Atlanta Braves Pitching In Tough Company Among NL East Foes

Pitching was one of the strongest aspects of the Atlanta Braves in 2011, most notably the stellar work out of the bullpen. We recently took a look at how the Braves and their hitters ranked among those in the National League East, but now it is time to see how the projected rotation, bullpen and closer stack up against the Marlins, Mets, Nationals and Phillies. Here are the numbers from David Shoenfield of ESPN's SweetSpot blog.

No. 1 Starter:

1. Roy Halladay, Phillies
2. Josh Johnson, Marlins
3. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
4. Tim Hudson, Braves
5. Johan Santana, Mets

You know, for being listed as the "ace" of each rotation, every member of this list other than Roy Halladay comes with serious health concerns. There is no denying Halladay is the best in the NL East, but Johnson, Strasburg, Hudson and Santana could all be interchangeable depending on their health throughout the year.

No. 2 Starter:

1. Cliff Lee, Phillies
2. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
3. Mark Buehrle, Marlins
4. Tommy Hanson, Braves
5. R.A. Dickey, Mets

Until Hanson proves his shoulder is healthy it seems fair to place the 23-year old in fourth place, although he is undoubtably more talented than an overrated Gonzalez, an aging Buehrle and an inconsistent Dickey (make your own joke here.)

In all seriousness, Cliff Lee is once again undoubtably the best pitcher in this group and Hanson will be No. 2 if he can stay healthy.

No. 3 Starter:

1. Cole Hamels, Phillies
2. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
3. Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
4. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
5. Mike Pelfrey, Mets

I guess we'll go with Jurrjens as the No. 3 starter because that's the way Shoenfield ranked him, but it should be Brandon Beachy in this spot. Regardless, there isn't too much to argue with here.

No. 4 Starter:

1. Brandon Beachy, Braves
2. Vance Worley, Phillies
3. John Lannan, Nationals
4. Jonathon Niese, Mets
5. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins

Beachy was incredible this past season and was more of a No. 2 starter than he was a No. 4. Again, can't really disagree with anything else here, although I'd drop Lannan a spot or two.

No. 5 Starter:

1. Mike Minor, Braves
2. Carlos Zambrano, Marlins
3. Dillon Gee, Mets
4. Chien-Ming Wang, Nationals
5. Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick, Phillies

If I'm betting money on who has the better season between Minor and Jurrjens, I'd put money on Minor. He is undoubtably the best of this group and will only get better. He is still only 23 years old.

Closer:

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
3. Drew Storen, Nationals
4. Heath Bell, Marlins
5. Frank Francisco, Mets

Did anyone else forget that Jonathan Papelbon is now a member of the Phillies like I did? Sure doesn't seem right to have him in Philadelphia instead of Boston. Regardless, Kimbrel is undoubtably the best in this group, although the top-four are no slouches.

Bullpen:

1. Braves -- Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Kris Medlen, Cristhian Martinez, Anthony Varvaro
2. Marlins -- Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica, Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb, Randy Choate
3. Nationals -- Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez, Ryan Perry, Tom Gorzelanny
4. Phillies -- Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Dontrelle Willis, David Herndon, Jose Contreras
5. Mets -- Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch, Pedro Beato, Tim Byrdak, Manny Acosta

Each of these five teams could have a strong bullpen in 2012 and a lot will depend on how healthy the guys in Atlanta can stay after such a heavy workload in 2011. If healthy, though, it's tough to imagine anyone in the NL East with a better bullpen than Atlanta, especially with Kris Medlen and Arodys Vizcaino in the mix all year.

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