2011 NL East preview

The 2010-2011 baseball off-season was full of excitement within the National League East. The defending champion Philadelphia Phillies made headlines with their acquisition of Cliff Lee. Jayson Werth’s contract expired and entered the free agent market to be signed by the exciting Washington Nationals.  And the Marlins and Braves made a major trade sending slugger Dan Uggla to Atlanta. The New York Mets had a relatively quiet off-season, recently garnering attention with the release of veteran second baseman, Luis Castillo.

The clear favorite in the NL East heading into opening week is Philadelphia. With several all-stars in their prime, the Phillies are always a possible World Series contender. But they have been recently marred by injuries, most notably Chase Utley. Utley suffered a knee injury, which may require surgery, meaning he could be out for a few months. Closer Brad Lidge will start the season on the disabled list with an arm injury. And the young outfielder Dominic Brown is out indefinitely with a broken bone.

The Braves have revamped starting from the top this year with new manager Fredi Gonzalez. All-star second baseman Dan Uggla rejoins Gonzalez, who managed the Marlins for three and a half seasons, in Atlanta. The Braves led the division for the majority of the 2010 season, and made the playoffs as a wild-card. They have proven to be serious contenders with Philadelphia for the division crown.

The Florida Marlins are always interesting when it comes to their low-budget style of baseball. Instead of going deep into negotiations with Uggla about a long-term contract, they traded him away.  In return the Marlins acquired infielder Omar Infante and a bullpen prospect in Mike Dunn. Replacing a 30 home run, 100 RBI player is not an easy thing to do, but with Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, and Chris Coghlan all gaining experience, the Marlins will be an interesting team to watch in 2011.

In D.C., the Nationals have added all-star Jayson Werth to their lineup. He has proven to be an exciting player and will help put fans in the seats in the nation’s capital. Washington hopes to greatly improve their defense this season. Young stars, Danny Espinsoa and Ian Desmond will hopefully help with that. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are on the horizon for this young team, so come 2012, the Nats will be a serious threat.

The New York Mets haven’t changed a whole lot since last season. Their recent downfall has been the opposite of the rest of the division. The other four teams all seem to be heating up as a result of young prospects, big name players, and on-field success. The Mets seem to be lacking in all three categories as the season approaches. They have also been distracted this off-season by their ownership mystery. But this pesky franchise may surprise in 2011.

My analysis: The Phillies and Braves will race all year for the top spot in the East. The Braves will ultimately win it, with the Phillies finishing second, Marlins third, Nationals fourth, and the Mets last. It will be fun to watch this year and see who can win this tough division.

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