Opening day of the 2011 baseball season is just eight days away. As an overly giddy freak might say, ya-ya-yaah, ya, ya-yah. We’ve already collectively gawked at the NL West, the AL West, the NL Central, and the AL Central. Today, it’s the NL East, former residence of Darryl, Doc, Keith, carefree cocaine use, and a hilarious lack of disregard. Still making this division his home after all these years is the gleeful, but at times violent, Philly Phanatic. Right about now would be the perfect time to light your Mitch Williams wig on fire.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (2010 record: 97-65, 1st place) — In last year’s NL East preview I bizarrely managed to pick the 1-2 finish of this division right down to the exact number of wins for Philly and Atlanta. I don’t expect to repeat that, but I fully expect the Phillies to win their fifth straight division title. The reasons are painfully obvious and impossible to ignore: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, with Doc already in midseason form — just ask Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat. As much as I would love to see it all come crashing down for this team, Doc and Cliffy are far too “rootable” to wish failure upon. What should worry their fans though is the injury to Chase Utley, especially since the Phillies are so worried about the injury to Chase Utley that they went out and signed Luis Castillo, otherwise known as 0.7 WAR and late. Still, even without Utley for a period of time, this lineup won’t be bad enough to consistently screw over the great pitching (see Santana, Johan; 2008). Prediction: 94 wins
2. Atlanta Braves (2010 record: 91-71, 2nd place) — Two questions to answer right off the bat: Yes, Bobby Cox’s signature stormy waddle to the mound will be dearly missed, but the choleric legend will return to Turner Field on August 12 for Bobby Cox Day where his No. 6 jersey will rightfully be retired. Secondly, yes, the Braves have opted to use both Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel as their closers just to fuck with fantasy baseball. Taking over for Jason Heyward in the role of exciting rookie will be first baseman Freddie Freeman, who’s clearly begging for a nickname. At the moment, my heart is set on Freddie Freebird. An area of worry for the Braves might be a defense that committed 126 errors last season, one less than the Nationals and Pirates. I’ll let you guess if those two were tied for dead last. On the bright side, the foursome of Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson will devour innings like a starved El Guapo, which means I like their chances, I just like them a tad less than Philly’s. Prediction: 92 wins
3. Florida Marlins (2010 record: 80-82, 3rd place) — As always, or at least for the last handful of years, the Marlins will be a competitive, feisty team likely to play the familiar role of spoiler in the month of September. They’re not unlike like the very first Susan Ross scholar, the honorable Steven Koren; not showin’ off, not fallin’ behind. While I generally like the starting rotation of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibel Sanchez, Javy “NL” Vazquez, and Chris Volstad, it’s doubtful they all stay healthy enough to raise serious hell in this division. Nolasco has already missed some time this spring due to a sprained thumb and while Sanchez did pitch 195 innings last year, it came after three seasons of throwing just 167 innings combined. Short of Javy miraculously rediscovering his fastball and his actual balls, the Marlins will hover somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 just as they have for the last three seasons. One thing I can confidently say for sure is that you will not regret following Logan Morrison on Twitter. Prediction: 83 wins
4. Washington Nationals (2010 record: 69-93, 5th place) — In the door this season along with Jayson Werth and his _ year, $___ million deal (it’s been written so often anyone can fill in the blanks) comes Adam LaRoche and his 172 strikeouts, though he will kick Chris Carpenter’s ass, former Pirates horse Tom Gorzelanny, Rick Ankiel’s toe tag, and fullback Todd Coffey. Gone are Miguel Batista, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham. Shortstop Ian Desmond has the potential to be exciting, let’s just hope he uses one of those blow-up gloves to improve on the 34 errors he committed in 2010. Guaranteed to be exciting? Nyjer Morgan. Love this shit-stirrer. If nothing else, he has the ability to make insignificant games fascinating. Not to be forgotten, of course, is Stephen Strasburg, who draws as many eyeballs as Kim Kardashian’s life-altering ass. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery but he’ll be back late in the $ea$on to electrify D.C. for a brief stint before another lousy Nationals season comes to a close. Prediciton: 72 wins
5. New York Mets (2010 record: 79-83, 4th place) — Whenever the New York Mets are mentioned, you generally get the sense that this is a franchise that’s been mired in a string of terrible seasons for decades. It’s likely due in part to the media attention, but it mostly just feels that way because of the horrifying manner in which the 2007 (88 wins) and 2008 seasons (89 wins) ended. They’ve really only been a complete trainwreck for the last two years. Sadly, they will be terrible again this year, but a more positive outlook for their fans would be to consider 2011 a season of cleansing. Omar Minaya and his lifetime stock of excuses has been replaced with Sandy Alderson, and they recently rid themselves of the hated Luis Castillo and the immensely hated Oliver Perez. From a public relations standpoint, the release of Perez specifically is a major victory, as it signifies to their fanbase the new regime has a semblance of a clue and at the same time eliminates an embarrassing shower of homefield boos on opening day. Major cash constraints still kept them from signing any notable free agents over the winter, and it gets no better within. The fact that we’re already receiving daily updates from Adam Rubin on Carlos Beltran’s jacuzzi visits and how close to 100 percent he deems himself makes it difficult to blame Mets fans for feeling like they’re trapped in Groundhog Day with Ned Ryerson. One intriguing storyline will be Jose Reyes, who’s in the final year of his contract. It’ll be interesting to see what Alderson decides to do there. Aside from dangling that carrot, expect things to be about as lively as a rat funeral at Fisher & Sons. Prediction: 71 wins, allowing the Nats to ride them for a change
The official song for this division is Europe’s “The Final Countdown” in honor of the Mets current ownership.
[Photos via Getty]