NL East Division preview


Atlanta Braves

When I saw Atlanta on the first day pitchers and catchers took the field under new manager Fredi Gonzalez, there was a cool, confident feeling. Nothing has changed since. Most notable: Third baseman Chipper Jones' knee has improved throughout the spring, center fielder Nate McLouth looks like his old (pre-2010) self and key starters Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are rocking. Last year rookie Jason Heyward was a breakout star, this year Fast Freddie Freeman will play first. Will be interesting to watch the two-headed closer monster operate -- lefty Jonny Venters and righty Craig Kimbrell -- but with a few breaks, this team can take the Phillies. -- Scott Miller

Miller: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Florida Marlins

When I spent time with the Marlins in late February, I wrote about Gaby Sanchez, the first baseman who was very underrated in the NL Rookie of the Year race last year. A few weeks later, I was not surprised to see that when the Marlins were kicking the ball around and playing ugly, it was Sanchez who stood up and aired them out. The guy is solid, on the field and in the clubhouse. But he, ace Josh Johnson, outfielder Mike Stanton and shortstop Hanley Ramirez are not enough. The Marlins lost nine in a row at one point this spring, their usual defensive issues regularly occurred and owner Jeffrey Loria ripped them. That does not bode well for the job security of manager Edwin Rodriguez, and we're not even to opening day yet. Look out, another wild ride is in store. -- Miller

More Division Previews

Miller: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

New York Mets

The Mets spent all spring figuring out how and when to release Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. OK, not really, but there were too many times that the twin soap operas dominated the camp. Too much of the other news wasn't good, either. A week before opening day, Carlos Beltran still hadn't made a single start in the outfield. The Madoff mess means there's no money, and also that continued Wilpon family ownership is in serious doubt. At least Jose Reyes looks healthy, and fragile starters Chris Young and Chris Capuano seem to have made it through camp healthy, as well. Closer Francisco Rodriguez looks healthy, too, but that may only mean that the Mets will need to work harder to make certain that his $17.5 million option for 2012 doesn't vest. -- Danny Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Philadelphia Phillies

Just how many injuries would it take for you to believe that the Phillies won't win the National League East? Two very significant players, second baseman Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge, will open the season on the disabled list, as will Domonic Brown, the supposed successor to Jayson Werth in the outfield. Worse yet, the Phillies can't yet say how soon Utley or Lidge will return or whether Utley's knee and Lidge's shoulder will be issues that keep them from performing at an All-Star level. It's enough to make you wonder, but remember that the Phillies will still begin the season with that Halladay-Lee-Oswalt-Hamels rotation. Instead of riding their offense to midseason contention and then fixing their pitching, maybe this is the year they ride pitching through the first half, then fix the offense. -- Knobler

Knobler: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook

Washington Nationals

It's mostly been a solid spring for Washington, which is rightly emphasizing pitching and defense. But I'd feel better about it if Nyjer Morgan had shown more signs of returning to the player he was in 2009, rather than the slug who played for the Nats in 2010. He said all the right things when I spent time with him in early March about taking responsibility, but then he popped off the other day about where he stands (or, more precisely, doesn't stand) in the Nats' plans. But there definitely is a more professional feel this year with newcomers such as Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Jerry Hairston Jr.., Matt Stairs and Rick Ankiel. Finally, Gold Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is getting some help. Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann will have to do until Stephen Strasburg returns, but the talent level is increasing. -- Miller

Miller: Camp report | Likes and dislikes | Video: Outlook


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