Thursday, April 4, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview: NL East

Washington Nationals

Notable additions: Adam Laroche (re-signed), Denard Span (trade), Rafael Soriano (FA)

Notable losses: Edwin Jackson (FA), Tom Gorzelanny (FA), Sean Burnett (FA), Mike Gonzalez (FA), John Lannan (FA), Mark DeRosa (FA), Mike Morse (trade)

I don’t know what to say here, really. The Nats are really, really good. They pretty much have no holes. Excellent pitching staff, excellent offense, excellent defense, elite bullpen (as much as bullpen performance can be predicted). Their two best players are too young to have seen “Terminator 2” (probably). Unless an ocean of injuries occur, I can’t fathom this team not running away with the division.

The offense is frightening, top-to-bottom, and every player is at least average with the glove as well. Denard Span is fine as a leadoff guy, though he’s not special in any way. Jayson Werth is just about the perfect #2 hitter, with excellent on-base skills and a good power/speed combo. You’ve probably heard about Bryce Harper. He’s, like, awesome at playing baseball and stuff. Ryan Zimmerman is an excellent two-way player when healthy. Adam LaRoche had a bounce-back year in 2012, I’m not sure that he’ll keep it up but he’s a solid player nonetheless. Shortstop Ian Desmond is coming off a career year on both sides of the ball, it’s reasonable to expect some regression but once again he’s a solid player overall. Danny Espinosa has speed and power but also has huge holes in his swing. The fact that he’s probably their seventh-best hitter is pretty nuts. The catcher position isn’t great but the bench is also great with a super-utility guy in Steve Lombardozzi and a masher in Tyler Moore.

The pitching staff is no least ridiculous. Steven Strasburg is possibly the best young pitcher we’ve ever seen. Gio Gonzalez surpassed expectations in his first year with the Nats and garnered some Cy Young votes. Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmerman is no slouch either, and would be a #1 starter on a number of teams. Dan Haren isn’t what he used to be after some back issues but still has elite control and can eat tons of innings. Lefty Ross Detwiler is a #5 starter in name only, as he also possesses very good control while getting lots of ground balls. He throws fairly hard and should develop more strikeout ability over time. The bullpen is loaded and has probably three pitchers that would be closers on most any team in Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen. Zach Duke is the weak link but he’s just the long man so whatever.


Catcher: Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki
First Base: Adam Laroche
Second Base: Danny Espinosa
Shortstop: Ian Desmond
Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman
Outfield: Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina
Utility: Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi
Starting Pitchers: Steven Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler
Relief Pitchers: Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Zach Duke, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano

Atlanta Braves

Notable additions: Justin Upton (trade), BJ Upton (FA), Chris Johnson (trade), Jordan Walden (trade), Gerald Laird (FA), Jordan Schafer (trade)

Notable losses: Martin Prado (trade), Randall Delgado (trade), Tommy Hanson (trade), Michael Bourn (FA), Chipper Jones (retired), David Ross (FA), Jair Jurrjens (FA)

The Braves underwent a fairly major roster shake-up, yet after all was said and done they’re probably still a Wild Card team. Bringing in the Upton brothers is a significant boost to the offense, but the losses of Chipper Jones and Martin Prado still hurts a bit. The bullpen is great but the rotation has some question marks.

Much is made about how many times this offense will strike out but frankly that doesn’t really matter. The outfield is ridiculously young and talented, with both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton being potential MVP candidates. Freddie Freeman is a solid first baseman, and when healthy Brian McCann is a very good catcher. Dan Uggla is a declining player but still can hit baseballs very far. Andrelton Simmons is already one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, whatever he does with the bat is gravy. Third base will be a platoon between Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson. Neither player is very good but if matched up properly they should be useful at least.

