It's almost too obvious predicting that Roy Halladay will become the fourth pitcher in baseball history to win a Cy Young in both leagues (following in the footsteps of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens). Last year he had a 0.90 ERA in interleague play. For his career he's 17-8 with a 3.02 ERA against NL teams, 8-4 against clubs in the NL East. As good as he was against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays in '09 (6-7, 2.97 ERA), he was even better against everybody else (11-3, 2.62 ERA). He's a pitcher perfectly primed for a career year. He's at the tail end of his prime (33), widely considered among the smartest pitchers in the game, facing a league that's unfamiliar with him, pitching in front of a very good defense for a team that scores a ton of runs, and is determined to go to his first postseason ever. It would seem, certainly, that the stars are aligned.
Halladay's run at history aside, the Phillies look to me like the only truly easy pick in baseball. This can certainly be a jinx. Last year the Cubs looked like runaway favorites in the NL Central. A couple years ago pretty much everybody thought the Tigers would storm their way through a weak AL Central. The Phillies will half to fight off complacency following two straight pennants, and Halladay's determination to pitch in October should help a great deal.
There are those who believe the Braves and the Marlins have realistic playoff aspirations as well, but, frankly, I don't see it. The Braves, very oddly, traded away their best pitcher for a package that might make them better in 2012, but not this season. They've still got a decent rotation, though certainly not what is was when Javier Vazquez was at the front, but the offense will depend heavily on fragile geezers (Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus) and inexperienced youngsters (Jason Heyward, Martin Prado).
The Marlins front office seems more than content with hanging around .500 and lining their pockets withe revenue-sharing money until they can blackmail Miami into building them a new ballpark. The team is more or less a photocopy of last year and though the natural development of their young players could be enough to tack on another win or two. There is an equal possibility that they slide in the other direction. Young teams, like young players, are notoriously inconsistent.
The Mets are already plagued with health questions, but I have a hard time believing they can be as star-crossed as they were a year ago. I expect Reyes and Beltran will both play at least 120 games and be plenty productive, alongside a resurgent Wright and the welcomed addition of Jason Bay. The problem, however, is that even if everybody's on the field and the Mets are scoring runs in bunches, New York's rotation will thwart any serious inklings of contention. Following Johan Santana on Opening Day, Mets fans will be praying for a week's worth of rain.
With the exception of the Phillies, who do everything well and have a whole host of soulful players, the NL East team I'm most excited to watch in 2010 in actually the Washington Nationals. There is, of course, the anticipation of Strasburg's major-league debut, which should be delayed until June at least (to set back the arbitration clock) and maybe even longer, depending on how he looks at AAA. But the Nats have quietly assembled an interested cast. Ryan Zimmerman is beginning to look a lot like David Wright, without the metropolitan spotlight. Nyjer Morgan is a very serious challenger for the title Best Centerfielder in Baseball (defensively). Elijah Dukes is maturing, as is Josh Willingham. Chien-Ming Wang will be trying to prove that he is still the pitcher who won 19 games in both '06 and '07, not the guy who was publicly humiliated by the new Yankee Stadium last April. And John Lannan is beginning to look like he will become the first real Ace the organization has had since they left Montreal. I don't think the Nats can hope for anything better than 70-75 wins in '09, but after a couple straight 100-loss seasons, I think they'd be quite pleased with that.
Philadelphia Phillies 103-59
Florida Marlins 84-78
Atlanta Braves 82-80
New York Mets 81-81
Washington Nationals 75-86
M.V.P. Candidate: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Cy Contender: Roy Halladay, Phillies
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward, Braves
Breakout Candidates: John Lannan (Nationals); Elijah Dukes (Nationals); Nyjer Morgan (Nationals); Melky Cabrera (Braves); Anibal Sanchez (Marlins); Stephen Strasburg (Nationals); Fernando Martinez (Mets); Mike Stanton (Marlins)