March 17, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) connects during the sixth inning of the spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Atlanta won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

2012 MLB Division Preview: National League East


Since the New York Mets broke the tight hold that the Atlanta Braves had on the National League East division, the Philadelphia Phillies have been dominating, representing the division in the MLB postseason the last five years in a row. Once again, Philadelphia seems to be favored to be on top in 2012, but the Marlins and Nationals made headlines this winter with trades and free agent signings that are bringing them into the conversation with Philly and Atlanta. Let’s take a closer look at what each team has to do to contend for a playoff spot in 2012.

Philadelphia Phillies

Best Case Scenario:

Over the last couple of years, pitching has never been a problem for the Philadelphia Phillies. I mean, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels as your top three starters, life is good. What’s the best thing that could happen for the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel? Ryan Howard will come back from his Achilles injury sooner than expected, and Chase Utley will return not too long after Opening Day and be the type of player that he was from 2005-2010, when he was a five time All-Star. Hunter Pence will continue to play like he did after the Astros traded him to Philly, and Jonathan Papelbon will make everyone forget about Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge closing out games.

March 14, 2012; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) in the dugout against the Minnesota Twins at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE Lidge with his ability to close out games.

Worst Case Scenario:

Since the Phillies have been so good over the last few years and have been so fortunate with certain situations, it’s almost hard to think about a worst case scenario, but they are on the verge of that this year. Ryan Howard has already been experiencing a few setbacks during the recovery from his Achilles injury, and even though Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton to fill in, if they are still filling in by June, there will be a problem. The chronic knee problems that have been plaguing Chase Utley can get worse, having another subpar year and putting his career in jeopardy. Jonathan Papelbon doesn’t get the ball down in the zone and only throws fastballs, which leads him to getting lit up. Being able to close out games is what set the Phillies a part from the rest of the division, and if that backfires, then there could be a problem on their hands.

Storyline to watch for:

Cole Hamels and any contract negotiations that go on between him and Philadelphia. The southpaw has an impressive resume and will be looking to be paid like the elite pitchers in the league, and the other two pitchers in his rotation. Rumors have spread that Hamels wants what he feels he deserves, and is not willing to take a hometown discount to stay with the Phillies. If negotiations happen mid-season, there could be some issues between the two parties.

A detailed season preview on the Philadelphia Phillies by Justin Klugh will be hitting Call to the Pen on April 2nd; make sure you stop by and see what the outlook is for the five-time defending NL East champions!

Atlanta Braves

Best Case Scenario:

Before the Atlanta Braves embarked on their epic collapse which left them golfing while the St. Louis Cardinals were busy winning the World Series, they actually had the fourth best record in the National League. They were able to do this with Jason Heyward not performing up to the standard he set in 2010 and Dan Uggla not even hitting his weight until the middle of July. The best thing that could happen for this organization is that they have these two cogs in their lineup rake all year long. This will include a somewhat healthy Chipper Jones (which seems to be an oxymoron these days), the consistency from a very young rotation that is headlined by Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, and Craig Kimbrel continuing to pull the train into domination station in the 9th inning.

March 18, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (10) against the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at Disney Wide World of Sports complex. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Worst Case Scenario:

Well, last year’s September collapse seemed like that worst that could happen, but it could happen again. The 2007 Mets collapsed, and then decided not to make any major personnel changes over the offseason, then, well you know what happened. Chipper Jones already had knee surgery this spring; although it was an arthroscopic procedure and he’ll only be out three weeks, questions have already been raised as to whether he can make it through an entire season. Craig Kimbrel was superb as the closer last year, but he may have been overworked by the end of the season, which could spell disaster for the back end of the bullpen this year. This division is very deep with most of the teams making moves when the Braves stayed put. Most other teams improving themselves and Atlanta not doing anything will prove costly.

Storyline to watch for:

The whole Chipper Jones ordeal is something worth keeping an eye on. There is no doubt that the 19-year veteran is one of the best switch hitters in MLB history. Heck, he has the third highest amount of career home runs (454) all-time, trailing only Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle. However, he’s had more things to handle off the field this Spring than he would have liked to. First, he joked that he wasn’t sure if his knees could go through another season, and everyone took him seriously. After that died down, he announced 2012 would be his last, then proceeded to tear the meniscus in his left knee and had to get surgery. My over/under for number of games he plays in is 100. Personally, I’m going with the under.

How will the Braves be able to recover from their historic collapse in 2011? What did they do to make sure 2012 won’t end with history repeating itself? Justin Klugh is at it again with his season preview of Atlanta.

Washington Nationals

Best Case Scenario:

The Nationals had their best season in the nation’s capital since they moved from Montreal before the 2005 season, and are looking to build on that momentum. For this team to be successful in 2012, new pitching acquisitions Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson will help stabilize a rotation led by Stephen Strasburg, who should be allowed to not have an innings limit this year. Offensively, Michael Morse will continue his emergence as one of the better power hitters in the division, Adam LaRoche will stay healthy, and Ian Desmond will

March 16, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder

show that he is a true lead off man and table setter with Danny Espinosa at the top of the order. Also, Jayson Werth will be able to show Nats fans that last year was a fluke and he will produce the types of numbers he had while he was manning right field for the Phillies.

Worst Case Scenario:

Both the offense and defense have questions that may not be answered by the players, but the bigger questions are on the offensive side of the house. People associated with the organization are 50-50 as to whether Ian Desmond is the right player to lead off for this team because of his inability to draw walks to this point in his career. Michael Morse is switching back to the outfield, and his production will decrease dramatically because he was much more comfortable at first base since he is a natural infielder. Jayson Werth is best used a complimentary part, and even though there are good pieces around him in the lineup, Davey Johnson is still asking him to be “the man,” which will backfire.

