27.2.07

NL East Preview - The Corners

Although the focus for the duration of the offseason and the majority of time leading up to the intrasquad games has been on the paucity of confirmed starting pitchers in the Mets rotation and whether or not the haphazard collection of outcasts and youth can manufacture among them at least one brilliant and unexpected season, there are in fact, other areas of each team to focus on, believe it or not. Thus, with that in mind, we move forward, away from the mound and to the players who fill out the rest of the field. Today it will be ranking the corner positions for each NL East team.

1. NY Mets - Hey, who in the NL East has it so good at the corners? One of the finest young third basemen in baseball in the form of David Wright, likeable, enthusiastic, talented and young - combined with the enigmatic but steadily spectacular Carlos Delgado at first base. Sure, Delgado's .265 batting average last season was a disappointing tail off from seasons past but you can't really quibble with the 38 homers and 114 RBIs or winning both the Roberto Clemente award AND the Thurman Munson award, can you? In fact, no first baseman had hit so many home runs or driven in so many runs in the first 45 illustrious years of the franchise.And who is going to forget his postseason debut against the Dodgers, hmmm? .429 against Dodger pitching he hit and then went on to bash 3 homers against the Cardinals. Backing up Delgado is the pension-aged Julio Franco and possibly, off season pick up David Newhan, who figures to be last season's Woodward. As for Wright, well the accolades just continue to swell and amazingly, the kid's head isn't swelling along with them. The numbers .311-26-116 continue to grow and again, the head doesn't. Yes, he had trouble in August against lefties and his throwing remains erratic, downright frustrating at times but no one is perfect even if Wright comes awfully close at times. Bottom line is no one else has this combination of talent on the corners, not in the NL East anyway.


2. Flordia Marlins - Interesting that Miguel Cabrera might battle David Wright for years not just as the NL East's preeminent third baseman, but as the preeminent third baseman in the National League. Last season .339 with 26 homers and 114 RBIs for Cabrera but he never really "killed" the Mets. Over 17 games he hit only .288 against Met pitching. Let's hope the trend continues. Backing him up will be Aaron Boone who they snatched off the Indians. On the other corner, in the continued absence of Carlos Delgado, will be standing former Met Mike Jacobs again. Last season Jacobs hit a steady if unspectacular .262-20-77 and against the Mets a very similar .272 in 17 games with a pair of homers and 8 RBIs. His backup is supposed to be Boone as well, so it should be quite a versatile act.

3. Philadelphia Phillies - Alright, let's get this over straight away. Ryan Howard, Ryan Howard. 58 homers and 149 RBIs will do that for you. Yes, he had an incredible NL MVP season and almost helped lead the Phillies into the postseason but did he really hit only .111 against lefties? Or .125 on the turf? .231 at home? Well yes, he did and although technically he probably doesn't qualify for the sophomore slump, if we're grasping at straws here, last season was his first "full" season so perhaps there is room for slagging off such spectacular potential. Not likely though. Howard is probably here to terrorise pitchers for the foreseeable future and remains incredibly only "one of" the best first basemen in the National League. Against the Mets, over 19 games, he had 8 homers, drove in 21 and hit .319. Looks like an intentional walk machine...The Phillies aren't quite so fortunate at third base, where big free agent signee David Bell was such a disappointment for so long. This season it looks to be third baseman by committee as the duties may well be shared between old timer Wes Helms, who was a frequent late-inning replacement at first last season and hit .385 after the All Star break, former Cardinal and Pirate, Abraham Nunez and his .211 batting average, Danny Sandoval a no-hoper with little experience and Greg Dobbs, who has already spent his purgatory mired in Seattle for a few seasons. More like third baseman by default with no clear candidates to make this anything but a weakness.


4. Washington Nats - Aha, finally an area of vague robustness in the Nats camp. At 3rd stands Ryan Zimmerman whose (.287-20-110) numbers put him firmly in the poor man's David Wright scuffed shoes category waiting for that second year consistency polish. Zimmerman has only a full season under his belt to gloat about but he bunts and steals bases with equal grace and has a good glove to brag about as well, something our belov├Ęd David Wright can only sometimes dream about when the nightmare throws aren't squirting out of his hand 20 feet wide of the first baseman.

And speaking of first baseman, the Nats can brag about the injury-riddled enigma and former Yankee future, Nick Johnson. Although he stayed healthy most of the season and had his best year with the bat, hitting .290 with 23 home runs, 77 RBIs, 100 walks and a .428 on-base percentage, the predictable broken leg was just around the corner. September, in fact. So this season, he won't be ready to start the season. Shocking. Nick Johnson on the DL? The All-Time leader in DL Minutes? So when we're talking about the Nats and first base perhaps one must consider the alternative, the back up who will likely spend most of the season starting, Larry Broadway, a good name waiting to go bad.

5. Atlanta Braves - Met "favourite" Chipper Jones returns for another season manning third base for the Braves but his time may well be winding down as he approaches 34 having missed 42 games last season and 43 the year before. Nonetheless, when he's healthy he still hits well ball against the Mets and last season was no exception as in only 9 games he hit .314 with a pair of homers and 8 RBIs. Still, the less he's seen, the better. His backups might prove more important over the long haul of the season and ironically, one of them is none other than former Met Chris Woodward, the man we know as Mr Versatility but also the man who hit a mere .216 last season. The other is former Dodger Willie Aybar, who hit .343 in September and might be a capable backup to Larry. Over on first base, the Braves will have, how shall we say it? Trouble. For bullpen help they sacrificed the promising Adam LaRoche and in his place they're left wondering about Scott Thorman who was brilliant when he first came up, hitting .341 with 4 homers and 9 RBIs in July before tailing off to a more realistic .214 over the final 56 at-bats of the season. A more realistic replacement is former Pirate Craig Wilson (.251-17-49). Still, unless the bullpen is spectacular LaRoche's power is likely to be missed.

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