Thursday, July 21, 2011

Season 3 NL East Preview

Who will be the beast of the East in season 3?  The Pittsburgh Pirates have been the King Kong of the division for the first two seasons in MLB, but there are some other teams that are looking to challenge the lord of the jungle for divisional dominance.  Could this be the year that New York, Philly, or Washington take on the mighty Pirates?

New York Mets

The Mets boast a balanced roster that was made stronger over the offseason by the signing of premier reliever Eugene Bush, who gives the NY franchise a legit stopper at the back end of the bullpen.  The question will be if the starting pitching can deliver enough quality starts to get him the opportunities that he needs to justify his massive durability and price tag.  Outside of #1 starter Kelvin Beckham there really isn't a pitcher on the Mets staff that strikes fear in the hearts of opposing lineups.  The bullpen is pretty good though, and is skilled enough to keep the team in the games when pitchers like Alexei Vargas have a tough outing, or close it down when they have a good one. 

The Mets lineup is very young, with most of their starters being only a season or two removed from the minor leagues.  There will be some bumps in the road as they continue to develop but they are a capable bunch with a few legit run producers in Davey Candelaria, Marvin Sellers, Mark Lloyd, and Deacon Kelly.  Depth is an issue though and if any of these four players sits out for any length of time the lineup will suffer greatly as there are no immediately available pieces that could replace them. 

Seeing as most of the Mets good prospects are playing at the ML level already, there really isn't much to write home about for their minor leagues but they do have some solid ML players on the way in CF Felipe Sanchez and SP Glen Peterson.  The Mets have a protected pick this season at #12, so there is hope that if the draft shows any depth they will get a keeper for the future.

All told the Mets are on the way, but aren't ready to challenge the Pirates yet, and are still a season or two and a couple of starting pitchers away. 

Philadelphia Phillies

A playoff team in season one, the Phillies suffered a series of catastrophic injuries last season that forced them to prematurely initiate a youth movement at the major league level.  So as a result the Phillies are the youngest team in the NL East with 16 of their players age 26 and younger.  That being said, the kids are alright.  If they can stay healthy this season Philly should expect to see significant development for many of their young players like Calvin Colangelo, Thomas Bailey, Brian Kim, and Delwyn Owen.  This should also be accomplished without throwing the season away as well as the Phillies starting pitching is while not great, definitely above average and pretty deep.  The lineup also boasts significant power, with 7 of the 8 spots showing 70 or greater power on the HBD SIM Roids scale. 

The big questions for Philadelphia will be their bullpen and team defense.  After trading star CF Manny Martin to Montreal for a major upgrade at C in Felipe Lopez, all the positions up the middle will be manned by players with 1 season or less of ML experience, who are still fine tuning some of their glove skills.   If they can just keep it to an error a game they should be able to have a chance.  As for the pen, they will be relying on a couple of converted starters and some average arm also rans to try and hold it together after the starters do their job.  In all honesty the group can probably expect an unfortunate WHIP in the range of 1.50 or so, but with a little luck that might be different.

All told the Phillies are definitely in better shape then last season and are on track to keep improving, especially with the #4 draft pick this season.  The farm system boasts several top notch prospects in Willie Donnelly and Dan George. and a few other quality players besides.  While the Phillies probably won't challenge the Pirates this season, they are a definite threat in the near future and will probably rebound from last years disastrous season with near .500 ball.

Pittsburgh Pirates

For two seasons the Pirates have been the class of the East, thanks to the impressive bat of Yovani Fuentes and arm of Hugh Downs.  But those two players, along with many of their other top bats and arms, are starting to show their age and at best have perhaps another year or two left in them before some of them start to ride off into the sunset.  So it's now or never for the Pirates as their window is starting to close. 

The Pirates have done a good job of surrounding their talented vets with capable young players such as Rick Coveleski in the bullpen and Francisco Rodriguez in LF.  They also signed veteran 2B Hub Bradley to a very reasonable deal to add additional help in the lineup.  The lineup still remains the best in the East, boasting power and lots of run producing potential, and plenty of protection for Fuentes.  The rotation is clearly the class of the division too, and probably one of the best in the National League, and the bullpen is deep with quality. 

The future is now for the Pirates, who sacrificed their first round draft pick in the Bradley signing.  They have some nice young players in Rodriguez, Coveleski, SP A.J Sewell, and C Luis Bravo.  But while the Pirates minor leagues have some nice players in Chad York, Frank Becker, and Ron Forbes, none of those players will be able to replace the impact of the veterans they may have to replace.  But that being said, the Pirates don't need to replace the guys they have this season, and should repeat as division champs and perhaps make a run in the playoffs with some luck.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals were on alert from their fans and management to have a good season last year or else face league mandated changes and made a huge turnaround, going from a 47 to a 79 win team in just one season.  But they paid a price, having to trade some nice young prospects for aging vets to win immediately.  As a result this years team is a squad in flux, as their best player from last year, Edgar Castillo, is starting to decline and they lost their best pitcher, Juan Rios, in free agency.  There are a slew of young developing players being called up to prove their worth at the ML level, though of them only John Jung is truly ML ready. 

The team is young, and as a result the lineup is still developing.  There are only two top quality bats in Castillo and Jung, and the rest of the lineup tops out at slightly above average.  The pitching staff is also not in the best staff due to the departure of Julio and the decline of Pepper Hayes, who while still good doesn't have quite the stamina to put in as many innings as he used to.  But as was mentioned earlier, the lineup is pretty young and is still improving for the most part, and with the young lineups outside of Pittsburgh competing in the division the Nationals hold up alright.

This is a big year for the Nationals in the draft, with picks at #3, #14, #26, and #52 in the first round.  The Nats took a bit of a risk with their college and high school scouting this season, so if the draft is not deep they might be in trouble, as there aren't any elite prospects in their minors outside of SP Raymond Small who will be impact players in the future.  They should get a can't miss at #3, but will need some luck to make the most out of the rest of their picks to restock the farm system.

Look for the Nationals to compete with the Mets and the Phillies for the right to be runner up to the Pirates.

Final Analysis

Though the winds of change are beginning to blow in the NL East the forecast is still for more of the same, with the Pittsburgh Pirates looking to continue their dominance of the division for at least one more year before the changing temperature causes arthritis to flare up in the bones of some of their aging veterans.  Of the three other teams in the division the Phillies appear to be best situated to compete long term, followed closely by the Mets and then the Nationals.  This season the division should probably shake out the same way, with the MVP Fuentes leading the Pirates to another season of glory.

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