With less than a week to go before opening day, I guess I’d better make some unsolicited, unnecessary predictions that are sure to make me look bad in October.  I’m not doing hardcore analysis here, just what I think. So here’s what the  NL East will looks like at the end of the season:

1. Mets
2. Braves
3. Phillies
4. Nationals
5. Marlins

The Mets are good this year, just like every Spring. They have a solid lineup, may have fixed their lack of a left fielder with the young Daniel Murphy, and have a much more solid bullpen. Their pitching staff is still high quality, led by Johan but with good, if not remarkable, young pitchers in Maine, Pelfrey and Perez. You may have watched them collapse for 2 seasons in a row, but alot of that had to do with their lack of a real bullpen. Getting TWO closers in the offseason certainly addressed that issues. Besides, it really took big collapses to get them to lose the division, what are the chances of that happening again? If I was a Mets fan, I’d think pretty good, but as an outsider, I think they’ll win it this time.

I know the Braves didn’t do well in my position analyzer. But as I said in that article, this is only one factor that goes into how good a team is. PECOTA thinks that the Braves are about as good as the Phillies (Philly is .1 wins better), but I am a fan of the top 3 starters that the Braves have. They won’t score as much as the Phils, but noone will.  Baseball Prospectus said that PECOTA has a crush on Javier Vazquez, and I think he’ll do quite well back in the NL East. Big ballparks and pitchers will be good for him. I also think that while I only ranked Derek Lowe as the third best #1 pitcher, he’ll still be great. As for their lineup, while I ranked Escobar #5 and Kotchman #4, neither are bad, and both could be easily argued for higher positions. McCann is miles above most other catchers, Kelly Johnson is underrated, if they can just get some OF production, they should be in the running. In other words, this is a team with few superstars but lots of quality players. I think that brings them to second place.

Don’t the Phillies deserve respect for winning the World Series? Well, sure they do. But I really think while other teams got better in the offseason, the Phillies got worse. While Ibanez is a downgrade from Burrell, I expect Rollins and Howard to play better, and their offense should be similar. But I think Jamie Moyer had an incredible 2008 which he won’t repeat in 2009. It’s got nothing to do with his age, more to do with that fact that he hadn’t pitched that well in 5 years, and I just don’t think it’s going to happen again. The rest of the pitching staff, after a probably healthy Hamels and Myers doesn’t impress me at all. And I am worried that injuries are going to catch up with them.

The Nats are going to be better this year, no doubt in my mind. It’s hard to lose 100+ games two years in a row. I don’t think they’ll do it again. The question is – how good? With the young pitching staff, there will be ups and downs. But I like most of the lineup going in to the season, the crowd in the outfield could be quite an asset if someone struggles. Their bullpen won’t be great, but at least the 8th and 9th inning should be pretty secure. I don’t see them going .500, but they’ll get much closer in 2009.

The Marlins could give the Nats a run for their money. Their young pitching staff looks more impressive, and their lineup hit very well last year. Well, I think Hanley Ramirez will continue to do that, but I am not sure that the rest will. I also think the pitching staff is less than stable and will end up having some serious growing pains. I’m not confident in Josh Johnson’s health, Volsted looks impressive but hasn’t done well in the majors or Spring Training, Anibal Sanchez pitched a no hitter but hasn’t been good since. I think they have alot to build on, but I don’t see it coming together this year.

Tomorrow, the rest of the predictions, including playoff berths, awards, and Nats specific stuff.

By Charlie