It's that time of year again, when bloggers, commenters and professional media types make their predictions for the coming season. I will restrict myself to the Phillies and the NL East.
If one quality describes all the teams in the NL East it would be missing ingredients. Every team in the division has significant problems and no team is clearly superior in all departments. That said, I think the final order of finish should be:
The number three slot is a tough one because the Marlins will need repeat performances from their host of youngsters, especially the pitching staff, and we all know how difficult the sophomore year can be. If they suffer a collective reversion to the mean, the Marlins could drop to fourth place.
The top spot is, frankly, less difficult. The Mets lack consistent, dependable starting pitching, but their everyday lineup is the best in the division, even with the aging Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou holding down two spots. They have the best leadoff batter in the game, a terrific centerfielder and third baseman, and a very steady man behind the plate.
The Phillies lack a reliable bullpen from short to long, front to back. Their closer is an injury waiting to happen and as of this writing there is no one on the roster who could step in. They also lack a decent outfield. Jimmy Rollins seems poised for a fine season; Chase Utley will continue to produce and hustle; Ryan Howard may struggle at bat; Wes Helms should improve the offense but not defense; and catching will be lackluster.
If there is one area the Phils were thought to be superior to every team it was starting pitching. This may yet turn out to be true if Brett Myers finally grows up and Cole Hamels continues his development. Jamie Moyer is a real pro and gamer but at his age all we can hope for is sage advice and 8 - 10 wins...if that. Adam Eaton's history suggests a very mediocre performance is in the offing. Freddy Garcia is the wild card of this staff. Which pitcher will show up, the one whose fastball has lost roughly 5 - 8 mph and whose arm shows signs of overuse, or the one who pitched so successfully down the stretch last season despite those factors? Emergency starter/reliever/trade bait Jon Lieber will be hard to count on at this point, especially since he seems destined to start the season on the DL and is, by all accounts, disgruntled to boot.
The Braves will miss Adam LaRoche's bat. Worse, they lack enough starting pitching. They will also miss Chipper Jones from time to time as his injuries force him out of the lineup with considerable frequency. They do have the best young catcher in the league and ageless (he's still young but has been around forever) Andruw Jones.
The Nationals are a bad team.