As a part of our MLB betting previews for the 2010 season, Cappers Info poses ten questions that should be on the minds of all baseball fans in the NL East as they prepare to make their MLB picks for the year.
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1: Is OF Jason Heyward the real deal for the Braves? Jason Heyward may only be 20 years old, but he already has all of the hype in the world surrounding him. Manager Bobby Cox thinks this is a five-tool player that can make the difference between the Braves making the playoffs and missing them. 3B Chipper Jones, the elder statesman of the team, is pushing for Heyward to start the season in the Opening Day lineup.
2: Are the Phillies really better off now than they were at the end of last season? We're referring to the acquisition of SP Roy Halladay from Toronto which send SP Cliff Lee and a host of others to Seattle. There are a lot of prospects that went away in that deal for the Phils, and even though Halladay is arguably the best right-handed pitcher in the last decade in baseball, he can't possibly give them more than what Lee did down the stretch and in the playoffs.
3: If the Mets can stay healthy, can they compete? New York is a very interesting situation. Last year, this was a team that was amongst the favorites to the win the NL East. Largely, it's the exact same team from last year at this time. CF Carlos Beltran and SS Jose Reyes are already battling injuries, and both may miss the start of the season, but if SP Johan Santana can continue to be a dominant ace and the lineup holds together, it's possible to think that this team could make it to the playoffs.
4: Were the Fish wise to re-up SP Josh Johnson for a long term deal? Is there a more emphatic way to say "Heck yes!" Johnson chucked 209.0 innings last season and went 15-5 with a team-best 3.23 ERA. Injuries are the only real issue for the big righty, but if the Marlins can keep him off of the DL, he's good for at least 15 wins every single season at the top of the rotation.
5: Tommy Hanson: The real deal, or a real sophomore slump? The real deal. In 21 starts last year, Hanson showed absolutely no signs of slowing down. He ultimately finished up 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA and a miniscule 1.18 WHIP. Opposing batters also only hit .225 against him. The 23-year old righty struck out 116 men in 127.2 IPs last season, giving him a K/9 that anyone would be proud of (8.18). You just can't teach someone how to throw a 97 MPH fastball, and Hanson has that ability. As long as he's got that giddy-up in his arm, he's going to be a force in the Atlanta rotation.
6: Should SP Stephen Strasburg start on Opening Day for the Nats? The little that we've seen out of Strasburg this Spring has been fantastic, but it's hard to see how Washington is going to let him start this season in the majors. Though he had some extra starts under his belt at San Diego State in relation to some of these arms that just came out of high school, he's still going to need at least a little bit of time to adjust to the professional game. By the end of the year, the fans in DC will get to see their stud.
7: Will the Marlins see the Ricky Nolasco of the first half or the second half of last season? Nolasco was optioned to the minors after dropping to 2-5 with a 9.07 ERA on May 22nd. From that point on though, the Marlins' #2 pitcher was lights out, allowing three runs or less in 17 of his 21 outings. There were a few duds in there, but after watching him give up zero earned runs and strike out 16 Braves in his final start of the season, the sky is the limit for Nolasco.
8: Can the Braves generate some more excitement with their offense this year? If Atlanta had a shred of offense last year, it would've been in significantly better shape. The team ranked 17th in the majors at 4.54 runs per game, and that was largely thanks to the fact that the Braves couldn't blast any homers (149, 22nd) or steal any bases (58, 29th). Not only should the aforementioned Heyward help that out, but having OF Nate McLouth for an entire season will help as well.
9: Are there any signs of decay coming for the Phillies' hitters? Probably not. 2B Chase Utley, 1B Ryan Howard, OF Raul Ibanez, and OF Jason Werth all knocked 30+ homers last year for the Phils, while OF Shane Victorino batted a solid .292 and had ten dongs of his own. The only man that really had an off year in '09 was SS Jimmy Rollins. Don't expect J-Roll to bat just .250 again this year, which could make the two-time defending NL champs all the more dangerous.
10: Bottom Line: How will the standings look in the NL East when the season is said and done… This is the question that we will pose for all six divisions and is the one of most importance. This is an incredibly deep division, and it's also one with a ton of upside for the future as well. The standings should ultimately look a lot like they did last season, though Atlanta may challenge for a playoff spot for longer this year than it did last season. Philadelphia, Atlanta, Florida, New York, Washington.
Atlanta Braves +2200
Florida Marlins +2500
Atlanta Braves +2200
Washington Nationals +8000
Atlanta Braves +2200
Florida Marlins +3000
Washington Nationals +19000