We at Walkoff Walk pride ourselves with our annual dabble in Division Preview bloggin'. Not that we promise any factual evidence to support our pitiful prognostications, nor do we even double-check our figures to ensure that the projected wins add up to equal the projected losses.
What's the point? We're just trying to throw some syrupy pancakes at the ceiling and see what sticks, and what flops back down on our heads.
Hope you've enjoyed the ride. This is the final installment for 2010.
The National League East, once a guaranteed gift for the pitching-strong Atlanta Braves in the late 90s and early aughts has become a perennial prize for the powerful Phillies of Philly, with a quick one-year break for the quixotic Queens quagmire. Three straight division championships for the Phils does not equal the eleven straight that the Braves can boast, and yet both teams notched one tidy World Series win. Interesting? Yes. Meaningful? Hard to define. The postseason is a fickle lover, and yet Mets fans would bend over backwards for the mere chance to be jilted in October instead of September, or August, or July...
Also of note: the NL East has not produced a Wild Card winner since 2003, when the Marlins took home the whole pie. I predict that the Western domination of the Wild Card will end in 2010, but in a wacky way that will have young punks everywhere calling for realignment, or redistribution of funds, or both.
Join me now:
5. Washington Nationals
- Stephen Strasburg is the second coming of Tom Seaver, or Bob Gibson, or the Strasbourg Cathedral depending on who you believe. Either way, the young righty is a legend before his first pitch and a prime example of late Gothic architecture. He's a major news story whether or not he even gets called up to the big team later this season. Don't expect him to turn the Nats around just yet, but do expect many, many strikeouts.
- Ryan Zimmerman is entering the prime of his career. Fella will turn 26 this fall and he's got four years of fulltime ML experience under his belt already. Expect thirty homers, an improved OBP, and some terrific glovework at third base for this Virginia Cavalier. Do not expect him to add an extra 'n' to his last name in a show of solidarity with teammate Jordan ZImmermann.
- By throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day, President Obama is going to raise the Nationals profile on an international level, that is, if he chooses to participate in a photo op with the racing Presidents. Because that's what a sitting President of the most powerful nation on Earth does: pose with mascots. Failing that, he can settle for a photo op with the African Queen. Now that'll give him the approval rating bounce!
- Um, they're still the Nationals, and they still employ Livan Hernandez in their starting rotation. With the aforementioned Strasburg at least a year away from contributing, the Nats will muddle along with not-a-Beatle John Lannan, wormballer Jason Marquis, Livan, someone named Craig Stammen, and my old favorite Chien-Ming Wang starting games. For Stammen and Lannan, it might play in Triple-A; for Wang, it might play in Taiwan; and for Livan, it might play in 1997, but it ain't playing in the 2010 NL East.
- Ian Desmond, like Strasburg, was a can't-miss prospect and yet he couldn't find his way into the big league lineup until after he already logged six years in the minors. He may very well prove to be a great middle infielder in the near future, but consider 2010 a learning season. Also, he's not a great hitter to slot in the #2 hole ahead of Zim and Adam Dunn.
- Speaking of Dunn, have you seen these Nats try to field a baseball? Eeee-yuck. Outside of Gold Glove candidates in Zimmerman and CF Tony Plush, we've got some questionable talent here. The Nats obviously didn't get the memo about defense being the new hottness; corner outfielders Willie Harris and Josh Willingham, and the first baseman Dunn will do them no favors.
Predictions: 61-101 record. Manager Jim Riggleman retains his job when no one in the front office has the energy to fill out all the paperwork involved in firing him. Team sets attendance records with tons of new promotions (Bring Your Helper Monkey to the Park! Free Canned Cheese Day!) and turns the Red Porch into an exclusive cocktail club for season ticketholders. Strasburg finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting and buys a Sea Doo.
1. (tie) Florida Marlins
- Hanley Ramirez is one more step in improved defense away from being the best player in baseball. He's increased his OBP every year in the last three seasons, maintained his power, and has not stopped stealing bases. Were Ramirez to make the impossible leap to Gold Glove status, he'd be the quintessential five-tool player and make Albert Pujols take a step down from his well-deserved podium. Or he could make 45 errors and this could all be for naught.
