Spring Training is right around the corner so 4Real and I are going to breakdown our respective leagues for the 2008 Major League Baseball season before the Boys of Summer get in the Swing for Spring. Over the next few days we will be updating you with news and notes on each division as well as the prospective Free Agent Diamonds in the rough waiting out there. Here is part one of the National League breakdown.
First off the NL East.
2007 was a very interesting season in the NL East. The top 3 teams were competitive with each other as well as the Wild Card and the Braves and Phillies refused to fall too far behind the leading Mets. On August 1st the Braves were 3.5 games back of the Mets and the Phils trailed by 4. They were 1.5 and 2 games back respectively of the Wild Card. By August 15th, the Mets were still in control holding the same 3.5/4 game lead on the Braves and Phils, but both teams had also closed the gap on the Wild Card coming within .5/1 game respectively. By the 25th the Mets had opened up a 7 game lead over both the Phillies and Braves who had also fallen to 4 games back of the Wild Card. On the 31st of August the Phils climbed back to 2 games from the Mets and from the Wild Card. By the 12th of September, The Mets were back in control with another 7 game lead with 17 to play and Philly was 2.5 back in the Wild Card. Atlanta was fading fast. By the 21st the Phillies had made up ground and were 2.5 back from the Mets and only .5 game back in the Wild Card. By the 27th the Phils and Mets were tied for the division lead with 3 games left to play.
Going into the home stretch they were still tied and both were a game behind for the Wild Card with one game left. And on the 30th the Phillies clinched the East, and the Mets were responsible for one of the biggest season ending collapses in league history. Up 7 with 17 left and they don’t even get the wild card.
Looking ahead to 2008 we’re going to be in for another competitive race in the NL East. The Mets face off against NL East opponents in 20 of their first 25 games. Braves will see division opponents in 20 of the first 30. The Nationals see their division rivals in 23 of their first 29. The Phillies only see an East rival in 9 of their first 19 and the Fish will face off in division in 14 of the first 22. The first month should provide a nice look into what we can expect to see out of the NL East.
The Marlins, 4 years removed from their last World Series struggled through 2007. Though they were in the Top 10 of the National League in 6 major offensive categories (BA, Runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, SB) they were also dead least in the National League in 4 pitching categories (ERA, OPS, WHIP, QS) 15th in BA-against, and a respectable 7th in saves. They opted to pull a Marlins in the off-season and get rid of their Top Talent. They continually do this, and 2007 was no difference. This could be a completely unique way of doing things, dumping salaries and then making runs every 5 or 6 years, but 2008 is not going to be one of those runs. Dontrelle Willis may have been having a down year in 2007 (10-15 5.17 ERA) but he is still very capable of delivering on a sub 4 ERA season and 15 Wins. Getting rid of Cabrera on the other hand has no explicable reasoning other than to open cap room. Cabrera is young and he hit .320 last year, he can give you power (34 HR) but also can be depended on to get on base, or score runs (.402 OBP 119 RBI). The Marlins are clearly going long haul once again perhaps 2009. The addition of 2,500+ hits in Luis Gonzalez (6th among actives) should help an offense that wasn’t really struggling. The Marlins suffered some injuries last season in their rotation, but either way it’s still a young rotation, and there isn’t a whole lot of depth.
Things looked, and still do look, promising for the Natties after picking up Mets Catcher Paul Lo Duca. Unfortunately, things haven’t been going so well in that area since his December 10th signing. On the 13th Lo Duca was one of the top names named on the 13th by Senator George Mitchell, so that will bring some added heat on him and the Nats. Then a couple weeks ago Lo Duca injured his knee and had it scoped leaving him on the shelf for the first 4-6 weeks of 2008. To help out at the backstop they acquired the Brewers’ Johnny Estrada. One wonders what happens when Lo Duca comes off the DL. These guys are both everyday guys with very similar numbers, something’s gonna give. It’s gonna come down to offense for the Nationals and it will rest on Lo Duca/Estrada, Lastings Milledge, and of course Dmitri Young. Last season the Nationals were in the bottom five in the National League in all 6 major offensive categories, and their pitching wasn’t much better. They don’t have too much of a solid rotation but the defense, though not amazing can hold their own. If they can take a lead into the late innings they should be able to hold on, but getting, and keeping a lead going into the last third of a game will be no small feat for the Natties.
The NL East is going to be competitive this year, more-so than last year. That will be seen by another battle at the end of the season between the Mets, Phils, and Braves. Unfortunately the Braves are just missing out, but at least they won’t be pulling the late season swoon they did last year. Mark Teixiera will be back. The man inspired a great song (by Tito and the Gun show, I linked to it awhile ago, just google or youtube if you haven’t seen it) and he will be in Atlanta all season which should account for some offense production. They freed up some cap room, but look for them to sit on that money until next year. They will be heading into 2008 with a Brave staple, a solid rotation, this year it will be anchored by a familiar face in the Hall of Fame Left-handed 300-game winner Tom Glavine. Though they are losing Andruw Jones and Edgar Rentaria for the 2008 campaign, it shouldn’t sting too much with SS Yunel Escobar (.326 in 94 games last year), the aforementioned Teixiera, Chipper Jones (career high .337 in 2007), and Jeff Francoeur and his modest .293 last season. The Braves were in the Top 6 in 5 out of 6 major offensive categories, ranking 14th in Stolen Bases, and Top 7 in 5 of 6 pitching categories. The addition of Glavine should help out in the category.
It’s going to be close in the East and the Phillies will once again head into the home stretch trailing the Mets, only this time they aren’t going to catch up. They were Top 5 in all 6 major offensive categories, and 1st in 3, the most important of which runs. Their offense isn’t lacking anywhere really 1-8, and they have pitchers like Jamie Moyer who can swing a bat. How can this team not be #1. It comes down to pitching, sometimes you can win in a shootout but you have to be clicking. A shootout will win a few games, but below average pitching will lose more. Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels showed some promise but not enough to bet the bank on. There’s also the fact that Ryan Howard is still in arbitration, and will be at the start of Spring Training. They also lost Aaron Rowland. Another down the wire stretch in the NL East will be for sure, but I don’t think the Phils are going to be able to topple the Mets.
The Mets were strong for most of 2007. They had a 5 game losing streak early to Detroit and the Dodgers, then in July dropped 6 out of 8 and 1 to Philly. Thus began their trouble with the Phils. In August they had another 5 game drought and lost 4 more to the Phils, September saw another 5 game drought with 3 losses to the Phils, and they dropped 6 of their last 7 with Philly closing in. 5 of those losses came to the Division basement Marlins and Nationals. The collapse of all collapses should not be repeated in 2008 and 92 games is bare-minimum of wins for the Mets. The Mets lost Lo Duca, but with him being on the shelf and linked to the Mitchell Report it could be a blessing in disguise, especially with the New York media. Their rotation consists of Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Orlando Hernandez, oh and Johan Santana. The Mets pitching was good last year, adding a 2-time Cy Young winner is scary. They also can swing a bat ranking in the top 5 in 5 major offensive categories last year, placing 7th in SLG. Bottom line, the sky is the limit in New York this year. And it’s not fair, they just win the Super Bowl, is New York the new Boston? Look out for the Knicks next year.