Wednesday, April 05, 2006


2006 NL East Preview

The skies opened up over Southern California last night, and while that may have paved the way for cinematic rain-fighting in the streets of San Diego, a la Neo and Agent Smith (or Jean Claude Van Damme and Vincent Klyn, for that matter), it made baseball impossible. Thus, we'll have to wait until tonight to see Matt Morris's debut in a Giant uni, and also to see just how much Petco Park can mask Shawn Estes's awfulness.

What this little hiatus does do, is allow me to continue my divisional predictions. Here is the NL East, though this time without a gimmicky song title to accompany each team. I was going to to The Cure, but I think by the end everybody'd be reaching for the Draino, and this is after all, a happy blog. Enjoy!

1. Atlanta Braves

Why fight it? The Braves will win this danged division once again. Every year experts think up reasons why the Braves will finally tank, and yet at the end of the season there they are atop the NL East, kings of all they survey. This year will be the same. People will pick the Mets or Phils, arguing that the Braves can’t possibly do it again.

I ain’t fallin’ for it. Their pitching staff is literally their worst since the ‘80’s, and their hitting is above average but no great shakes. It doesn’t matter. Some crappy pitcher will magically turn in a great year and some random rookies will step it up and the Braves will do enough to win the division once again. Whatever Faustian bargain Ted Turner struck long ago will come through again.

2. New York Mets

Any discussion I have of the current Mets always dissolves into a long-winded love-in over the Mets of the mid-to-late ‘80’s, so instead of fighting it, I’ll just dive right in. I’ll always have a place in my heart for the Mets because when I first got into baseball at a very young age, the Mets were the team I loved (with the Giants a close second, of course), and there was no player I loved more than Darryl Strawberry. And you know what? To this day, Strawberry is still my favorite player of all time, even with the drug problems and sleazy rap sheet. When the Giants got Straw in 1994, man, it was a dream come true, even though he had just been booted off the Dodgers for a combination of injuries and coke problems.

Strawberry was laid back and sometimes quite lazy, which ironically made him atypical of the kinds of players who the Mets of that era would employ. Those Mets teams, and the 1986 product in particular, were the perfect, shining example of how every baseball team should be constructed, through a smart combination of homegrown and imported talent, a solid starting rotation that mixed veterans and younger guys, a deep bench, a great defense, and a great bullpen. And the personalities. Oh the personalities. These guys were mean, they were rowdy, they picked fights, they talked shit, and best of all they backed it all up by whupping everybody’s asses in the standings. Most of all, they would have rather taken a knife to the gut than lose a game, and it showed. I’ve always loved guys who play with almost psychopathic fire (this is where my Pierzynski fetish comes from), and it stems from my love of this team.

Anyway, enough pointless raving about a team that was winning the World Series when I was three. Twenty years later, the ’06 Mets team looks like a good bet to stay neck and neck with the Braves. They have enough pitching, and their hitting is spotty but effective (David Wright is a stud, but Jose Reyes is just awful). Normally I would pick a team that looks this strong on paper to win the division, but these aren’t normal circumstances. The Braves are currently the darling of whatever god rules over the NL East, and until they crash his Jaguar into a tree or Jeff Francoeur knocks up his daughter, the Mets will have to settle for the Wild Card.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils are picked seemingly every year to win the East, but every year they fall short. Even with Larry Bowa, baseball’s answer to a bloodthirsty war criminal, gone the team still underachieved. Perhaps they’re just not that talented. Anyone care to refute that? My guess is that they hover around 85 wins while I continue my love/hate relationship with Jimmy Rollins (whose inconsistency on my fantasy team gives me ulcers).

4. Florida Marlins

Yeah, they suck, but there’s talent here and don’t be surprised if they’re making a kamikaze run at the division in 2008. A lot of people are pooh-poohing the second nuking of this franchise since 1997, but this situation is far from hopeless. They already have two stars in Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, and there’s a horde of young talent coming up in a hurry. This is a team that could be scary for any contender coming into Florida in the thick of a pennant race come August or September. They have a lot more going for them than the 1998 team did, and it took the franchise only five years to rebound from that disgrace. It shouldn’t take nearly as long this time around.

5. Washington Nationals

There’s an episode of The Simpsons called Radioactive Man (“I’ve said ‘Jiminy Jilikers’ so many times, the words have lost all meaning!”) where a huge Hollywood production comes to Springfield to shoot a film about the titular comic book hero. There is a funny scene where Krusty the Clown tries desperately to convince the makers of the film to cast him as “Krispy the Clown”, even going so far as to giving the men cheesy glossy stills of himself in various dramatic poses to supposedly illustrate his wide acting range. The producers refuse to give him the part, but instead cast him in a less glamourous role as the villainous “Dr. Clownius”.

This is how I see Nationals GM Jim Bowden, desperately wheeling and dealing and signing free agents to show some other team that he’s got what it takes, so that when the new Nats ownership dumps him, he’ll get hired somewhere else. Unfortunately, the moves make no sense and Bowden ends up playing “Silly Sailor”. Bowden has made some bad moves (Christian Guzman, anyone?), but the Soriano trade this winter was the cherry on top of the big cake of crap. We all know Bowden is a lame duck GM, but this trade was shocking even for his moronic standards. Maybe he’s just doing his best to bring the franchise down from the inside before he gets canned, as sort of a last-gasp display of the middle finger, like dropping a grenade right as you get cut down by shotgun fire in Halo.

The Marlins are the sexy pick to be the NL’s worst team, but at least there’s talent lying around. The Nationals, on the other hand, are just hideous, and they’re my Cinderella pick to lose 100 games. They have no hitting, their pitching sucks, and they have arguably the worst farm system of any major league franchise. Yes, they are worse than Florida.


Howdy. My name is Jeff Pearlman. I'm a former Sports Illustrated senior writer, as well as the author of an upcoming biography of Barry Bonds entitled, "Love Me, Hate Me." It's not a steroid book, per se, but a biography of his life and times. I interviewed 524 subjects for the book, ranging from his Cub Scout den leader and elementary school teachers to his former minor league and Pirates teammates to close friends, coaches, mentors, etc. I feel comfortable saying it's the most revealing portrait ever written on the man.

Anyhow, I dig your site, and was wondering if you'd consider letting readers know that:
A. The book is coming out April 18 and that I have a site, (it's going live next week; will have tons of photos, Giants trivia; insight; etc).
B. I will respond to any/all e-mails about the book/ at this e-mail address. I love feedback.

Uhm, guess that's it. I'd be happy to send y'all a review copy, and if you need a Q&A, interview, whatever, I'd be honored/thrilled.

Anyhow, thanks much. Great site.


Jeff Pearlman

PS: Hope it's OK with you if I link your site from mine.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?