As a critic of ESPN and all mainstream media in their sensationalism and how the they, particularly the sports media, is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-now-business.” I begrudgingly agreed with them with my NL East predictions.
While ranking division rivals over my favorite team was far from easy, there is no way that the Nationals cannot be the favorite for the NL East crown, and as most opine, the NL Pennant. From top to bottom, this team is stacked with talent. This team is POWERFUL, with 5 players hitting over 15 homeruns in the previous season, a full season of Bryce Harper (as well as his physical development in terms of filling out more), and a full and healthy season of Jason Werth (5 HR, 300 ABs 2012), it is presumable that the power production will be at the very minimum at the same level (assuming Werth’s home runs account for the departure of Morse).
As impressive as their lineup maybe, the most exciting part to me has to be the rotation. When the pitcher who had the most wins last year is not your Opening Day starter, your rotation is in good shape. A full-unhindered season of Stephen Strausburg and Gio Gonzalez (21 game winner) will result in one of the best 1-2, if not the best, combination in baseball.
With Dan Haren as their number 4, yes you read that correctly, they have three more-or-less proven starters. Where I think their greatest improvement will be is with Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler.
Last season, Zimmerman threw 62.5% fastballs, 23.7% sliders, 11.5% curves and 2.2% changeups. Towards the end of the season and throughout spring and the offseason, Zimmerman has worked on his feel for his changeup, which makes his 92-94 mph fastball that much better.
Detwiler, who, like Zimmerman, began working and improving his feel for his off-speed offerings. Apart from Haren and Gonzalez this rotation is young in age and in terms of their major league experience, increasing their potential.
While three relievers have left, the acquisition of Rafael Soriano as a closer leaves them with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard as their 7th/8th inning men. Drew Storen ( 2012 Era 2.37) and Clippard (2012 ERA 3.72) provide more than solid bridges to Soriano. The weakness in this bullpen is their only left Zach Duke (2012 1.32 ERA 13.5 IP),but Clippard had relative success against lefties. With Craig Stammen (2012 ERA 2.34), flamethrowers Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez, from top-bottom this is the strongest bullpen in the division.
2. Atlanta Braves
The reason I give the edge to the Nationals is because their rotation is going to be better. However, the Brave’s rotation will be solid as well.A full season of Medlen (0.97 ERA 2012 while starting) should be very entertaining to watch.
However, there is less certainty behind him, and even the stats he put up are hard to reproduce. Tim Hudson will be 37 having had two major surgeries in his career (back and old Tommy-John), which casts a long shadow of doubt on if he would be able to make it the full length of the season.
Mike Minor, while he pitched poorly in the first half of the season, was fantastic in the second half (2.16 ERA). But, which Minor shows up? Paul Maholm should serve as a high 3 to mid 4 ERA and highly touted prospect Julio Teheran, who in a small sample size (25 innings from 2011-2012) has given up 15 runs has a lot of upside. He is only 22 and has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and his strikeout pitch, changeup. However, he must succeed before the return of Brandon Beachy (recovering from Tommy John surgery).
Their relievers are very impressive, headed by their closer Craig Kimbrel. He had a 16.7K/9 last season on is way to saving 42 games. If setup man Jonny Venters, who has not been healthy, can get and stay healthy, this back end of the bullpen is going to be extremely difficult to beat. Their middle relievers Cristhian Martinez, Luis Avilan, and Cory Gearrin all had good years last year, and prohibiting any relapses, they should serve as good bridges to the 8th.
Their big acquisitions, the Upton brothers, who have big talent, but have no really had the success that has been expected of them, join Jason Heyward in the outfield. The Upton brothers have always been known to compete with each other, which, in my opinion, will drive them to have highly successful seasons (relative to years past).
Heyward (.269, 27 HR, and 82 RBI) and Freeman (.259, 23HR, 94 RBI) should be able to improve from a batting average standpoint and I combination with Brain McCann and Uggla, this team has some serious pop. Although losing Bourn hurts the defense and overall speed, BJ and Justin Upton should make up for it defensively.
