Posts Tagged ‘David Wright’

The scene at third base around the Major Leagues has undergone an extreme amount of overhaul over the past few seasons. Many impact players such as Ryan Zimmerman, Martin Prado and Miguel Cabrera (who moonlighted for two years on the hot corner) have relocated to other spots. At the same time, multi-tooled infielders such as Matt Carpenter, Anthony Rendon and Josh Harrison have settled in on a full-time basis at the position as well. Add this in with a few mainstays that have long been considered among the premiere properties at the position and you have a melting pot of names manning the position.

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It has also been a position that has seen many emergent talents, as well as breakthrough youngsters hit the position as well. All of these things combined have made it the ranking that has seen the most shakeup from last year headed into the next. Even contention for the top spot has gotten tighter and tighter over the past 12 months.

But all players here make a diverse contribution to their team, from being dynamic leadoff hitters to being the face of the organization—and hitting at the heart of its lineup. There is something for everybody on the hot corner these days.

 

1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers (#1 in 2014): He remains largely underappreciated, while putting up the type of numbers that others get more shine for doing much less. Beltre is a year removed from hitting .324, his third consecutive year of at least a .315 average. He also crossed over the 500 double and 2,500 hit marks for his career, one that is on the way to hitting multiple Hall of Fame worthy totals. He finished in the AL top three in average, on-base percentage and Wins Above Replacement, where he put up a well-rounded split of 5+ offensive Wins and 1.5 defensive as well. He’s remains a stunningly complete, sleeper of a star.

2-year average: .319 average/.880 OPS/24 home runs/84 RBI/32 doubles/84 runs scored/.963 Fld%

2. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays (#6 in ’14): Very few players can see their average drop by nearly 50 points, but not see their value take much of hit, but then again everyone can’t do what Donaldson can. He followed up his 2013 breakout campaign by hitting 29 home runs and driving in 98 runs. In addition to his often jaw-dropping pop, he also led all MLB third basemen in defensive Runs Above Replacement, at a stunning 2.7, while still sporting the second widest range factor in the game.

2-year average: .277 average/.840 OPS/26 home runs/96 RBI/34 doubles/91 runs scored/.956 Fld%

3. Evan Longoria, Rays (#2 in ’14): After annually battling injuries for a couple of years, Longoria has become a mainstay in Tampa again and replied with a solid 2014 effort. He hit 22 home runs and drove in 91 runs, while playing in all 162 games. Over the course of these feats he became the Rays all-time leader in homers and RBI, as well as doubles.

2-year average: .261 average/.783 OPS/27 home runs/90 RBI/32 doubles/87 runs scored/.969 Fld %

4. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (#5 in ’14): He did not duplicate the eye popping numbers he did at second base in 2013, but Carpenter remained one of the game’s better leadoff hitters during his shift back to the hot corner all the same. The ever-patient catalyst reached base at .375 clip, while leading the NL with 95 walks, to go along with 162 hit and 99 runs scored. Along the way he made his second All-Star team in as many years and at as many positions.

2-year average: .296 average/.813 OPS/10 home runs/68 RBI/44 doubles/112 runs scored/.958 Fld%

5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals (Not ranked): He did everything the Nationals needed last year, from being a fill in for the injured Ryan Zimmerman to being a plus producer as a second baseman as well. By the time it was all said and done, Rendon had led the National League in runs scored (111), while hitting 21 home runs, 39 doubles and stealing 17 bases, good enough for a Silver Slugger and a top-5 MVP finish.

2-year average: .279 average/.788 OPS/14 home runs/59 RBI/31 doubles/76 runs scored/.913 Fld%

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6. David Wright, Mets (#4 in ’14): He is at a crossroads entering 2015, as both of his last two seasons have been cut short by injury. The difference is that one was a very productive one (2013), while last year was not by any means. But it is still too early to write off Wright, who at age 32 still has a lot of baseball ahead of him. It is show and prove time for the Mets captain.

2-year average: .286 average/.791 OPS/13 home runs/60 RBI/26 doubles/58 runs scored/.963 Fld%

7. Kyle Seager (Not ranked): 2014 represented a coming into his own for Seager, as he set career highs in each of the triple crown categories (.268/25/96) and won the AL Gold Glove as well. He’s just entering his prime and is slated to play a big part in the Mariners recent aggressive rebuild project for a long time, as he was inked to a seven-year, $100 million extension coming out of his breakout campaign.

2-year average: .264 average/.776 OPS/24 home runs/82 RBI/30 doubles/75 runs scored/.972 Fld%

8. Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Not ranked): He’s a defensive wizard; winner of two Gold Gloves in his first two seasons and his bat is beginning to follow in fine suit as well. Arenado ran up a 28-game hit streak early in 2014, and also grew his home run total by 8 and his batting average by 20 points. This is what a star in the making looks like.

2-year average: .277 average/.764 OPS/14 home runs/56 RBI/32 doubles/54 runs scored/.966 Fld%

9. Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox (Not ranked): The Panda had a record breaking October, setting a World Series record of hits in route to his third championship and followed it up with a big check to take his talents to Boston. The steady swinging switch hitter should transition nicely to Fenway, and should see his best days ahead of him.

2-year average: .279 average/.748 OPS/15 home runs/76 RBI/26 doubles/60 runs scored/.955 Fld%

10. Todd Frazier, Reds (Not ranked): He became a first-time All-Star in 2014 as he carried the injury ravaged Reds offense. He connected for 29 home runs, drove in 80 runs and even stole 20 bases as well. Also a solid hand in the field, Frazier is more valuable than ever in Cincy.

2-year average: .254 average/.760 OPS/24 home runs/76 RBI/26 doubles/76 runs scored/.970 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Aramis Ramirez, Manny Machado, Josh Harrison, Trevor Plouffe

 

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A funny thing happened in the NL East last year: outside of the Marlins heading up the rear, nothing of that was supposed to happen actually came to pass. This is no knock against the Braves, who dominated the division from its outset and held on for their first division title since 2005, but coming into the season, the division was all but gifted to its incumbent champions, the Washington Nationals.

2013 Finish

1. Atlanta Braves (96-66)

2. Washington Nationals (86-76)

3. New York Mets (78-88)

4. Philadelphia Phillies (73-89)

5. Miami Marlins (62-100)

However, things never quite jived for one reason or another for the Nats, and they languished off in the distance (that was often of the double digit variety) in second place for most of the year. Behind them, the Mets and Phillies traded jabs, with New York playing a stronger than expected effort behind the rise of Matt Harvey and the return to form of Chase Utley and rise of Domonic Brown helping to push the Phils.

