Pretty much everyone in baseball is predicting the Phillies to run away with the NL East this year. It makes sense -- they had an excellent offseason just because they acquired Roy Halladay. They really didn't do much else, though, basically signing Placido Polanco. The core of their franchise is exactly the same as it's been since 2007. Is there any reason to doubt the fact that the Phillies are going to take the East for the fourth year in a row?
Absolutely. In fact, there's a chance the Phillies don't even make the playoffs this year.
Before you start calling me a homer, look at the facts. The NL East is vastly improved. The Marlins' strategy of grooming young, affordable talent and trading them off for more prospects has paid off in the past (most recently 2003) and their pitching is dangerous. Ricky Nolasco did not pitch as horribly as you think last year. In fact, he was just unlucky considering his FIP and xFIP are two points lower than his ERA. While his walks increased, so did his K/9 and if he can regain control him and Josh Johnson will be an extremely dangerous one-two punch.
The Braves are another team to be careful of. Their pitching is just as good (if not better than) the Phillies with Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe. The talk all this spring has been about their right field prospect, Jason Heyward. At only 20 years old, it appears that Heyward could be a potential superstar very quick. In all my years following baseball, I haven't heard this much buzz about a single player ever. While the Braves aren't perfect, there isn't a single team in baseball right now without their question marks.
I've projected previously that I think that Jair Jurrjens will regress as his peripheral statistics are very similar to the Phillies' JA Happ (arguably one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball and one who is projected to have a huge regression this season. CHONE and the Bill James Handbook agree with this and my analysis of Jurrjens). However, it's possible that while Jurrjens' ERA may inflate, his FIP might not which would still make him an excellent pitcher.
This brings me to the Mets. I've been obviously pessimistic about them the entire season but don't completely count them out. They need a minor miracle but it's possible that they could make a run at the Wild Card as long as their awful pitching somehow figures it out. They're not a good team, but they still have the core that took the team to the NLCS in 2006 and almost the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. If Reyes and Beltran can quickly recover from their injuries it's entirely possible that the Mets can make some kind of run. It's highly unlikely, though.
The Nationals, well, with Stephen Strasburg and potentially Bryce Harper one day they'll be good. Just not this year. Or really any time soon. First in war, first in peace, last in the National League East.
Anyway, back to the Phillies. I really look at them like I did the 2008 Mets. Of course, those Mets didn't go to the World Series in back to back years but stay with me. Both teams acquired arguably the best starter in baseball (Johan Santana and Roy Halladay). Both have extremely potent offenses. But both teams were also getting older and had a lot of questions going into the season. If the Phillies have any sort of bad luck (something they seem to be immune to) it is entirely possible that the rest of the division could overtake them, if not at least catch up.
Their pitching is decent but not great. Hamels pitched better than the Philly fans made believe he did but if he is a head case like they believe he could have major issues. Joe Blanton is decent at best and increased his K/9 but also had an extremely lucky LOB%, ten points higher than his career average. Jamie Moyer has been pitching since 1937. Their bullpen is not great. The team is getting older and their competition is getting better. Just remember that it's not a foregone conclusion that the Phillies are definitely going to win the East. Halladay may simply not be enough if things don't go their way.
Plus Jayson Werth shaved his amazing beard off. That's got to be a curse or something.
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