP Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics and the signing of Edwin Jackson. Combine them with the hardest thrower in baseball, Stephen Strasburg, and things are looking good in Washington. The offense is decent, led by 3B Ryan Zimmerman and 1B Adam LaRoche. It stands to get much better once top prospect Bryce Harper shows up. They have one of the best young catchers in the league in Wilson Ramos, but it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from his kidnapping during the offseason.
All in all, this will be a decent year for the Nationals, and they'll build on their 80-82 season from a year ago, but they're still a year or two from competing in this power-house division.
Prospect to watch: Harper. He'll make his major league debut this year at 19 years old and it will be a huge event. Batting practice alone will be sold out.
Be sure to check out the NL Central preview here, and every other division each of the following 4 Wednesdays until Opening Day!