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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 3, 2010

MLB: NL East Preview capsules

Associated Press

Capsules of National League East teams, listed in order of finish last year:

Philadelphia Phillies

2009: 93-69, first place, NL champions.

Manager: Charlie Manuel (sixth season).

He's Here: RH Roy Halladay, 3B Placido Polanco, RH Danys Baez, RH Jose Contreras, OF Ross Gload, INF Juan Castro, C Brian Schneider.

He's Outta Here: LH Cliff Lee, 3B Pedro Feliz, RH Pedro Martinez, RH Chan Ho Park, LH Scott Eyre, OF Matt Stairs, RH Clay Condrey, RH Tyler Walker, C Paul Bako, INF Eric Bruntlett.

Projected Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins (.250, 21 HRs, 77 RBIs, 31 SB), 3B Placido Polanco (.285, 10, 72 with Detroit), 2B Chase Utley (.282, 31, 93, 23 SB), 1B Ryan Howard (.279, 45, 141), RF Jayson Werth (.268, 36, 99, 20 SB), LF Raul Ibanez (.272, 34, 93), CF Shane Victorino (.292, 10, 62, 25 SB), C Carlos Ruiz (.255, 9, 43).

Rotation: RH Roy Halladay (17-10, 2.79 ERA, major league high nine complete games, four shutouts), LH Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32), RH Joe Blanton (12-8, 4.05), LH J.A. Happ (12-4, 2.93), LH Jamie Moyer (12-10, 4.94).

Key Relievers: RH Brad Lidge (0-8, 7.21, 31/42 saves), RH Ryan Madson (5-5, 3.26, 10 saves), LH J.C. Romero (0-0, 2.70 in 21 games), RH Danys Baez (4-6, 4.02 with Baltimore), RH Chad Durbin (2-2, 4.39), RH Jose Contreras (6-13, 4.92 in 28 games, including 23 starts, with Chicago White Sox and Colorado), or RH Kyle Kendrick (3-1, 3.42).

Hot Spots: Fifth starter and bullpen. The 47-year old Moyer beat out Kendrick for the final spot in the rotation, but he might have a short leash if he struggles. Moyer was moved to the bullpen last season after the midseason acquisition of Pedro Martinez. Kendrick, who won 21 games as a starter in 2007-08, pitched well in spring training. The soft-tossing Moyer isn't ideal for the bullpen and has a base salary of $6.5 million for this season. Lidge and Romero are expected to open the season on the disabled list, so that will force some relievers into different roles. Madson will close in Lidge's place and the Phillies would need a left-hander (Antonio Bastardo or Mike Zagurski) to fill Romero's void. Bastardo and David Herndon, a Rule 5 pickup, have the inside track to make the roster, taking Lidge and Romero's spots.

Stat Sheet: The Phillies led the NL in home runs for the second straight year with a franchise-record 224, including four players with 30 or more the 12th time that was ever done. But the Phils also led the majors in percentage (44.5) of runs scored via homers, so they don't play smallball too often. The addition of Polanco can help them improve in that area. The Phils led the majors in stolen base percentage (81.0) for the third straight season and were the only NL team with 200 homers and 100 steals.

Bottom Line: The Phillies are trying to become the first NL team since St. Louis during World War II to win three straight pennants. They certainly have the ingredients to do it and have a nucleus of young players who should keep them in postseason contention for at least a few more seasons. With the additions of Halladay and Polanco along with an improved bench, the Phils have a better overall squad than the one that lost to the Yankees in the World Series last fall. The key to their success will be Hamels and Lidge. Both pitchers played integral roles in helping the Phillies win it all in 2008. But Hamels was inconsistent last year and Lidge was downright awful. If one or both regain their form, it'll provide a big boost to the pitching staff. Offensively, the Phillies will score plenty of runs. Adding Polanco should give the lineup more balance and moving Victorino down strengthens the bottom of the order.

Florida Marlins

2009: 87-75, second place.

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (fourth season).

He's Here: LH Nate Robertson, RH Jose Veras, INF Mike Lamb, INF Brian Barden.

He's Outta Here: RF Jeremy Hermida, RH Matt Lindstrom, RH Kiko Calero, CF Alfredo Amezaga, 1B Ross Gload.

Projected Lineup: LF Chris Coghlan (.321, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs), CF Cameron Maybin (.250, 4 HRs in 54 games), SS Hanley Ramirez (.342, 24, 106, 27 SB), 3B Jorge Cantu (.289, 16, 100), 2B Dan Uggla (.243, 31, 90, 150 Ks), RF Cody Ross (.270, 24, 90), C John Baker (.271, 9, 50), 1B Gaby Sanchez (.289, 16 HRs at Triple-A New Orleans).

