Saturday, March 30, 2013

NL East Preview

1st Place--Washington Nationals
2012 Record: 98-64
2012 Pythagorean: 96-66
2013 Projected: 102-60
Tom Verducci showed how 100-win teams are dying out in the modern game, but if any team has the potential to crack the century mark in the win column, its the Nationals. Washington posted the best record in baseball last year and returns fully intact (minus Mike Morse), another year older and wiser. This is a team that has to be considered World Series favorites because it has no holes. The Nats have quality bats top-to-bottom, speed, power and on-base ability. The only weak spot is catcher (Kurt Suzuki), but hopefully he hits so poorly that Wilson Ramos earns a chance to win the job back. Their rotation (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ross Detwiler) is the best in baseball, and their bullpen is just as filthy with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen setting up Rafael Soriano. Full seasons from Strasburg and Bryce Harper (and hopefully Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth) will push this team over the top.

2nd Place--Atlanta Braves
2012 Record: 94-68
2012 Pythagorean: 92-70
2013 Projected: 91-71
The Braves boast a young, exciting lineup loaded with tons of speed and power. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton are the key additions that will balance out Atlant's southpaw mashers with their righthanded pop. Jason Heyward took a big step forward last year to get back on the Ken Griffey Jr. track scouts predicted him to follow. Dan Uggla must improve after submitting the worst season of his career last year. Freddie Freeman should get better after putting his eye issues behind him. Gerald Laird will be forced to catch on a regular basis until Brian McCann returns, and even then there's a chance that McCann won't be the perennial All-Star we're used to seeing. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons plays stellar defense but will be tested in his first full big league season. However it's important to remember that Michael Bourn, Chipper Jones and Martin Prado and their combined 14 bWAR will not return in 2013. The rotation looks good on paperwith the timeless Tim Hudson leading the way, flanked by Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, and budding ace Kris Medlen. Medlen pitched like Sandy Koufax in a dozen starts last year, but it remains to be seen how he'll hold up over the course of a full season. The staff will get a nice boost if/when Brandon Beachy returns from Tommy John, probably near the end of the summer. Atlanta has what is arguably the best bullpen in baseball with Jordan Walden joining Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O'Flaherty. The Braves are going to be tough to beat in the late innings of close ballgames and shouldn't have much of a problem making it back to the postseason.

3rd Place--Philadelphia Phillies
2012 Record: 81-81
2012 Pythagorean: 81-81
2013 Projected: 87-75
The Phillies were massive disappointments last year, when injuries ruined their roster and resulted in a .500 season. It's easy to write them off as too old and injury-prone (like the Yankees), but don't forget that they're just one year removed from a 102 win season. Philadelphia is still a dangerous, if not top-heavy, ballclub loaded with veteran talent. The offense is an interesting mix of aging stars and unproven youngsters. The infield triumvirate of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins are all past their primes, but if they all stay healthy then they're going to be productive. Carlos Ruiz will return from his suspension at the end of the month to provide an offensive lift behind the plate, even if there's no chance he replicates his sensational 2012. Everybody's saying this is the year Domonic Brown breaks out, and one look at his spring training numbers confirms the hype. The outfield (Brown, Ben Revere, and Laynce Nix) is going to miss Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, though Revere provides a heavy dose of speed and defense as a homeless' man's Michael Bourn. Don't expect much out of newcomers Michael Young and Delmon Young. Philly's rotation is still a three-headed monster with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee all capable of winning a Cy Young award, though Halladay is coming off a poor season and hasn't looked the same in spring training. His age and heavy workloads may have finally caught up to him. Lee pitched much better last year than his 6-9 record indicates and should see his win total bounce back in 2013. Jonathan Papelbon was terrific in his NL debut, but Charlie Manuel needs to deploy him properly. I don't think Philadelphia will make the playoffs, but one has to acknowledge that the talent is there for a 90 win season and a postseason berth.

4th Place--New York Mets
2012 Record: 74-88
2012 Pythagorean: 75-87
2013 Projected: 75-87
As bad as the depleted Yankees look right now, they'll still be better than their crosstown rivals. The last half-decade has not been kind to the team in Flushing, and this season doesn't figure to be any different. The Mets have a nice infield and several premier prospects, but that's not going to cut it in a loaded NL East. 23 year-old Ruben Tejada held his own as the everyday shortstop last year, but his lack of power makes him Elvis Andrus without the wheels. David Wright returned to form last year after a down 2011, but his health woes in spring training lead me to believe he might struggle again in 2013. Slugging first baseman Ike Davis is one of baseball's best kept secrets and should have better luck after posting a .246 BABiP last year. Now if he can just figure out how to hit lefties... He and Lucas Duda are coming into their primes and will be counted on to support Wright in the meat of New York's order. Without Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, the rotation lacks a true number one. Jonathan Niese was great last year, but he's no ace. Neither is the ever-underrated Shaun Marcum, who missed time with an elbow strain last year and will open the season on the Disabled List. Young power-pitcher Matt Harvey needs to step up and fill the void, though he'll likely face an adjustment period at some point this season. He could be the best pitcher on the Mets this year, or he could just as easily go bust when big league hitters start figuring him out. I can't say I like New York's bullpen, not that it's going to make much of a difference either way. the Mets have the talent to be a .500 team at best, but I see them enduring a fifth consecutive losing season. At least they don't have to worry about finishing in last place.

5th Place--Florida Marlins
2012 Record: 69-93
2012 Pythagorean: 68-94
2013 Projected: 57-105
There's no way this team doesn't lose at least 100 games. Less than a year after spending money like a drunken playboy in a Vegas casino, the Marlins dismantled their roster piece by piece, trading away all their talent Harry Frazee-style. Now, all that's left is the wildly inconsistent Ricky Nolasco, a disgruntled Giancarlo Stanton (who may not see a decent pitch to hit again for the rest of the decade), and Twittaholic Logan Morrison. I envision many solo home runs in Stanton's future, for the basepaths will be just as empty as the seats in Miami's shiny new baseball stadium. The mass exodus began during the summer when the losses began to mount and it became clear the Marlins weren't going to contend for a playoff spot. Hanley Ramirez took his fading star to Hollywood. Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante packed their bags for Motown. A struggling Gaby Sanchez got dumped on the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the season ended Heath Bell was banished to the Arizona desert. Ozzie Guillen got canned. Then, to top it all off, the Fish pulled off a fire sale that rivaled Boston's late summer housecleaning. Miami jettisoned its remaining stars--Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle--north of the border in a blockbuster 12-player trade that rocked the baseball world and ignited a media firestorm. It's no wonder Stanton wants to be traded, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment