200 Miles From the Citi

March 22, 2010 6:14 AM

NL East: Overview

NL_East.JPGDon't know if you're getting sick of reading them, but I'm getting sick of writing them.

This is the point of the spring where I've had enough - let's just get to the baseball that counts already.

Good thing, then, that I've saved the National League East overview and standings until last.

At least this keeps my interest, because it's the division that I'm emotionally tied the closest to.

Common Theme

I struggled to come up with a common theme for the teams in the National League East.  It seemed to me that it was the Phillies and everyone else.  And I thought about the fact that everyone will be chasing the Phillies.  Then I narrowed it down a little bit, because for a team like the Nationals it's a bit unrealistic for them to be chasing the Phillies.  But the one thing all of these teams are doing is "chasing" something - so that's the theme for the East.

The Mets have targeted the Phillies for a few years.  Their collapses in 2007 and 2008 were to the Phillies, but they weren't chasing Philadelphia then - the Phillies were chasing the Mets.  Last year was a shift - the Phillies were out in front and not looking back, and the Mets were chasing the Phillies, and they still are.  Off-season moves, left-handed pitchers to counter the Phillies' left-handed hitters...everything the Mets do is because they need to catch the Phillies...except all they seem to be doing is falling farther behind.

The Phillies are chasing the Phillies as well.  They're two-time defending National League champions...and should be the favorites to get back to the World Series this year.  They've set the bar for themselves way high, and need to meet those expectations - and it's not unrealistic for them to do so.  These are not false expectations - the Phillies are chasing expectations that the Phillies have earned for themselves.  So that's why the Phillies are chasing the Phillies.

The Braves are chasing their history.  They're on an interesting precipice bridging the past and the future.  Bobby Cox is in what he says will be his last season before retirement.  Chipper Jones is on a year-to-year sort of basis...if not with the team, then with his career.  Other guys, like Derek Lowe, Billy Wagner, or Tim Hudson, are on the back end of their careers.  But there's certainly a lot of youth ready to take the Braves into their next stretch of success - Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens among the pitchers, Jason Heyward in the lineup.  With this mix, the Braves are chasing those successful years of their recent past, as they try to send Cox out a winner.

The Marlins are chasing their big market division mates.  They're close to moving into their new park (in 2012...which will then make Turner Field, opened in 1997, the oldest ballpark in the division), which should help them compete a bit more financially with the likes of Washington, maybe Atlanta (if not at the level of the Mets and Phillies).  That slight boost should do wonders for a franchise that has been able to win without spending lots of money. 

And the Nationals are chasing some semblance of respectability.  It's been a tough road since the team relocated to the nation's capital.  They haven't come anywhere close to respectability yet.  But they're drawing positive attention with Stephen Strasburg, who will begin the year in Double A, but will probably be in the Majors sometime in 2010.  They have a solid young player to build a lineup around (Ryan Zimmerman) and a lot of talent around the diamond (Nyjer Morgan, Ian Desmond) that will either contribute as soon as Opening Day or shortly thereafter (once playing time opens up).  Most importantly, they have a General Manager that knows what he's doing in Mike Rizzo, and will have that team in a position to succeed in the near future.

5 Impact Players

(In Alphabetical Order by Team, so as not to ruin the surprise of how I pick them to finish)

1.  Troy Glaus, Atlanta - People are talking about Glaus like they were in his glory days with the Angels.  Those days were marred by injuries...if he's healthy in Atlanta (where he'll see most of his playing time at first base), he could be a big addition to their lineup, which was in the bottom half of the majors in many offensive categories last year.

2.  Leo Nunez, Florida - Seemed like every save opportunity for the Marlins last year was a tightrope walk - only some of which was Nunez's responsibility (others shared the blame).  For the Marlins to have a good year, they need to be able to slam the door on these wins.  Of course, they have unproven depth in their rotation and in their bullpen - so the closer may be the least of their worries.

3. David Wright, New York - There are a ton of players you could examine closely on the Mets, but the big story all year long will be whether or not Wright is losing power/is tremendously affected by Citi Field, or if last year was a fluke.

4.  Roy Halladay, Philadelphia - Cliff Lee showed he can be counted on in the post-season and down the stretch in clutch situations.  Now the focus will be on Halladay - how will he handle the shift to a contender as well as the shift to the National League?

5.  Nyjer Morgan, Washington - I don't know if I talk about Morgan enough.  I love watching him play - he's a good hitter, a threat to steal whenever he's on the bases, and he's an excellent outfielder.  The Nationals lost him to a broken hand not too long after acquiring him in a trade from Pittsburgh.  A full season of Morgan setting the table and manning center field will be big for the Nationals.

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