Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings to get you up to speed for Opening Day.
1: Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are at the head of the class in what could be baseball’s tightest division, but it is not by a wide margin. Chase Utley is banged up again, and Ryan Howard is still working his way back from blowing out his Achilles in last year’s NLDS. They lost closer Ryan Madson in the offseason, but the Phillies still have plenty of ammunition to go to war with. They boast what could be the best top 3 of any rotation in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. They still have Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence, and if they can survive the injuries until the cavalry arrives, the Phils should find themselves in great shape.
2: Atlanta Braves: We all heard it last September: that loud, wheezing, coughing noise coming from Atlanta as they choked away a 10 game lead in the wild card to the Cardinals in the season’s final month. But if you’re a Braves fan, and you have somehow managed to move past that debacle, there was a silver lining to that ominous cloud. The Braves lost both Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens down the home stretch, and surely one of those two could have won A SINGLE game last September, changing history forever. Jason Heyward had a sophomore slump, but appears to be back to his old ways this spring. If the Braves can avoid that nasty injury bug that bit them late last year and Jason Heyward can rediscover his stroke, they should also be able to avoid that monstrous bone that they choked on so violently in 2011.
3. Miami Marlins: This has to be the most intriguing team to watch out of all 30 heading into the season. Formerly the Florida Marlins, they were known for being frugal with their players, even if they have won 2 World Series in the last 15 years. Add a new stadium, then water, and all of a sudden you had a team attacking the free agent market like Mike Tyson on Evander’s ear. They added all star shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Beurhle, and closer Heath Bell. The Marlins have never had a payroll over 60 million in their franchise’s history. This season, it’s set to be about 109 million. If Josh Johnson can come back to full health and all of the new faces, along with new manager Ozzie Guillen, can jibe together, this team could be the one to pay attention to.
4. Washington Nationals: Sorry to the National’s faithful, but if the Nats played in the central, or even the west, they could be set to make much more noise than ever before in 2012. As it stands, they still play in the east, and will more than likely still continue to struggle. The good news, however, is the Nationals are building, and it looks sexy on paper. Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John late last summer and appeared to still be oozing potential. Earthquake creating hitting prospect Bryce Harper could force his way to the big club at some point in the year, and Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse will hold down the corners for what appears to be a budding franchise. The Nationals are probably realistically a year or two away from really wreaking havoc in the East, but if the kids come on a year or two early, look out.
5. The New York Mets: The Bernie Madoff scandal is waving goodbye in it’s rearview as it leaves the Mets in rubble. Poor David Wright, he appears to be wasting the prime of his career on the Titanic, although he could, and probably should be traded at the deadline. The Mets are looking the Astros dead in the face for the worst record in baseball, and it is going to be an ugly duel.