Nationals Baseball: Around the NL East

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Around the NL East

The Nats don't play in a vacuum, or at least they don't until Oreck buys the right to name Nationals Park, to win a spot in the playoffs they are going to have to fight it out in what may be the toughest division in baseball next year.  What's going on over there?

Braves - Injuries have become a big concern for the Braves.  Tim Hudson, who had back surgery in November, is not going to recover in time for Spring Training as originally hoped and is looking more and more like a May return. Tommy Hanson meanwhile, is trying to recover from a Grade 1 (re: mild) concussion he suffered in a car wreck. Hanson should be fine, and they have depth to cover Hudson, but this is not how they hoped to enter the season.  Offensively, Freddy Freeman partially dislocated a kneecap.  Right now all seems ok, but it's the 2nd time he's had this injury.  He'll be in a brace for the immediate future, if not his career.

Marlins - It's all about Josh Johnson.  Ok it's about Reyes and Josh Johnson and maybe Giancarlo but there was no question on whether Jose and "Don't call me Mike" would play.  Josh Johnson, if healthy, is a premier pitcher and all early indications are he's on track to be ready for Opening Day.  First start of Spring went real smooth. In less promising news Anibal Sanchez has some back soreness but no one is worried, and frankly you'd trade a healthy JJ for an injured Anibal every day of the week.

Mets - What a mess.  Thanks to Madoff, the Wilpon's have to pay back 80 mill and have to go to court with a chance to pay up 300 million. Most think they'll win that case, but still it's a distraction.  Meanwhile, David Wright is sitting out with a stiff rib cage and Ike Davis is being treated for Valley fever. (insert "Gag me with a spoon full of medicine" joke here).  Both are still slated to start the season with the team, and Davis is only missing a day or two of work here and there, but it's not an auspicious start for an offense that was average last year and lost their two most productive players. On the good side for the Mets, Johan looks to start next. His quick return to form is crucial. Without him the team's rotation looks alot like the Nats from 2006-2010.

Phillies - As would be expected from a veteran team, a lot of nagging injuries.  All eyes are on Ryan Howard, who tore his achilles making the last out of the NLDS. Things looked optimistic enough a few weeks ago to dream of a pre All-Star break return, but a recent infection makes that more and more unlikely. Utley (knee) and Polanco (hernia) are being brought along slowly but both are expected to play on Opening Day.  Of course, the Phillies are a pitching team first these days and Joe Blanton (the 5th starter) was the only concern coming back from an elbow injury.  He looks fine.

So no early return for Ryan Howard, and with nagging injuries the Phillies could be the SF Giants of the NL East. The Braves also look a little vulnerable now that Tim Hudson is going to be out longer than expected.  The Mets were set to finish 5th and don't appear to have a string of good fortune setting them up for anything else. This is all good news for the Nats.

On the flip side the Marlins appear to be healthy and their one big question mark Josh Johnson looks like he'll be ready Day 1.  That's trouble.  And let's not forget about the Nats own issues with LaRoche still yet to play and Werth not 100%.  The offense can ill afford any bad luck this year given how it struggled last year and no external improvements were made in the offseason.

All in all a good early spring for Nats fans, but not perfect.


RM said...

That's deep analysis.

Harper said...

Psychologically deep.

More just a news recap for those that get laser-focused on the Nats during the Spring. Those hanging on every piece of baseball news will already know all this.

Donald said...

It should be a very exciting division with the Marlins and Nats improving and the Phillies and Braves either treading water or regressing slightly There could be a legitimate 4-team race for the pennant still going on in August. The Marlins should easily be the most improved team. Their home record last year sucked. In a new stadium, if they have a winning record at home and play the same as last year on the road, they'll be close to a 90 win team. I'm getting more excited about Harper. With his youth and hustle, he could provide a spark that was missing last year.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Harper - I hadn't heard about the Braves injuries. I really think the division is there to be competed for. It seems like a lot of the other teams are in the Nats' boat - solid pitching, questionable offense. I expect the NL East games are going to be a lot of 4-2, 3-1, 2-1 kinds of affairs.

Angels12 said...

90 wins just might win this division!

blovy8 said...

I don't buy the Phillies waltzing into another division win, their best position player last year was Victorino, does anyone think he's ever going to be that good again? This is going to be a race.

Anonymous said...

If anything the Braves should progress. Heyward had an off year and the team is young, they will be one of if not the biggest competition for the Nats this year.

Harper said...

Donald - I'd love to see a four-team race and I can see the possibility of it, but I think more likely is one of the Phillies/Braves will pull away at some point.

Anon - The Mets and the Phils were the only offenses in the NL East above ave last year, and both teams lost significant producers. Slugfest should be rare.

Angels12 - would have done in in '07 - still I don't expect the Phillies to fall that far at the same time the Braves don't improve by a couple of games. I'll say 94.

blovy8- no but if Utley can play a full season he's great, and they'll have Pence for the whol year. add in a proper Nix platoon with someone and it's still a decent offense even with Vicotrino retturning to Earth and Howard out.

Anon - The Braves could be the competition but then again I always like the Braves to do better than they do. I'm not sure about Heyward. The talent is there but I'm not sure Fredi knows how to not screw with the kid's head.