However over the season’s final month, something clicked in DC, the Nationals came back to life and finished with the second best September record in the National League, which still kept them 10 games in the rear of Atlanta, but put both the division and the league on notice: they are still a force to be reckoned with. Will that carry over into the new season, or will the Braves hold their previously sizable ground atop the East? Or will the rebuilding Phillies or Mets pull the surprise of the season and ascend up the hill themselves? Let’s see how the East looks to shake out.

All-Division Lineup

1. Bryce Harper—Nationals, Left Field

2. Chase Utley—Phillies, Second Base

3. David Wright—Mets, Third Base

4. Giancarlo Stanton—Marlins, Right Field

5. Freddie Freeman—Braves, First Base

6. Ian Desmond—Nationals, Shortstop

7. Carlos Ruiz—Phillies, Catcher

8. Denard Span—Nationals, Centerfield

Fernandez took the NL by storm in his rookie year, finishing second in ERA (2.18) while surrendering the fewest hits per game as well (5.3).

Fernandez took the NL by storm in his rookie year, finishing second in ERA (2.18) while surrendering the fewest hits per game as well (5.3).

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee—Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg—Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez—Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez—Marlins

Right Handed Reliever: Tyler Clippard—Nationals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Luis Avilan—Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel—Braves

The Mets stand to benefit nicely from surrounding David  Wright with some protection. Namely Granderson, who had back-to-back 40 home runs years in 2011-12.

The Mets stand to benefit nicely from surrounding David Wright with some protection. Namely Granderson, who had back-to-back 40 home runs years in 2011-12.

Lineup

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Phillies

4. Mets

5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s no holes in the Nationals lineup, and all that it takes is even a portion of them showing up in shifts throughout the year to make them a respectable club. But when working in concert, there may not be a better NL lineup card than theirs 1-8. The Braves and Phillies did a lot last year in finding players such as Jason Heyward and Domonic Brown to step up in spots where they did not have a better option, and in roles where neither had succeeded before.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Mets

4. Phillies

5. Marlins

Whichever combination of Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche or Jayson Werth they decide to go with, it is a formidable 3-4-5 combination. Atlanta will build around Freeman, whom can operate just as easily out of the third or fourth spot. Curtis Granderson will get more pitches for Wright in New York, while a full season of Stanton in Miami could produce some of the most awe inspiring numbers in the game.

Table Setters

1. Nationals

2. Braves

3. Mets

4. Phillies

5. Marlins

There are dynamically different top of the lineup orientations in the division. Span and Desmond are instant offense to start the game in DC, while Eric Young led the National League in stolen bases last year for the Mets with 46. In Philly, the hope is that Ben Revere can stay healthy and produce the .305 average he did in 88 games over a full season.

Depth

1. Nationals

2. Marlins

3. Phillies

4. Mets

5. Braves

With Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon to use at will, the Nationals once again have the best bench in baseball, with multiple starter quality players in the wings. The Phillies very well could be drawing on their bench for everyday contributions from John Mayberry, Kevin Frandsen and Darin Ruf if their past health issues (likely) arise again.

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Rotation

1. Nationals

2. Phillies

3. Braves

4. Mets

5. Marlins

The DC core of Strasburg, Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann gets even more impressive with the addition of Doug Fister, and is on the short list of baseball’s best collections. The Braves have a young and deep rotation without an absolute #1, but offer an arm with a chance to win every day. The Mets have an underrated group of arms that allowed them to compete more often than they should have a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Phillies

2. Nationals

3. Braves

4. Marlins

5. Mets

IF, and only if, Cole Hamels is healthy, him and Lee are probably the second best 1-2 combo in the NL, outside of Los Angeles. This is saying quite a bit, considering any combo of Zimmermann, Strasburg and Gonzalez is right on their heels. The Mets and Braves are facing seasons with their aces Harvey and Kris Medlen, respectively, mending from Tommy John surgery.

Bullpen

1. Braves

2. Nationals

3. Phillies

4. Marlins

5. Mets

Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilian, Drew Carpenter and Jonny Venters are a dominant group that goes against the grain of the starting staff usually setting the tone for a pitching staff’s success. In Atlanta, the pen is the reason for this. Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano give the Nats three arms with ninth inning experience to use at will.

Defense

1. Braves

2. Mets

3. Marlins

4. Nationals

5. Phillies

Atlanta’s Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith range-wise, and brings an arm that is said to be able to pump it up to 98 mph as well. Heyward, Freeman and both Uptons are plus defenders as well that make it easy to work off the mound in Atlanta. Conversely, the Phillies age shows up most startlingly when they are asked to take the field.

In his first full year leading the Phillies, Sandberg will have to find a balance between the win-now age of the club and the realities of their limitations.

In his first full year leading the Phillies, Sandberg will have to find a balance between the win-now age of the club and the realities of their limitations.

Manager

1. Fredi Gonzalez—Braves

2. Terry Collins—Mets

3. Matt Williams—Nationals

4. Ryne Sandberg—Phillies

5. Mike Redmond—Marlins

Gonzalez deserves a lot of credit for keeping Atlanta moving ahead with such a massive lead last season, but it was Terry Collins who did the best job of all skippers in the division. He squeezed every bit of talent he could out of the Mets roster and could absolutely be the reason for any premature success they have as they restructure this season.

Finances

1. Phillies

2. Nationals

3. Braves

4. Mets

5. Marlins

The Phillies have the funds and Ruben Amaro has the gumption to use them, although he often doesn’t do so in the most measured manner. The Nationals and Braves also have the type of finances that can be used to add a piece on the run as needed, such as Atlanta did in acquiring Ervin Santana in the wake of the Medlen injury.

Impact Additions

1. Doug Fister (Nationals via trade)

2. A.J. Burnett (Phillies via free agency)

3. Curtis Granderson (Mets via free agency)

4. Ervin Santana (Braves via free agency)

5. Marlon Byrd (Phillies via free agency)

Granderson was a strong addition for the Mets who have struggled to produce regular offense for years now. Burnett and Santana were necessary acquisitions for their respective clubs, who found themselves under equipped with two solid fits to boost their suddenly slim rotations.

