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New York Mets 2011 MLB Preview: Middle of the Pack in NL East

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Soxthe top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central, and this week we’re looking at the NL East. We’ve already covered the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins. Today we’ll look at the New York Mets; Thursday: Washington Nationals.

The Tweener: New York Mets

Off-Season Moves: The Mets lost lefty-specialist, and workhorse, Pedro Feliciano, who finished the last three seasons as the major league leader in appearances, to free agency. They also lost left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, who went 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA and eight saves combined over 12 starts and 41 relief appearances. New York also acquired two bottom of the rotation-type guys with a lot to prove in righty Chris Young and lefty Chris Capuano. The biggest Met-killer in recent history, outfielder Willie Harris, was also brought in.

Strengths: The Mets led the NL (fifth in the majors) in steals, with 130 in 2010. Newly-named center fielder Angel Pagan led the team with 37 steals, and though he missed some time, shortstop Jose Reyes stole 30. Third baseman David Wright (pictured above) added 19 bags. That team speed — along with some help from the spacious Citi Field — allowed the Mets to hit 40 triples, good for third in baseball.

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Florida Marlins 2011 MLB Preview: Could Finish as High as Second, Low as Fourth

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central, and this week we’re looking at the NL East. We’ve already covered the Phillies and the Braves, and today we’ll look at the Florida Marlins; Wednesday: New York Mets.

The Wild Card: Florida Marlins

Off-Season Moves: Florida traded away center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Padres for a couple of right-handed relievers in Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. They acquired utility man Omar Infante from the Braves in exchange for Dan Uggla. Through free agency, the Marlins picked up righty Javier Vazquez, catcher John Buck, and third baseman Greg Dobbs. Possibly their biggest off-season move was extending Ricky Nolasco through 2013.

Strengths: The 2011 Marlins’ biggest strength coming into this season is the stability of the starting rotation which is headlined by Josh Johnson (11-6, 2.30, pictured above), followed by Nolasco (14-9, 4.51) and then Vazquez (10-10, 5.32) or vice versa. The fourth and fifth spots should be occupied by righties Anibal Sanchez (13-12, 3.55) and Chris Volstad (12-9, 4.58) respectively. The only issue here is there isn’t a lefty in the bunch.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Atlanta Braves Biggest Threat to Phillies in NL East

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central, and this week we’ll take look at the NL East. Since the Phillies have already been named a World Series favorite, we’ll start with the Atlanta Braves; Tuesday: Florida Marlins.

The Top Threat: Atlanta Braves

Off-Season Moves: The Braves lost their top two first basemen, Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee, to free agency. They acquired second baseman Dan Uggla from the Marlins in a trade that sent young lefty Michael Dunn and super utility man Omar Infante to Florida. Atlanta also released last year’s primary left fielder Melky Cabrera.

Strengths: Offensively, the Braves are about average in most categories except for on-base percentage. Atlanta finished last season third in the majors with a .339 team OBP. This year’s team should be able to come close to replicating that, losing some good OBP guys in Lee (.347), Glaus (.344) and Infante (.359), but gaining Uggla’s .369. Last season’s team leader (min. 400 at bats), Jason Heyward (.393, pictured above), will have to avoid a sophomore slump to set the pace again. Rookie first baseman, Freddie Freeman, struggled in just 20 major league games last season, but had a .378 OBP in 124 AAA games last year.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Houston Astros Should At Least Finish Ahead of Pirates

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. Last week we looked at the how the NL Central might shape up with the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Cubs Yesterday we previewed the Pirates, and today we finish up the division with the Houston Astros.

The Tweeners: Houston Astros

Off-Season Moves: The Astros acquired utility man Clint Barmes from the Rockies in exchange for right-handed pitcher Felipe Paulino. Essentially, they got a guy who can play almost anywhere on the field for a guy who seemingly has no business in any starting rotation. They also picked up another utility man in Bill Hall and took a flier on left-handed pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, a guy who showed some promise before a disappointing 2010, both via free agency.

Strengths: The Astros have several guys who can play all over the field. Barmes played second base, third base and shortstop last season and has played in the outfield in the past. Hall played every infield position except first base last season with the Red Sox and also played every outfield position. He even pitched an inning — without allowing a hit or walking a batter. Last year’s primary second baseman Jeff Keppinger also played at shortstop and has played at first and in the outfield in the past.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates Apparently Happy With Status Quo

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. Last week we looked at the how the NL Central might shape up with the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Cubs. Thursday: Pittsburgh Pirates; Friday: Houston Astros.
The Bottom Feeders: Pittsburgh Pirates

Off-Season Moves: The biggest — though not big — move for the Pirates this off-season involved trading left-handed pitcher Zach Duke to the Diamondbacks for righty Cesar Valdez. Duke went 8-15 last season with a 5.72 ERA, while Valdez went 1-2 with a 7.65 ERA in nine games for Arizona last season. In two seasons in AAA, Valdez was 13-16 with a 5.90 ERA.

Strengths: If nothing else, the Pirates are young. The active roster boasts nine players born after 1985 and only six born before 1982. New addition Lyle Overbay is the oldest at 34, while the youngest, starting outfielder Jose Tabata, won’t turn 23 until August. The organization has at least some hope for the future if the young players at the top of the order — Andrew McCutchen (pictured above), Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez — progress as expected. Though not a top team in either category, the Pirates fall right around the middle-of-the-pack in both doubles and triples, which is higher than they they rank in just about anything else.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Can the Dark Horse Chicago Cubs Compete in the NL Central?

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. This week, we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Monday: St. Louis Cardinals; Tuesday: Cincinnati Reds; Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers; Thursday: Chicago Cubs.

The Dark Horse: Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Moves: The Cubs traded prospects for flame-throwing right handed pitcher Matt Garza and brought back Kerry Wood on a one-year deal to bolster the bullpen.  They also replaced departing free agent Derrek Lee with Carlos Pena, whom they signed for one year.

Strengths: What makes this team an interesting dark horse candidate is their pitching.  Ryan Dempster, Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells and Carlos Silva make up a pretty solid 1-5, with Andrew Cashner, waiting in the event of any injuries.  This is a rotation that stacks up with any other team in the division.  Their bullpen has a nice combination of different looks between the beast, Carlos Marmol, Cashner and Sean Marshall as seventh and eighth inning guys. Marshall really came into his own in 2010 pitching out of the bullpen full-time, striking out 10.85 per nine innings.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. This week, we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Monday: St. Louis Cardinals; Tuesday: Cincinnati Reds; Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers

The Must-Win Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Moves: The Brewers greatly improved their rotation when they pulled off one of this off-season’s most shocking and successful moves, acquiring Zack Greinke in a trade as well as Shaun Marcum.  They also added the seemingly ageless Takashi Saito to set-up for closer John Axford.

Strengths: The story of the Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun Brewers has always been hitting. Those two, along with Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee will keep opposing pitchers up at night. Weeks finally stayed healthy and had a season worthy of his potential and will need to build on that success. Hart had a nice bounce-back season, hitting 31 home runs. Prince Fielder has been an every-other-year kind of guy his whole career, and will be going into his walk year, so expect monster numbers from him on par with his 2007 and 2009 season.

Like the Cardinals, the Brewers feature a strong rotation 1-4, and have the division’s best 1-3 in Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Marcum. Gallardo is this team’s best breakout candidate, featuring plus stuff with improving command. Greinke is only one year removed from being in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball and should rebound well this season, playing in the National League and for a contender for the first time. Marcum could also experience a boost in his numbers as well, pitching outside of the American League East. Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson and Manny Parra are underrated in their own ways and fill out the back of the rotation well.

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