Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 MLB Preview and Predictions: NL East

Atlanta BravesWashington NationalsPhiladelphia PhilliesMiami MarlinsNew York Mets
Here is another division that has had a lot of turnover and changes in power recently.  Forever, this division seemed to be dominated by the Braves.  Then the Phillies became the predominant team.  The majority seem to think that the power has shifted again to last year's division champion, the Nationals.  However, I wouldn't hand them the division title that quickly.  There may be some surprises, and like I said before, it is really hard to repeat the success from the year before when it is your first time having that kind of success.

1.  Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves v Toronto Blue Jays
Like I said, don't hand the Nationals the division title.  The Braves are good and will make a run at the division.  In fact, I think they will get it.  They did lose the leadership of Chipper Jones, but they more than replaced the production with the Upton brothers.  They still have veteran leadership in the clubhouse from guys like Brian McCann and Tim Hudson.  They have (arguably) the best outfield in baseball with BJ Upton, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward.  They have the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel.  They have a couple future superstars in Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons.  On top of all that, they are hungry after the way the season ended last year, losing on the "outfield fly rule" in the playoff game against the Cardinals.  They have something to prove and will do it.  Last year, they were only 4 games back of the Nats at the end of the year.  They can close that gap and win this division.

2.  Washington Nationals
Zimmerman hits 3 HRs, powers Nationals over Braves
Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Braves will run away with this division.  It will be a hard-fought race the entire season.  That's because a 98-win Nationals team from last year actually got better.  Last year, they didn't have a pure lead-off hitter, so they go get Denard Span.  They needed some stability in the back half of the rotation, so they go get Dan Haren.  They needed help at the end of the game, so they go get Rafael Soriano to get their closer.  Rising stars like Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and ... (what's his name ... that one guy ... oh yeah) Bryce Harper have another year of experience under their belts and will presumably be better than ever this year.  They have veteran leadership in the clubhouse in Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and Jayson Werth.  They have three aces at the top of their rotation in the on-longer-limited Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman.  They look like a super-team.  I just think it's unrealistic to expect them to duplicate all, and even exceed, the lofty bar they set for themselves after their success last season.  I have already heard sayings like "World Series or bust."  That's a hard standard to live up to, especially for a team like this that does have so many young pieces.  They will make the playoffs easily, but I don't see them dominating quite like everyone else does.

3.  Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee pitches during the first inning of an exhibition baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Friday, March 29, 2013, in Philadelphia
Don't count out the Fighting Phil's.  Sure, they are not the team from a few years ago that made their World Series run.  They still have the same core (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins), but their prime was several years (and injuries) ago.  However, this is the first time in awhile the three of them are entering a season 100% healthy.  They add to that core one of the most consistent hitters over the last decade in Michael Young and a young spark plug of a centerfielder in Ben Revere.  They still have three aces at the top of their rotation in Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay.  Doc is working his way back from injury and doesn't look 100% yet, but he will get there.  Besides, half a Doc Halladay is better than 75% of the starting pitchers out there.  The success of the Phillies really depends on one thing: health.  This is why they struggled so much the last few years.  They weren't healthy.  If their core group can stay healthy and show that they are still elite, they could be right there with the Braves and Nats at the top of this division.  They could even fight for the division title, or at the very least a wild card slot.

4.  Miami Marlins
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco throws during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Friday, March 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla
Last year at this time, the Marlins were the talk of the baseball world.  They had made every big splash they could make in the off-season.  They got Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, new stadium, new uniforms, new manager. They were destined for great success.  Then, as I said before, you can't always buy a championship.  What looked like a championship caliber team on paper ended up as a cellar-dweller by the end of the year.  Instead of tweaking what they had to make it work, they decided to unload everything that made them the hot team before 2012.  They traded away Reyes, Buehrle, Bell, Josh Johnson, fired Ozzie Guillen.  Now they look a lot more like what we are used to seeing from the Marlins: a bunch of young kids getting a shot to prove themselves in the big leagues.  The energetic Guillen was replaced by the calmer former Marlin Mike Redmond.  (I guess you could say they learned from what the White Sox did.)  They went back to their old formula, which actually was a formula that worked more times than not.  The Marlins would have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and always end up around .500 and the middle of their division.  They still have their best player to build around in Giancarlo Stanton (one of the few people strong enough to consistently hit home runs out of that new massive park).  They will be young, hungry, feisty, and better than some predict.  Sounds like the Marlins we all have come to know and love.  Let's just forget last year ever happened (if we could only undo those ugly uniforms).

5.  New York Mets
Mets' Wright makes first appearance in 2 weeks
Nothing about the Mets has me excited this year.  They still have David Wright.  They have some decent young pitching with Matt Harvey.  Their superstar ace, Johan Santana, might be done for his career.  They traded away their Cy Young award winner RA Dickey.  They got some prospects, but that doesn't help this year.  Their biggest off-season acquisition was John Buck.  Seriously, John Buck.  The only thing that will be interesting about the Mets this year is how long it will take Terry Collins to be fired, and who will be their next coach.  My money is on Joey Cora.

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