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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 MLB Previews: NL East

Every year towards the end of March, we do our MLB Previews so we can kind of get a lay of the land as the upcoming season gets ready to open. Typically we do previews of all divisions, including the AL, but this year, we're going to narrow it down to NL only for obvious reasons. As always, we'll start in the East:

1st Place, Washington Nationals

CF Denard Span
SS Ian Desmond
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos

RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Taylor Jordan (R)
SU: RH Tyler Clippard
CL: RH Rafael Soriano

The Nationals were the best team in the NL in 2012, looked like they would cruise to the World Series after taking a lead on St. Louis in the NLDS that fall, then coughed it up and never really recovered in 2013. They still have that squad pretty much in tact, with some improvements throughout. Their front-3 in the rotation can match up with any top-3 in baseball, and their bullpen is rock solid, essentially stocked with at least 3 legit closers (Storen, Clippard and Soriano). They have a lot of speed and power in their lineup, and as long as their rotation stays healthy, they should be the clear-cut favorites in the East, especially with the injuries Atlanta has gone through with their rotation this spring. I expect Bryce Harper to be in the NL MVP mix by season's end, and Stephen Strasburg to be in the Cy Young conversation as well. The scary thing about those guys, is they haven't nearly peaked yet and they're already catalysts who carry this team. Depending on how much growth those guys show will determine just how far the Nationals can go.

2nd Place, Atlanta Braves

RF Jason Heyward
3B Chris Johnson
LF Justin Upton
1B Fredie Freeman
C Evan Gattis
SS Andrelton Simmons
CF B.J. Upton
2B Dan Uggla

LHP Mike Minor
RHP Julio Teheran
RHP Ervin Santana
LHP Alex Wood
RHP Freddy Garcia
SU: RH Jordan Walden
CL: RH Craig Kimbrel

The Braves suffered some of the worst luck of any team in baseball this spring, as they lost not one, but two substantial starting pitchers for the season, as both Kris Medlan and Brandon Beachy each need Tommy John Surgery. Luckily for the Braves, they were able to fill one of the voids by inking Ervin Santana to a deal in mid-March. Another area that raises some questions is the top of their lineup. They'll start the season with Heyward in the leadoff spot, but he's far from your prototypical high on-base/average guy for that slot, and they don't have a standard two-hitter either. Justin Upton or Chris Johnson seem like the best fits, but I'm sure the Braves would like to see Simmons elevate himself into that spot at some point. Other than that, they really need bounce-backs from Uggla and the elder Upton for them to really make a run... Even with the losses of the two starters, their rotation should be decent. I really like young righty Julio Teheran, and Mike Minor is one of the more steady lefties in the game, although he's not an ace and he's being sort of forced into that role. Bullpen is sound, with the best closer in the game shutting the door, but they are a little thin in mid-relief and really need Jonny Venters to come back healthy and quick. They certainly have the talent to challenge for a playoff spot, but they'll need a lot of things to go right.

3rd Place, Philadelphia Phillies

CF Ben Revere
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
LF Domonic Brown
RF Marlon Byrd
C Carlos Ruiz
3B Cody Asche

LHP Cliff Lee
LHP Cole Hammels
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Kyle Kendrick
SU: RH Matt Adams
CL: Jonathan Papelbon

The Phillies are a team with a bunch of big names all over the place. The problem is, their big names are about 5 years past their primes and are trending downward. Some guys are still very efficient players like Utley, Lee and Hamels, but others like Rollins, Howard and Papelbon need to bounce back from sub-par 2013's if they want to get back to relevance. I like Dominic Brown, as he's the best young hitter in a lineup full of thirty-somethings and despite a fall off at the end of 2013, his second full season as an everyday player should yield better results. Their bullpen is average, their rotation should be slightly above average if they stay healthy and get Hamels back in early May, and their lineup is nothing special either. Overall, they are the epitome of a .500 team and a good example of why not to give aging players huge multi-year deals.

4th Place, New York Mets

CF Juan Lagares
2B Daniel Murphy
3B David Wright
RF Curtis Granderson
CF Chris Young
1B Ike Davis
C Travis d'Arnoud
SS Rueben Tejada

LHP Jonathan Niese
RHP Zach Wheeler
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Dillon Gee
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
SU: RH Kyle Fransworth
CL: RH Bobby Parnell

The Mets have essentially been stuck in neutral for the last three or four seasons as they've been consistently below average and look to be that way in 2014 as well. Losing Matt Harvey for the year is a huge blow, but they've had plenty of time to adjust accordingly and came up with Bartolo Colon to fill that void. I know he was decent in his stint in Oakland, but I doubt he gives the Mets similar results. They still have David Wright, who's as good as any third basemen in the game, and Zach Wheeler looks primed to breakout in his first full season in the bigs. They did add Curtis Granderson in the offseason, and he should bring some power and speed to the lineup, but it'll be interesting to see just how much Citi Field messes with his HR totals. I'm also curious to see how Ike Davis rebounds after a flat out dismal 2013 campaign. Even if David Wright wins MVP, Zach Wheeler does his best Matt Harvey impression and Grandy hits 50 jacks, the Mets would struggle to be a .500 club.

5th Place, Miami Marlins

SS Rafael Furcal
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
1B Garrett Jones
C Jarrod Saltalimacchia
3B Casey McGehee
CF Marcell Ozuna
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

RHP Jose Fernandez
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Henderson Alvarez
RHP Jacob Turner
RHP Tom Koehler
SU: RH Carlos Marmol
CL: RH Steve Cishek

The Marlins are still trying to figure things out after they spent all that money and had that major let down of 2012. They then had a rough go of it in 2013, but they had some young guys emerge as mainstays for the organization for years to come. The front three in their rotation look like solid young right-handers with big upsides. We've already seen 21 year-old Fernandez dominate and win Rookie of the Year and the other two behind him aren't too shabby themselves though both need to overcome some inconsistencies. As far as the lineup goes, I like Yelich, and obviously Stanton is a beast and a perennial 50-hr per year threat if he can stay on the field for 150 games but outside of those two, there aren't a lot of great young hitters on the roster. All in all, take Stanton and Fernandez off this team, and they look like a glorified AAA squad.
The Giants Baseball Blog


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