Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the 4th divisional preview of College Sports Town’s 2014 MLB preview. Today, we will begin looking at the National League, starting with the NL East. The Nationals disappointed many analysts last year, as the trendy World Series pick didn’t even make the playoffs. This year, I expect both the Nats and the reigning division champ Braves to make the postseason.
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Washington Nationals
3. New York Mets
4. Miami Marlins
5. Philadelphia Phillies
1. Atlanta Braves
The Braves had an impressive 2013, finishing with the second-best record in the NL. Many key contributors to that squad departed, however. Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, and Paul Maholm all will be playing for other teams this season, which will complicate the Braves bid to repeat as division champs. Still, I believe they have enough talent to do so. Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman were both in the top five for NL batting average in 2013. Andrelton Simmons won the Platinum Glove award as the best defensive player in the NL. Before a terrible jaw injury, Jason Heyward looked revitalized in the leadoff spot. Even the Upton brothers, B.J and Justin, should improve upon decent (Justin) and dreadful (B.J) performances from last year. Pitching-wise, the Braves will sorely miss Kris Medlen, who will soon undergo his second Tommy John surgery. Still, the Braves rotation is young and talented. Julio Teheran should improve upon a good rookie campaign and Alex Wood has looked terrific in spring training. Veteran newcomers Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana should do a decent enough job replacing Hudson and Medlen. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball due to closer Craig Kimbrel. Since his rookie season, he has been the best closer in the league, and that will not change this year.
Best Case- Freeman wins MVP, the Upton brothers’ level of play is once again elite, Kimbrel is a Cy Young candidate, and the Braves win the NL East again.
Worst Case- McCann, Hudson, Maholm, and Medlen are missed, and the Braves can’t quite recapture last year’s magic, just missing out on a wild-card berth.
2. Washington Nationals
2013 was a disappointing year for the Nats. A World Series favorite, the Nationals failed to make the playoffs in their last season under manager Davey Johnson. Replacement Matt Williams aims to lead the Nationals to something they’ve never had- playoff success. The talent is certainly there. Even though it seems people have been talking about him forever, Bryce Harper is only 21. Harper is still improving, as he displayed last year, despite being limited by injuries. A full season from Harper is essential for the Nationals playoff hopes. Ian Desmond won the NL Silver Slugger award at shortstop and Jayson Werth had a resurgent year at the plate Young players Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos had solid performances, and should improve this year. Denard Span is a solid leadoff hitter, and even Ryan Zimmerman, though he is in decline, is still an effective third baseman. The lineup should be one of the better ones in the NL, and the same goes for the rotation. The combination of Stephen Strasburg, All-Star Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and the newly-acquired Doug Fister should be deadly, and not one of those pitchers is over 28. The bullpen is formidable as well. Closer Rafael Soriano is among the better closers in the game, and Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are fairly solid as well.
Best Case- Harper wins MVP, Strasburg wins Cy Young, and the Nats take back the NL East.
Worst Case- For the second straight year, the Nationals talent doesn’t translate to wins, and they miss the postseason.
3. New York Mets
The Mets are on their way to being less of a joke. The 2013 version of the team finished in third place, and the 2014 edition should follow in their footsteps. This is not to imply the team has not improved; it is merely a consequence of being in the same division as two teams as skilled as the Nats and Braves. The talent the Mets added this offs-season is considerable. When healthy, Chris Young is a nice lead off bat, and Curtis Granderson can put up top offensive numbers. These two will join a lineup with promising prospect Travis d’Arnaud, the consistent Daniel Murphy, the confounding Ike Davis, and, of course, the stupendous David Wright. Injuries are a concern for most players listed above, as well as realizing potential for d’Arnaud and Davis. If everything breaks just right, though, the Mets could have an underrated lineup. The rotation is fairly strong, but should get better as the season progresses. Noah Syndergaard, the prospect who has drawn comparisons to Norse gods, is slated for a midseason debut, as is Rafael Montero. The rotation would really look better with the phenom Matt Harvey, who set the 2013 summer ablaze with his cannon of a right arm, but who underwent Tommy John surgery in October and is unlikely to return effectively this year. Still, flamethrower Zack Wheeler should improve in his second year in the bigs, and solid starters Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese will be joined by All-Star Bartolo Colon, as well as once-raved-about righty Jenrry Mejia, who looked strong last year before his injury. The bullpen has the potential to be very good or very bad. The unpredictable Jose Valverde joins (for now) healthy closer Bobby Parnell and former Pirate Vic Black in a pen where talent is present but results have been questionable. This year, the Mets will certainly try to make the postseason, but the season is really about proving which pieces will work for the real playoff push with a healthy Matt Harvey in 2015. Still, don’t be shocked if the Mets win 85+ games in 2014.
