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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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N.L. East Preview: Philadelphia will be philling good come October

By Tony Pizza

So the New York Mets finally released Atlanta’s 11-year stranglehold on the National League East. Do they have enough to repeat, or will they cough up the NL East to someone else? My guess is the Mets fold and finally give the City of Brotherly Love a chance to like one of its professional sports franchises once again.

Philadelphia Phillies: (95-67)

Yeah, it’s safe to say that the city of Philadelphia is about to snap. The Fliers are dead last in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, the city lost the only Answer it had for wanting to see a 76ers basketball game and the Eagles ducked out of the playoffs without making any noise last December.

Philadelphia could be in need of invoking martial law if it weren’t for the Phillies.

Did anybody notice how long it took the Phillies to cope with the departing Bobby Abreu? About as long as it takes Ryan Howard to crush baseballs out of Citizens Bank Park.

Among the players looking to help Howard get the Phillies back to the playoffs will be newly added ace Freddy Garcia.

Garcia will help make up a rapidly improving Phillies starting rotation that also includes fireballer Brett Meyers and Jamie Moyer (who is the pitcher’s equivalent of pie-throwing center fielder Jonny Damon).

Backing up the Phillies bullpen and creating one of the best middle infield hitting tandems are Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Rollins just about doubled his per-year homerun average while hitting above his .274 career batting average.

The Phillies have all the components and the momentum of last year’s sans-Abreu run at the playoffs to fuel them to their first division title since 1993.

New York Mets: (88-74)

The Mets still have a chance to make the playoffs as the wildcard, but they don’t have enough pitching to clinch back-to-back division titles.

The one conciliation prize is that they are now just two years away from giving MLB grandpa Julio Franco a chance at becoming the first big leaguer to hit a homerun at the age of 50.

The other good news for the Mets is that Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Jos Reyes and Jos Valentine still make up one of the best slugging infields in the Senior Circuit.

If Orlando Hernandez can be half the player of his old El Duque self and Billy Wagner can find a way to close the door the way he did in Philadelphia, the Mets are due to win a lot more games than they lose.

The void that Pedro Martinez’s yearlong recovery of Tommy John’s surgery leaves the Mets, combined with Tom Glavine’s inevitable deterioration down the stretch, will leave the Mets just short of capturing their third division title since Ronald Reagan left the White House in 1989.

Florida Marlins: (80-82)

It seems as though the NL East’s recent MO is to have outstanding slugger/fielder combo players in the infield. The Marlins are no different.

Second baseman Dan Uggla quickly made a name for himself last year as one of the best second basemen in the game today. Teaming up with Uggla is his double-play partner Hanley Ramirez, who is quickly making the Boston Red Sox truly look like “the idiots” for trading away the eventual 2006 Rookie of the Year.

Rounding out the Marlins’ unbelievable young infield talent is Miguel Cabrerra. Cabrerra, who nearly stole the NL batting crown last year by hitting a blistering .339, also drove in 118 RBI while belting 26 home runs last year.

Florida ace Dontrelle Willis will give the Marlins an excellent chance to win every fifth day, as he still remains one of the best three pitchers in the National League.

Unfortunately, the Marlins still have too many guys in the starting lineup who are too young to grow facial hair, and they are still one or two solid players away from making a serious run at an NL East crown.

Atlanta Braves: (70-92)

The Braves have truly been knocked off the top of the NL East division.

Andruw Jones still remains one of the best silver-slugger/gold-glove candidates in the game, but his supporting cast has rapidly deteriorated around him.

Chipper Jones’ bat hasn’t been consistently in the lineup for more than two years now. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is bound to have the breakout season everyone in the Braves organization patiently waited for last year.

The Braves still have ageing aces in John Smoltz and Tim Hudson to keep their young bats in most games, and Bob Wickman (who looks like a cross between Craig Stadler and David Wells) can still consistently close the door on games when given the chance.

The fact is, the Braves have too many young players too make an immediate impact and too many old players who are too past their prime to make the Braves a competitive team this summer.

Washington Nationals: (55-107)

I kind of feel bad for the nation’s capital. All it wanted was a major league baseball team. Three years later, it’s left with a AAA baseball team at best.

I can just see everyone within a 50-mile radius of the White House asking, “Are Felipe Lopez and Dmitri Young the best possible additions we could have made this off-season?”

Except for maybe closer Chad Cordero, Lopez and Young just became the most well known players to put on a Nationals uniform this year. I’m guessing the Nationals sell a total of 10 jerseys nationwide this year.

Relatives of the players will buy nine of those jerseys, and some guy in Los Angeles who thinks the colors look cool will purchase the other one.

I can just see the city of Montral breathing a big collective sigh of relief because it doesn’t have to support the train-wreck baseball organization that calls Washington, D.C., home.

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