2010 Season Review: NL East

MlbHlSqThe National League East has been home to the Senior Circuit’s World Series representative over the past two seasons.  That wasn’t the case in 2010; however the division still produced much intrigue, action and excitement.

BaseballGB predictions

Joe Braves (WC: Phillies)
Mark Phillies
Matt Phillies (WC: Braves)
Russ Phillies
Steve Braves (WC: Phillies)

 

Philadelphia Phillies (97–65)

It almost went to plan for the Phillies.  They won more games than any other team in the Major Leagues on their way to their fourth straight NL East title.  Roy Halladay, their major offseason addition, took to the National League with ease, winning his second Cy Young award and pitching a perfect game against the Marlins.  He then pitched a no-hitter against the Reds in his first ever postseason start as the Phillies swept Cincinnati to make it to the National League Championship Series.

But the story ended there.  Despite being favourites to beat the San Francisco Giants, the Phillies’ hopes of getting to a third straight World Series were dashed.

There really wasn’t much more that the Phillies could have done.  Questions will always be asked about whether they could have signed Halladay and kept Cliff Lee, although Roy Oswalt proved a more than able replacement when he was signed from the Astros at the end of July.  Cole Hamels also had a great bounceback season to give the Phillies a formidable trio of starting pitchers.

The offence was good as well, although it wasn’t quite the powerhouse of previous seasons and that told in the end.  Chase Utley battled through some injuries, Ryan Howard was good rather than great and Jimmy Rollins followed up his 2009 struggles with a season defined by injuries and relative ineffectiveness.  The one man who held it all together was Jayson Werth and he has recently capitalized on his ‘walk year’ performance by signing a lucrative deal with the Nationals. 

Despite their excellent pitching, the Phillies will need Utley, Rollins and Howard to return to previous form in 2011 or their reign at the top of the NL East may come to an end. 

Atlanta Braves (91-71)

2010 for the Braves was about giving legendary manager Bobby Cox a fitting send-off in his final season in charge in Atlanta. 

The fairytale had Cox leaving the field for the last time celebrating a World Series, but Cox knew as well as anyone that baseball doesn’t always work out that way.  Instead, Cox’s career, and the Braves’ season, ended with a 3-1 National League Division Series defeat to the Giants.  While fans in San Francisco will cherish the on-the-field celebrations by their team after winning the World Series, their classy decision to curtail their NLDS-winning joy to applaud Cox from the field will live in the memory longer for the rest of us.

Entering the year, there were some doubts as to whether the Braves had added enough talent to make their manager’s last year a winning one.  Those fears seemed a long way off in the middle of July as the Braves led the division by seven games, but injuries, not least with Chipper Jones breaking down again, hit them hard.  They went 14-16 from 1 September and only just held on to the Wild Card, at least giving Cox one last postseason

As one Braves career came to an end, another one began in the shape of Jason Heyward.  His movie script Major League debut, launching a home run off Carlos Zambrano in his first Big League at-bat, provided a launch pad for an impressive rookie season that has all the signs of leading to a distinguished career.  

Former Marlins’ manager Fredi Gonzalez has the tough task of filling Bobby Cox’s shoes in 2011.  Gonzalez spent four years as the third base coach with the Braves so it should be an evolution rather than a revolution at Turner Field.  He has already seen another familiar face join the fold as Dan Uggla was signed from Florida earlier in the offseason to provide some much needed power. 

Florida Marlins (80-82)

Even when they’re not in contention for a playoff spot, there is always something going on with the Marlins.  Controversial owner Jeffrey Loria sees to that.

The year started with the Marlins’ frugal ways being thrown under the spotlight by the Commissioner’s Office and the MLB Players’ Union.  The Marlins had to make a public commitment to invest more in their playing resources and they quickly signed star pitcher Josh Johnson to a contract extension as a result.  However, leaked financial documents later in the season did little to dispel the impression that the team has been pocketing revenue-sharing money rather than spending it on improving their team and trying to field a winner.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was (is) well-respected in the game and yet the Marlins’ owner didn’t appear to share that view.  Reports had Gonzalez on the verge of being sacked on several occasions before his tenure as manager was brought to an end half-way through the year.  Edwin Rodriguez took over for the rest of the season on an interim basis and his 46-46 record helped him win the job on a permanent basis. 

