It’s that time of year, folks. The bats and pitches are a little slower but baseball is back. This begins my division by division look at the National and American Leagues. Hopefully, unlike my Super Bowl prediction, I get a few things right. Even if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers along the way.
THE NL EAST:
The NL East is a two-trick pony. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that this division will come down to the Nationals and the Braves for the title with both teams likely heading for the postseason. The other three teams? Well, they do have one thing in common: the Phillies, Mets, and Marlins will all struggle to get close to .500.
5. The Philadelphia Phillies.
(Covers.com has the Phils Over/Under wins at 78. FanGraphs.com projects the Phillies to finish at 78-84.)
If they reach 78 wins, then it isn’t a terrible season though it’s not good. It’s certainly not because they don’t have the talent. It just so happens that the talent they have peaked 5 years ago.
AJ Burnett, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Cliff Lee, and Mike Adams are 35 or older. Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Roberto Hernandez, and Cole Hamels are all 30 or older. Hell, the 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz has 36-year-old Wil Nieves backing him up. Every person listed above aside from Nieves is a starter in this line-up. The 2012 Yankees showed us all this is not a recipe for success.
Like I said earlier, these guys aren’t washed up bums. These are still talented veterans, guys who can still contribute and play key roles on a contender. Then how does it make sense that I rank these guys last in the NL East? I think that once they are out of contention, they will have a fire sale and start to rebuild. Rollins, Utley, and Lee are sure to go, and Papelbon leaving is a strong possibility as well. Hopefully, this leads to a late season call-up for right-hander David Buchanan, a promising starting pitcher in the organization but he also helped me move about 5 years ago, so go David! At that point it will be a lost season and the Phillies will sink to the bottom of the muck.
2014 Projected Finish: 74-88. For ticket information, check out Ticket Monster.
4. The New York Mets.
(Covers.com has the O/U at 71 games while FanGraphs has them finishing 77-85.)
I wish this team was worse than it is, especially since I think Bobby Bo is seriously still on their payroll. I love watching this team play second fiddle in the Big Apple. In fact if I had a chance to go to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game or sit front row at Citi Field, then I’m going to Wilmington. Unfortunately this team does have some talent but fortunately, it’s not enough to return to relevance just yet.
That could happen when Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery in 2015 but with 41-year-old (so he says) Bartolo Colon as your ace, you could be in for a long season. David Wright is the heart and soul of this team. We continue to be told that he is still a superstar but the last few years he has done anything to prove that. He is officially injury-prone and his best years could very well be behind him.
Ike Davis versus Lucas Duda is a position battle worth watching… if you have no TV, can’t read books, and are duct taped to a seat in Citi Field. Chris Young and Curtis Granderson are upgrades in the outfield but these guys are there to mash home runs, not to change the franchise. The pitching staff does have some nice pieces as I look forward to Zach Wheeler’s second go round. Jon Neise has the goods, but he is coming off an injury-riddled campaign and is already heading for an MRI this spring. This season is about making strides for the Mets and getting ready for the future and surrounding Wheeler, Harvey, and d’Arnaud with the right pieces.
Projected 2014 Finish: 77-85. For ticket information click here.
3. The Miami Marlins.
(Covers has the O/U at 66.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 74-88.)
The consensus both in Vegas and with the “stat guys” have the Marlins finishing dead last. Well, what fun is it to go along with the masses? Especially when you know I can make a compelling case as to why you should believe me.
I went to a Marlins’ game last season and, let me tell you folks, this was a bad team. They were so bad that it was impressive that they won 62 games. It was, however, a young team that kept growing throughout the year. The starting team in September vaguely resembled the team that started in April. In that final month when rookies Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Adeiny Hechavarria finally had some games under their belt together, the Marlins put up 13 wins. That’s about 20% of all of their wins the whole season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garret Jones, and even aging Rafael Furcal are not baseball superstars but are a much needed improvement that brings veteran leadership to the squad. They should add some pop to give a healthy Giancarlo Stanton some protection and make that weird eyesore in center field light up and blow its lid a few times.
Their young pitching staff is maybe baseball’s best kept secret. Sure, the whole world knows Jose Fernandez after his Rookie of the Year campaign that put him in Cy Young talks but little is known of his cohorts. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and one-time Tigers’ top prospect Jacob Turner all anchored a staff with very respectable ERAs in the 3s. Like the line-up, a full season together as a staff should show vast improvement. I don’t think the Marlins have what it takes to be a sleeper playoff team, but I think they have the goods to surprise a lot of people with a nice comeback story.
Projected 2014 Finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.
2. The Washington Nationals.
(Covers has the O/U at 90.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 87-75.)
An important mid-September series in Atlanta will probably determine the winner of this division. Like their Braves counterpart, the Nationals are stacked on both sides of the ball. What separates the two teams?
Until the Nationals can solve their injury woes, I can’t be a believer. I was all-in last season on these guys, trading a first-round pick in fantasy to get Stephen Strasburg with delusional visions of a 20-win shutdown season. The only thing shutdown about his season was Strasburg himself. Bryce Harper has endless potential but has to stay on the field this season and become the face of the NL. Ryan Zimmerman seems to always be sore or playing through pain and his bat is needed in the heart of this line-up.
If Strasburg can finally reach 200 innings and Gio Gonzalez can bounce back to his 2012 form, then this is hands down the best pitching staff in the National League and, aside from the Detroit Tigers, could be the best in the game. Jordan Zimmermann is getting better and better. That’s a scary thought coming off a 19-9 season. Doug Fister, a number two on most other teams, will be the fourth slot in their rotation. Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister are all capable of pitching Cy Young-type seasons. If they do it all in the same year, this team isn’t just winning the NL East, they are winning it all. This team is young and has many future seasons atop the NL East. I simply don’t think their reign will begin this year.
Project 2014 Finish: 92-70; National League Wild-Card. For ticket information click here.
1. The Atlanta Braves.
(Covers has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77.)
I know, I know. You picked the team in the city you live in to finish first. Homer.
If there is one thing that I have learned watching the Braves over the years, it is that you can never count them out in the regular season. That being said, I think they repeat atop the NL East.
This team won 96 games last season with three of their key pieces having career-worst seasons. There is absolutely no way that BJ Upton and Dan Uggla can be as bad as they were last season. Despite batting a horrific .179, Uggla still slugged 22 HRs. He still has his power, so he can still bounce back to at least being a mediocre second baseman. Upton managed to hit a whopping .184 and didn’t get on base which was what the Braves brought him in to do (or lure his brother into town, which in that case, he succeeded). Let’s give Upton a wash for signing the big contract and not performing under the pressure. If he could reclaim his spot atop the line-up and cause ruckus on the base paths, then the Braves line-up would benefit greatly. The key factor is Jason Heyward. I’m done hearing about what this kid is capable of or comparisons to great right fielders of yesteryear. It’s now or never for him, which is probably why the Braves only signed him to a two-year extension.
Sure, they lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, but they have plenty of ammo to replace them. Throw in a Top Ten starting rotation in all of baseball AND one of the best bullpens in the game anchored by the second coming of The Sandman and this team is without question playoff bound. The boldest of the predictions? Your 2014 NL MVP is going to be Freddie Freeman. BOOM. That just happened.
2014 Projected Finish: 95-67; NL East Champs. For ticket information click here.