Today we have a brief preview of the NL East (I know the season has already started).
As of now Norfolk has the lead in the division at 3-1. Trenton is a half game behind at 2-1, Philadelphia is at 1-2, and Atlanta holds the last spot at 1-3.
As far as the lineups go, I think there is a lot of balance, as each lineup seems to have 2 or 3 big-time hitters. Norfolk's offense is going to be led by 22-year old future star Justin Gordon in right field and slugger Ray Canseco at catcher.
Atlanta's offense really gets going at the two spot at shortstop Junior Espinosa, but Tony Reyes and Napoleon Montgomery are going to have to drive in runs to make this a viable offense.
Trenton has a couple of rookies jumpstarting them this year, as LF Ken Davis and SS Carlton MacDougal should get on base, but the question is can guys like Paxton Coleridge(3B) behind them drive them in?
Philadelphia should be able to count on Buzz Gailard (3B) to produce runs and Sid Dillon is a solid hitting catcher.
Pitching is really where this division will be won in my opinion. Norfolk seems to have the upper hand with Babe Broadhurst, maybe the only true ace in the division now that R.J. Toca has been shipped from Trenton to Monterrey. Rod Walters, at age 22 is a future star who occupies the 4th spot right now. Jae Brea may be a bit of a question mark at the closer spot but I think Ariel Lee will quietly put together a solid season from the setup position (if he doesn't take Brea' spot, that is).
Atlanta's best starter is probably a year or two away from really being at his height. Cory Schneider may not ever be in the category of Broadhurst but I think he's destined for a nice career. He'd ideally be a 2 or 3 starter on a good team. Trevor Watson is, probably by a wide margin, the best closer in this division.
Trenton has quite a few question marks. Alex Escobar may be the best starter on the staff right now but he's 36. They have an entire staff of #4 starters who will give them innings, if nothing else. The bullpen is just as questionable, with Justin Beverlin the closer for now.
Philadelphia's staff has question marks as well. Wiki Romo has some potential and should be tough on lefties in particular, but the rest of the staff is similar to most of Trenton's staff (#4 starters). Mule James (who also makes the league's all-name team) has plenty of potential, but could probably use some more time in the minors. The problem is he's a Rule 5 player. Fellow Rule 5 player Torey Carrasco is the closer.
Predictions: (Don't hold me to any of this)
1. Norfolk should be able to win this division. It's possible that Atlanta and/or Trenton have better offenses, but that's debatable and will not offset Norfolk's big pitching advantage.
2. At least one (probably 2) team(s) in this division will not have the same closer at the end of the year as they do now.
3. The second place team (Trenton or Atlanta in a toss-up) does not even come close to a wild card position.