Spring training is starting, our favorite players are suiting up for the first time in months and every team has a sense that this could be their year. It’s almost baseball season.
The National League East is full of competitive rivalries and star players. Some powerhouses are trending downwards and some young teams are looking to take the leap to the next level. How do the teams stack up for the 2014 season?
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Key Additions: P Chad Billingsley, P Aaron Harang, OF Jeff Francoeur
Key Subtractions: SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Marlon Byrd, P Kyle Kendrick, P Antonio Bastardo, P A.J. Burnett
The Philadelphia Phillies, only a few years removed from five straight NL East titles, have experienced a downturn and look like they’re headed for the divisional basement again this year.
The offseason saw the Phillies trade away their all-time hits leader in shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a productive veteran in Marlon Byrd, and a streaky reliever in Antonio Bastardo. Long-time Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick also left the Phillies, signing with the Colorado Rockies. While no ace, Kendrick provided the Phillies with quality starts for years.
The Phillies only two major additions are merely pitchers close to Kendrick’s caliber. Chad Billingsley has a solid career 3.65 ERA, but has only pitched in two Major League games since 2012. Aaron Harang had an abysmal 2013, posting a 5.40 ERA, but bounced back last year with the Atlanta Braves, with a 3.57 ERA. Still, Harang is 36-years-old and neither of these players are very easy to get excited about.
On offense, the Phillies lost speed and average when trading away Rollins, and solid home run production from Byrd. The Phillies lineup is currently filled with aging veterans and underproducing talent. The Phillies can no longer rely on Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz to provide them with offense.
The Phillies also did nothing to improve their subpar bullpen. Philadelphia had trouble closing out games last year, and the bullpen is only weaker with Bastardo’s departure.
A lone bright spot this year could be the front of the Phillies rotation. Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, assuming they aren’t traded, could provide excellent pitching at the top of the Phillies rotation. After that however, the rotation gets much more mediocre.
Projected Record: 72-90
4. Atlanta Braves
Key Additions: P Wandy Rodriguez, P Jason Grilli, OF Johnny Gomes, OF Nick Markakis, C John Buck, C A.J. Pierzynski, P Matt Capps, INF/OF Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF Eric Young Jr.
Key Subtractions: P Ervin Santana, P Kris Medlen, P Aaron Harang, P Brandon Beachy, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Justin Upton, OF Jason Heyward, C Evan Gattis
Talk about an offseason overhaul. The Atlanta Braves are set to field an entirely new team next season, without half their starting rotation, little of their bullpen, and two of their three starting outfielders.
Gone are offensive stars Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, with B.J. “Melvin” Upton the only remaining part of last year’s outfield. This isn’t a good thing for Atlanta, as Upton has batted .184 an .208 in his two years with the team. The Braves will have to rely now more than ever on first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman has made the last two NL All-Star squads and will look to continue his consistent offense as a possible lone bright spot.
The Braves pitching staff took major hits with the departures of ace Ervin Santana, Kris Medlen, Aaron Harang and Brandon Beachy. Their projected five man rotation, according to a projected MLB.com depth chart, includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller, Mike Minor, and Eric Stults. Alone, these names aren’t horrible and would represent good upside and depth on many teams. However, without a true number one or two option the Braves staffs suffer from having no dominant pitchers.
This will be a rebuilding year for the Braves, a pain for fans who have been seeing a very competitive team in recent years. The Braves appear to ready to contend again in a couple years, but have officially hit the reset button on their World Series apparitions.
Projected Record: 74-88
3. Miami Marlins
Key Additions: SS Dee Gordon, OF Ichiro Suzuki, OF/1B Michael Morse, P Mat Latos, 3B Martin Prado
Key Subtractions: 3B Casey McGeehee, 1B Garrett Jones, P Nathan Eovaldi
The Marlins have quietly built a very strong roster in the past few years, and could look to be a very interesting team this year. The talent obviously starts with superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton, but is transparent throughout the lineup with the additions of Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, Martin Prado and Ichiro Suzuki to a lineup that also features Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the promising Christian Yelich.
The Marlins pitching staff is also a young and exciting one, headlined by the acquisition of Mat Latos and bolstered by the presence of young arms in Jarred Cosart and Henderson Alvarez. Cosart, 24, put up a 3.69 ERA last season and Alvarez, also 24, an insane 2.65 ERA..
Integral to the Marlins pitching will be how quickly and how well Jose Fernandez bounces back. The 22-year-old put up a 2.19 ERA in his rookie season and has the potential to be one of the league’s most electric pitchers in years. If Fernandez can return and continue to pitch at this level, the Marlins should be very well off.
