Every spring, it is always fun to make pointless and meaningless predictions on the outcome of the upcoming baseball season. Regardless of the total lack of importance in the grand scheme of things, it always fun to see how things turned. Bragging is order for those predictions that turn out correct and the mistakes are quickly ignored and forgotten. This is the first of a series of six divisional predictions. Let’s have some!
This division is home to two of the best teams in baseball for the upcoming season and probably the worst team in baseball. It’s featured a number of up and coming stars and it fair share of aging veterans. It will be extremely competitive at the top and I fully expect the NL East to provide at least one wild card team.
5) Miami Marlins: During the 2011-2012 Hot Stove season , it looked the Marlins were making a commitment to winning long term by signing Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle to long term contracts. After a disappointing first half, Miami management began the dismantling the team by trading Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers. This past off season, the fire sale continued with Bell, Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Emilio Bonafacio all getting shipped away. What’s left is Mike Stanton and a whole lot of nothing. There are a few has-beens like Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco and some may never-will-be great players like Adeiny Hechavarria and Donovan Solano. Ricky Nolasco leads a staff of unproven pitchers that should struggle all year. It is doubtful that any team other than maybe the Houston Astros will be worse than Miami.
4) New York Mets: The Mets are barely better off than the marlins, especially on offense. David Wright is a top tier third baseman but he is surrounded with an unproven cast. Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis could provide some punch, as could Lucas Duda if he can find a degree of consistency. No others players on offense will scare many pitching staffs. The Mets rotation lost the 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey in a trade to Toronto but still have three young, promising arms in Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey. These guys are propped up by two oft-injured veterans who can be terrific when healthy in Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum. Frank Francisco may have the edge on the closer’s job but he was a human fire can in 2012. Bobby Parnell or veteran Brandon Lyon may be better choices. There is little chance this team can challenge in the East.
3) Philadelphia Phillies: It is hard to rank the Phillies any lower as long as they have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels in their rotation. Their offense is accomplished but is getting pretty long in the tooth. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley have all seen their best days already. Michael Young takes over at third but hasn’t played that position on a regular basis for a number years. Add Delmon Young into the mix of defensive liabilities in right field and know that management has not done the rotation many favors. Philadelphia did acquire speedster Ben Revere from the Twins to cover center and former top prospect Domonic Brown is having a good spring and maybe can take over in left. Behind the Big Three, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan fill out the rotation. A strong bullpen includes Antonio Bastardo, and Mike Adams, and is anchored by Jonathan Papelbon. With Halladay showing signs of fragility and Lee’s advancing age, this rotation may not be great much longer.
2) Atlanta Braves: This was a tough choice. I will not be surprised if the Braves win this division. The Braves and the Nationals are very close is talent, player for player. The Braves feature four hitters who could be stars in brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, right field slugger Jason Heyward, and up and coming youngster Freddie Freeman. Add solid slugging 2-bagger Dan Uggla, steady hitting catcher Brian McCann, and youthful shortstop Andrelton Simmons. and there are the makings of a solid offensive unit. On the mound, veteran Tim Hudson leads a staff of talented but still somewhat starters. Kris Medlen has a phenomenal season on 2012. Mike Minor showed much improvement a year ago. Pat Maholm is a steady performer, and the Braves are hoping Julio Teheran takes this next big step. The bullpen has one of the best one-two punches in baseball with set up man Jonny Venters and light out closer Craig Kimbrel. Mix in former Angels’ closer Jordan Walden and terrific reliever Eric O’Flaherty. I picked them second but there is a lot to like here.
1) Washington Nationals: The Nats got the nod over the Braces because I think their rotation is just slightly better from top to bottom. Stephen Strasburg should be ready to go a full season. Gio Gonzalez, if he is isn’t haunted all season by questions about PED use, is a solid number two. Jordan Zimmerman was outstanding last year, Dan Haren is trying to bounce back from a sub par season, and Ross Detwiler has potential to improve. The bullpen is loaded with guys like closer Raphael Soriano, premier set up man Tyler Clippard, former closer Drew Storen, plus solid arms like Henry Rodriguez, and Craig Stammen. On offense, Ryan Zimmerman is the star but has rising talent Bryce Harper vying for star status. Adam LaRoche is coming off a good season, Jason Werth is trying to bounce back to repeat his stats from his Philly days, and Denard Span will offer speed and range in center. Middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are still trying to gain consistency but each has a tremendous amount of talent. If the rotation holds up and Harper continues to develop, this team could rule this division for years.