Opening Day is almost here. Major League Baseball began the season in Japan as the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics played a two-game series in Tokyo. The rest of the league starts on April 4th. The Arizona Diamondbacks with begin their NL West defense on April 6th at Chase Field against the San Francisco Giants. I will be providing division previews, leading up to DBacks home opener, continuing with the American League West.
Atlanta should be sending thank you cards to Boston. If not for the Red Sox collapse, all of baseball would be talking about the Braves meltdown. After all, Atlanta lead the Wild Card by 8.5 (Red Sox lead by 9) before wilting that lead away to the eventual World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals.
The Braves, however, are in a better position to rebound than Boston, mainly because of Atlanta’s pitching. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor might be the best rotation, top to bottom, in the NL East, which is saying something and the Braves arguably the best bullpen in the National League.
If the Atlanta rebounds, it will be large part due to turnaround seasons from Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Both players are key to the Braves success in 2012.
Overrated: LF Martin Prado – It’s easy to blame Prado’s disappointing 2011 on the five weeks he missed due to a staph infection, but there’s more to it that just that. Atlanta mistakenly moved Prado into the outfield, where he proved he cannot play. Prado is better suited in the infield, so don’t be surprised if he loses his spot in the lineup to Matt Diaz or Jose Constanza.
Underrated: 1B Freddie Freeman – It’s hard to say the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up is underrated, but Freddie Freeman is easy to overlook in this lineup. Freeman lead the Braves in batting average in his first season in the big leagues, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 76 runs. Expect similar numbers in his sophomore year.
The Florida Marlins received a much-needed facelift over the off-season. Yes, the Marlins franchise has won two World Series, but the team struggled to build its fan base at Sun Life Stadium.
With the move into a brand new stadium, the franchise changed its named and made a splurge in the off-season. The charismatic Ozzie Guillen takes over as the new skipper. After flirting with Albert Pujols, the Marlins ended up spending $191 million on three players, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
The Marlins are hoping for big success in 2012, anything short of the playoffs would be considered a disappointment. However, Miami is not quite there. This team needs time to gel before making a playoff run.
Overrated: SP Carlos Zambrano – Picking an overrated player on the Marlins came down to a choice between Hanley Ramirez or Carlos Zambrano. I went with Big Z for the obvious reasons. There’s no doubt that Zambrano has the talent to pitch successfully in the Majors. However, the baggage he brings is not worth the trouble. I’m setting the over/under for Big Z’s first meltdown at 75 days.
Underrated: UTL Emilo Bonifacio - Bonifacio is valuable to the Marlins because of his versatility. In 2011, the 26-year-old played everywhere but catcher and first base while batting .296 with 36 RBI and 40 stolen bases. His numbers might go down with the addition of Reyes, but he’s still a key figure for the Marlins.
New York Mets
The New York Mets are a mess. Ownership is still recovering from the Bernie Madoff scandal and attendance continues to decline at Citi Field. With every other team improving in the off-season, the Mets are destined to finish in the cellar of the NL East.
Overrated: LF Jason Bay – Since signing with the Mets in 2010, Jason Bay has hit a total of 18 home runs. For those counting at home, that’s half his total from his 2009 season with the Boston Red Sox. Bay has been an utter disappointment, with no turnaround in sight.
Underrated: 3B David Wright – David Wright gets ripped all the time (including his owner) for not being a superstar. I don’t buy that. Yes, Wright’s numbers have decreased in the new Citi Field, but he’s still one of the best third baseman in the game, when healthy. In new lower fences should he Wright return to his previous numbers.
The Philadelphia Phillies are still the cream of the crop in the NL East, but the decline is on the horizon. Over the past four years the Phillies have gone from winning the World Series, to losing in the World Series, to losing the the NLCS and then losing in the NLDS last year.
How did it happen? One word: Offense.
Philadelphia scored an MLB-low 529 runs in 2011. This season, the Phillies will start the season without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The pitching staff will carry this team to the postseason, but aspirations of another World Series championship are longer gone.
Overrated: SP Joe Blanton – Joe Blanton spent most of the 2011 rehabbing from an elbow injury. But even before that, he wasn’t very good. Blanton has only posted an ERA below 4.00 twice in his eight year career. Blanton could lose his spot in the rotation to Kyle Kendrick later in the season.
Underrated: CF Shane Victorino – What hasn’t been said about Shane Victorino? The dude can play baseball and he plays hard. While Victorino is more known for his defense (no errors in 2011), he still has to be respected at the plate. The two-time All Star had a career-high .867 OPS and hit17 home runs last season. His gritty play makes him a fan-favorite in Philly.
The Washington Nationals won 80 games for the first time since their move to our nation’s capital in 2011. With the front office making several improvements to the club in the offseason, some believe the Nationals can contend for the NL East crown this season.
That may be premature, but you can certainly understand why. Washington has a nice mix of veterans and emerging stars on its Opening Day roster. Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche are professionals and will help the development of Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse.
Of course the attention is fall on the Nationals two biggest stars, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. With Harper starting in the minors and an innings limit on Strasburg, Washington might not reach the playoffs this season, but the Nationals are definitely on the verge.
Overrated: SS Ian Desmond – The one weakness in the Nationals lineup is their leadoff man. Last season Washington lead-off hitters batted .285, the lowest mark in the Majors. Desmond gets the first opportunity this year, but don’t expect a different result. Not to mention, Desmond has committed 57 errors over the past two seasons.
Underrated: SP Jordan Zimmermann – The 25-year-old righter isn’t even the most popular Zimmermann on his own team. Strasburg and the other Zimmerman (one n, not two) steal most of the spotlight in DC. Jordan Zimmermann was only 8-11, but that’s very deceiving. Zimmerman struck out 124 batters and had a 3.18 ERA in 2011. If he gets runs support this season, Zimmermann is more than capable of winning 15-plus games.
1 – Philadelphia Phillies 87-75
2 – Atlanta Braves 86-76
3 – Washington Nationals 83-79
4 – Florida Marlins 80-82
5 – New York Mets 69-93