Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the fourth installment of College Sports Town’s 2013 MLB preview. Today, I am covering the NL East, where offseason moves have strengthened and changed the outlook of the division.
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. New York Mets
5. Miami Marlins
Last year, the Nationals broke a Washington playoff drought that had lasted 79 years when they finished first in the division with the best record in baseball (98-64). Teenager Bryce Harper won the NL ROY Award, Gio Gonzalez finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting with a 21-8 record, and Adam Laroche had 100 RBI. As impressive as that performance was, the Nationals have the oppourtunity to improve upon it this year. They acquired Denard Span from the Twins, giving Harper, Laroche, and Ryan Zimmerman another OBP guy to drive in, as well as another good defensive outfielder. The pitching staff should be solid, headlined by Gonzalez and young studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. If the Nationals don’t get farther in the playoffs this year, the season will be viewed as a failure by media, fans, and the team itself.
Best Case- The Nationals win 100 games, shun the naysayers, and go deep into the playoffs.
Worst Case- The Nationals let both their fans and media down, losing early on in the postseason for the second consecutive season.
Last year, the Braves played very well, finishing second in the division with a 94-68 record before losing the intial NL wild card game to the St. Louis Cardinals. This offseason, the Braves got better with the addition of both B.J and Justin Upton to their outfield, Although they lost Martin Prado and future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones retired, this is a formidable Braves team that should once again make the playoffs.
Best Case- The Braves don’t miss Chipper, two Uptons are better than one, and Atlanta once again has a playoff team.
Worst Case- The Braves disappoint, losing games down the stretch and missing the playoffs. Uptons are scapegoated and Chipper is dialed.
The Phillies had a disappointing year, finishing at .500 exactly (81-81) and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Phillies were bad most of the year, but got hot in August and September and were able to make a playoff push. Even though it fell short, it showed the potential of the team, which suffered through injury struggles and aging players. Sadly for Phillies fans, the team improved minimally this offseason, adding Delmon and Michael Young (no relation), Ben Revere, John Lannan and Mike Adams. None of these players will save the Phillies if aging stars like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are injured again, or if the pitching staff (which should be one of the best in the game) of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee underperforms. For a Mets fan, this is a very nice turn of events, as it seems that the Phillies will soon enter a rebuilding phase, especially considering their midseason fire sales last year.
Best Case- The Phillies regroup- aging stars play like they did in their prime, Halladay’s arm holds up, Cliff Lee gets a win before July, and the team sneaks into the playoffs and perhaps ruins a division winner’s dreams.
Worst Case- The Phillies implode- older players are dealt or injured, Halladay is nothing like a couple of years ago, Lee doesn’t win until the All-Star Break again, and the Phillies are worse than (Phillies fans, look away!) the Mets!
New York Mets (Note: This is my favorite team, so I will try to remain as partial as possible)
Last year, the Mets got off to a surprising start, but finished 4th in the division at 74-88. This year looks more bleak, as the Mets traded NL Cy Young Award winner R.A Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for several players and just lost ace Johan Santana to a shoulder injury. Add to that the worst outfield in recent history, and the Mets are not going to be in contention this year. Still, David Wright, fresh off his new contract extension, should keep the Flushing faithful entertained for at least the first half of the season, and prospects such as Travis D’arnaud and Zack Wheeler should pack the seats in the second half.
Best Case- Wright plays like an MVP, the rotation holds up, the outfield somehow doesn’t completely suck, and young players inspire hope for 2014.
Worst Case- Wright is hurt and playing badly, Jon Niese and Matt Harvey can’t perform up to expectations, Wheeler and D’arnaud don’t come up or play badly, and the Mets are reminiscent of 1962 (please God, don’t let this happen).
The Marlins were expected to be contenders following a high-spending offseason, but finished last in the division at 69-93. They unloaded the valuable members of the team midseason last year and this offseason (Mark Burhele, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Hanley Rameriez, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio) for prospects, leaving slugger Giancarlo Stanton as pretty much the only reason to pay attention to the team. They’ll be dreadful this year, and it won’t look pretty until some prospects start coming up. My advice is avoid this team however you can as (wait for it…) there are bigger fish to fry (zing!).
Best Case- They sign Stanton to a big contract extension.
Worst Case– Stanton leaves after the season, and the people of Miami want the Marlins to win.
There you have it! The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves should compete yearlong for the top spot in this top-heavy division. The Phillies and Mets should play for 3rd place, and the Marlins will just play in the corner.