Rotation: RH Josh Johnson (15-5, 3.23 ERA, 191 Ks in 209 IP), RH Ricky Nolasco (13-9, 5.06, 195 Ks in 185 IP), RH Anibal Sanchez (4-8, 3.87 in 86 IP), RH Chris Volstad (9-13, 5.21, 29 HRs), LH Nate Robertson (2-3, 5.44 ERA in 49 2-3 innings for Tigers).

Key Relievers: RH Leo Nunez (4.06 ERA, 26/33 saves), RH Burke Badenhop (7-4, 3.75), RH Brian Sanches (4-2, 2.56), LH Dan Meyer (3-2, 3.09), RH Jose Veras (1-2, 4.38 for Cleveland), LH Renyel Pinto (4-1, 3.23), RH Clay Hensley (9-4, 3.56 for Triple-A New Orelans).

Hot Spots: The manager's seat. There was speculation Gonzalez would be fired last October, and owner Jeffrey Loria says he expects to make the playoffs this year, even though the Marlins outscored opponents by only six runs last season and made no major winter additions. In Gonzalez's three seasons as manager, the Marlins have improved from 71 wins to 84 to 87. But he could be gone if the team starts slowly, with former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine supposedly waiting in the wings.

Stat Sheet: Under Loria, the payroll has always been the Marlins' most-watched stat, and it's on the rise. With a new stadium scheduled to open in 2012, baseball's thriftiest franchise gave Johnson a $39 million, four-year contract. They also surprised Uggla, who expected to be traded, instead signing him to a $7.8 million, one-year deal the biggest salary for a Florida player in five years. The payroll will be above $40 million for the first time since 2005, the last season the Marlins weren't last in the NL in the category.

Bottom Line: Aside from Johnson, there's lots of uncertainty about the rotation. The Marlins thought their pool of young pitching was deep enough to fill out the starting five, but when spring training suggested otherwise, Florida traded for Robertson. Also given starting jobs were Sanchez and Volstad, who went a combined 13-21 last year. Nolasco bounced back from a demotion to Triple-A early last season, and his career strikeout-walk ratio is an impressive 491-136. But Florida needs an ERA lower than his 5.06 last year from its No. 2 starter.

Atlanta Braves

2009: 86-76, third place.

Manager: Bobby Cox (21st season of current tenure, 25th with Braves overall).

He's Here: OF Melky Cabrera, 1B Troy Glaus, OF/INF Eric Hinske, RH Takashi Saito, LH Billy Wagner.

He's Outta Here: OF Garret Anderson, OF Ryan Church, LH Mike Gonzalez, 2B Kelly Johnson, 1B Adam LaRoche, RH Rafael Soriano, RH Javier Vazquez.

Projected Lineup: CF Nate McLouth (.256, 20 HRs, 70 RBIs, 19 SB with Pittsburgh and Atlanta), 2B Martin Prado (.307, 11, 47, 1 SB), 3B Chipper Jones (.264, 18, 71), 1B Troy Glaus (.172, 0, 2 in 29 ABs with St. Louis), C Brian McCann (.281, 21, 94), SS Yunel Escobar (.299, 14, 76), RF Jason Heyward (.323, 17, 63 with Class A, Double-A and Triple-A Gwinnett), LF Matt Diaz (.313, 13, 58, 12 SB) or Melky Cabrera (.274, 13, 68, 10 SB with Yankees).

Rotation: RH Derek Lowe (15-10, 4.67 ERA, staff-high 232 hits, 101 earned runs allowed, shared staff high with 34 starts), RH Jair Jurrjens (14-10, 2.60, 34 starts), RH Tommy Hanson (11-4, 2.89), RH Tim Hudson (2-1, 3.61, 7 starts after returning from 2008 elbow surgery), RH Kenshin Kawakami (7-12, 3.86 in 25 starts, 7 relief appearances).

Key Relievers: LH Billy Wagner (1-1, 1.72 ERA, no saves opportunities in 17 games with Mets and Red Sox), RH Takashi Saito (3-3, 2.43, 2 saves with Red Sox), RH Peter Moylan (6-2, 2.84 in staff-high 87 appearances), LH Eric O'Flaherty (2-1, 3.04 in 78 games), RH Kris Medlen (3-5, 4.26 in 37 games, including 4 starts).

