If the pundits are to be believed, the NL East might as well cancel the season. The Atlanta Braves might have a nice team, but they can't hold a candle to the mighty Philadelphia Phillies. Neither can the Marlins, Mets, or Nationals.
That might sound extreme, but it's not that far off the map. The Phillies are a very good team, one that is capable of dominating this division, no matter how improved it is.
The big question surrounding the Phils is whether or not they can continue to avoid being crippled by injuries. This year, it seems that the injury bug is starting out on their bullpen, but they were a really good team last year despite having a shaky bullpen. Now, that shaky bullpen isn't healthy. Should be interesting to see how it plays out.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
4. N.Y. Mets
The juggernaut: Yeah, the Phils have some issues in their bullpen, but it can't be much worse than it was last year, when closer Brad Lidge had a 7.21 ERA and allowed 72 hits in less than 59 innings. Still, Philadelphia won 93 games and made the World Series. The rotation is bolstered by the addition of Roy Halladay (Cliff Lee threw a ton of innings last year, and it's probably a good thing Philly moved on). Cole Hamels is due for a huge bounceback year, while J.A. Happ and Jamie Moyer are just fine at the bottom of the rotation once Joe Blanton is off the DL. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin will have to fill some huge shoes in the bullpen, but they're capable. The lineup is lethal, led by Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez. This is a 90-win team, even if they aren't much better in the bullpen.
The swan song: Bobby Cox has carved out a legend for himself in Atlanta. He has won nearly 2,500 games (87 wins this season will move him to that mark) and will be done after this season. The team he has should be good enough to contend for a playoff spot, even though they lost pitcher Javier Vasquez and didn't get much from the Yankees in return. Derek Lowe will anchor the rotation, and veteran Tim Hudson should hold down a spot. Youngsters Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens should play huge roles. The signing of Billy Wagner comes with some risk, as Wagner's career has been wrought with arm problems in recent years. Look for rookie Jason Heyward to have an up-and-down season, but the Braves should get solid offense from Brian McCann, Matt Diaz, and Yunel Escobar. They'll be fine.
The rest: Florida should be better, but they're still a low-budget team as they await their new Little Havana ballpark. Their fight against the high-brow Mets should be fun to watch, as New York aims to rebound from an unmitigated disaster that turned the opening of their new ballpark into a season-long hell. A healthy Johan Santana should help a great deal, but the Mets need the rest of their pitching staff to produce better, and they need more out of star third baseman David Wright, who hit just ten home runs last year. Citi Field took the brunt of the blame for that, even though it wasn't like Wright did anything on the road, either. Florida leans on ace pitcher Josh Johnson and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, but they have some intriguing young talent, too. Washington won't be bad enough to lose 100 games, but unless Stephen Strasburg arrives quickly, becomes a star, and multiplies himself, the pitching isn't good enough. Adam Dunn can mash, and Nyjer Morgan is a good table-setter atop the order.