- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ATLANTA BRAVES

2006: 79-83

Manager: Bobby Cox

Probable starters

2B Kelly Johnson

SS Edgar Renteria

3B Chipper Jones

CF Andruw Jones

C Brian McCann

RF Jeff Francoeur

1B Scott Thorman

LF Ryan Langerhans/Matt Diaz

Rotation: John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chuck James, Mark Redman, Kyle Davies

Closer: Bob Wickman/Mike Gonzalez

Bottom line: After finally falling back to the pack in the NL East after 14 straight division titles, the Braves revamped their tattered bullpen, adding Wickman, Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. But the rotation behind Smoltz and Hudson looks shaky, and the Joneses aren’t getting any younger.

FLORIDA MARLINS

2006: 78-84

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez

Probable starters

SS Hanley Ramirez

2B Dan Uggla

3B Miguel Cabrera

LF Josh Willingham

1B Mike Jacobs

RF Jeremy Hermida

C Miguel Olivo

CF Alex Sanchez

Rotation: Dontrelle Willis, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson (DL)

Closer: Taylor Tankersley/Kevin Gregg

Bottom line: Last year’s surprise darlings, they’ll try to avoid the sophomore jinx and raised expectations. It didn’t help when Johnson went down with a forearm injury; the rest of the rotation will have to pick up the slack. And someone has to emerge as a viable closer.

NEW YORK METS

2006: 97-65

Manager: Willie Randolph

Probable starters

SS Jose Reyes

C Paul Lo Duca

CF Carlos Beltran

1B Carlos Delgado

3B David Wright

LF Moises Alou

RF Shawn Green

2B Jose Valentin

Rotation: Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Chan Ho Park

Closer: Billy Wagner

Bottom line: The lineup is once again stacked and is the best in the NL, maybe in the majors. But that starting rotation — yikes. Glavine and El Duque are running out of gas, and the other three are big question marks. If they can hang on until July, Pedro will try to save the day.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2006: 85-77

Manager: Charlie Manuel

Probable starters

SS Jimmy Rollins

RF Shane Victorino

2B Chase Utley

1B Ryan Howard

LF Pat Burrell

3B Wes Helms

CF Aaron Rowand

C Rod Barajas/Carlos Ruiz

Rotation: Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton

Closer: Tom Gordon

Bottom line: After several years of near-misses, the Phils believe this is finally the team to get over the hump. They’ve got a diverse and deep lineup featuring HR champ Howard and emerging star Utley, and they’ve finally got a five-deep rotation to go along with that offense.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2006: 71-91

Manager: Manny Acta

Probable starters

2B Felipe Lopez

SS Cristian Guzman

3B Ryan Zimmerman

RF Austin Kearns

1B Dmitri Young

CF Ryan Church

C Brian Schneider

LF Kory Casto

Rotation: John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Matt Chico, Jerome Williams, Jason Simontacchi

Closer: Chad Cordero

Bottom line: New ownership will finally provide some stability and a long-term plan, but the short-term results could be ugly. The lineup will sorely miss Alfonso Soriano (free agent) and Nick Johnson (broken leg), and the rotation has nothing after ace John Patterson.

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