BravesBlast took a moment recently to exchange questions and answers about the NL East with our pal Erik Grissom over at PhilliesFlow. Since we always give you the Braves’ fan perspective on things, here’s the division from the Phillies standpoint.
BravesBlast: With the addition of Johan Santana, the Mets are probably the team to beat this year in the NL East. Where do you see the division breaking down after that?
PhilliesFlow.com: With the addition of Santana, I see the Mets as the front-runners in the NL East. I still think all three teams are very close, but I would go Mets/Phils/Braves 1-2-3 at this point.
The separation between the Mets and the Phillies is very small. The Mets did have a better off-season, but the Phillies won the division last year despite the fact that they gave 30 starts to a guy with a 6.29 ERA and with just about the worst offensive production from third base in the NL. You would think those would be areas in which it would be easy to improve. Given how close the Mets and Phillies are, I truly believe the Phils are better off in the role of underdog. Santana is going to help the Mets a ton on the field, but there’s a lot of pressure that comes with the addition and the return to the role of clear front-runners as well.
And if you believe that the Braves have been overlooked, I agree. Using the number of games that they won or by comparing their ’07 and ’06 run differentials, the Braves are the team in the NL East that improved the most in 2007. Particularly worrisome about that from a Phillies’ fans perspective is that improvement all came despite down years from McCann and the now-departed Andruw Jones, before the addition of Glavine and without a full season of Teixeira. Prior to the Santana acquisition the Braves had also had the best off-season of the three teams as well.
BravesBlast: What is the Phillies’ biggest weakness in 2008?
PhilliesFlow.com: Pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.
The Phils are looking fine at the top of the rotation with Hamels and Myers. Behind that duo comes Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton. The number of people who thought that Kendrick was going to take a spot in the rotation in 2007 and pitch as effectively as he did is very, very small if not zero. Pitch effectively he did, though, going 10-4 in 20 starts with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.27 ratio. In five seasons in the minor leagues he threw 544 innings (all but 81 of which were below Double-A) in which he posted a 4.28 ERA with a 1.39 ratio.
Moyer has been a workhorse for the Phils and is capable of coming up huge in big games. But he turns 46 this year and last season he threw to a 5.01 ERA.
Eaton’s problems are well-documented. A 6.29 ERA in 30 starts might not say it all, but it says most of it. Eaton will find himself in a battle to keep his job as fifth starter if he doesn’t turn things around early in ’08, but the guys the Phils have in-house to challenge him, led by Chad Durbin, JD Durbin and Travis Blackley, don’t look real exciting. Coming off of surgery, Kris Benson has also been added to the mix and I think he is going to get some chances with the Phils this year. The last time he pitched in a game was September, 2006, though, so I don’t believe there’s much chance he’s going to pitch for the Phils in the early part of the season.
Right now the pen looks like it’s Lidge, Gordon, Romero and Madson with a lot of opportunities for relievers as spring training opens. Chad Durbin is almost sure to win the fifth spot, but after that it’s pretty wide open Regardless of who fills it out, the Phils look like they’re headed into 2008 with a pen that’s better than what they started ’07 with but still weak. Lidge and Romero are both capable of putting up fantastic years, but also capable of blowing up as well. A weak bullpen isn’t good for the Phils who continue to yo-yo Myers back and forth between the rotation and pen, an issue further complicated by Myers’ desire to close and the team’s need for him to pitch in the starting rotation. But Myers threw four more innings than JD Durbin last season — for a team with pitching this bad, putting Myers in the pen looks like a luxury they just can’t afford.
BravesBlast: What young player in the organization that we may not have heard of are you excited about?
PhilliesFlow.com: The list of young, exciting prospects for the Phils isn’t as long as one might hope. The guy I think you’ll see come up this season and pitch some significant innings for the Phils is Josh Outman. Outman is a 23-year-old lefty who has gone 28-14 with a 2.96 ERA in the Phils minor league system over the past three years.
Another guy who you’ve seen briefly already is lefty reliever Fabio Castro. Matt Diaz may remember him well — Diaz hit a huge three-run bomb off of Castro in the top of the ninth in early September, 2006 to help give the Braves a 7-6 lead in perhaps the first real pressure opportunity given to Castro by the Phils. Castro’s numbers in the majors and even in the minors aren’t mind-blowing, but he has the fantastic stuff to go along with his control problems and I think he could turn out to be very good. He turned 23 last month and has a chance to win a job in the bullpen to start the season.