Leap Forward

1. Bryce Harper—Nationals

2. Wilson Ramos—Nationals

3. Alex Wood—Braves

4. Zack Wheeler—Mets

5. Adeiny Hechavarria—Marlins

It may seem strange to see Harper on this list considering he is a two-time All-Star already, but he is likely on the verge of a major jump ahead to the 30/30 club range of contributiors. Wood will be asked to carry much more responsibility in the Braves staff, which he is equipped to handle. Hechavarria showed a better offensive prowess than expected, driving in 42 runs for the Marlins, and is young enough to work on his low average.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez—Phillies

2. Travis d’Arnaud—Mets

3. Noah Syndergaard–Mets

4. Jake Marisnick—Marlins

5. Christian Bethancourt—Braves

The Phillies gambled big ($12 million deal) on Gonzalez being ready to be an instant contributor at the Major League level, and he’s quickly become an essential part of any potential success they have. D’Arnaud has been at the center of two trades for former Cy Young candidates, and now has the opportunity to show why as the everyday Mets backstop out of the gate.

PREDICTIONS

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Philadelphia Phillies

5. Miami Marlins

Maybe it is an exercise in not learning from the past, but the Nationals are just too exceptional of a group to bet against still. They have as deep of a starting pitching group as possible and as strong of an everyday lineup as a non-DH roster can hold. Add in the growth of its young stars and a deep bench capable of contributing on an everyday basis, and it should be their division to take. The only potholes that stand are if, as always, health works on their side and rookie manager Matt Williams can adapt well to his new role.

Yet, this is not to slight the Braves in any way. Despite another year of Tommy John surgeries haunting their staff, they still have as good of a team as they did a year ago. They will have to lick the wounds of both rebounding from those injuries and comeback strong from dropping a very winnable Division Series. But the talent is there still and a chance to grow together is exact what they will need if they want to defend their title.

Otherwise, the Mets and Phillies find themselves in comparable places again, where they are looking to figure out how to make the most of what they have, despite being a clear cut behind the two pacesetters in the division. Meanwhile in Miami, they made a lot of moves to add experience to their roster, but not enough to do much more than a 5-8 game uptick in the standings.

In the end, the Nationals have what it takes to win a competitive battle with Atlanta, in a division that will likely produce only one postseason participant.

For more on the season to come and what’s coming of it, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Adrian+Beltre+2011+World+Series+Game+5+St+9_pDhh0yTYul

It does not get spoken to very often, but the lay of the land in baseball right now at the hot corner is perhaps the best the position has ever been. There is a deep collection of dual threat bat/glove performers, with many in the middle of their primes right now. There are the perennial great performers that are getting pushed by the up-and-comers….who are in turn getting pushed by a prodigy or two at the spot.

The game’s silent, but deadly collection annually factors in the MVP race, and 2012 was no exception. With the exclusion of Miguel Cabrera, who has collected the last two AL MVPs, but has since moved back to first base, the current collection of third basemen has three members who finished in the top 5 of their league last season, with another who rightfully should have—but will get more than his due at the top of this list later (and no, that is not an excuse to jump ahead. Patience.)

Yet, with that let’s get into it—the top third basemen in the game today (even if a few are just coming and another could be going soon enough)

10. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: There’s nothing wrong with being a one trick pony if you can do that trick really, really good. Alvarez’s thing is home runs, and he tied for NL-led with 36 last year, albeit while topping strikeouts by himself with 186.

9. Martin Prado, Diamondbacks: He drove in a career-best 82 runs in his first season in the desert, and 36 doubles as well. While he continued to be a slight utility man (notching 25+ starts in left field and second base, respectively), he committed only six errors in 113 games at third.

8. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers: Injuries limited him last year, but he just a season removed from a 50 double/27 homer/105 RBI campaign. He’s been one of the most quietly consistent performers in baseball over the past 10 years and his return to full health plays as big a part of the Milwaukee revival as the Ryan Braun’s comeback could.

Ryan Zimmerman

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Coming off shoulder surgery, he continued to be a steady producer in DC, despite being a part of the across-the-board Nats downturn last year. He’s topped 25 homers in four of the past five years, and a three-homer game in July.

6. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: He became the backbone of Oakland’s second consecutive run to the top of the AL West. After driving in 93 runs, hitting 24 homers and a .301 average, he won the AL Player of the Month in the A’s clinching effort in September—for a fourth place finish in the AL MVP vote.

5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: He returns to his native third base for 2014 after slugging his way to a second base Silver Slugger a year ago. He led the NL in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55) in his first full season as a starter, while hitting .318 overall.

4. David Wright, Mets: The man the Mets have rightfully built their empire around continues to prove why he’s among the faces of the game. Despite missing over a month to injury, he hit .307, hit 18 home runs, stole 17 bases and made his seventh All-Star Game in 10 years.

Manny Machado

3. Manny Machado, Orioles: The lifetime shortstop became a phenom last year, all while playing out of position. While the 20-year-old’s 51 doubles led the AL, it was with the glove where he truly showed some jaw dropping excellence. His defensive WAR reads to a level that says he won nearly 4.5 games with his glove alone for the O’s. And all with the type of ease that has not been seen in B-More since Brooks Robinson.

2. Evan Longoria, Rays: Tampa’s franchise player played in a career-best 160 games a year ago, and knocked out 32 homers, drove in 88 runs and 39 doubles. A perennially good defender as well, he committed the least errors of any full-time AL third baseman, while having the third best range rating.

1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: He’s been the most productive hitter at the position over the last four years, finishing in the top 10 of the AL MVP three times. Across that span he’s at least .315 three and drove in 100 runs, respectively three times as well. He has the best arm from the hot corner in the game as well, and is among the most underrated all-around talents today—as well as a growing dark horse Hall of Fame candidate.

Just A Bit Outside: Kyle Seager, Pablo Sandoval, Nolan Arenado

For more on this list and the march to Spring in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

clayton-kershaw-dodgers

Coming off of a holiday weekend, there was plenty of time to catch a lot of baseball. In the period it’s time to start looking forward to the MLB’s mid-summer holiday, the All-Star Game. And for any debates about the All-Star Game, whether it’s about the winner’s stipulation so it “matters” or if it’s the the seemingly 45-man rosters that take to each dugout for it now, it’s still one of the most fun things to debate in the first half of the season.

The first half of the year is for the individual and watching, debating and ultimately being upset about who makes (or doesn’t) the All-Star team. The league format of the MLB still creates a unique tension in all of sports about which side is superior, so in that way, it sort of does matter…even if it’s just for bragging rights.

