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Braves Beat Writer: Phils Will Challenge Favorite Braves

Mark Bowman, beat writer at Braves.com, answered some questions as part of his newest mailbag. The first question addressed the Braves biggest challenge in the NL East, and it was an interesting answer:

“This once again appears to be a three-horse race, with the Mets only currently being listed to satisfy those looking to bet a trifecta. Of course, if New York general manager Omar Minaya is able to bring Johan Santana to Queens, prognosticators will have a much tougher time projecting the clear-cut kings of the NL East.”

Wow. Big words. Remember, many of us Mets and Phillies fans think Santana would make the Mets a clear-cut favorite in the division.

“As the rosters currently stand, I’d say the Phillies appear to be Atlanta’s greatest threat. They have the talent to repeat as division champs this year even if they don’t get another assist from the Mets, whose concerns center around their rotation and not how they’ll rebound from last year’s September collapse.”

I would think the Mets will address their rotation, whether it’s through Santana or at least a No. 4 (Lohse possibly), and rebounding from the collapse isn’t as monumental a problem as most would think. It’s a new season — if anything, the Mets are more aware of the problems that caused their slide.

“The Phillies might regret the acquisition of Brad Lidge during some ninth innings in the band box that they call home. But even if a change of scenery isn’t enough to end the mental woes the once-dominant closer battled in Houston, his arrival in Philadelphia has at least allowed Brett Myers to return to the rotation, and that should be considered a good thing in the City of Brotherly Love.

“With Myers and ace Cole Hamels, arguably the NL’s best young left-hander, the front of the Philadelphia rotation is solid. But it’s certainly not better than the one-two punch Atlanta has with John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. And it definitely would again have to take a back seat if Santana is paired with Pedro Martinez, who will remain at least effective as long as his once-prized right arm stays attached to his surgically-repaired shoulder.”

Statistics say Hamels/Myers is inferior to Smoltz/Hudson, but I’d much rather go into 2008 with the Phillies pair than the Braves duo. Hamels has learned how to pitch in the “band box,” while Myers also knows his way around and has solid starting numbers. And they’re much younger and less injury prone (though Hamels is debatable at times). If the Mets grab Santana, yes, the Mets would have the best rotation in the East.

“Each of these teams have solid offenses and the race should be determined by rotation depth. With Hudson and Smoltz, the Braves appear to have the best thoroughbred duo and thus I’ll peg them as the favorites. But when it comes to the NL East this year, the only sure lock is that the Marlins will finish last.”

Interesting. Of course, he is the Braves.com beat writer, so I guess it’s not out of his league to be biased somewhat. Still, a 1-2 punch does not a division winner make, so thems is fightin’ words from the Braves beat man. And, you know, you can’t just mark the Marlins as the basement dwellers in the East. Remember, whenever the Marlins cut the payroll, they make a giant push. If I’m Mark Bowman, I’d watch what I say.

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