I have a feeling the NL East is going to be one rollicking division. The 2011 NL East preseason All-Stars:
Catcher -- Brian McCann, Braves. A solid, dependable player who has made the All-Star team all five of his full seasons. And he’s still only 27.
First base -- Ryan Howard, Phillies. After averaging 143 RBIs per season from 2006 through 2009, Howard drove in 108 last season. This was almost all related to his power decline (31 home runs compared to an average of 50 the previous four seasons). He actually hit OK with runners in scoring position -- .275, nearly identical to his .276 season average.
Second base -- Dan Uggla, Braves. With Chase Utley’s health a question mark, Uggla is the guy I’m taking for 2011. I don’t expect Uggla to get much of a home run boost with his switch in parks. Over his career with the Marlins, he hit 78 home runs at home, 76 on the road.
Third base -- Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals. David Wright got his home run stroke back last season, but Zimmerman has taken over as the best third sacker in the division -- if not all of baseball. A gifted gloveman, he didn’t win the Gold Glove last year (Scott Rolen did), but should win it the next five years.
Shortstop -- Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. All three of the top shortstops in the division -- Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes -- have something to prove in 2011. Ramirez is a good bet to return to the 2009 form that made him second in the NL MVP vote. Rollins is 32 with a lot of mileage on his legs. Reyes is looking for a big contract in the offseason but must stay healthy.
Left field --Logan Morrison, Marlins. In a solid group of left fielders (Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Martin Prado), I like Morrison’s potential. Baseball Prospectus projects him at .279 AVG/.370 OBP/.427 SLG, but I think he’ll pump up those numbers a bit.
Center field -- Angel Pagan, Mets. Shane Victorino is the only other candidate, but I believe Pagan is legit. His OPS+ the past two seasons: 122 and 108. For Victorino: 110 and 102. Flip a coin. And, yes, Victorino has won three straight Gold Gloves, but all the metrics loved Pagan’s fielding last season.
Right field -- Jason Heyward, Braves. This isn’t a knock against Jayson Werth or Mike Stanton, although I wouldn’t be surprised if either of those two ends up with the best season. Heyward's rookie season didn't disappoint
Right-handed starter -- Roy Halladay, Phillies. I’ll go chalk with this one. Although I love Josh Johnson, love Tommy Hanson’s chances of making a move into the Cy Young discussion, absolutely love watching Tim Hudson generate grounder after grounder, and absolutely do not love Livan Hernandez’s chances of posting a 3.66 ERA again.
Left-handed starter -- Cliff Lee, Phillies. Among the 147 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, Cliff Lee had the highest strike percentage (71 percent), Roy Oswalt was third (68 percent), Roy Halladay was seventh (68 percent), Cole Hamels was 18th (66 percent) and Joe Blanton was 22nd (66 percent). (Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com.)
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