The National League is the owner of the most recent bragging rights, as they have won the past two summer classics, and are offering another very strong group this year. And at the half way point to the half way point, here’s how I see the NL’s best shaping up. Some will stick, some won’t, but this is the best chance the senior circuit has of pushing their streak out to three years as of today.

Catcher: Yadier Molina (Cardinals), Buster Posey (Giants)

It’s not a tough call, and the names are familiar for a reason. The top two catchers in the game are right back where they would be expected to be. Molina is hitting over .330 for the year, in addition to his all-time great level defense. Posey is having another strong season as well, with an on-base percentage over .402 and a .311 average.

First Base: Joey Votto (Reds), Paul Goldschmidt (D’Backs), Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

Votto is back to being the on-base machine that he was before his season-slowing injury last year. He’s leading the NL in batting average (.351), on-base percentage (.476) and hits (67) and having another MVP-caliber year. Goldschmidt is also factoring into that MVP picture, sitting in the top 2 in the NL in home runs and RBI. Rizzo is far from the mandatory Cub on the roster, as he’s coming into his own as a prominent power hitter in the league.

Second Base: Brandon Phillips (Reds), Marco Scutaro (Giants)

Phillips is producing runs at an elite clip. His 43 RBI have him atop the NL currently. Behind him, Scutaro has propelled his season on the back of an 18-game hitting streak, and is in the top 5 in the NL in hits.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval (Giants), David Wright (Mets)

Third base hasn’t been as strong of a position as it usually is in the NL, but Sandoval has carried his hot October into the new year as well. He’s drove in 34 already with 8 home runs. David Wright not representing New York in the ASG would be a huge upset, but he’s playing the part as well, with 16 extra base hits and 11 stolen bases as well.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies), Jean Segura (Brewers)

With Tulo, it’s always “if” he’s healthy, there’s nobody in his league at shortstop. Well, health has been on his side again, and that is proving to be the case again. His 10 home runs and 39 RBI have propelled the Rockies to being one of baseball’s best clubs. Segura has come into his own in his first full year in Milwaukee, hitting sparking the Brewers with a .347 average and 14 steals.

Harper already is 10 home runs short of where he was a year ago and has raised his average by nearly 20 points.

Harper already is 10 home runs short of where he was a year ago and has raised his average by nearly 20 points.

Outfield: Justin Upton (Braves), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Carlos Gomez (Brewers)

The NL outfield is ridiculous this year. Upton has taken Atlanta by storm, leading the league in home runs with 14. Carlos Gonzalez is on his heels with 13, while Harper has continued his precocious assent up the “Best in baseball” ladder. The NL Central is host to dynamic trio of run producers, in Braun (.310, 33 RBI), McCutchen (27 RBI, 14 steals) and Gomez (.331 avg, 10 homers).

Starters: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals), Matt Harvey (Mets), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Patrick Corbin (D’Backs), Shelby Miller (Cardinals), Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Lance Lynn (Cardinals)

Pitching has been fantastic in both leagues this year, but the NL has offered an amazing assortment of performances. There’s been the youth movement of Harvey, Corbin, Miller  and Fernandez (who have combined for 15 wins and a 3.02 ERA), the continued coming of age of Zimmermann and Lynn (who are 1 & 2 in the league in wins), as well as the continued excellence of Kershaw (77 strikeouts, 1.68 ERA) and Wainwright (seven wins, 74 strikeouts).

Reliever: Jason Grilli (Pirates), Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Aroldis Chapman (Reds), Luke Gregorsen (Padres), Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies)

Kimbrel and Chapman have been their usual overwhelming selves out the pen, while Grilli has been a ninth inning revelation (an NL-best 20 for 20 in saves opportunities). Papelbon (0.96 ERA) and Gregorsen (0.87 ERA) have been nearly untouchable on the season.

For more on the season as it’s forming and taking shape, follow me in real-time, all the time, on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Strasburg

The National League East was the most diverse division in all of baseball a year ago. It was home of the a Cy Young winner on a fourth place team, a former middle reliever that inspired a 23-game winning streak as a starter, the greatest teenage season in baseball history, the farewell of Chipper Jones, two different coming of age stores (that went in two different directions), as well as the most expensive collapse in all of baseball. Yes, the NL East was the scene of five very different stories that left the division looking unlike anything that could have been expected.

The newly minted Miami Marlins entered the year with all the expectations that a complete franchise facelift brings. However, by half way point of the first half, they’d begun to fold already, trading their long-time franchise player and languishing at the bottom of the division. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the long-time division champs watched their age and injury come together in the worst possible way. Behind David Wright and RA Dickey, the Mets showed some promise, and the Braves continued to be the absolute best second place team imaginable. A place they inhabited because the Washington Nationals rose to power, and never gave it up.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

  1. Washington Nationals (98-64)
  2. Atlanta Braves (94-68)*
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)
  4. New York Mets (74-88)
  5. Miami Marlins (69-93)

Fast forward to now, and things seem a bit more set than they did last summer. Behind a powerhouse lineup and pitching staff, the Nationals have gone from building to win-now status. But the Braves have had as aggressive of an offseason as they’ve had in years to make sure the DC rise isn’t unchallenged. The Phillies, on the other hand, have been in that same “win now” mode for three years, face perhaps the last season where they have a chance to do it. And new eras are coming into play with the Mets and Marlins, and pulling themselves up in a top heavy division will be a challenge of multiple types. But in a division with two teams easily able to represent the NL in October, is the upset even possible?

All Division Team

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves

First Base: Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies

Third Base: David Wright, Mets

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals

Left Field: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Center Field: BJ Upton, Braves

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Stanton's prodigous power -to-age ratio is the reason he's the last man standing in Miami.