Best case- Wright is MVP, Granderson hits 40 HR, d’Arnaud is ROY, the rotation is strong and grows stronger with the addition of Syndergaard, and the Mets snag a wild-card spot.
Worst case- d’Arnaud is a bust, Granderson and Wright get hurt again, Colon looks as washed up as a beached whale (in addition to looking like a beached whale), and the development of Syndergaard and Montero is slowed.
4. Miami Marlins
The 2013 Marlins were supposed to be dreadful, and they were. Born out of that cesspool, however, was one of the most exciting pitchers the MLB has showcased in a while, Jose Fernandez. Fernandez had an unbelieveable rookie year, and while I don’t expect to see any postseason starts from him this season, he and slugger Giancarlo Stanton should inspire hope in the hearts of Marlins fans (however few of them exist). The lineup should be slightly improved to due to several acquisitions, but it still is one of the weaker lineups in baseball. World Series champ Jarrod Saltalamacchia adds some pop, prospect Christian Yelich should continue to improve, and former Pirate Garrett Jones is not a terrible option at first. In addition, the Marlins are hoping young defensive stalwarts Marcell Ozuna and Adeiny Hechavarria can become a little more effective at the plate. The rotation is extremely young and fairly talented. Fernandez has little room to improve, but the development of staffmates Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez is essential for Marlins fans to be optimistic about 2015. The bullpen is fairly strong, led by impressive closer Steve Cishek, lefty Mike Dunn, and hopefully Carlos Marmol, if he can gain some semblance of control.
Best Case- Fernandez wins the NL Cy Young, Stanton wins the home run crown, Yelich, Ozuna, and the young starting pitchers develop, and the Marlins finish third in the division.
Worst Case- Fernandez takes a step back, Stanton trade rumors fly around, there is not much development with young talent, and the Marlins flounder.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
The 2013 Phillies had a difficult year, finishing fourth in the NL East. A team with playoff aspirations, the Phillies were affected by injuries and suspensions. There should be less disappointment for the 2014 Phillies, simply because of the lack of positive expectations of the team. hey have a decent amount of talent, but their key players are both old and have troubling injury histories. Jimmy Rollins has been in decline for a couple years and he is already feuding with new manager Ryne Sandberg. Ryan Howard hasn’t been elite since 2011, and Chase Utley, while the best of the remaining 2008 World Series nucleus, has dealt with injuries for the past several years. Carlos Ruiz, just signed to a new three year deal, is 35 and also faced injuries last season. A year of aging is not going to help injury troubles and decline. Not everything is negative, though; the outfield is fairly robust. Dominic Brown had a breakout All-Star season in 2013 and should build upon that this year, Ben Revere is a nice leadoff hitter, and new acquisition Marlon Byrd revived his career in New York and Pittsburgh last season. Still, the outfield alone can’t carry the team. For the Phillies to be good, their aging core needs to stay on the field and produce. The rotation is not bad, but faces similar injury and age concerns. Cliff Lee is still a terrific pitcher, and A.J Burnett played very well for the Pirates last year, but both are on the older side. Cole Hamels is one of the better lefties in the league, but he is out indefinitely with a bum shoulder. Kyle Kendrick and Fausto Carmona- I mean, Roberto Hernandez are decent, but this team needs a stronger rotation in order to achieve their playoff goals. To be fair, the bullpen is fairly good, with closer Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, and new acquisition Brad Lincoln, but Papelbon could get dealt at the deadline if the Phillies flop.
Best Case- The 2008 holdovers Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Hamels make a playoff push, but fall short.
Worst Case- The 2008 holdovers decline further, the clubhouse situation with Rollins turns ugly, Hamels is out for an extended period of time, and the Phillies finish in the NL East cellar.