The Phillies made it to the World Series in each of the last two seasons and after adding Roy Halladay seem like the favorites to do it again. However, the NL East remains loaded with talented teams. Atlanta has an incredibly deep and talented rotation paired with an improving offense while Florida should be taken very seriously as well. The Mets have had one of the most tumultuous spring trainings in recent memory, but can boast four legitimate stars in their lineup when everyone is healthy. Washington continues to lag behind but has taken baby steps in the right direction.
1. Philadelphia Phillies 93-69
Philadelphia's acquisition of Cliff Lee at the trading deadline last year gave them arguably a more complete team than the one that won the World Championship in 2008. It briefly looked like they would add Roy Halladay to that rotation and be overwhelming favorites to make a third straight trip to the World Series. Trading Lee for three middling prospects while simultaneously acquiring Halladay may be the move that comes back to haunt the Phillies even if they are still the class of their division. This team has no below average hitters and should lead the National League in runs scored this season. Even without Lee they have a formidable rotation, that is both top-heavy (Halladay/Cole Hamels) and deep (J.A. Happ/Joe Blanton). They have speed, power, and play great defense. The back of the bullpen may be a little soft but there is more than enough talent on hand to overcome that one flaw.
2. Atlanta Braves 88-74
It is a shame Atlanta had to trade their best starting pitcher and lose their top two relievers from last season for monetary reasons because this team could have been special with them still around. Still, a full season of Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson combined with uber-prospect Jason Heyward should more than make up for the departures. They may struggle to score runs on occasion with Chipper Jones fading and Brian McCann needing several days off throughout the season, but their pitching should keep them in any game. Unless Jason Heyward is more ready than we think he is and Troy Glaus rekindles some of the old magic he had last decade, Atlanta probably lacks the fire power to compete with Philadelphia.
3. Florida Marlins 84-78
The generally frugal Florida Marlins have started to act like a real baseball team now that a new stadium seems to be on the horizon. They locked up ace starter Josh Johnson and decided to keep second baseman Dan Uggla when no trade market for him ever materialized. They are still led by superstar Hanley Ramirez, one of the best all-around players in the game. Behind him is a solid lineup that features both players with pop (Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross) and those with some on-base skills as well (Chris Coghlan, John Baker). Combine that with a couple young guys at first and in center and you have the potential for some high scoring games. Unfortunately most of them are below average defenders that will not help a young pitching staff that is probably not yet ready to compete for a division title.
4. New York Mets 81-81
The Mets made a big splash on the free-agent market this off-season, signing Jason Bay to fill their void in left-field. While I was not a fan of the signing (because I feel Bay's game is poorly suited to both the Mets and CitiField) he has become very important with Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy out of commission to start the season. However, the Mets' biggest problem probably lies in their pitching staff. Behind ace Johan Santana is a whole lot of uncertainty both within the rotation and bullpen. Even with all of their problems, New York has some of the most talented players in the game and could be dangerous if the pieces fall into place before things get out of hand. Remember, this is almost the same team that people were picking to finish near the top of the division last year, plus Bay, so they are certainly capable of surprising people.
5. Washington Nationals 72-90
The recovery time needed to heal from Major League Baseball's mismanagement of this franchise has been long and arduous. Washington is slowly starting to move in the right direction and may be ready for respectability by the time 2011 comes along. The lineup is actually not that bad, but it is hard to find one pitcher on their opening day roster that could be classified as even "above average." 2010 Should be mostly about developing phenom Stephen Strasburg and getting Jordan Zimmerman healthy. Those two should be the future of this organization along with budding star Ryan Zimmerman. They will have the first overall pick in the draft again this season and whether or not to draft Sports Illustrated cover boy Bryce Harper should be the predominant storyline in the capital... at least when Strasburg is not pitching.