Stanton’s prodigous power -to-age ratio (40 home run per year average at 23 years old) is the reason he’s the last man standing in Miami.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies

Righty Relief: Tyler Clippard, Nationals

Lefty Relief: Jonny Venters, Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Top 10

  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals
  4. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  5. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  7. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  8. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
  9. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  10. Justin Upton, Braves

Lineup

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s very few NL lineups that can swing with the Nationals. As you’ll see below, there’s no area they are weak in, but the strength is truly in the numbers. They finished in the top five in runs, total bases, team batting average and home runs in the NL. The Phillies haven’t been able to perform at maximum capacity for the past two years, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will both enter the season healthy for the first time in that span as well. Atlanta could very well carry six players that top 20 home runs, but could also lead the NL in strikeouts by a wide margin as well.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Nationals (Harper/Zimmerman/LaRoche)
  2. Braves (Upton/Freeman/Upton)
  3. Phillies (Utley/Howard/Young)
  4. Mets (Wright/Davis/Duda)
  5. Marlins (Stanton/Brantly/Ruggiano)

The emergence of the Adam LaRoche (33 HRs/100 RBI) pushed the Nationals lineup to a new level last year. With Zimmerman and Harper, the Nats have a chance to get 75 homers from the middle of their lineup alone. The Braves revamped the team with the addition of the Uptons, and Freddie Freeman’s continue growth will make the heart of the ATL attack formidable for years to come.

Table Setters

  1. Nationals (Span/Werth)
  2. Braves (Simmons/Heyward)
  3. Phillies (Rollins/Revere)
  4. Marlins (Pierre/Polanco)
  5. Mets (Tejada/Murphy)

Denard Span is the table setter Washington has been after for the last few years, and when coupled with the do it all Harper, the Nats will jump on pitchers early and often. Ben Revere is the type of regular on-base threat the Phillies need. His .294 average was a 27 point increase from 2011. Juan Pierre is still a steady hitter at age 35 and his consistent effort will be helpful in the sparse Marlin lineup.

Bench

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Nationals have the best bench in baseball. Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi start in a lot of other places. The mix of Delmon Young, Lee Mayberry and Freddy Galvis is a promising support group for Charlie Manuel in Philly, as long as they aren’t stretched too thin by being forced into the starting lineup too often due to injury.

Rotation

  1. Nationals
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

The best rotation in the NL got better when Dan Haren joined Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler in DC. This group won a combined (…) games in 2012. Not to be outdone, the Phillies boast two legitimate aces in Lee and Hamels, but the health of Roy Halladay continues to be questionable. The Mets staff is still without Johan Santana, but has several quality young arms in Dillion Gee, Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese.

1-2 Punch

  1. Nationals (Strasberg/Gonzalez)
  2. Phillies (Hamels/Lee)
  3. Braves (Hudson/Medlen)
  4. Mets (Santana/Niese)
  5. Marlins (Nolasco/LeBlanc)

Strasberg and Gonzalez could become the first teammates to both win 20 games in a season since 2002. In Atlanta, Kris Medlen was unbelievable down the stretch last season, with the Braves winning 23 of his starts, consecutively. Paired with the always reliable Tim Hudson, they have the firepower to match up with the more hallowed top of the line in-division arms.

With O'Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren't beat by the seventh, it's probably not happening.

With O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren’t beat by the seventh, it’s probably not happening.

Bullpen

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

There’s no better bullpen in baseball than Atlanta’s. The late inning gauntlet includes the often untouchable trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, and added former All-Star Jordan Walden as well. The Nationals added Rafael Soriano to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to form a formidable late game trio of their own. Mike Adams, who has posted an ERA under 2.00 four of the last five years, was added bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon.

Defense

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Mets
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

The addition of both Upton brothers to an outfield with Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward makes the Atlanta outfield the best in the game. The Mets infield is strong unit, led by Wright and Ruben Tejada, while Giancarlo Stanton’s bat gets the headlines, but his athleticism and arm both round him out as a one of the best overall players in the game as well.

Speed

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

Once again, it all starts with the outfield in the A. While Michael Bourn is gone, the Braves will get even quicker with the combined efforts of the Uptons (49 steals a year ago), as well as Andrelton Simmons. Revere adds 40 steal speed to the Philly attack, and Span has twice hit 10 triples in a season, as well as topped 20 steals.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manager

  1. Davey Johnson, Nationals
  2. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
  4. Terry Collins, Mets
  5. Mike Redmond, Marlins

It is Johnson’s last go around in DC (he’s retiring after the season), and the 2012 NL Manager of the Year has the tools at his disposal to make it a memorable departure. Collins has kept the Mets surprisingly afloat the last few years despite the constant turmoil surrounding the Mets the last two years. Rookie manager Redmond will be tasked with a tough task pulling along the stripped down Marlins in his debut year.

Finances

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. Nationals
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Phillies have the funds to make their usual aggressive additions if they find themselves in the chase late in the season. Despite having three four players due $20 million this season, GM Ruben Amaro has the green light to spend if needed. On the flipside, the Marlins and Mets are two of the biggest financial disasters in sports, despite the substantial $138 million commitment made to Wright this winter.

Impact Additions

  1. Justin Upton (Braves via D’Backs)
  2. BJ Upton (Braves via Rays)
  3. Dan Haren (Nationals via Angels)
  4. Rafael Soriano (Nationals via Yankees)
  5. Ben Revere (Phillies via Twins)

After years of being floated in Arizona, the Justin Upton finally was moved to a place where he can freely play with no rumors hanging off his every move. The Braves re-invented themselves by signing him and his older brother BJ. Meanwhile, the Nationals made several “finishing touch” type moves, highlighted picking up a potential steal in Haren, a 4-time All-Star workhorse who’s averaged 14 wins a season.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  2. Matt Harvey, Mets
  3. Ike Davis, Mets
  4. Julio Teheran, Braves
  5. Ross Detwiler, Nationals

Harper is the easy call, but considering what could be on deck is one of the most exciting things to look forward to in the season. He hit 22 homers and stole 18 bases a year ago, and has a legitimate shot to become the youngest member of the 30 homer/30 steal club this time around. Harvey was at times completely overpowering as a rookie, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Zach Wheeler (Pitcher-Mets, AAA)
  2. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher-Mets, AAA)
  3. Anthony Rendon (Third Base-Nationals, AA)
  4. Andrelton Simmons (Shortstop-Braves, MLB)
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria (Shortstop-Marlins, MLB)

The future looks good for the Mets, and it’s most promising of its entire stockpile of young arms. Wheeler has a triple digit fastball, and the stuff to go along with it. Pairing him with D’Arnaud, the former top prospect of the Blue Jays and main return piece for RA Dickey, ensure the Mets will return to relevancy soon enough.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Last season was the story of anybody having a chance out in the East, this time around will not be more of the same. The Nationals and Braves are both returning very strong team’s that didn’t lose much over the winter, yet made some substantial additions. On the other hand, the Phillies who have a solid core, made some additions as well, but simply can’t keep up with the younger and more well rounded Nationals and Braves. But they are a veteran laden club with more winning experience than any other team ahead of them and a very good manager, if any team in the NL is capable of spring a surprise heist of a Wild Card spot, it’s them.

