My Prediction For The NL East

Sports Illustrated's preview issue hits newsstands today, with the entire Phillies rotation on the cover. Unsurprisingly, SI is picking Philadelphia to win the division: 

1. Phillies (93-69)
2. Braves (89-73)
3. Marlins (85-77)
4. Nationals (75-87)
5. Mets (74-88)

Here's my prediction:

1. Braves
2. Mets (wild card, sweep the playoffs)
3. Marlins 
4. Phillies
5. Nationals

First, let's cover the obvious: the Nationals are horrible and last place is theirs. In spite of drafting two supposed generational talents, the on-field product shows little sign of improvement. Livan Hernandez, arguably the worst player of any sport in the history of this planet and any other planet yet to be discovered, is their Opening Day starter.

Now onto the crux of my prediction: I don't think the Phillies are necessarily bad. But in order to be the powerhouse everyone expects, they will have to basically become the 2005 White Sox.  Each of their four non-Blanton starters will need to log huge innings to make up for an unimpressive offense. And given the inherent frequency of pitching injuries and the ages of Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt, the smarter bet seems to be on that not happening. The extent of their pitching depth is Kyle Kendrick, the white Livan Hernandez.

The Phillies line up without Chase Utley is reminiscent of the Minaya-Mets:

C. Ruiz/ 1B. Howard/ 2B. Castillo/Valdez/ SS. Rollins/ 3B. Polanco/LF. Ibanez/ CF. Victorino/ RF. Francisco/Mayberry

Notice it features the two biggest defensive sink holes still free to walk the streets: Luis Castillo and Raul Ibanez.

Assuming there's nothing scandalous about picking the Braves, I'll justify my putting the Mets at second. The past four years, the Mets biggest failure has been horrible in-season management. Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel not only failed to improve the team on the fly, they orchestrated incredible acts of sabotage. I'm going to just start listing names and you can stop reading when your head hurts.

The Omar Minaya memorial list:
The Mets rotation also figures to greatly exceed expectations. Analysts too often assume a pitcher is uniquely at risk because of his medical history. Pitching is an unnatural act, no matter who does it. Chris Capuano could pitch 200 innings next season and I wouldn't be too shocked. 

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