It’s no surprise that the Phillies are the big favorites (-175 at most shops) to win this division for a fourth year in a row. The two-time defending National League champs bring everyone of substance back except for Cliff Lee, and he was replaced by Roy Halladay.
The NL East will be the least interesting division race in baseball this year because the Phillies are that much better than every other team.
Best pitching rotation: Atlanta Braves
This has the potential to be very close between Philly and Atlanta with Florida a dark horse.
The Braves had a staff ERA of more than a half-run better than the Phillies last season but lost Javier Vazquez. If Tim Hudson is all the way back from his surgery – and the Braves invested $28 million in believing he is – then he can make up for Vazquez.
But Derek Lowe was terrible in his final six starts last year and Jair Jurrjens, arguably the staff ace in 2009, is dealing with some shoulder pain during camp already. Meanwhile Tommy Hanson should be even better than his stellar rookie season.
Of course the Phillies have Halladay, who should be even better in the National League. But which Cole Hamels will show up? And who will win the fifth starter job between Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Jose Contreras? Moyer is 72 and Contreras about 60, so do you trust either of those two?
I give the rotation edge to Atlanta – counting on a healthy Hudson and Jurrjens. But it wouldn’t shock me if the Marlins’ rotation puts up the best overall numbers by the end of the season.
Worst rotation: Washington Nationals
Expect to see the Nationals in probably every worst category in this division. If you can tell me Washington’s projected starting five, you win a Covers T-shirt (no, not really).
The only reason to pay attention to Washington’s pitching staff is Stephen Strasburg, but the all-world prospect won’t make his MLB debut until midway through the season. The Mets might be the Nationals-lite if Johan Santana isn’t 100 percent on Opening Day.
Best batting order: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies don’t have an easy out anywhere in the projected starting eight position players except for maybe catcher Carlos Ruiz.
As good as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez are, this offense still seems to live and die with Jimmy Rollins. When he doesn’