The Mets are growing, and have made several moves that have put young talent in their system and Major League staff, but after Wright and Davis, there’s nothing else in their lineup and the East is the wrong division not be able to hit in. The Marlins, after their “everything not named Giancarlo must go” dump are more of a factor in the push for the number spot in the Draft than the division.

So this brings it all back to the same two postseason reps from a year ago. The Braves are getting better in a hurry, and with their entire core under 30, their best days are yet to come. A return to the playoffs should be expected, and not just a one and done this year either. But the Nationals better days are here now. The difference comes down the arms: the Braves have a very good pitching staff; the Nationals have a devastating staff, which has four Cy Young capable starters and three relievers with 30 save capability. Add on the prime of Zimmerman, LaRoche and Werth with the rise of Harper and Ian Desmond all happening at once, and the Nationals aren’t just the best in the East. They’re among the two or three best period.

For more on the upcoming MLB campaign along the East coast in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

There was no more interesting division in baseball than the NL East this winter. It is essentially a rebuilt, redesigned, revamp of what it was just a few months back, familiar only in team locations in many regards. The Florida Marlins changed out everything about their club, both on field, off field and in the budgeting department. The Washington Nationals continued to drop big money, but also made smart, low price decisions as well. After a colossal collapse, that took them from a sure return to the postseason last year with a 8.5 game headed into September, they chose to had steady and give it another go. As for the Mets? Well, they let the National League’s batting champ walk to a division rival…and couldn’t do anything about it.

2011 Standings

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60)
  2. Atlanta Braves (89-73)
  3. Washington Nationals (80-81)
  4. New York Mets (77-85)
  5. Florida Marlins (72-90)

While all of this was going around, one thing stayed the same: the Phillies looked down at it all. After winning their fifth consecutive division title, but being coming out on the wrong half of a classic Divisional Series matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals, they’ll look to pick up where they’ve left off for the last half decade. In order to do so, they’ll have to take on the revamped Miami Marlins, a newly deep Nationals team, the Braves with a major chip on their shoulder and a Mets club with absolutely nothing to lose….and does it without two of their top contributors in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for an unknown amount of time?

Doc Halladay had his standard Cy Young caliber year before being narrowly outdone in a classic Playoff matchup.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves

First Base: Freddie Freeman, Braves

Second Base: Dan Uggla, Braves

Third Base: David Wright, Mets

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Marlins

Left Field: Logan Morrison, Marlins

Center Field: Shane Victorino, Phillies

Right Field: Hunter Pence, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson, Marlins

Righty Reliever: Tyler Clippard, Nationals

Best Players: Jonny Venters, Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Top 10 Players

1. Roy Halladay, Phillies

2. Cliff Lee, Phillies

3. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

4. Jose Reyes, Marlins

Reyes rediscovered his healthy legs last year, and landed his first batting title as a result.

5. David Wright, Mets

6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

7. Cole Hamels, Phillies

8. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

9. Brian McCann, Braves

10. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Lineup

  1. Marlins
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Nationals
  5. Mets

Miami one of the most versatile lineups in the game, featuring multiple 50 steals candidates, 5 former All-Stars and two of the premier young talents in the game in the former Mike, now Giancarlo, Stanton. The Braves lineup had a down year as a whole last summer, but the potential to rebound is definitely there. The Phillies will have to go into survival mode being down both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to start the year.

Rotation

  1. Phillies
  2. Marlins
  3. Nationals
  4. Braves
  5. Mets

This the best collection of rotations of any division in baseball. Halladay, Lee and Hamels would be the number one guy on nearly any other team in the game, yet they combine in Philly to be by far the best collection of arms in one city. They finished second, third and fifth, respectively, in last year’s NL Cy Young vote. Mark Buehrle and Gio Gonzalez join Miami and Washington to provide All-Star boost to growing rotations for each franchise.

Strasberg's return will feature an unparalleled mixture of expectation, but he won't be alone in carrying the weight.

1-2 Punch

  1. Phillies (Halladay & Lee)
  2. Nationals (Strasberg & Zimmerman)
  3. Marlins (Johnson & Buehrle)
  4. Braves (Hudson & Hanson)
  5. Mets (Santana & Dickey)

Halladay and Cliff combined to go 36-14 last year, with 14 complete games and 7 shutouts; dominant. Strasburg and Zimmermann have both had Tommy John surgery over the last two years, but the results both showed upon returning were very positive. Their potential should come into reality this summer. Much of the extent of how well the Marlins, Braves and Mets seasons go lay on the healthy returns of Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Johan Santana.

Bullpen

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The backend of the Braves bullpen turns games into six inning affairs at best. Kimbrel had 46 saves and struck out 127 batters in 77 innings. Venters lowered his ERA from 1.95 to 1.84 and Eric O’Flaherty posted a 0.98 mark. In DC, Drew Storen, Brad Lidge and Tyler Clippard should be a very formidable group, and new closers Papelbon in Philly and Heath Bell in Miami bring solid new dynamics to their clubs.

Kimbrel set the rookie record for saves last year with 46, in addition to leading the Majors in relief strikeouts.

Tablesetters

  1. Marlins (Reyes & Bonafacio)
  2. Braves (Bourn & Prado)
  3. Phillies (Rollins & Polanco)
  4. Nationals (Desmond & Espinosa)
  5. Mets (Torres & Murphy)

Reyes led the league in hitting and triples last year, in addition to swiping 39 bases as a Met last year. Bonafacio stole 40 bags himself, and together they should be pure hell. Bourn has led the NL in steals the last two seasons. Him and Prado should make for one of the more potent hit and run combos in either league.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Marlins (Ramirez/Stanton/Morrison)
  2. Braves (McCann/Uggla/Freeman)
  3. Nationals (Zimmerman/Werth/LaRoche)
  4. Mets (Wright/Davis/Bay)
  5. Phillies (Victorino/Pence/Wigginton)

When Hanley is healthy, very few players can do more than he does. Behind him is Stanton, and only A-Rod and Ken Griffey, Jr have hit more homers before the age of 22 than him. If the Mets can keep Wright, Ike Davis and Jason Bay on the field together in the newly redesigned Citi Field, it push the Mets into a competitive season. The Nats hope that year two of Jayson Werth payout the promise his contract reads out at.

