Friday, March 22, 2013

MLB 2013: NL East Preview

      The 2012 NL East title was supposed to be a two-team race between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. Neither the Braves nor the Phillies won the division as the Washington Nationals came out of nowhere to not only run away with the division, but they also best record in the MLB at 98-64. It was the Nationals 2nd NL East title and first since 1981. The Nationals had the 2nd best ERA in the MLB at 3.33 as all five starters had at least 10 wins and Gio Gonzalez finished 3rd in the NL CY Young Award race after going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA. After having Tommy John surgery in 2011, manager Davey Johnson made it well known that Stephen Strasburg would pitch between 160 and 180 innings in the 2012 season. On September 12th of last season, Strasburg made his final start of the season as Johnson announced he would not even be available for the playoffs. The Braves finished in 2nd place at 94-68 and made the playoffs as a wild card. The Phillies dealt with tons of injuries all year plus an inconsistent team en route to a third place finish at 81-81. The New York Mets finished in 4th at 74-88 but perhaps the biggest disappointment in the division was the Miami Marlins. The Marlins had a new stadium, new logo, and a new coach entering the 2012 season but nothing went right as the Marlins went 69-93 and traded Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 25th. The Marlins fired Ozzie Guillen after one season and hired Mike Redmond. Redmond is familiar with the Marlins as he spent 7 years in the organization as a player.
            Atlanta Braves: The Braves fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game last year. The 2012 season was all about 3B Chipper Jones who announced before the season that it would be his last. Jones has been the face of the Braves for the last 19 years and will be a huge loss for the team as they will not only miss his presence on the field but also his leadership. The Braves also lost OF Michael Bourn, P Tommy Hanson, 3B Martin Prado, and RP Randall Delgado in the offseason. The Braves however now have both of the Upton twins, B.J. and Justin. Add in RF Justin Heyward and the Braves have one of the youngest outfields in the MLB but also one of the most dangerous. Heyward had 27 HRs last year and both Upton brothers are capable of 20 HRs and 80 RBIs every year. Both 2B Dan Uggla and 1B Freddie Freeman have power but both had less than a .260 BA last year. The Braves are also hoping that C Brian McCann will return by mid-April as he recovers from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The Braves pitching staff was 5th in the league last year with a 3.42 ERA. Tim Hudson is the Braves clear ace after going 16-7 last year and Kris Medlan will look to improve on his 10-1 record last year. Losing Hanson and his 13 wins will be tough but the Braves have a couple of pitchers that will rotate for the 5th spot. CP Craig Kimbrel made the All-Star team for the second straight last year as he tied for the NL lead in saves with 42. The Braves have a team that can win the division but with so much of their offense being relied off of power, what will happen if the Upton brothers and others struggle?
            Miami Marlins: The Marlins were supposed to be good last year in their new ballpark and with their new logo but they failed. Ozzie Guillen couldn’t keep the team in check and was ousted and now Mike Redmond has the task of making a team that can compete after they got rid of a lot of key players in the offseason. The Marlins traded SS Jose Reyes, 2B/OF Emilio Bonifacio, P Josh Johnson, C John Buck, and P Mark Buehrle to the Blue Jays in the offseason and also got rid of CP Heath Bell and SP Carlos Zambrano. They did add OF Juan Pierre, 1B Casey Kotchman, and 3B Placido Polanco but that is not saying much as all of these guys are aging and will not be able to replace all of the guys that are gone. The Marlins do have one of the best players in the MLB in RF Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton was a first time All-Star last year and might have one of the best swings in the league. He was second in the NL last year with 37 HRs and is capable of 40 or 50 this year. During the World Baseball Classic, his teammates were in awe during his batting practice as Stanton was hitting one after the other out of the ballpark. Besides Stanton, the Marlins have nothing on offense and will once again finish in 5th place in the NL East.
            New York Mets: The Mets struggled once again last year finishing 24 games behind the division-winning Nationals. The highlight of the season for the Mets was P R.A. Dickey who surprised everyone in baseball as he one the NL CY Young Award. Dickey finished the season at 20-6 and led the NL with 230 strikeouts. Dickey has since been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects as the Mets organization decided they didn’t want to re-sign him. Entering the 2013 season, the Mets biggest issue will be their injuries. 3B David Wright suffered an intercostal strain during the World Baseball Classic and the Mets don’t know if he will be available for the season opener. Starting 2B Daniel Murphy is recovering from a rib injury and might not be ready for Opening Day and SP Johan Santana was just put on the disabled list this week meaning he will not be the Opening Day starter. Without Wright in the lineup, the Mets have no offense except for 1B Ike Davis who hit 32 HRs last year but also struck out 141 times. The Mets are in a rebuilding phase and will likely not be able to contend in the division this year.
            Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies had expectations of winning the division last year but finished in a disappointing 3rd. 2B Chase Utley and 1B Ryan Howard both played less than 90 games last year as they dealt with injuries. SP Roy Halladay and SP Cliff Lee struggled all year and the Phillies made a bad decision when they traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies lost 3B Placido Polanco in the offseason but replaced him with 3B Michael Young. Young is a career .301 hitter and will lots of experience but is getting close to the end of his career. Utley finally looks as if he is 100% healthy and if he and Howard can get back to their prime form, the Phillies could have one explosive offense. The Phillies are hoping that both Lee and Halladay can turn it around after a disappointing season last year. It is weird to say that the Phillies will enter this year as the underdog but it would not surprise me if the Phillies were in contention for a division title come September.
            Washington Nationals: The Nationals were the biggest surprise in the MLB last year and will now face something they haven’t seen in awhile, being the favorite to win the division. The Nationals have one of the deepest rotations in the MLB with Strasburg, Gonzalez, SP Jordan Zimmerman, SP Dan Haren, and SP Ross Detwiler. Good news for Nationals fans is that Strasburg will not have an innings limit this year and will be available if the Nats make the playoffs. Before last year, Gio Gonzalez’s career high in victories was 16 so after having 21 in 2012, can he improve from last year or was he just a one year fluke? The Nationals lost 1B/OF Michael Morse in the offseason but traded for OF Denard Span who will most likely be the leadoff hitter for the Nats. OF Bryce Harper is one of the games’ best hitters and after winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if he an MVP caliber season this year. Add in 3B Ryan Zimmerman and 1B Adam LaRoche and you have a great offense. The only question I have for the Nats is can they deal with the pressure all year along and win their second straight division title, or will they fall under the pressure and not make the playoffs.
            Prediction:  The NL East is the best division in baseball as three teams can make the playoffs. I really like the job that Nationals manager Davey Johnson has done and I believe that the Nationals will win the division. With all of their offseason acquisitions, the Braves will make the playoffs as a Wild Card while the Phillies will fall just short.
1.     Washington Nationals
2.     Atlanta Braves
3.     Philadelphia Phillies
4.     New York Mets
5.     Miami Marlins

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