Storyline to watch for:

The man, the myth, the legend. Yes, I’m talking about Bryce Harper. The 19-year-old phenom is entering his second professional season in AAA and once he gets enough playing time out in center field, it will only be a matter of time before he gets the call to the Major Leagues. Fans are itching for Harper to make his big league debut, much like they were when Stephen Strasburg was called up. If this team is struggling or hovering around .500 a month into the season, bringing Harper up could be the spark plug that this team would need to jump into contention. He brings this aurora with him where ever he goes, and he will be watched with a close eye by everyone all year long.

Want to see exactly what the Nationals did this year and what their outlook is for the upcoming season? Check out Call to the Pen’s season preview of Washington, done by yours truly.

New York Mets

Best Case Scenario:

The last few years for the Mets have been pretty tough. What could possibly be the best case scenario? Everyone staying healthy and playing up to the expectations of the organization. Johan Santana is back after missing all of 2011, and he will show no ill signs of his injury and start 30 games. David Wright is undoubtedly the leader on the field for the everyday players and he will show that last year was truly a freak injury and play 150 games and put up 25 home runs and 90 RBI. Ike

March 27, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets third baseman David Wright (5) at bat against the Atlanta Braves during a spring training game at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Davis will be the best cleanup hitter since Mike Piazza, Jason Bay will find that power stroke he had in Boston, and Lucas Duda will show that he’s ready for the big stage. Most of all, the revamped bullpen will hold leads in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

Worst Case Scenario:

Can it really get any worse? Not in the eyes of Mets fans. However, if players like Johan Santana and David Wright get hurt again and aren’t able to play for extended periods of time, there won’t be much of a reason to come and watch them at Citi Field. Or, the unthinkable can happen; with the team under performing, Sandy Alderson could trade away Wright, which would throw most fans into anarchy mode. When Terry Collins’ starters were out of the lineup last season, the young guys like Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada filled in nicely. Now, Tejada has to replace Jose Reyes, which will be no small task, Daniel Murphy will try not to get hurt playing second base, and Andres Torres has to get used to playing in New York. With so many changes in the middle of the field, which are the most important positions, this could spell disaster for New York.

Storyline to watch for:

Without a doubt, the story to watch for this year is going to be what the front office and ownership decides to do with David Wright. The Mets’ third baseman has said multiple times that he wants to stay in New York for the duration of his career. Alderson has said that the team’s performance will not have any bearing on Wright’s future with the organization, but he said things like that for Jose Reyes and we saw what happened there. If he tears up opposing pitching in the first half, a team may be willing to offer a lot take him for a three-month rental to help them get to the postseason. This will be an interesting, and ongoing story throughout the season.

Chris Carelli’s preview of the 2012 Mets details what people are expecting the New York to do this year. Mets fans, read with caution, because the truth hurts.

Miami Marlins

Best Case Scenario:

After seeing the Marlins do something this off season that they have never done before, spending money, the best case scenario for this team is to see all of their investments in players turn into a playoff contending team. Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes will get along just fine on the left side of the infield and each play 150 games; Mark Buehrle will continue to be a work horse; Heath Bell will shut the door in the 9th inning on a nightly basis. Ozzie Guillen will not blow up on anyone (too badly), Giancarlo Stanton will become a premier power hitter, and their beautiful ballpark in downtown Miami will fill up daily because of the improved product on the field.

Worst Case Scenario:

Even though the Marlins front office had a productive winter, they have been criticized by some about how they went about these free

March 19, 2012; Jupiter FL, USA; Miami Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes (7) tosses his bat after drawing a walk in the first inning against the Houston Astros during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

agent signings. One of the biggest mistakes that they made was not approach Hanley Ramirez about a possible position change due to their interest in Jose Reyes. What’s the worst that could happen this year for the Marlins? The players were used to the laid back, but stern nature of Jack McKeon last year, so the players don’t like the fiery personality that is Ozzie Guillen. Jose Reyes will continue his frequent trips to the disabled list, and Hanley Ramirez will finally explode about not being a shortstop anymore and will ask to be traded. Even though they have a beautiful, state-of-the-art stadium, fans will continue not coming to the games, making it look like a huge waste of money.

Storyline to watch for:

This has been a constant throughout each of these topics, but the storyline to watch this year is the relationship between Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. Before Reyes signed his six-year deal dethrone Hanley at shortstop, he was the face of the franchise. Even though he said he has no problem moving to third base, I find that very hard to believe. The minute Reyes or the team starts to struggle, Ramirez could start to stir some trouble, which he has been known to do in the past.

To get a more in depth look at what the Marlins did during this past winter and where they’re projected to head, check out Justin Klugh’s season preview for Miami.

National League East Team Predictions

Most Improved team: Washington Nationals

Least Improved team: New York Mets

Team most likely to surprise: Washington Nationals

Team most likely to disappoint: Miami Marlins

Division Winner: Philadelphia Phillies

National League East Player Predictions

Best Hitter: Jason Heyward

Best Pitcher: Roy Halladay

Top Rookie: Bryce Harper

Comeback Player: Johan Santana

Top Newcomer: Gio Gonzalez

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Miami Marlins MLB Opening Day 2012 New York Mets NL East Philadelphia Phillies Washington Nationals