If Wright (102 games in '11) and the rest of the middle of the Mets attack can stay healthy, they'll shake up the East.

Bench

  1. Phillies
  2. Marlins
  3. Mets
  4. Nationals
  5. Braves

The Phillies bench will be pushed early due to filling in for its injured starters, but Jim Thome and Juan Pierre provide great options for an offense that will need contributions from everywhere. All in all, no team is particularly deep offensively in the East, and an injury to the wrong starter on any club could change the direction of the entire division.

Defense

  1. Phillies
  2. Mets
  3. Braves
  4. Nationals
  5. Marlins

Pence, Victorino and John Mayberry are a very strong outfield, while Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz anchor a good infield collection as well. Andres Torres will cover the expansive outfields in New York well, while Davis and Wright are plus fielders as well. Michael Bourn covers more outfield than player in the game, and the Braves will benefit from it in his first full year in the A. The Marlins will have to hope Hanley Ramirez takes to his new position at third base quickly, and Emilio Bonafacio and Logan Morrison take big strides in the outfield soon.

Speed

  1. Marlins
  2. Mets
  3. Phillies
  4. Nationals
  5. Braves

Reyes and Bonafacio are the burners, but Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Chris Coghlan can spark the bases as well. Wright is the rare third baseman that can steal 20 bases, and even after losing Reyes, the Mets should be a very good running team.

Manager

  1. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  2. Ozzie Guillen, Marlins
  3. Davey Johnson, Nationals
  4. Freddi Gonzalez, Braves
  5. Terry Collins, Mets

Charlie Manuel is trying to wrap up his sixth consecutive division title this year, and has pushed the Phillies to the best record in baseball the last two years, as well as a World Series title in 2008. For as colorful as he is, there’s probably no better scenario for Ozzie Guillen than leading an exciting, rebuilt Marlins team that can be pushed by his energy. The best is yet to come for him. Terry Collins is a good manager, and as much life as the Mets show, he’ll be able to maximize it.

Ozzie's aggressive style fits in perfectly with the approach the Marlins have put forth all winter, and should pay off well this summer.

Finances

  1. Marlins
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Braves
  5. Mets

The Marlins’ bottomless, Scrooge McDuck-style money pit was one of the stories of the offseason, and they have the resources to continue to make needed additions to the team throughout the year. The Nationals also have the funds, and prospects, to make additions needed to shift a potential pennant chase in their favor. The Phillies hands are tied by the uncertain number it will take to secure Cole Hamels past this year and Ryan Howard’s escalated, $25 million mark he’ll pull down this year.

Impact Additions

  1. Jose Reyes (Marlins from Mets)
  2. Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies from Red Sox)
  3. Heath Bell (Marlins from Padres)
  4. Mark Buehrle (Marlins from White Sox)
  5. Gio Gonzalez (Nationals from A’s)

Reyes was the first big signing of the offseason, and the Marlins #1 target in their aggressive rebuilding effort early on. Bell, Buehrle, and eventually, Carlos Zambrano followed suit soon after and reshaped the direction of a team that competed early last year before injuries and a lack of depth dropped them into the bottom of the division.

Breakthrough Candidates

  1. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
  2. Lucas Duda, Mets
  3. Jason Heyward, Braves
  4. Brandon Beachy, Braves
  5. John Mayberry, Jr., Phillies

Before tearing his elbow up in 2009 and missing most of last year, StrasMania was at a fever pitch. This is the year to see what it can be about in full effect, despite an inning limit he’ll have to adhere too (most likely based on where the Nats are sitting in the pennant race). Jason Heyward had a brutal sophomore slump, but he’s still primed to become one of the game’s best hitters still. Lucas Duda is the type of low cost, high payout talent the cash and prospect deprived Mets have a desperate need to produce.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Bryce Harper (Outfielder, Nationals)
  2. Randall Delgado (Pitcher, Braves)
  3. Zach Wheeler (Pitcher, Mets)
  4. Julio Teheran (Pitcher, Braves)
  5. Tyler Pastornicky (Shortstop, Braves)

Harper's the next "Next Big Thing" in DC;whenever he arrives he'll widen the Strasburg spotlight to shine on him as well.

Harper is baseball’s “Next Big Thing”, and for good reason. The 18 year old has shown he can dominate minor league comp and play solid, if slightly inconsistent, ball with the big boys. That inconsistency will start him in Triple A, but it’s going to be hard to leave him there all summer, even if the Nationals are technically “in need” of him. The Braves really need for Delgado or Teheran to live up to their top prospect billing, so they can round out a pitching staff that needs improvement on its bottom half.

2011 PROJECTION

  1. Phillies
  2. Marlins
  3. Braves
  4. Nationals
  5. Mets

The Phillies have run the East for the last half decade in part due to a brutal lineup that featured MVP winners in Rollins and Howard, and one of the game’s most productive overall players in Utley. More recently, it has been due to their dominant pitching staff taking the lead. This summer the weight of the world will be on that pitching staff and whatever the lineup can provide. The good news is if any team can live with this arrangement, it’s the Phillies; and as far as win and losses go, they probably won’t skip much of a beat. Halladay is the best pitcher in the game and Lee isn’t too far behind. Hamels is in a contract year, and will be auditioning for one of the biggest deals this upcoming winter. With yet another up and coming stud in Vance Worley joining them and a championship-level closer in Papelbon backing it all up, runs may be a luxury, but not a necessity, until Howard and Utley potentially return.

However, it won’t be a runaway by any means. The Marlins are bringing in a lot of new pieces, but are both undeniably experienced and developing major young talents at once. They easily have what it takes to throw the Phillies from their home atop the division, but their pitching staff will have to prove both healthy and consistent. Also their very shaky defense will have to step up as well. The same story goes for the Nationals; a well rounded on pitching staff on paper will have stay on the mound, and its stars have to produce and be healthy. The Braves are coming off of an epic collapse, and now have to face both a tougher division and a certain pitching staff/lineup at once. The Mets are still stuck in financial limbo and cannot add pieces to their team of much substance at all, let alone up to the level that their divisional mates can…and have.

However, for all that has changed, the end result will be the same. They won’t finish with the best record in the game for a third straight year and the margin of their championship finish will be the slimmest since 2008. But the Phillies will ride high in the East again. And you know what else happened last time they had to fight so hard for the regular season title?

