BY : ZAC CORDOVA
After 14 years of owning the NL East, the Atlanta Braves have taken a backseat to the Philadelphia Phillies for the past 5 years. Factoring in the poor personnel decisions by the New York Mets and the low payrolls of the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals, this has been primarily a two team division for the good part of a decade. That will certainly change in 2012, as the Nationals raised payroll to acquire Jayson Werth in 2011, and acquired great young talent in C Wilson Ramos, 2B Danny Espinosa, and SP Stephen Strasburg, and the Marlins also finding payroll to sign vets SS JoseReyes and SP Mark Buerhle to accompany young sluggers Mike Stanton and Hanley Ramirez. The Mets appear to be in rebuilding mode, but the NL East can certainly be won by any of the other four teams. I would not be surprised to see this division become the strongest division in baseball this season, surpassing the pitching deprived AL East.
Three Players that could swing the division:
Marlins SP Josh Johnson- When healthy, and that hasn’t been often, he is one of the ten best pitchers in baseball. The Marlins have a very good lineup, but to compete with the Phillies and Braves, the Marlins are going to need at least 27 starts out of their ace this season. His pre-all star break ERA’s the past three seasons? 2.74, 1.70, and 1.64 last year. New manager Ozzie Guillen will have to manage his pitch counts for the Marlins to have a shot at the division.
Braves OF Jason Heyward- The uber prospect came back down to earth last year, managing only a .227 BA while battling various injuries throughout the season. Much like Josh Johnson, he has battled injury throughout much of his small career. Braves fans, myself included, hope to see talented youngster beat the sophomore slump and revert to the super athletic on base machine that he was his rookie year. His saving grace? He doesn’t turn 23 until August.
Phillies OF John Mayberry Jr- The least known of the three, John Mayberry Jr. could be the difference between the Phillies battling out the division until the end of September, or running away with the division in July. In a lineup that may be on the downside of their careers, Mayberry and fellow outfielder Hunter Pence offer the only dose of potential and upside the old Phillies have to offer. If Howard and Utley can stay healthy and Mayberry can reproduce his 2011 numbers, this division is all but locked up.
Washington C Wilson Ramos- The rookie catcher put a respectable .267/.334/.445 slash line in 2011, while showing some pop with 15 homers. I expect him to improve in OBP and SLG while staying right around the .270 mark in BA. This is the season where he surpasses Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, and challenges Brian McCann for the best catcher in the division.
Prediction: .273/.360/.460 19 Home Runs 70 RBI