From Left Field: Is Last Place Inevitable?
To answer the title question bluntly: Absolutely not.
You have to play the games first before determining where a team will finish in the standings.
But certainly on paper, the Mets appear to be the weakest link of the NL East heading into this season.
Based on the offseason moves of the other teams, the NL East has the potential to rival the AL East as the top division in baseball.
Let’s start with the Phillies. When you have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels atop your starting rotation, anything short of a World Series berth is considered a failure. Philadelphia experienced an early playoff exit against the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, so expect the Phils to come out strong in 2012.
They added lights out closer Jonathan Papelbon to the bullpen, which was the team’s major offseason acquisition. Ryan Howard will miss time early on, but the team should be able to provide enough offense in his absence.
Now onto the Braves. Trade rumors surrounded the Braves all offseason, but the team decided to hang onto Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. The team’s starting pitching is almost as good as the Phillies, with youngsters Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy ready to step up.
If everyone stays healthy, the Braves should be able to put runs on the board. Atlanta’s bullpen can also be deadly.
The talk of the offseason in the NL East was the Miami Marlins. Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano will lead the charge into the team’s new ballpark.
But don’t forget the team’s young talented players such as Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio. If everything clicks for this team, Miami can challenge Philadelphia for supremacy in the division.
Finally, where are the Washington Nationals getting all this money?
The team locked up electric starter Gio Gonzalez long-term and is also in the mix for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. Even without Fielder, the Nats have significantly improved.
A full season of Stephen Strasburg will be fun to watch, even as a Mets fan. What’s scary about the Nationals is that they have two stud prospects—Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon—waiting in the wings.
If they sign Fielder, watch out. The team took positive strides last season en route to a third place finish, so it’s safe to say that with the improvements, the Nats can compete for a higher slot.
And of course there’s our beloved Mets. The Amazins’ improved the bullpen with Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez. Andres Torres will be the main addition to starting lineup, but Ike Davis will also hopefully stay healthy all year to provide some offensive punch.
David Wright and Jason Bay will be back for the time being, and the team is banking on youngsters Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada to be major contributors.
The Mets starting pitching can be solid if each player pitches to his potential and the team gets Johan Santana back. If not, the team’s offense may not be able to bail out its starters like the team in the Bronx is able to do consistently.
As I predicted several weeks back, I see the Mets finishing in fourth place in the NL East. Though they look like the worst team on paper, maybe they can turn a few heads, or maybe one of the other four teams will tank. Hopefully, it’s the Marlins, which would prove that you can’t buy championships.
About the Author: Jim Mancari
Jim Mancari hails from Massapequa, N.Y. He recently earned a Master's degree in Journalism at Hofstra University. He is a devout Mets fan and takes pride in his team, despite their lack of success over the last few years. Like all Mets fans, Jim has plenty of hope. He also writes as the sports reporter for the Brooklyn Tablet newspaper and the senior editor of metroBASEBALL Magazine. Click my name to view my personal website.
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