2013 National League East Preview
1. Washington Nationals 102-60 (2012 Record: 98-64)
Key Additions: SP Dan Haren, OF Denard Span, RP Rafael Soriano
Key Departures: SP Edwin Jackson
Last season, the Washington Nationals were the best team in baseball. Led by a lights out pitching staff, the Nationals fell just short of 100 wins. This past offseason, the additions of Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano will only improve this team. Dan Haren, who suffered from multiple injuries last season, will take on the role of fifth starter until he can prove he is back to his old form. A bolstered bullpen will see Drew Storen set up for Rafael Soriano, who did a fantastic job for the Yankees last season filling in for an injured Mariano Rivera.
Washington’s lineup remains intact from last season, led by Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. The Nationals added a new dimension of speed to their youthful lineup, with outfielder Denard Span batting leadoff. The addition of Span in center should also clear up some defensive concerns in the outfield, shifting Bryce Harper to left field.
The Nationals were a 98-win team last year and worked hard over the offseason to fill in the little holes. Stephen Strasburg won’t be held back this season and the Dan Haren should fit in nicely with an already stellar rotation. With a revamped bullpen and added speed, the Nationals are looking at triple digits in the win column.
2. Atlanta Braves 98-64 (2012 Record: 94-68)
Key Additions: OF Justin Upton, OF B.J. Upton,
Key Departures: 3B Martin Prado, SP Jair Jurrjens, SP Tommy Hanson, 3B Chipper Jones
In the latest edition of “Upton's in the Outfield”, the Braves made major improvements to their lineup, adding brothers B.J. and Justin Upton over the offseason. The Upton brothers add significant power to the lineup, as both are easily capable of 25+ home run seasons. Throw in Jason Heyward, and Atlanta may have the best young starting outfield in the league. If Brian McCann can return quickly from shoulder surgery, this could be a very scary lineup to face.
The Braves biggest question mark is in their starting rotation. The loss of Tommy Hanson leaves a big hole that the Braves hope to fill with either Paul Maholm or Julio Teheran. Teheran had control issues last year, but has been lights out in spring training, going 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA. If both pitchers succeed early, look for the Braves to consider moving from a four to five-man rotation.
The Braves will likely go as their pitching does. Though Chipper Jones’ presence will be missed in the clubhouse, his bat will be more than compensated for with the arrival of B.J. and Justin Upton. The young, powerful lineup should produce without too many problems. If Atlanta’s pitching hits its potential and remains consistent, the Braves could give Washington a thrilling run for the NL East crown.
Key Additions: 3B Michael Young, SP John Lannan, OF Ben Revere
Key Departures: 3B Placido Polanco, 3B Ty Wigginton
Let’s face it: the Phillies at .500 last season were one of the bigger flops of the season (with the exception being their divisional foe down in Miami). The team is basically the same. They lost two versatile infielders in Polanco and Wigginton, but got a more powerful bat with the pickup of Michael Young.
The Phillies’ rotation still has the potential to be one of the best in the business. A front three of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee can make taking a series against Philly seem nearly impossible. Kyle Kendrick was solid last year, and John Lannan is a respectable back-of-the-rotation starter. Philadelphia shouldn’t have to worry about throwing strikes this season, and every starter is capable of going 7+ innings deep into a game. Jon Papelbon has struggled in spring training, but should be a consistent presence at the back of the bullpen once the season picks up.
The infield anchors this lineup with experience across the diamond. Ryan Howard provides power at first, with significant contributions from Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, when they are healthy. Utley and Young have the potential to combine for 60 or more doubles this season, and Jimmy Rollins should continue to burn up the basepaths with 25 or more steals. The outfield has several question marks, but the addition of Ben Revere gives the outfield significant speed and a bat that hits for average.
The only real knock against the Phillies is the division they play in. They are a solid club that should get in the high eighties in the win column, but playing in the highly competitive NL East will keep them finishing in the middle of the pack.
4. New York Mets 70-92 (2012 Record: 74-88)
Key Additions: SP Shaun Marcum, C John Buck
Key Departures: SP R.A. Dickey
The NL East certainly has a talent gap, as evidenced by the Mets and Marlins. As Washington, Atlanta and Philly assert themselves as divisional powerhouses, perhaps no word better describes New York than mediocre. Unfortunately for Mets fans, little winter activity beyond the loss of R.A. Dickey and addition of Shaun Marcum means the Mets will probably finish near the bottom.
The Mets have three proven starters that can go deep into games in Jon Niese, Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana. However, Santana’s status remains questionable as he has been sidelined much of spring training with a nagging soreness in his left shoulder. Shaun Marcum is usually consistent with a sub 4.00 ERA, but a shoulder issue raises questions about his availability as well. The Mets cannot count on Marcum, even at full health, to have a season reminiscent of R.A. Dickey last year. At best New York’s rotation is questionable, and it does not match up well against Philly or Washington’s stacked rotations.
The Mets locked up David Wright for another eight years, guaranteeing their lineup’s mainstay will be around in the future. However, picking up John Buck at catcher wasn’t exactly the big offensive move the team with the sixth-least runs scored needed over the offseason. Ike Davis provides 30-home run power to compliment Wright. Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada can hit for average, but New York really needs one more big bat in their lineup.
The Mets were missing pieces last season, and failed to acquire the necessary parts over the offseason. With R.A. Dickey out of town and a division that improved, there may be little to cheer about in New York.
5. Miami Marlins 65-97 (2012 Record: 69-93)
Key Additions: 3B Placido Polanco, SP Jon Rauch, OF Juan Pierre
Key Departures: SS Jose Reyes, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, CP Heath Bell
Is it possible for the Marlins to be even worse than they were last season? Well after the fire sale that followed Miami’s 69-93 season, it seems very possible. Yet, the Marlins have won with what looked like next to nothing before. In the past they’ve turned no name prospects into All-Stars and World Series champions. Can they bring that back this year? Probably not.
The rotation took the biggest hit when Miami’s owners decided to start dealing the biggest names on the team to save cash. Aces Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were sent to Toronto, leaving Ricky Nolasco and the young Nathan Eovaldi to anchor the rotation. Both starters have pitched well throughout spring training, but neither is a proven ace in the regular season. Closer Steve Cishek did well last year in his debut as a full-time closer. However, with only 19 save opportunities last year, one can hardly say there is experience at the back of the bullpen. Jon Rauch was brought in to set up for Cishek and should provide bullpen support, but overall the pitching situation looks shaky.
Miami hopes to fill the void left at leadoff from the departure of Jose Reyes with Juan Pierre. Despite his age, Pierre still hits for a decent average and remains a threat to steal 30+ bases. The biggest concern isn’t filling in for Reyes, Miami just needs to generate runs. Adding Polanco will help, but the Marlins will have to rely on small ball, unless a young prospect steps up as a legitimate power hitter. In a division with pitching as good as the NL East and powerful lineups in Washington, Philly and Atlanta, the Marlins could run into some serious trouble scoring.
Will the Marlins be worse than last season? Not by a lot. Teams like Miami will always find a way to string several wins together; but will the Marlins be in contention for the NL East crown? It would take a young pitcher defining himself as an ace and several position players stepping up to the plate as legitimate power threats. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.