It's opening day 2.0 of the 2011 Major League Baseball season and since it is today that the Phillies count as their opening day... I'm going to call it "the one that counts." With the season just beginning, the obvious question of course is, "how will it end?" We'll turn to the experts and try to aggregate something resembling the truth.
I don't know how long Chase Utley will be on the shelf, and that win estimate is more likely to be high than low; I still have the Phillies in first because their front four starters are tremendous and should help take pressure off a bullpen that has long been an Achilles' heel. Atlanta has the talent to surpass the Phillies, but they keep trying to sabotage themselves, like talking about batting Jason Heyward sixth, moving Martin Prado to left to install Dan Uggla at second, or choosing Brandon Beachy over Mike Minor based on the tiny sample of spring training.
ESPN's Buster Olney disagrees however, basing his evaluation on spring training(always a great idea!), and predicts the Braves to win the division with the Phillies taking the wildcard.
I went to spring training assuming that I would take the Phillies to win the NL East, but their injuries are significant, a major concern for a lineup that appears very thin. Charlie Manuel is scrambling to identify a No. 3 hitter and a No. 5 hitter, and as one veteran pitcher said to me this spring, there is absolutely no reason to throw Ryan Howard anything but breaking balls. Other heroes have to emerge.
SBNation's Rob Neyer has the Phils taking the division, but like pretty much everyone felt the need to hedge with the "but the Braves are good too!" line.
Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies have The Great Pitching Rotation since pitching rotations were invented in 1893. But Jayson Werth is gone, Utley's just hoping to play again someday, and almost everybody in the lineup's on the wrong side of 30. Are the Phillies going to be good? Barring catastrophic injuries, of course they'll be good. But everyone seems to be assuming they will be great, and I'm just not seeing it. I'm seeing a team that might win 95 games if things go well or 85 if they don't, with around 90 the most likely outcome. And 90 wins puts them just a few breaks ahead of the Braves at the top of the division.
I will give some kudos to Neyer for being the only guy on this list so far to doubt the Phillies because Chase Utley is over 30 and hurt while also noting that the Braves' Chipper Jones is 39 and coming off a major injury.
Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory used his ZiPS projection system to predict the NL East and he has the Phillies winning with by far the biggest margin winning 95 games to the Braves' 86.
Did the Phillies clinch the division the day they signed Cliff Lee? That's the popular sentiment, then and now. And even if the tendinitis in Chase Utley's right knee is worse than originally feared, our projections identify four reasons why the Phils will hold off the Braves for their fifth straight NL East title. Those reasons: Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
The Yahoo! Sports staff made their predictions, but apparently were too busy to explain why. Two of the three (Tim Brown & Steve Henson) have the Braves winning by a game, while Jeff Passan has the Phils winning by two games.
Peter Gammons wrote a predictions column titled "What do we know? Not much yet" and didn't actually make any predictions. Also he dedicated the vast majority of it to Red Sox vs Yankees. Shocking, I know.
"Right now, you just look at the roster, and that's how you predict who's going to win and who's not going to win," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "But the game's won on the field. Any player, any team would say that."
Yes Brian, the game is won on the field... by the players on the roster.
Sports Illustrated dedicated their cover and main feature to the Phillies, but predicted the Braves would win the division. They went to Jimmy Rollins to ask what was the most important factor in the Phillies four straight division titles. This happened.
Jimmy Rollins shook his head and held up three fingers. "It's only been three," he said. He was reminded that, no, the Phils have finished first four straight times. Rollins paused and smiled. "Really?" he said. "Shoot, time flies. Guess this better be five then."
J-Roll isn't paid to count, or take the first pitch folks.
Mitch Williams has been writing division previews for MLB.com but he ran out of time and had to group his NL Central and NL East predictions into one. Not a joke... The "Wild Thing" has the Phils.
Not only do I think the Phillies will win the NL East, they're my pick to win the NL pennant. Alas, Philadelphia will lose the World Series to Boston, the most complete (on paper) team in baseball. Let's revisit this predictions at the All-Star break and see if I change my opinions based on injuries, etc.
Alas, it's not just the jocks that are picking the Phillies. The nerds are on board as well. NJIT professor Bruce Bukiet, whose mathematical model to predict division winner was judged to be the most accurate predictor last season, has the Phillies.
In the NL East, the race for first place should be tight with the Phillies repeating as division champions, winning 92 games and the Braves just two games behind at 90, with both teams making the playoffs. In the Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals appear poised to tie the Phillies for the best record in the NL, beating the Cincinnati Reds, the 2010 Central Division winners by 6 games. In the West, the World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants, should repeat as champs with 89 wins, with the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers just 2 and 3 games back, respectively.