BravesBlast: Where do you see the Braves fitting into the 2008 picture?
PhilliesFlow.com: The Braves only finished five games back in the East last year and they’ve improved since then — I think if they can stay healthy they’ll be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season. I see them getting the biggest boost in ’08 from the addition of Glavine and the benefits of a full year of Teixeira.
Last year Atlanta scored four more runs than the Mets. My guess would be that the Braves score more runs than the Mets again this year, but widen the gap a bit. I still expect the Phils high-flying offense to continue to fly high.
The numbers that Yunel Escobar put up last season were simply outstanding. Not to be forgotten, though, is that even if he were to put up another 326/385/451 line with the Braves at short this season, he still would be trailing Renteria’s ’07 line of 332/390/470 in average, on-base percentage and slugging. I don’t think that Escobar will put up the kind of numbers he did last year. Even if he did, I think people have under-appreciated what Renteria did at the plate last year and the ’08 Braves are going to miss Renteria’s ’07 production.
In center field, Andruw was just miserable last season. But he still hit more home runs (26) than Mark Kotsay has over the last three years combined (23). Chipper also had a monster season in ’07, arguably his best in eight years, and chances seem good he’ll be off that pace in ’08.
Overall, I still think with more Teixeira, less Thorman, and a better year from McCann, the offense is better than last year when it was good. But not hugely better.
The Braves’ rotation is clearly stronger than the Phils. It’s very close between the Mets and Braves in my mind, I think it’s going to come down to who stays healthy. Smoltz shows no sign of it yet, but you have to believe that he’s due to slow down sometime soon. Glavine hasn’t been quite as bullet-proof, but he’s thrown at least 200 innings in ten of the last 12 years. In the other two seasons he threw 183 1/3 and 198. If you’re the Braves I think you have to be hoping that his 2007 was just an off-year and not the start of a sharp downtrend. I think you have to be worried about Chuck James’ health, but if he is able to go there regularly there aren’t many better fourth starters in the league. Pretty sure that if Mike Hampton is Plan A as your fifth starter what Plan B is going to prove to be important before long — I really thought the Jair Jurrjens addition was a good one and that he should help the Braves. As a Phillies’ fan I’d definitely rather see Hampton.
The Atlanta bullpen was fantastic in 2007, throwing to a 3.54 ERA, which was the second best in the league after the Padres. I think they are going to have a lot of trouble repeating that kind of success in the upcoming season. Soriano is fantastic, but Peter Moylan’s season last year was just ridiculously good. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that kind of production from him again and I think the depth behind Soriano is questionable if you’re hoping to get the same monster production from the relievers in ’08.
Overall for the Braves I see the offense as better, the starting pitching as better and the pen as worse. Put it all together and I think it adds up to a better team in ’08 than they had in ’07. I think the Phillies and the Mets are both better as well. I don’t see any NL East team touching 100 wins this season. Whichever team does the best job of responding to injuries may be the one that winds up on top.
BravesBlast: Do the Phillies have the capability to bring a world series title to Philadelphia this year?
PhilliesFlow.com: Sure. But they’re going to have to beat a team a lot better than them to do it. There is no dominant team in the NL, but I think we can count on the fact that there will be at least three teams in the AL that you would pick on paper over whoever the NL sends to the World Series. It’s kind of an unusual position for the Phils as they start the season — they are underdogs in their division, but if they don’t make the playoffs it will also be a disappointment. That’s a little bit of a tricky position when you consider there may be three tough teams in the NL West and there’s a good chance two of them will be in the hunt with the second-place team in the NL East for the Wild Card. After being swept by the Rockies last season, going deeper into the playoffs isn’t going to take much if the Phillies get there, but I think it’s a more realistic goal for the Phils than winning the World Series unless the add some more quality arms during the season.
Thanks once again to Erik Grissom of PhilliesFlow for his perspectives on the National League East in the upcoming 2008 season.
Tags: Philadelphia Phillies, PhilliesFlow
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