The Philadellphia Phillies have begun their fall from grace. After stealing the vision from the Mets in 2007 and their subsequent domination over the MLB, it appears as the best is now over. While Chase Utley is very productive, his recent diagnosis with degenerative knees, casts a lot of doubt on his ability to make it through the season. Ryan Howard, who although is leading the majors in homeruns during the spring, is now 33 and recovering from Achilles injury, which may inhibit his ability defensively.
With the acquisition of Michael Young (2012 8HRs, .27, 67 RBI’s) and Jimmy Rollins being Jimmy Rollins (OPS fiend), the offensive success depends on their outfield. While the additions of Lancy Nix and Delmond Young add a good veteran presence to them and Ben Revere adds a base stealing, contact hitter, Dominic Brown will have to carry the outfield.
A highly regarded prospect who has struggled in his young career thus far, added muscle (10 pounds) and refined his swing to hit .376 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 85 spring at-bats. If Howard, Utley, and Rollins can stay healthy and Brown can hit around .300 with 20ish home runs, this division will turn into a three team race.
Cole Hamels looks to be the rotation’s ace for the foreseeable future and has emerged as a force to recon with. Hallday, who after back and shoulder problems has had a decrease in velocity which is natural with age. His success will hinge upon how he adjusts, using his off-speed pitches and veteran knowledge.
Cliff Lee did almost everything right, 3.19 ERA, as such his win total was not indicative on his season. Barring another season of a dearth in run support, Lee should be roughly around 15 wins when all is said and done.
Kyle Kendrick and Jon Lannan, look to be a solid 4-5 of the rotation as Lannan is a ground ball producing machine and Kendrick mixing change ups more frequently with his fastball and slider, which lead him to have highs in career wins, k/9, and batting average against.
A common theme among the top 3 in this division is the strength of their bullpens, with an experienced closer in Papelbon and the additions of Chad Durbin (2012 3.10 ERA) and a setup man in Mike Adams (2012 3.27 ERA). Also, assuming Antonio Bastardo and Phillip Aumount, both young pitchers who received a lot of experience from last year, pitch near their potential, this bullpen will be vastly improved (21st in ERA 2012)
As an enormous Mets fan, it was extremely difficult to put them anywhere but first. However, let’s face it, this season is nothing but a “rebuilding year.” This team has simply too many holes, relying on Marlon Byrd, Shawn Marcum, among other no names on the roster.
With this being said, I am still excited for this season as new prospects will be introduced and younger, perhaps emerging stars, improve and take another step forward in their career progression. For instance, after a successful season in 2012 and after a impressive spring training (yes, I know it doesn’t mean (which much, just work with me), I believe Jon Niese will have a very good season. He has a chance to make his mark as he is the Opening Day Starter and in my eyes, the most reliable pitcher of the rotation (NOT A GOOD THING).
Ike Davis, another year removed from the wacky ankle injury as well as fatigue from valley fever. While I don’t think he will for much more power, his average should hover around .270 along with an increase in extra base hits not called homeruns. I could say Lucas Duda and his confidence issues (yes, that is a thing), but I think, if he makes the team, is Jordany Valdepsin. He had a lot of success last year as a pinch hitter with clutch home runs and hits,but his athleticism is outstanding. The only problem is his attitude.
I could go into Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, or Travis D’arnaud for awhile, but they get enough coverage. My focus will be on a guy who does not get the hype that these players do (for good reason), but none the less can contribute. Zach Lutz is a 1B/3B 6’1, 220 pounder who is not known for his fielding but has proven that he can hit in spring training as well as in AAA (2012 AAA: .299, 10 HR, 16 doubles, 294 PA and 2013: .319, 4 Doubles, 72 PA). If not for a few injuries, he would have appeared earlier, but he did receive a cup of coffee towards the end of last season.
The last team in these standings has got to be the Miami Marlins. Their past season amazed me, through all of their acquisitions and all of the talent, I could not believe the ending result. After trading away Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Mark Buerhle, and Josh Johnson, there really is not too much left of these Marlins except for that god-awful thing behind the centerfield fence. The only thing that I look forward to, if I was one of the few Marlins fans left, would be Giancarlos Stanton smashing the ball out of the park. There also is not too many top flight prospects that will come up, unlike the Mets. Their top prospects will most likely not reach the majors until 2014.