Tim Hudson heads the pitching staff, which says more about the rotation than it does about Hudson. He still gets tons of ground balls but can’t strike anyone out anymore. Kris Medlen had a ridiculous breakout after being moved into the rotation last year, but doesn’t have the elite stuff to back it up and is due for regression. Mike Minor has some solid stuff but nibbles way too much and is incredibly annoying to watch. Paul Maholm is a fine pitcher who won’t wow you but always puts up solid numbers. Julio Teheran had an impressive Spring but it remains to be seen if it will carry over in any way. Even with the injury to Johnny Venters, the bullpen is still pretty impressive. Christhian Martinez is the best long man in baseball, Jordan Walden has only one pitch but throws it very hard, Eric O’Flaherty is perennially underrated, and closer Craig Kimrel is coming off one of the best relief seasons ever where he managed to strike out half the batters he faced. Seriously, a 50% strikeout rate.


Catcher: Brian McCann (DL), Gerald Laird, Evan Gattis
First Base: Freddie Freeman
Second Base: Dan Uggla
Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons
Third Base: Juan Francisco, Chris Johnson
Outfield: Justin Upton, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer
Utility: Ramiro Pena, Paul Janish (DL)
Starting Pitchers: Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Julio Teheran
Relief Pitchers: Christhian Martinez, Anthony Varvaro, Cory Gearrin, Luis Avilan, Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden, Johnny Venters (DL), Craig Kimbrel

Philadelphia Phillies

Notable additions: Ben Revere (trade), Michael Young (trade), Mike Adams (FA), Delmon Young (FA), John Lannan (FA), Chad Durbin (FA)

Notable losses: Juan Pierre (FA), Vance Worley (trade), Josh Lindblom (trade), Chad Qualls (FA), Ty Wiggington (FA), Nate Schierholtz (non-tendered), Placido Palanco (FA)

It’s easy to remember the glory years of the Phillies when they churned out division titles and MVPs every year, but despite the roster still having a lot of the same players, they’re no longer a glory team. Far from it. Most of the stars are either hurt, old, bad, or all of the above. The pitching is okay, but the lineup is a mess and the defense is a disaster. There will still be flashes of the old days, but at this point the Phillies are more likely to win 71 than 91.

I can’t believe this offense is real. Aside from Chase Utley, who’s still pretty great when healthy, it’s hard to find anything to like. Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins are fine, and Domonic Brown may finally become something with playing time, but Ryan Howard is a shadow of a shell of himself and the duo of Delmon Young and Michael Young are two of the worst everyday players in baseball. The bench has some okay players but nothing worth getting excited about. Carlos Ruiz is a fine player at catcher, but is suspended for the first 25 games and shouldn’t be expected to repeat his 2012 production anyway.

The pitching should at least be worth watching. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are both ace-level pitchers that are capable of carrying the staff. Roy Halladay is a bit of an unknown at this point, as age and injuries have robbed him of velocity and his Cy Young days are likely over. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan are fine back-end starters but also incredibly boring. The bullpen is similar to the rotation. Two excellent pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo), one pitcher who’s past his prime but still solid (Mike Adams), and a bunch of other guys.


Catcher: Carlos Ruiz (suspended), Eric Kratz, Humberto Quintero
First Base: Ryan Howard
Second Base: Chase Utley
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins
Third Base: Michael Young
Outfield: Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Delmon Young, Laynce Nix, Ender Inciarte
Utility: John Mayberry, Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen
Starting Pitchers: Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan
Relief Pitchers: Raul Valdez, Jeremy Horst, Phillipe Aumont, Chad Durbin, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams, Jonathan Papelbon

New York Mets

Notable additions: Travis D’Arnaud (trade), John Buck (trade),  Marlon Byrd (FA), Brandon Lyon (FA), Shaun Marcum (FA), Scott Atchinson (FA), LaTroy Hawkins

Notable losses: RA Dickey (trade), Josh Thole (trade), Scott Hairston (FA), Ronny Cedeno (FA), Andres Torres (FA), Kelly Shoppach (FA), Mike Pelfrey (FA), Chris Young (FA)

Much like the Pirates, the Mets were a competitive team for about half the 2012 season. Then the wheels fell off, which isn’t surprising considering they weren’t very good. Some good things happened, such as the team’s first ever no-hitter (courtesy of the now-broken Johan Santana), David Wright being awesome, Matt Harvey looking like a future ace, Jon Niese getting a nose job. But mostly, the team wasn’t good enough to get away with a shockingly bad bullpen and poor depth. The team once again has little depth and what looks like a shaky bullpen, but the future looks a little brighter after moving knuckleballer RA Dickey for top prospect Travis D’Arnaud and a couple other good arms. D’Arnaud and fellow prospect Zack Wheeler should both see the majors at some point this season, making the Mets an interesting team to watch.

The offense constitutes of David Wright (who is one of the best players in baseball) and a bunch of dudes. Ike Davis, John Buck, and Lucas Duda have lots of power but not much else. Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy can get on base but not much else. Marlon Byrd is alive and not much else. The offense is fairly well-rounded as a whole but if Wright has to miss much time then it could get really ugly. The defense is something of a disaster. David Wright waivers between great and awful defensively for no reason, and sadly he’s their second-best defender. Ike Davis is excellent at first base, which is helpful considering he has to field “throws” from Wright and Murphy. Ruben Tejada would probably be excellent at second base but he has to play shortstop and he’s a little below average there. The outfield is an even greater mess, to the point where the basically signed Byrd just so they could say someone can field out there.

Jon Niese heads the pitching staff, which isn’t the best thing ever. Niese is a very solid pitcher, he doesn’t miss tons of bats but draws lots of weak contact. He’d probably be a #2 or 3 on most staffs. Youngster Matt Harvey, on the other hand, has electric stuff and can miss tons of bats but his lack of command will probably keep him from pitching deep into games. Shaun Marcum tends to pitch well when he’s healthy, but he isn’t healthy very often. Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner are both “just a guy” kind of guys. The bullpen looks to be a little more solid than last year, at least on paper. Jon Rauch, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, and Scott Atchinson are solid, reliable veterans that don’t have a lot of upside. Bobby Parnell serves as the closer (at least while Frank Francisco is on the DL), he throws super hard and finally seems to be ironing out his control. His lack of a real second pitch makes him vulnerable at times.

Catcher: John Buck, Anthony Recker
First Base: Ike Davis
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Shortstop: Ruben Tejada
Third Base: David Wright
Outfield: Lucas Duda, Colin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, Kirk Nieuwnehuis, Mike Baxter
Utility: Jordany Valdespin, Justin Turner
Starting Pitchers: Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Shaun Marcum (DL), Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner
Relief Pitchers: Frank Francisco (FA), Scott Atchinson, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, Greg Burke, Scott Rice, Jeurys Familia, Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell

Miami Marlins

Notable additions: Adeiny Hechavarria (trade), Juan Pierre (FA), Placido Palanco (FA), Casey Kotchman, Chris Valaika (FA), Kevin Slowey (FA), Miguel Olivo (FA), Jon Rauch (FA), Chad Qualls (FA), John Maine (FA)

Notable losses: everyone but Giancarlo Stanton



Catcher: Rob Brantly, Miguel Olive
First Base: Casey Kotchman, Logan Morrison (DL)
Second Base: Donovan Solano
Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria
Third Base: Placido Palanco
Outfield: Juan Pierre, Chris Coghlan, Giancarlo Stanton, Austin Kearns, Justin Ruggiano
Utility: Greg Dobbs, Chris Valaika
Starting Pitchers: Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Slowey, Wade LeBlanc, Alex Sanabia, Jose Fernandez
Relief Pitchers: John Maine, Jon Rauch, AJ Ramos, Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb, Chad Qualls, Steve Cishek

Projected standings

Washington Nationals (101-61, Division Champions)
Atlanta Braves (93-69, first Wild Card)
New York Mets (84-78, third place)
Philadelphia Phillies (81-81, fourth place)
Miami Marlins (68-94, fifth place)

As you can see, I have the Nats as a 100-win team, the only one in baseball. Not only do I think they’re the best team in baseball, but they should be so much better than the rest of the National league that 100 wins isn’t insane. The Braves are pretty good in their own right but still a notch or two below the Nats. I might be the only person on the planet who has the Mets with a winning record, but I think they can surprise, and I have no real rational as to why I believe this. The Phillies and Marlins are two of my least favorite teams in baseball, and honestly I think both can finish with much worse records (and probably will, considering the division), but the Phillies still have good pitching and the Marlins frankly have a lot of unknowns.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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