MLB 2014 Division by Division Preview (NL East)
Last season the Braves began with a hot start from newly acquired OF Justin Upton and really never looked back, as an injury to Nationals OF Bryce Harper before Memorial Day kept Washington in the rearview mirror.
The Braves and Nationals should again battle it out for the division, with a few new pickups by the Mets making some possible noise.
2013 final standings:
1. Atlanta (96-66)
2. Washington (86-76)
3. New York Mets (74-88)
4. Philadelphia (73-89)
5. Miami (62-100)
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Kris Medlen* Ervin Santana
2. Brandon Beachy
3. Mike Minor
4. Julio Tehran
5. Alex Wood/Freddy Garcia/Gavin Floyd
Mike Minor looks to rebound from off season surgery and be on track to open the season healthy. He enjoyed a breakout season last year, and is a solid bet to keep his trajectory going up this season. Brandon Beachy didn’t bounce back from Tommy John surgery the way he hoped last season, and he had an additional surgery to clean up his elbow. If the team goes the safe route with both of the aforementioned hurlers, then the additions of Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia as insurance will be a smart move by GM Frank Wren. Kris Medlen came back to earth last season and had bouts of inconsistency but completed the year making 31 starts and logging 197 innings. Julio Tehran received a 6 year contract extension this spring as the club clearly feels his best is yet to come. Lefty Alex Wood made the transition to starter last year, but only throwing 143 innings. He could see his innings capped, and he isn’t a lock to start the season in the rotation despite his projecting to be a number 3 starter. If that is the case, and Wood starts the year as the lefty out of the bullpen to bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel, then the staff is actually stronger. Fellow setup men Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter figure to see prominent innings as Jonny Venters won’t be ready until June.
With Kris Medlen being injured this spring training and likely requiring a 2nd Tommy John surgery; not only his season but his career are in jeopardy. Realizing this GM Frank Wren acted quickly and signed free agent P Ervin Santana to help fill the void. With Brandon Beachy also not fully healthy Santana becomes a $14.1 million dollar playoff investment for a team that traditionally does not spend past the $100 million dollar mark. With the extensions signed this spring by Tehran and Simmons the Braves are hoping they can lengthen their playoff window past this year.
The lineup should lead with Chris Johnson and his .358 on base percentage. The team was steadfast in using Jason Heyward in the two hole last yearm but his slow start (and finish) may force them to shuffle him down. A bounce back year is key for him more so than free agent bust B.J Upton and his .184 average, as he further sets the table for 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Justin Upton to drive them in. Evan Gattis is an interesting catching candidate this season as he certainly carries a big stick but isn’t polished on the defensive aspects of the game. To help keep him fresh the team added Ryan Doumit, who also can spell Upton in right field and isn’t an automatic out at the plate. Gerald Laird is around to ensure no defensive lapses late in games. Andrelton Simmons was also given a contract extension this spring, which effectively bought out his arbitration years, as the team obviously feels his counting stats will make the extension a better deal than going through the arbitration process. Dan Uggla should be facing his last season in the majors, except his contract won’t allow the team to be able to move him as he is owed $26 million over this season and next. They just have to hope he makes a play to hit over .200.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez enters his 4th season as manager and has made the playoffs the last two. He again has a strong team, but needs to weather the early season and some injury concerns with an improved division to enjoy another playoff push. The farm system has catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who needs a bit more seasoning at the plate, as well as 2B Tommy La Stella who could take at bats away from Uggla should he prove to be washed up.
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmerman
4. Doug Fister
5. Ross Detwiler/Ross Ohlendorf/Tanner Roark
The front four are the best in the majors with Detwiler looking to build on the 13 starts he made last year. Strasburg is looking to rebound from a so-so year where he posted an 8-9 record in 183 innings. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery Strasburg should be able to build and maintain his arm strength through the season. Jordan Zimmerman enjoyed a solid season in which he won 19 games. If he posted more strikeouts he would be an elite starter- 161 K’s in 213 innings. Gio Gonzalez came back down last year after making a splendid transition to the National League the year before. He still managed to make 32 starts and post 195 innings in a year where he won only 11 games. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski must have owed a favor to Nats GM Mike Rizzo; the Doug Fister trade surprised industry execs and fans alike. A groundball pitcher, Fister figures to benefit greatly from facing weaker lineups and improved infield defense from his previous stop in Detroit. The bullpen has several serviceable arms to choose from including closer Rafael Soriano, former closer Drew Storen and All-star Tyler Clippard. Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins offer reliable veteran arms, and Luis Ayala is a former top set up man who is a lottery ticket if healthy.
