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state-of-the-nl-east | April | 2007 Articles

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State of the NL East

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All throughout this offseason, I was reading that the Phillies and Braves were the team to beat and seeing all the predictions saying the Braves will once again finish below New York and Philadelphia. In fact, the only major baseball analyst I can remember saying watch out for the Braves was Peter Gammons. Now the Braves have swept the Phillies, the Mets have swept St. Louis, and the two teams atop the NL East are on a collision course to establish early dominance of one of the most competitive divisions in all baseball. These series, especially the Braves-Phillies really highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both the teams. The Braves came into Philly and showcased their pitching. After a 4.60 team ERA last season, the Braves have begun this season with a 2.10 ERA including a 2.77 ERA from the bullpen. Hudson looked like the Hudson of old with a lot of grounders, Smoltz was solid and actually got hosed a bit when they didn't charge an error on Kelly Johnson's drop that cost 2 runs, and Chuck James was very impressive. The offense sputtered a bit at the start with timely homeruns from Edgar Renteria and Brian McCann that saved the first two games, but Thorman and the rest of the offense caught fire to support those two in the last game. Defensively, no one in baseball matches up to Langerhans, Jones, and Francouer in baseball, but the infield defense is nothing to write home about. The Phillies did a good job of exposing their biggest whole; the bullpen. Gordon blew his only save opportunity and the bullpen's ERA for the first two games, which the pen blew was 7.11. They just picked up Frank Rosario, a power arm who failed to make the Blue Jays, but that just knocks Joe Bisenius who was one of the most impressive of their relievers out of the pen. Another problem was Ryan Howard. After winning the MVP last season and putting up monstrous numbers, he hasn't found his stroke in spring training or the beginning of this season. Howard was 2/11 with 4 Ks, and without production from him in the middle of this order, they struggle to be mediocre. Brett Myers was pretty good on opening day and Cole Hamels was absolutely incredible, but the Phillies have run into the same problem we had last year... they aren't going to always go 9 innings. The Mets constitute the biggest threat to the Braves this season. They have undoubtedly the best offense in the NL and absolutely dominated the defending champion Cardinals in a three-game sweep. They outscored the Cardinals 20-2 over those three games with John Maine tossing the most impressive start of the three games. The Mets can hit and will hit, that is to be expected. I don't know that I can trust anything about these pitching stats. Not to say they will be bad this year, but the Cardinals were just awful and I am not sure, but a 0.67 ERA just doesn't seem to really represent them. This is a case of a small sample size, but still we see that the top of their rotation is going to keep them in games. As of now the Mets don't have an "ace". Basically they have a number two starter and two number threes in the first spot, but it is the back end where it gets bad. Perez has great stuff, but he has one good full major league season and his last 2 are so bad that it is a little surprising he is still in the majors with a 5.85 and 6.55 ERA respectively the past two seasons. His hits haven't been awful and he still has good strikeout rates, but his amount of HRs and walks make it look like they just pulled up someone from little league and stuck him on the mound. I'm interested to see Pelfrey pitch. Right now he is slated as the fifth starter, but the scouting report is that he lost his dominant breaking ball and change that he had in college and just really has been living off the fastball in the minors. The problem is that major league hitters are going to wait on that fastball. The bullpen is good, but losing Duaner Sanchez was a huge hit. Ambiorix Burgos is the most intriguing of their pitchers, but we probably won't see him in any pressure situations as they try and build back his confidence from last season when he got rocked as the Kansas City closer. The Phillies have huge holes in their pen and New York has huge holes in the rotation. While the Braves don't possess the lethal Mets offense, they really look to be the only complete team out of these three. Before Sanchez went down for basically the entire season I predicted a Mets-Braves finish, but now that he is I am going to flip that around.

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