Hot Spots: Corner outfield spots, corner infield spots. Heyward (6-foot-5, 245) appears set as the starting right fielder after his impressive spring display of power and patience at the plate. Heyward is only 20 and has played in only 50 games above Class A. Cox says the sound of the ball coming off Heyward's bat reminds him of Hank Aaron; Tigers manager Jim Leyland compared Heyward's plate discipline with Albert Pujols. How's that for rookie pressure? Diaz may share playing time in left field with Cabrera, who also will see spot duty at the other outfield positions after coming to Atlanta from the Yankees. The Braves have been encouraged by the hitting of Glaus, who is adjusting to his move from third base to first base while continuing his comeback from shoulder surgery in January 2009. Jones is trying to bounce back after seeing his batting average fall 100 points last season from his NL-leading .364 mark in 2008.

Stat Sheet: The Braves ranked 25th in the majors with 45 home runs from their outfielders last season. The hope is the addition of Heyward and a full season of McLouth will boost that total. Overall, the Braves ranked 22nd in homers.

Bottom Line: Going into Cox's last season in the dugout, the Braves count starting pitching as a strength even after trading workhorse right-hander Javier Vazquez to the Yankees. They opened last season with Hanson in the minors and Hudson still recovering from surgery. With Hudson the team's former ace reporting no problem this spring, the only health concern is Jurrjens, who was held back at the start of spring training after feeling some discomfort in his right shoulder. The power-starved offense could be better in 2010, but only if Jones, Glaus and Heyward come through. Jones has to prove his 2009 decline was an aberration, Glaus has to reclaim his power stroke following shoulder surgery, and Heyward has to prove he's ready for the big leagues at 20. That's a lot of big questions for the lineup. The bullpen is leaning heavily on 38-year-old Wagner, the new closer, and 40-year-old Saito.

New York Mets

2009: 70-92, fourth place.

Manager: Jerry Manuel (second full season).

He's Here: LF Jason Bay, C Rod Barajas, OF Gary Matthews Jr., INF/OF Frank Catalanotto, C Henry Blanco, RH Ryota Igarashi, 1B Mike Jacobs, RH Kiko Calero, LH Hisanori Takahashi.

He's Outta Here: 1B Carlos Delgado, OF Gary Sheffield, RH J.J. Putz, C Brian Schneider, RH Brian Stokes, LH Ken Takahashi, OF Cory Sullivan, OF Jeremy Reed, RH Tim Redding, RH Lance Broadway.

Projected Lineup: SS Jose Reyes (.279, 2 HRs, 15 RBIs, 11 SB, 36 games), 2B Luis Castillo (.302, 1, 40, 20 SB), 3B David Wright (.307, 10, 72, 27 SB, career-worst 140 strikeouts), CF Carlos Beltran (.325, 10, 48 in 81 games), LF Jason Bay (.267, 36, 119 in 151 games with Boston), 1B Daniel Murphy (.266, 12, 63), RF Jeff Francoeur (.311, 10, 41 in 75 games with New York Mets), C Rod Barajas (.226, 19, 71 in 125 games with Toronto).

Rotation: LH Johan Santana (13-9, 3.13 ERA, 25 starts), RH John Maine (7-6, 4.43, 15 starts), LH Jonathon Niese (1-1, 4.21), RH Mike Pelfrey (10-12, 5.03, 31 starts), LH Oliver Perez (3-4, 6.82, 14 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Francisco Rodriguez (3-6, career-worst 3.71 ERA, 35/42 saves), LH Pedro Feliciano (6-4, 3.03, majors-high 88 games), RH Bobby Parnell (4-8, 5.30), RH Sean Green (1-4, 4.52, 79 games), RH Fernando Nieve (3-3, 2.95), RH Ryota Igarashi (3-2, 3.19, 3 saves in 56 games in Japan), LH Hisanori Takahashi (10-6, 2.94 in Japan).

Hot Spots: Health, starting rotation and bullpen. The Mets struggled with injuries last year and Reyes, Murphy and Beltran will begin this season on the disabled list. Reyes (thyroid) should be back quickly, but Beltran (right knee surgery) and Murphy (sprained right knee) could miss the first month. Alex Cora will fill in for Reyes and Mike Jacobs is expected to get most of the innings at first with Murphy out. Angel Pagan will get the first look in center while Beltran is sidelined, but Matthews could see more time if he falters. Santana should be fine after last season was cut short by elbow surgery, but the rest of the rotation is a giant concern. Perez was a huge disappointment in 2009. Getting to Rodriguez could be an adventure, especially the eighth inning.

