The countdown to first pitch is here. Before too long, we’ll all be enjoying the cool spring air, sites and sounds of the game, and the taste of a cold one washing down the hotdogs. Before all that gets here, it’s time for the annual baseball season preview where I break down division-by-division starting out east with the National League. So here’s what I see happening in the NL East:
Philadelphia Phillies: Their starting rotation is by far the best, with guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Last season, Halladay had a career-high 220 strikeouts to lead and led the NL with eight complete games. Lee had a career-high 238 strikeouts and pitched 232.2 innings.
Unfortunately for anyone facing the Phillies, it doesn’t stop with the pitching. They have some of the best bats in the league with guys like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and John Mayberry, just to name a few.
Rollins is the Philly’s longest-tenured professional athlete and is currently fifth in team history with 1,636 games played, and he’s got plenty left. Howard, the team’s leading slugger, always seems to find a way to carry his success into the postseason, where he’s homered eight times, batting in 33 RBIs in 46 games. On top of that, last year Mayberry had a batting average off .597 and 15 home runs in 104 games.
The Phillies finished last year with a record of 102-60
Atlanta Braves: This team doesn’t have the pitching staff of the Phillies, but its bats are pretty impressive nonetheless. Center fielder Michael Bourn adds a lot of depth and will make a great leadoff man. His speed and quickness adds a volume of depth the club was missing the majority of the year last year. Despite playing hurt last year and undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Chipper Jones still played 126 games, hit 18 HRs, 70 RBIs and had a batting average of .275.
The pitching staff has question marks all over the place. Tim Hudson is the No.1 guy and is coming off back surgery. Tommy Hanson had a hot start last season, but a shoulder injury led him to give up an ERA of 8.10 in five starts of the second half of the season. Jar Jurrjens caught the injury bug as well as a knee injury forced him to miss playing time in September.
Despite all the injuries, the Braves finished the 2011 season with an 89-73 record. Now just imagine what they’re capable of doing at full strength. It’s kind of scary.
Miami Marlins: The theme seems to be “New.” Changing the name, uniforms, logo and ballpark was just the start. Ownership brought in Ozzie Guillen, allowing him to not just get a new boat, but new players for the club as well.
Jose Reyes makes a tremendous leadoff man, giving Miami two of the past three NL champions. Omar Infante is right after Reyes in the lineup where the club hopes he can allow Reyes to gain extra bases thanks to sac bunts. Last year, Infante led the league with 17 sacrifice bunts.
Josh Johnson is starting ace who has turned a lot of heads. The problem is he hasn’t been able to live up to expectations due to elbow and shoulder injuries. Mark Buehrie hopes to add to his 11 consecutive seasons of at least 200 innings. Anibal Sanchez led the Marlins last season in ERA and was sixth in league in strikeouts.
Last year’s club finished with a record of 72-90, and because everything is new and the division is rough, Miami will likely be competing to avoid the basement of the NL East.
Washington Nationals: Last season was the best year for the club since moving to Washington and probably even much further back than that. Like others in the division, this team is looking to redeem itself after injuries.
The team is young, both at bat and in its pitching staff. Ian Desmond is the leadoff man. His batting average improved to .253 and he expects it to increase from that.
Jayson Werth is second in the lineup and will have to show his worth. He finished last season with a .232 batting average and 20 HRs, coming after signing a $126 million deal. Ryan Zimmerman missed 61 games last year and is looking for another big year after having abdominal surgery. Michael Morse looks to add to his already-impressive batting average of .303 and 31 HRs.
Adam LaRoche is returning from back surgery and if healthy, he’s expected to have a batting average of .265 and hit at least 20 homers. Wilson Romas finished in fourth place for Rookie of the Year in NL and could be good for another solid 20 homers.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years already since Stephen Strasburg merged onto the scene. Now, he’ll emerge back on the scene. Expectations are high for the young ace as he’s expected to pitch about 150 innings and it’s not unlikely that he’ll average at least 1 K per inning.
Other pitchers include Gio Gonzalez who came over from Oakland where he won 31 games in the last two years and Jordan Zimmerman. His ERA of 3.18 ranked 10th in the NL, but he’s coming off Tommy John Surgery.
New York Mets: It would be amazing enough if this team were to finish anywhere but last in the division. Injuries have gotten the best of them in recent years. If there is a bright side, it’s that things can only look up at some point, but it might be a while.
Jason Bay came over from Boston and is the big name in the batting rotation. He’s hit 18 homers in two seasons with the Mets, that’s half of what he did when playing for the Red Sox.
Johan Santana is the big name on the pitching staff and will be the staring ace. He is coming off shoulder surgery though, so that’ll leave a major question mark.
Whether on the mound or in the field, other guys have taken a shot at more playing time for the Mets and have been unable to make a splash. That’s how we can expect this year’s Mets’ season to unfold. They finished 2011 with a record of 77-85 which actually sounds pretty good for them this year.
This post originally appeared on thehaguesports.com. Check it out for more clever sports commentary.