The lineup should look something like Denard Span leading off and setting the table more consistently than last season. His low walk and stolen base totals were blamed for the Nats difficulty scoring runs. In reality this was only part of this issue, other player’s health or lack thereof was the major factor. Jayson Werth has the skill set to hit 2nd but after last year’s power surge he may slide down the order to provide more pop. Ian Desmond would fit nicely in the 2 hole coming off his 20/20 season last year. Phenom Bryce Harper should hit 3rd but needs to stay healthy in order to produce at the rates he and the team expect him to. 3B Ryan Zimmerman is in the same boat as he tends to get dinged regularly and require maintenance days off. Adam LaRoche has pop but doesn’t offer much else. Anthony Rendon will battle Danny Espinosa and veteran glove man Jamey Carroll for time at 2B. Wilson Ramos, with a healthy season, could be a candidate for a breakout season at the catcher position. If the injury bug bites him again the team has insurance as they obtained Jose Lobaton from Tampa this winter.
First year manager Matt Williams enters the fray as one of these 1st time managers joining teams with playoff aspirations. As long as Williams uses a steady hand in leading his team during the spring, he could enjoy a long playoff run after coming off a season under Davey Johnson which failed to live up to expectations. The farm system has some arms ready to step in if injuries hit during the year, as Nate Karns made a few appearances last season. This team’s roster is nearly all set and isn’t counting on help from the farm at the outset of the season.
New York Mets
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Bartolo Colon
2. Zach Wheeler
3. Jonathan Niese
4. Dillon Gee
5. Jennry Mejia/Daisuke Matsuzaka/John Lannan/Matt Harvey
This offseason had to be frustrating for the Mets front office. They sign Bartolo Colon to eat the innings that they will lose with Matt Harvey having Tommy John surgery figuring the rest of the rotation will fall into place. Not even a week into spring training and projected opening day starter Niese has been shut down with a dead arm. If he misses significant time the team will be counting on a resurgence from Dice K to get them through and keep them in games, that’s a big gamble. Zach Wheeler played 2nd fiddle to Harvey last year and was almost as effective. He tossed 168 innings total last year and should be fit to make his starts every 5th day this season. Dillon Gee threw 199 innings last year with decent results posting 12 wins and a 3.62 ERA. Jennry Mejia struck out a batter per inning last year in 5 cameo starts at the end of the season, and with Neise’s injury likely starts the season in the rotation. The bullpen may be taxed by the All-Star break if things don’t fall right in Flushing early in the year. Bobby Parnell is the closer with former closer Kyle Farnsworth assuming 8th inning duties. The rest of the bullpen roles will be fought out in camp between Scott Rice 17 holds, Vic Black 4 holds, Josh Edgin 3 holds and Jeurys Familia coming off elbow surgery last summer.
The lineup added RF Curtis Granderson ,who should hit clean up behind 3B David Wright, and last year’s offensive team MVP 2B Daniel Murphy. The team will give Eric Young Jr. every opportunity to win the leadoff job as he is the most dangerous base runner they have swiping 46 bases last year. 1B Ike Davis and his long swing will look to avoid another bout of fever this spring and break camp with all of his power. Catcher Travis D’Arnaud needs to stay healthy as his bat will help immediately in the big leagues. Free agent CF Chris Young was brought over from Oakland and hopes to be a consistent player for the Mets this summer.
Manager Terry Collins opens his 4th season with the Mets with each season ending under .500. Upper management understands that this team won’t contend this year again, but with some arms coming up and Matt Harvey coming back next year they could knock on the door for a division title. If the team falls apart or doesn’t play hard Collins could be the first manager fired this season. The farm system will contribute two pitchers this year to the big club in Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard. The latter gets more publicity and has a higher upside, but this year the Mets may (will) need all the outs they can get from their already banged up staff.