A World Series one followed. Not predicting THAT yet, but foreshadowing is what is it is.

For more on where the MLB is headed this summer and in the moment, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Murphy’s Law must have its home offices in one Citi Field’s many luxury boxes. No matter what they run out there, something seems to happen, from injuries to domestic issues to more injuries and then a few more just to make sure the point is made. The Mets have become the home of the “getting nothing for a lot spent” movement (a spot the Cubs are still fighting to over as well). They are not getting numbers (or even games played) from the vast majority of their most expensive investments. For around seven years now have ran out a similar team that has never had what it’s taken to get over the top. No nonsense manager Terry Collins was brought in to try to whip this group into shape; however can he finally get something close to the astronomical potential this roster has on paper, onto the field?

THREE UP

1. SITTIN’ ON THE BENCH BY THE BAY: Tell me if you’ve heard this one before regarding the Metropolitans: go out, lure big name free agent to town to become the final piece in putting them over the top. Do the names Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran ring a bell? Well they should, because they are still there, in one capacity or another. Jason Bay was brought into become the big power bat in the middle of the order that will boost the talented, yet snake bitten, Mets over the top. Instead he suffered a similar fate to that of his previous big money predecessors: injury or setback (or both in his case), and more money made for watching than playing. In his New York debut, concussion scares limited him to 95 games, yet he still only hit 6 home runs, 30 less than he had clubbed the year before. While tomorrow never knows, if Bay’s head is clear again, count on him making up for lost time in year two manning left field in Flushing.

After a dismal New York debut, a concussion-less Bay can change everything about the Mets attack.

2. OUT THE BLOCKS: They have a lot of speed at the top of this lineup. With Jose Reyes back in the mix, the lineup received the most disruptive speed threat in the game. He responded by swing 30 bases, along with 10 triples. Angel Pagan had a breakout season, and often was the best player on the team in the second half; he finished with 37 steals himself. With this duo leading way, they are capable of manufacturing many runs, with just singles hitters, even if they struggle in the power department in the middle of the order.

3. SHUT THE DOOR: The starting pitching for the Mets has been a huge issue for the last few years. However, the 9th inning is not a problem, with Francisco Rodriguez looming to close down any winning opportunity that somehow reaches him. Now that he has his multiple run ins with his family (that landed him in court rather than in a uniform to end last season) over with, they are solid in the 9th inning. His 30 save average over the last two years is the type of dependable presence this team needs behind a questionable pitching staff otherwise.

THREE DOWN

NOODLE & CO: Anytime Chris Young and Chris Capuano, who have spent 10 years worth of time in the last two years on the DL, are brought in to try to fix things in your starting rotation, you know it’s bad. Their $22.5 million dollar per year ace Johan Santana’s arm problems has followed him into a third season, and he’ll miss at least a quarter of this year. This puts the responsibility of the holding down the fort on Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey has the only dependable arms available. They had solid breakthrough efforts last year, but I still don’t like their chances consistently against the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Josh Johnson or Tim Hudson. A matchup problem that correlates directly into the Mets odds against their division mates perhaps.

The Mets sub par rotation needs its $22 million ace back in Santana much sooner than later to survive.

SHELL SHOCKED: I challenge you to name any other team that has kept the same core together, almost in its entirety, for this long without taking any steps forward. If you’re a video gamer, pop in MLB: The Show 2008 and play with the Mets. It’s the same team. This group of guys (Reyes, Beltran, Wright, Luis Castillo), is most likely beaten down by not making it over the top together for so long and facing virtually the same set of struggles each year. Yet, the huge price tags combined with piss poor healthy records, they have makes it a problem to move them. Somebody needs to find the key to the handcuffs on the Mets front office.

OWNERSHIP OVERDRAFT: Despite the curse that seems to loom over anybody that signs with them, the Mets have had no problem getting more guys to come and enlist with them. It’s New York and big money, an easy package to sell. However, there’s a big problem with that method now. There’s still New York, but the Mets don’t have any money to throw into mix. Owner Fred Wilpon got caught in the Bernie Madoff shakedown, and it became clear how big of an impact it had when the Mets were players in none of the races for ANY free agents this offseason, took a $20 million dollar loan from Major League Baseball and put up part of the team for sale.

LINEUP/PITCHING with 2010 stats/info (Impact Players in BOLD)

  1. Jose Reyes-SS: .282 avg/11 HR/54 RBI/30 steals
  2. Angel Pagan-CF: .290 avg/11 HR/69 RBI/37 steals
  3. David Wright-3B: .283 avg/29 HR/103 RBI/19 steals
  4. Carlos Beltran-RF: .255 avg/7 HR/27 RBI
  5. Jason Bay-LF: .259 avg/6 HR/47 RBI/20 doubles
  6. 6. Ike Davis-1B: In his rookie year, he belted 19 home runs and 33 doubles. In his second year, he’ll be counted on to improve those numbers in case of any further injuries to their power threats.
  7. Josh Thole-C: .277 avg/3 HR/17 RBI
  8. Luis Castill0-2B: .235 avg/0 HR/17 RBI/8 steals

The 23 year-old Ike Davis is one of the only immediate bright spots in the New York future.

  1. Mike Pelfrey-RH: 15-9/3.66 ERA/113 K’s
  2. Jon Niese-LH: 9-10/4.20 ERA/148 K’s
  3. R.A. Dickey-RH: 11-9/2.84 ERA/104 K’s
  4. 4. Chris Young-RH: Hasn’t made over 20 starts since 2007, when he posted a 3.17 ERA for the Padres. 2-0 record with only 2 earned runs in 20 innings in 2010.
  5. Chris Capuano-LH: 4-4/3.95 ERA/54 K’s

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez-RH: 25 saves, 2.50 ERA,

Rundown: If there is a word that can be used to describe this club it is….well “if”. There are so many “ifs” around this club, that assessing success for them is a risk at best. Actually the same preview that has been good for them for the last three years could work here as well. “If” they can get to 100% and deploy Beltran, Reyes, Santana, Rodriguez and Bay at one time along with Wright, then they have as talented of a roster as any team in the National League. However, when you’re discussing the potential of a Major League roster based on its health, predicting that they will be able to do anything over what it has done in the past is a fools bet. This combined with their inability to add anything to help alleviate this problem in the offseason, which will no doubt spill into the season, does not show signs of a jump in the Mets status in the NL East.