- They have a terrific twosome atop their rotation in Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Last year, they combined to go 28-14 with a tidy FIP of about 3.30 and a whopping 10 WAR between them. No two human beings can stake claim to such amazing sliders since Harold & Kumar's late-night culinary adventure. Shame that they'll both be in the AL East within two years.
- Sassy Senior Jorge Cantu is leading the daily workout program for the Marlins. Now if the team could only persuade him to get the Marlins Manatees in the pool, the fans in Miami might not be forced to endure such a blubbery sideshow.
- Team owner Jeff Loria is neither FDR nor is he Lorenzo de Medici. Rather, he is a dastardly money hoarder and he can be partially blamed for holding back the success of his team. C'mon, Jeff, throw some sheckels at Rick VandenHurk, those early-morning phone calls back to the Netherlands ain't cheap.
- Florida re-acquired Nate Robertson to fill out the fifth starter role. Robertson has never posted a sub-4.50 FIP, but hey, the Tigers are paying his ENTIRE $10 million contract this year. Whatta steal!
- Chris Coghlan's Twitter account is really f**king annoying. I don't know how someone can be so irritatingly Christ-y when he obviously sold his soul to the Dark Lord to win the NL Rookie of the Year over Andrew McCutchen in 2009. Yeah, he can get on base and steal a base and score a run yada yada yada, but how can you root for a guy who tweets crap like this:
Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.
1. (tie) New York Mets
- The top half of the Mets lineup rivals any other lineup in the National League. When healthy and playing together, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jason Bay could combine to smack a hundred homers, steal a hundred bases, and produce 450 runs on their own. Now, Beltran's knees, Reyes' hammy and Bay's affinity for maple syrup and poutine could spell disaster for the team, but this is still one heckuva lineup on paper.
- Billy Wagner is long gone yet the Mets have lots of good bullpen depth. Despite the fact that they overpaid for closer Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets can still bring in some no-name relievers like Raul Valdes to strike out the opposition. Value! And if that fails, they can just bring Tobi Stoner back up.
- His reign is shaky but Johan Santana is still the best pitcher in the National League East. Santana should be in good health this year; give the man 200 innings and he'll strike out the world and get his name back on the Cy Young voting tote board.
- Like a saline-saddled skanky stripper, the Mets' lineup is a tad top-heavy. Past that fearsome foursome, manager Jerry Manuel must pencil in the tepid quartet of Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Luis Castillo, and Rod Barajas ahead of the pitcher's spot.
- The only way the rest of the rotation could look more like a question mark is if they were dressed up like Matthew Lesko for Halloween. Maybe John Maine can be counted on to be serviceable, but I have little to no faith in Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and youngster Jonathon Niese. Niese is recovering from a hamstring he tore up in 2009; give him 2010 to grow as an MLB starter and I'll be sure to upgrade him in my 2011 preview.
- The defense will get
betterless bad. When your best infielder and best outfielder post a UZR of exactly 0, you know your team has the range of an armless, legless motivational speaker.
Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.
1. (tie) Atlanta Braves
- Tim Hudson is healthy. If all goes to plan, the Tommy John surgery will not only have healed his arm but turned him into a bionic pitching machine, unhittable by NL batters and unstoppable by your mere human weapons. Add in Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe and you've got a perfectly good front of your rotation. Nothing too gaudy, but good enough to impress Southern folk.
- I can't find a weak spot in their lineup. Trust me, I tried. As long as leadoff man Nate McLouth shakes his springtime slump and newcomer Melky Cabrera adjusts to the NL well, expect the hitters between the two to produce above the league average. Much rides on the success of cleanup hitter Troy Glaus: can he stay healthy? If not, can Eric Hinske fill in at first? These are not rhetorical questions, I need answers, people.
- Young gentlemen Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward are on the verge of something spectacular. Hanson showed what he could do last year (143 ERA+ in 127 IP) and Heyward currently sits atop everyone's top prospects list. Their combined age is still less than Jamie Moyer's age and their readiness gives the Braves hope not just for the future but for today.
- Chipper Jones is like 77 years old, give or take a dozen. Some day he'll be in the Hall of Fame but right now, he's somewhat of a defensive liability at third base and a big fat question mark in terms of health. His OBP dipped under .400 in 2009 for the first time in five years and he posted his lowest HR/FB rate in a decade. Plus he's gotta play all those games at CitiField! Chances are Jones will still be a productive hitter in the three hole and if he fades, perhaps Jon Sciambi can give him some pointers to improve his swing.
