The biggest story in the Natonal League East this season is clearly Philadelphia’s starting rotation, argued by many to be one of the best of all time.  But the Phillies aren’t the only intriguing story in the division this year.  The young and talented Marlins will be a pesky foe and the Atlanta Braves can’t be taken lightly, either.

TWHS brings you its NL East preview, set wilth statistics, analysis, breakdowns, Fantasy Baseball breakout candidates and more:

KP’s 2011 National League East Preview

Atlanta Braves

Offense: The addition of Dan Uggla (30+ HR in four straight seasons) to the middle of the lineup is a significant one, but questions remain with the rest of the offense.  The talent is there, but Atlanta will rely heavily on two young studs in Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, while looking for a healthy Chipper Jones to contribute and a struggling Nate McClouth to rebound.

Defense: Atlanta was not an elite defensive squad in 2010, and it’s safe to say that the Braves sacrificedjason-heyward-will-start-for-braves-on-opening-day more infield defense when they acquired Dan Uggla.  The team hopes that Uggla’s bat will make up for that – and it should.

Pitching: Only the Giants and Padres had a better team ERA than the Braves (3.56) did last year.  Atanta’s rotation may not be as sexy on paper as Philadelphia’s starting five, but it features quality veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, plus young fireballer Tommy Hanson.  The key will be the young arms at the back end of the bullpen, mainly Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Freddie Freeman – Many are raving about the 21-year old power hitting first basemen, and say that Freeman will be a one-two punch with Jason Heyward for years to come in Atlanta.  Consider Freeman to be a worthwhile fantasy gamble, especially in keeper leagues.

KP’s Take: The Braves have what many teams do not, and that’s balance.  There’s a good mix of veterans and youth, plus solid pitching and great hitting.  The pieces are there to make a postseason run.  The key will be health, especially with Chipper Jones at third base.  Expect Atlanta to give Philadelphia a run for its money in the division chase, and if the Braves don’t take the crown, a wild card berth is a definite possibility.

Florida Marlins

Offense: This offense will be as good as any in the NL on some days, but suffer through growing pains on others.  The talent is there, headlined by Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton (22 HR in 359 AB’s), and the acquisition of Omar Infante (.321 average in 2010) was a sneaky good move.

Defense: As a team, the Marlins were tied for the worst fielding percentage in all of baseball last season.  Florida committed 123 errors in 2010, and will need to improve in this department if a climb in the standings is to happen.

Pitching: Florida has a very solid rotation.  Josh Johnson is a stud and could compete for the Cy Young, Ricky Nolasco strikes out a lot of batters and Javier Vazquez should rebound now that he’s back in the National League.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Logan Morrison – With just 2 HR last season and some plate discipline issues, Morrison should be available late in most drafts.  But he’s just 23-years old, is a highly rated talent and will get the opportunity to start in LF for the Marlins.  There’s a chance he could be a pleasant surprise in 2011.

KP’s Take: The young Marlins are going to cause a lot of headaches for NL teams.  The top of the rotation is solid, and there’s plenty of talent and pop in the lineup.  As a group, there will be growing pains, and competing with the Braves and Phillies on a daily basis will be tough.  But 2nd place in the division is not a ridiculous assumption, but 3rd place is more likely.

New York Mets

Offense: On paper, there’s a ton of talent, with Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, among others.  But guys like Beltran and Bay have had signs of showing their age, and the injuries have been issue for a number of the Mets players in recent seasons.  Health will be the key to this offense’s success.

Defense: This was a team ranked in the top ten defensively in 2010.  The Mets allowed the fewest steals (51) in all of baseball last season.

Pitching: Johan Santana is out for months, leaving a major hole at the top of the rotation.  A starting five headlined by Mike Pelfrey likely won’t get the job done in this division.  These Mets will have to overachieve and make sure the bullpen doesn’t get overworked.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Jonathan Niese – Cemented in the top half of the rotation, Niese could face some of the league’s best arms, and therefore have trouble accumulating wins.  His 2010 numbers (9-10, 4.20 ERA) may not appear impressive, but that’s because he struggled mightily over the season’s final two months.  He had one of the NL’s best ERA’s through the first half, and is only 24-years old.