After signing Jose Reyes in a big 2011/2012 offseaon, the newly branded Miami Marlins planned to be a competitive team. This hasn’t been the case, as they’ve failed to crack even 70 wins twice in the past four years. But now that the Marlins have talent all over the field, things could be looking up rather quickly.
Projected Record: 82-80
2. New York Mets
Key Additions: OF Michael Cuddyer, OF John Mayberry Jr., P Matt Harvey*
Key Subtractions: OF Bobby Abreu, 2B/OF Eric Young Jr., P Jeremy Hefner, P Daisuke Matsuzaka
Not making any major offseason acquisitions, their biggest being outfielder Michael Cuddyer, the Mets are banking on the development of their younger players and return of a pitching phenom to push them over the top. It’s a risky proposition, but one that just may pay off for a starving Mets fanbase.
Matt Harvey’s return from Tommy John surgery may be the biggest storyline for the Mets in the upcoming season. Harvey took the league by storm in 2013, earning a 9-5 record and a stellar 2.27 ERA, coming in fourth place in NL Cy Young voting. After sitting out an entire season, Harvey is poised to pick up right where he left off. If he does, he’ll anchor a young, electric Mets starting rotation. If he falters, there will be pressure on the next line of pitchers, Dillon Gee, Bartolo Colon, and Jonathon Neise, to step up.
Harvey is supported by two fellow young up and coming stars, Zack Wheeler and Jacob DeGrom. 24-year-old Zack Wheeler was an even 11-11 as a starter with a 3.54 ERA. Jacob DeGrom, a couple years older but only entering his sophomore MLB season, went 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA along with a remarkable 9.24 strikeouts per nine innings. DeGrom made headlines last year by tying an MLB record, striking out the first eight batters in the Marlins lineup. These three young pitchers look to build on their past success and become one of the league’s best pitching trios.
Offensively, the Mets seem to have just enough to get by. David Wright will anchor the team at third base as always, and the outfield has a surprising amount of depth with Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Lagares, John Mayberry Jr. and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy also both represent solid offensive production.
The Mets may lack production at shortstop and catcher, with Wilmer Flores, Ruben Tejada, Travis D’Arnaud, and Anthony Recker manning the positions. Production from these positions would likely push the Mets over the top, but it cannot be expected. D’Arnaud has the biggest upside in these positions, hitting .242 with 14 home runs in 108 games last season. If he continues to develop the Mets will have a solid, young catcher on their hands.
With a top of the line pitching staff and talent at most positions, the Mets should field their most competitive team in years. With the addition of the second wild card in each league, the playoffs are a very realistic goal for a young, exciting Mets squad.
Projected Record: 84-78
1. Washington Nationals
Key Additions: P Max Scherzer, P Heath Bell, 2B Dan Uggla, 2B Yunel Escobar
Key Subtractions: P Tyler Clippard, P Ross Detwiler, P Rafael Soriano, 1B Adam LaRoche
Fresh off a 96-66 season where the Nationals held the best record in the National League, Washington’s roster has remained pretty much in tact, with one major addition. The January mega-signing of pitcher Max Scherzer could propel the Nationals even higher and almost assuredly allow them to maintain first place in the NL East.
Scherzer, 30-years-old, bring a 3.58 career ERA with him to the Nationals, along with a 3.02 ERA over the last two seasons. In these past two seasons, Scherzer has been simply dominant, with an unwordly 39-8 record in 65 starts over that span. Scherzer emerged from Justin Verlander’s shadow to become the most coveted free agent in the league this offseason, and the Nationals became World Series favorites in signing him.
The addition of Scherzer is so important because it completes arguably the MLB’s best five man rotation. Scherzer is complemented by:
- Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA last year)
- Jordan Zimmerman (14-5, 2.66 ERA)
- Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA)
- Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57 ERA)
The scariest part of the Nationals rotation is that Scherzer may be the fourth best pitcher on the team. All five starters could potentially be aces on the majority of the league’s teams, yet all five come together to create a truly frightening rotation.
Offense is almost an afterthought with a pitching staff this good. Washington is a pretty balanced offensive team, fielding a lineup including Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Ian Desmond. Despite lacking a true explosive option (the team’s leaders only bat .302 and hit 25 home runs) the Nationals ranked 9th in the league and 3rd in the NL in runs scored. The balanced offensive attack works, and is a great complement to the stellar pitching.
Barring any major injuries or setbacks, look for the Nationals to push for 100 wins this year.
Projected Record: 99-63