Quite what support he can expect from above is open to question.  Gonzalez, apparently not good enough for the Marlins, was considered good enough to replace one of the game’s greatest managers of recent years in Atlanta. The previous permanent manager, Joe Girardi, was sacked after one year in charge (a year in which he won the 2006 NL Manager of the Year award), and after sitting out for a year was then hired by the New York Yankees with whom he won a World Series in 2009. 

It makes you think that the managers might not have been the problem.

What hope is there for Rodriguez?  Well, there’s no doubt that the Fish have some excellent young players.  Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson are two genuine stars to build around and Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez all had impressive rookie seasons in 2010.  Further investment in the playing roster should be on the cards in the next few years as well.  The ridiculously low payroll in Florida has been put down to the need for a new ballpark and the Marlins will move into their new home in 2012, changing their name to the Miami Marlins in the process, so the excuses not to spend will no longer be there.

The only problem for Rodrigueez is that, with Loria at the helm, there’s no guarantee he’ll be around for long enough to take advantage of these developments. 

New York Mets (79-83)

It was a season to forget in Queens, a disaster from start to finish.

A negative air hung around the team as manager Jerry Manuel and General Manager Omar Minaya both entered the year with their respective jobs dangling by a thread.  A feeling of unease, of treading water before a new era would begin, was the result and the team drifted along in a sea of inconsequence: the ultimate insult to New Yorkers.

It would be quicker to list the players that didn’t suffer injury problems on the Mets’ roster than to run through the depressingly long list of the fallen, weak and wounded.  Their major offseason acquisition, Jason Bay, was a considerable disappointment before a concussion ended his season early, while the less said about Francisco Rodriguez’s off-the-field problems the better.

Where were the positives?  Everyone loves a knuckleball pitcher and a guy who comes good after being plucked from the scrapheap, so R. A. ‘Tricky’ Dickey’s surprisingly handy season couldn’t help but raise a smile from even the most depressed Mets fan.  Ike Davis also offered encouragement for the future with a productive rookie season.

However, the biggest positive from the season was that it finally came to an end.  Manuel and Minaya were put out of their misery and replaced by a completely new team.  Former Astros and Angels manager Terry Collins will be the manager in 2011, while Sandy Alderson has taken over as GM and brought two former GM’s with him (Paul DePodesta and J. P. Ricciardi) in an A’s/Moneyball reunion. 

2010 showed that they have a lot of work to do to get the Mets back to being a force once again.

Washington Nationals (69-93)

Many baseball fans still lament the way the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals, with the Montreal fans being treated appallingly.  And yet, few would say that the Nationals deserve to be cursed with bad luck.

Stephen Strasburg was one of the most captivating stories of the year.  Built up more than any prospect in recent memory, his debut somehow lived up to the unbelievable hype and each of his starts from then on became a special event; not just for Nats fans, but for the rest of us as well.  To have that brief spell of excitement shattered by Strasburg undergoing Tommy John surgery proved that life just isn’t fair sometimes. 

The other big in-season story in Washington was the signing of another immensely talented youngster.  Bryce Harper was the unanimous choice to be selected with the overall first pick in the 2010 draft and the Nationals once again didn’t duck from spending the money needed to sign the best player available.

On the Major League roster, Jason Marquis, signed to a two-year/$15m contract in the 09/10 offseason, was a flop, while Livan Hernandez continued to defy his age (whatever it actually is) with another season of dependable pitching.  On the batting side, Ryan Zimmerman stood out, as he so often does, and Adam Dunn hit thirty-eight homers for the second straight year.   The Nationals couldn’t come to an agreement with Dunn on a contract extension and he has recently signed with the White Sox, but Washington recovered from that loss by shocking everyone in signing Jayson Werth to a seven year/$126m contract.

2011 will be clouded by Strasburg’s absence, but with the addition of Werth and Harper’s Minor League career getting underway, it should not be a lost year even if the team are likely to remain in the NL East cellar.

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