Stat Sheet: New York used the disabled list 22 times in 2009 for 19 players, including eight former All-Stars. Mets players spent more than 1,480 days on the DL, more than any other major league team, according to STATS LLC.

Bottom Line: This one could go either way. If Pelfrey, Maine and Perez can return to form and the regulars can stay healthy, the Mets could contend for the playoffs once again. The lineup is deeper with the addition of Bay, who agreed to a $66 million, four-year contract over the winter. New York also should do better in its second season at spacious Citi Field. If there are more health problems and the rotation falls apart again, it could be another long year that leads to a massive overhaul. Manuel and/or general manager Omar Minaya could be dismissed, and the nucleus of the team could be broken up. Either way, it should be an interesting year.

Washington Nationals

2009: 59-103, last place.

Manager: Jim Riggleman (first full season).

He's Here: C Ivan Rodriguez, 2B Adam Kennedy, RH Jason Marquis, RH Chien-Ming Wang, RH Matt Capps, RH Brian Bruney, RH Tyler Walker, RH Miguel Batista.

He's Outta Here: OF Elijah Dukes, OF Austin Kearns, C Josh Bard, RH Saul Rivera.

Projected Lineup: CF Nyjer Morgan (.277, 2 HRs, 27 RBIs, 18 SB in 278 ABs with Pirates; .351, 1, 12, 24 SB in 191 ABs with Nationals), SS Ian Desmond (.280, 4, 12 in 82 ABs), 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.292, 33, 106, 30-game hitting streak), 1B Adam Dunn (.267, 38, 105), LF Josh Willingham (.260, 24, 61), 2B Adam Kennedy (.289, 11, 63 with Athletics), C Ivan Rodriguez (.251, 8, 34 with Astros; .245, 2, 13 with Rangers), RF Willie Harris (.235, 7, 27) or RF Mike Morse (.250, 3, 10).

Rotation: LH John Lannan (9-13, 3.88 ERA, staff-high 206 1-3 IP), RH Jason Marquis (15-13, 4.04, 216 IP with Rockies), RH Craig Stammen (4-7, 5.11), RH Livan Hernandez (7-8, 5.47 in 23 starts with Mets; 2-4, 5.36 in 8 starts with Nationals; combined 183 2-3 IP), RH Garrett Mock (3-10, 5.62) or LH Scott Olsen (2-4, 6.03 before shoulder surgery in July).

Key Relievers: RH Matt Capps (4-8, 5.80 ERA, 27/32 saves with Pirates), RH Brian Bruney (5-0, 3.92 in 55 games with Yankees), LH Sean Burnett (1-2, 3.06 in 38 games with Pirates; 1-1, 3.20 in 33 games with Nationals), RH Tyler Walker (2-1, 3.06 in 32 games with Phillies), RH Jason Bergmann (2-4, 4.50 in 56 games), RH Tyler Clippard (4-2, 2.69 in 41 games).

Hot Spots: Shortstop and back of rotation. Desmond played as well as any member of the Nationals in exhibition games to beat out incumbent Cristian Guzman for the opening day job. Will Desmond hit well enough to keep the job? And how will Guzman take to being a utility player? After Lannan and Marquis, the rotation is full of holes and doubts. Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in June's amateur draft, is opening the season at Double-A Harrisburg.

Stat Sheet: The offense improved quite a bit last season, thanks in large part to the addition of Dunn and the emergence of Zimmerman, and tied for ninth in the NL with the champion Philadelphia Phillies at a .258 average. Washington's 710 runs also ranked ninth in the NL. But the pitching? The 5.00 ERA was the league's worst.

Bottom Line: The Nationals made enough improvements without losing any parts of significance to probably shed the tag of worst team in baseball after two consecutive seasons leading the majors in losses, with more than 100 in 2008 and 2009. But pitching is still a serious concern: While the bullpen was completely overhauled, there weren't exactly any superstars brought in, and the rotation doesn't have anyone who would necessarily be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on any other team. And beyond the first two spots, there is a big dropoff to spots 3-5. Which is why, of course, this is the most pressing question that will hound the Nationals every day until it's answered: When will Strasburg be called up to the majors and begin to earn that record $15.1 million contract? The hard-throwing right-hander from San Diego State was outstanding in exhibition games, using a fastball that reached 98 mph and a slider-curve hybrid to go 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA, eight hits, one walk and 12 strikeouts in nine innings.