Last year it was home to the best team in baseball, the 102-win Phillies. This year it might be home to a great title race, with the potential of four very good teams battling it out for the playoffs. And it’s also home to the Mets.
We continue our divisional previews with a look at the NL East.
Past Five Champions
2011 – Philadelphia
2010 – Philadelphia
2009 – Philadelphia
2008 – Philadelphia
2007 – Philadelphia
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.6
Jose Reyes, Marlins
Naming the best player in this division would have been very difficult a few years ago (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Werth, Chipper Jones, Jason Bay, David Wright) and it might be very difficult a few years from now (Jason Heyward, Bryce Harper, Mike “Giancarlo” Stanton). But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of elite players in 2012 playing in the NL East. Jose Reyes is injury prone, but he is dynamic, which is why I give him the nod. He won the NL batting title last year, stole 39 bases, and finished 11th in MVP voting. This year he suits up for the Marlins in one of baseball’s highest profile free agent signings, and has the chance to have a gigantic season….if he stays healthy.
Honourable Mention: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins; Mike “Giancarlo” Stanton, Marlins
Roy Halladay, Phillies
Did you expect anybody else, especially on a Blue Jays blog? Even at 34 years of age, Halladay remains a stud. All he did in 2011 was lead the league in complete games (8), ERA+ (164), BB/9 (1.3), and K/BB (6.29). He also went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and an All Star appearance, and finished second in Cy Young voting and 9th in NL MVP voting. He is showing no signs of slowing down, which is important considering the fragile offense the Phillies will be fielding in 2012.
Honourable Mention: Cliff Lee, Phillies; Cole Hamels, Phillies
Three Storylines For 2012
1. Broken Phillies
The Phillies still have the best rotation in all of baseball, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Joe Blanton. With newly signed Jonathan Papelbon, they should boast a strong bullpen. They might need top performances from all of them to make it a “six-peat”. Ryan Howard will miss at least the first month with the torn Achilles he suffered in the NLDS last year. Now comes news that Chase Utley will be out for an unknown length of time due to knee trouble. Add to that the fact that Jimmy Rollins has missed 94 games over the past two seasons, and the back-up 1B might be 41-year old Jim Thome and the Phillies could be in trouble when it comes to scoring runs.
2. Marlin Mania
Talk about an overhaul – a lot will be new in Florida this year. There is a new name (the “Miami” Marlins), new uniforms, a new stadium, a new 3B (Hanley Ramirez shifts from SS), a new SS (Jose Reyes), a new closer (Heath Bell), new veteran starters (Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano), and a new manager (Ozzie Guillen). All of that will lead to something else new in Miami this year – hope. It’s been a while since the Marlins have had this much hype surrounding them, and even longer since the hype was of the positive variety. With Mike “Giancarlo” Stanton poised to breakout, things could end happily in Florida.
3. Washington’s Kids
The Nationals are a young and dynamic team, poised to break through in the NL East. They have a number of solid players, including Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Wilson Ramos, and Michael Morse. They might make some noise this year. However, 2013 looks to be when they will launch to serious contenders because their two greatest talents will not be with them the entire 2012 campaign. Rooke phenom Stephen Strasburg will be limited by an innings cap as he makes his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Their other sensation, Bryce Harper, will start the year in the minors. But when (not if) Harper gets the call this season, the Nationals will be the team to watch in the NL.
According to Baseball Reference’s WAR stat, a player with a WAR of 2.0 – 4.9 is considered a starter-quality player. Anything less than 2.0 is considered a reserve-level player. Last season, 60 offensive players had a WAR of 2.0 or greater in the National League. Only one team in the upcoming season will not have ANY of them on its roster – the New York Mets. Only Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran eclipsed the 2.0 mark in 2011, and both are now gone. The Mets lone player with a 2.0+ WAR? Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. New York is going to need bounce back seasons from David Wright and Jason Bay, and healthy ones from Ike Davis and Johan Santana to stand any kind of chance.
Who Should Win
Will they? Find out in my season prediction column