- It's Bobby Cox' final season at the helm. You'd think the nostalgia would give the team an extra boost, and perhaps it will, but Cox' farewell tour has the potential to overshadow the team's success. Or maybe it will provide a useful distraction. I'd just have been happier seeing Cox depart in a more organic way, like walking away quietly at the end of the season or keeling over dead in the middle of being ejected for arguing with an ump.
- The cow is going to become sentient and terrorize the Greater Atlanta area.
Predictions: 87-75 record. See below.
1. (tie) Philadelphia Phillies
- That core of hitters makes your mouth water. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth. To a lesser extent Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Their home park only magnifies the tater tot totalling potential. They could score 900 runs if they played with the DH. Plus they all field pretty well; even Ibanez posted a positive UZR last year!
- Roy Halladay wants to go to the Philadelphia Zoo with you. Big fella is excited to move to a National League contender; not only will his chances of pitching in the postseason for the first time go way up, but he'll get to feast on the pitchers hitting in the nine hole. Twenty-five wins might be a stretch, but expect a spectacular Philly debut with a tidy 3.50 ERA and many, many strikeouts. Expect Cole Hamels to rebound as well.
- A team-related blogosphere representation that is so formidable and so thorough that someone found 65 of them to participate in an NCAA-style bracket. Like the fanbase for the Brewers, the Phillies fans are a devoted sort who will celebrate every victory and deride every loss with the same amount of passion. We at Walkoff Walk make no apologies for our love of the Phillies blogosphere, even when they get a bit obsessed about personal grooming.
- Brad Lidge used up all his goodwill and good luck in 2008. When this guy trots in from the bullpen, you can already feel the homers flying off the bat. I'd call him a headcase but that's an insult to mental patients everywhere. In case Lidge completely breaks down and leaves the game to live on a kibbutz, the Phillies have a decent replacement in Danys Baez who spent 2009 recovering from elbow surgery and pitching for the Orioles. Ick.
- New third baseman Placido Polanco hasn't manned the hot corner for a full season in years. The Phils are basically going from a wildly underrated defensive whiz Pedro Feliz at third to someone who spent the last half decade playing second base. Polanco did it well, but who's to say he won't poison Utley's Tastykakes so he can reclaim his favorite position?
- No HEIST bump this year.
Predictions: 87-75 record. Holy crap, we've got a four-way tie for first in the division! How the heck do you rectify that situation?
Via Baseball-Reference, this is the official MLB rule for a four-way tie in a division or Wild Card race:
Scenario #6: If four Clubs are tied for first place in the Wild Card (or Division) with an identical winning percentage at the conclusion of the championship season and the tied Clubs do not have identical records against one another in the championship season, the tie for the Wild Card (Division) shall be broken as follows:
The four teams will be designated Club "A," "B," "C," and "D" based on a draw by the Office of the Commissioner. Club "A" shall play Club "B" at the ballpark of Club "A" and Club "C" shall play Club "D" at the ballpark of Club "C" on Monday, September 29. The following day (Tuesday, September 30), the winner of these games shall play one game, at the ballpark of Club "A" or Club "B," whichever has won the game between the two. The winner of the third game shall be declared the Wild Card.
Well that's about as clear as a unfiltered craft-brewed hefeweizen! Last year, the general managers voted to end coin flips to determine home field advantage and used various other tiebreakers, like best record in one-run night games played in under 2 hours and 55 minutes. So really, let's say the Phillies host the Marlins and the Braves host the Mets for one game playoffs, and then the winners of those two games meet. The winner gets the division, the loser gets the Wild Card, and the fans of the other two teams are left scratching their heads.
Note: the chances of this happening are about 0.000003%, but if we hit on those lightning-striking odds, you'll be prepared. Prepared to be confused, amirite?
For the sake of completeness, let's say the Phillies win the division and the Braves win the Wild Card, with the Braves beating the Cardinals and Phillies losing to the Rockies in the NLDS. The Braves will sweep the Rockies in the NLCS and then go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees, because that is what Atlanta does best: lose World Serieses to the Yankees.