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NL East MLB Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies have won the NL East the last two seasons. With Roy Halladay now leading the rotation, is a third straight title on the way?

The Phillies easily won the division last season, finishing six games up on the Florida Marlins. Heading into the season they are -210 odds favorites to repeat as division champs. The Phillies made a big move in the offseason by acquiring Halladay. If they can get Cole Hamels to return to his old form they’ll have an amazing righty-lefty combo atop their rotation.

Philadelphia’s lineup is loaded with power, starting with premier slugger Ryan Howard. Chase Utley is arguably the best-hitting second-baseman in baseball, while Raul Ibanez clubbed a career-high 34 homers last season. It looks like the only thing that could derail the Phillies’ repeat bid is injury.

If something does keep the Phillies from continuing their reign over the East, look for the Atlanta Braves to take advantage of any openings. The Braves follow the Phillies on the division futures odds at +400 at Bovada and could surprise with a solid pitching staff. Led by veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson and bolstered by young arms Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, the Braves have four starters that could each win 15-plus games.

To really contend Atlanta will need their hitters to match their pitchers. The corner spots of the infield are manned by two aging vets, Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus, and both need to stay healthy and produce at the plate if Atlanta is going to compete.

The Mets are looking to bounce back from a dreadful 2009 season, but their chances of competing with the Phillies and Braves looks bleak as New York enters the season with three major injury concerns. Carlos Beltran will miss at least the first month of the season after offseason knee surgery. Jose Reyes is still dealing with a thyroid issue that has shortened his spring training, and Johan Santana is coming off offseason elbow surgery.

If Santana doesn’t return to form quickly the Mets could be sunk, because they lack any other big-name pitchers in a rotation filled out by John Maine, Mike Pelfry and Oliver Perez. It could be argued that the Mets should have gone after a starter instead of throwing big bucks at Jason Bay.

The only other legitimate contender in the East is the Marlins, who finished second last season. Florida as usual has plenty of young talent, which means they could be very good or struggle and finish well back. Josh Johnson is a true ace, but they’ll need Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad to step up to have a solid rotation.

Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla should provide plenty of pop once again, but there are no guarantees from the rest of the Marlins’ hitters, including rookie of the year Chris Coghlan.

NL East futures at Bovada:
Philadelphia -210
Atlanta +400
NY Mets +600
Florida +800
Washington +8000