KP’s Take: The Mets are dealing with lawsuits and major financial issues, which will strap the team regarding additions.  The current veterans are injury prone, and the rotation has little depth, especially without Johan Santana for the first few months.  With all this in mind, it’s hard to imagine the Mets not finishing in 4th or 5th place in the NL East.

Philadelphia Phillies

Offense: Jayson Werth signed as a free agent with the Nationals, prospect Domonic Brown broke his hand and there’s no timetable set for the return of the injured Chase Utley.  That leaves a very depleted offense that could struggle to consistently score runs.

cole-hamels-pitches-for-philadelphia-phillies

Cole Hamels is one of four aces in Philly’s starting rotation

Defense: The Phillies were ranked 8th in fielding percentage last season, and the talented pitching staff should deliver plenty of ground balls in 2011.

Pitching: Everyone knows the strength of the Phillies by now – and it’s the starting rotation, arguably the best in all of baseball.  Last year’s team ranked 6th in the majors in ERA (3.67) – and now has Cliff Lee.  The front four of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels should be dominant if they can remain healthy.  Brad Lidge getting healthy should help the bullpen’s depth.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Domonic Brown – After suffering a broken bone in his hand, Brown was shelved, but will be back.  With the injury, there’s no need to draft him, but keep an eye on him.  The Phillies will likely need the offensive help, and the 23-year old is talented, and could break out with more playing time.

KP’s Take: The question with the Phillies is obviously not the pitching staff.  The rotation alone – if healthy – should get Philadelphia to the playoffs.  The issue could be scoring runs, and guys like Ryan Howard could struggle to make consistent contact with less lineup protection.  Still, the pitching staff elevates the Phillies to the postseason.

Washington Nationals

Offense: Washington overpaid for Jayson Werth, but overall, the Nats get a soild bat to put in the middle of the order with other newbie Adam LaRoche, plus current star Ryan Zimmerman.

Defense: The defense struggled last season, finishing dead last in fielding percentage.  There’s room for improvement here, and Werth should help improve the OF defense.

Pitching: Obviously, the Nats’ rotation suffered a major blow when it lost Strasburg last year to Tommy John surgery, and the team hopes he can recover this season and get back.  For now, the rotation features mostly stopgap veterans, and no one that can compete with the likes of Atlanta, Philadelphia, and even Florida.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Ian Desmond – Last season, the 25-year old infielder hit 10 HR and batted .269.  He’ll likely be placed at the top of the order, where he could further flourish in this lineup.  Desmond could wind up a late-round fantasy steal.

KP’s Take: If Stephen Strasburg is able to have a healthy return and Bryce Harper can live up to the hype, the Nats could have a very bright future.  But for now, neither of these two will see the Opening Day roster.  There are some pieces, but not enough to compete in the division, especially within the starting rotation.  Expect a 4th or 5th place finish.

 

THE FINAL WORD

The NL East should see three teams in the chase through the season’s final months, with the Mets and Nats falling out of the race by the trade deadline.  The Marlins are a sneaky team, but youth and inexperience could bite them in the season’s final month.  That leaves the Braves and Phillies, both of which could manage to nail down both the division title and the NL wild card berth.  As for who wins – it’s going to depend on the health of Philly’s offense, coupled with the impact of Atlanta’s young offensive duo of Heyward and Freeman.  Here’s assuming that the Phillies find a way to bolster the offense.  Philly’s rotation is what seals the division.

KP’s Division Winner: Philadelphia Phillies

KP’s Overall 2011 MLB Season and Playoff Predictions will be posted in the next few days…

Who Will Win The National League East Division in 2011?

  • Philadelphia Phillies (81%, 17 Votes)
  • Atlanta Braves (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Florida Marlins (5%, 1 Votes)
  • New York Mets (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Washington Nationals (5%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 21

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