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Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on March 28, 2011
(91-71 in 2010) - Second, Wild Card, LOST NLDS
Jason Heyward stands poised to pursue MVP awards and Adjusted OPS titles. Dan Uggla could replicate his 2010 pretty easily, which would be more than enough for the Braves. Martin Prado is a super-utility guy who does everything well. Brian McCann quietly rebounded from a strange battle with his own vision last spring and remains a top-five catcher.
On the other side of the ball, the Braves boast one young ace in Tommy Hanson. But they also have terrific depth with veteran sinker specialists Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, and prospects Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are a potent left-right combination at the back of the bullpen. For good measure, they have two of the top five pitching prospects in baseball in Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino.
Key Player: Freddie Freeman
Hopefully, no one is expecting Freeman to be the next Heyward. So long as this guy can come along slowly batting sixth or seventh, Freeman is yet another manifestation of the Braves' commitment to an old organizational axiom: They seem poised to graduate one elite prospect per season to infuse the team with valuable and cost-efficient talent.
Prediction: 96-66 record, first
(97-65 in 2010) - First, LOST NLCS
I'll admit to never having been as high on this team as most folks were, but in light of this vicious spring, I can scarcely imagine a scenario in which they win the division. They may yet win the Wild Card, but it's not sewn up, either.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Brad Lidge and Domonic Brown are all either demonstrable injury risks or already hurt. Meanwhile, Ryan Howard is older than most people think (including apparently Ruben Amaro, given the deal Howard signed last season) and may never be elite again. There is no payroll flexibility here: No cavalry is coming. Even more alarmingly, the cavalry actually has already come, sort of, in the person of Luis Castillo.
Key Player: Ryan Madson
If Madson is physically and mentally equal to the task of replacing Brad Lidge, Charlie Manuel should pull the trigger on a closer switch before Lidge even returns from the DL. If Madson is otherwise, the point may well be moot. I can not name a recent dynasty that has allowed itself to fall so far out of balance: The starting rotation is the whole team.
Prediction: 85-77, second
(80-82 in 2010) - third place
I'll take the heat for saying this, and I know it is coming, but the Marlins look an awful lot like the Phillies did circa 2006 or so. The pieces aren't all in place or fully mature yet, and Florida does lack two key ingredients for successful progress beyond this point -- a loyal and enthusiastic fan base and a deep farm system.
Still, the offensive core here (Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez) has a high floor and no ceiling but sweet Florida sunshine. The starting rotation (Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad) has a chance to stun some doubters. There is danger here, Philly.
Key Player: Leo Nunez
Is Nunez a good closer? No. He would be a third option in most bullpens and would struggle to stick in those of Boston, the Yankees or the Cubs. But the Marlins need him to pitch up to his potential and not cost them games. If he manages that, the team wins more than it loses.
Prediction: 85-77, second
(69-93 in 2010) - fifth place
Any way they get worse than last year? Sure, the argument is on the table about Stephen Strasburg and the stellar 68 innings he gave them, but beyond that, you have to believe that Adam Dunn plus Josh Willingham equals or exceeds Jayson Werth plus Adam LaRoche in value. I do not buy it. Werth is a plus defender, let's not forget, and Mike Morse sliding in for Willingham is essentially a wash.
Roger Bernadina, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos will only make forward strides. They may be incremental but they will not be insignificant. Maybe best of all for Washington, they can play an entire season with close to the same roster because there is so little left that other clubs might want and with which Mike Rizzo would part.
Key Player: Jordan Zimmermann
He missed 13 months with Tommy John surgery, but Zimmermann will be fully healthy in 2011 and should begin to emerge as what will someday be a viable second starter or very good mid-rotation guy. Scouts rave about him. If Zimmermann is as advertised this year, this team will avert the cellar pretty safely.
Prediction: 70-92, fourth place
(79-83 in 2010) - fourth place
Ugh. This is a mess. The Mets' farm system is crummy, so crummy they will start a Rule 5 pick at second base this season. Their outfield consists of a highly concussed and decreasingly athletic Jason Bay; Angel Pagan, a former Cubs clubhouse cancer who has spent more time on the DL with colitis in his career than as a productive everyday player; and Carlos Beltran, or what's left of him. I actually like Pagan to more or less repeat himself in 2011, but that's the best case and it doesn't make much difference.
Money will compel trades of Jose Reyes and probably Beltran, as well as Francisco Rodriguez. Johan Santana may or may not pitch at all this season. The team made a multi-year commitment to a knuckleballer just to solidify their rotation. Things are bleak.
Key Player: David Wright
In the eye of the storm stands the square-jawed superstar, who needs to contain his strikeouts in 2011 but otherwise appears as sparkling as ever. His presence in the clubhouse and on the field is the only hope for this team to hold itself together. He'll do his part, but they will fall apart anyway.
Prediction: 65-97, fifth place