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Cliff Lee
2. Cole Hamels
3. A.J Burnett
4. Kyle Kendrick
5. Roberto Hernandez/Jonathan Pettibone
The Phillies made some curious decisions over the winter; signing Cuban Miguel Gonzalez for $12 million dollars doesn’t look so hot, and spring training just got started. Also giving Roberto Hernandez $4.5 million would say that they aren’t high on Jonathan Pettibone and his balky back. Cole Hamels is saying the right things this spring about his biceps injury and hopes to only miss a couple of weeks to begin the year. He won only 8 games last year but turned in 17 quality starts, meaning the offense let him down in some close games last year. Much like Cliff Lee the previous year where he won only 6 games, Hamels should rebound with another solid year. Lee enjoyed another year in which his sabremetric numbers looked better than his win total, and again should throw 200+ innings with a low 3 ERA. A.J Burnett is 37 years old now and comes off of a year where he threw 191 innings and struck out 209. With another year like that he could keep the Phillies in the wildcard race through the summer; if he finds there is no more gas in the tank the team will look silly for giving him $15 million. Kyle Kendrick ate up 182 innings last year but posted a WHIP of 1.40 and doesn’t strike many out. The bullpen still has Jonathan Papelbon as the closer and Antonio Bastardo along with Mike Adams setting him up.
The lineup needs father time to forget about them for the summer as 1B Ryan Howard, enters his age 34 season with a hefty contract and expectations to hit home runs. The same can be said of 2B Chase Utley who enters his age 35 season and also needs to rediscover his pop. Fellow mainstays SS Jimmy Rollins and catcher Carlos Ruiz both are 35 and have some off the field concerns to go along with their production on it. Ben Revere will again man CF and bat leadoff looking to set the table for the aforementioned heavy bats. LF Dominic Brown finally enjoyed his breakout season hitting 27 home runs in streaky fashion. Marlon Byrd was brought in to supply additional power in case one or more of the vets goes down with injury. Can they stay healthy and support the pitching staff long enough to put on a rush to the division title? With so many players on the wrong side of 30 and coming off injury, it’s not a good bet but one to monitor through the summer.
Ryne Sandberg took over the reins of the team for the last 42 games. The team didn’t quit on him and he looks to contend with the veteran players he has this year. The farm system offers little help this year other than likely bullpen arm Ethan Martin.
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Jose Fernandez
2. Nathan Evoldi
3. Jacob Turner
4. Henderson Alvarez
5. Tom Koehler
Jose Fernandez blew the doors off the league in his rookie year. He won’t sneak up on anyone this season, but with stuff like that he can challenge hitters all year and win most of the time. In the coming years he could/should be a perennial Cy Young candidate based on his tools alone. As long as he doesn’t let distractions like the Marlins losing and trading everyone get in his head he fits in very nicely in South Florida as he is a Cuban immigrant. Jacob Turner has the potential to form a dynamic duo with Fernandez but needs to stay healthy and continue his development as he is only 22 years old. Nathan Evoldi needs to stay healthy and also continue to develop as he is only 24 years old. Alvarez and Koehler are below average starters who will struggle to get outs this season. The bullpen doesn’t offer much strength outside of closer and trade chip Steve Cishek.
The lineup, other than Giancarlo Stanton scares nobody but has plenty of youth and potential. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will man the other outfield spots with Stanton. Yelich kills right handed pitching but is completely neutralized by lefties and needs to improve this aspect of his game to take the next step in development. Ozuna played 70 games last year for the Fish and posted respectable average and showed some playing speed. SS Adeiny Hechavarria led the team in hits last year with 123. Garrett Jones was brought in to play 1B, and former Red Sock Jarrod Saltalamacchi to catch. The 1923 Yankees this team is not, they won’t get shut out every day but they will struggle to score more than 2-3 runs per game on average.
Manager Mike Redmond enters his second season as Marlins skipper after winning 62 games in his first year. With the young talent on this roster they could win 70-75 games this year. If that talent lands on the DL or isn’t supplemented by the veterans they could win 55. Redmond will need to be more teacher than manager this year. The farm system moved OF Jake Marisnick up last September and he may platoon with Yelich when lefty starters go against them. The Marlins aren’t afraid of moving their talent up to the big leagues when they think they are ready in spite of their age.