NL East Preview

Freddie Freeman had a monster 2013 season and hopes to lead the Braves to another division title.

Atlanta Braves

After a 96-win season the expectations are high in Atlanta. The Braves return most of their lineup, but lose a huge piece in Brian McCann. Evan Gattis, one of the feel good stories of 2013, will take over behind the plate and will need to replace his bat in the lineup. Freddie Freeman anchors an infield that has a struggling Dan Uggla, sure handed Andrelton Simmons and the up and coming Chris Johnson. The outfield features Justin Upton who struggled in the second half, his brother B.J. who was a mess his first season of a big deal and Jason Heyward who is very talented but injury prone. The Braves rotation has a lot of young talented arms, but none have yet to step up as that ace. They hope Kris Medlen or Mike Minor in full healthy seasons can take that next step this season. Jordan Walden was a nice pick up last season and paired with the returning Jonny Venters form a nice setup to the best closer in baseball Craig Kimbrel. If healthy this team is still best team in the division. (Scott Boutcher)

With Mariano Rivera returning, Kimbrel is now the best closer in baseball.

Miami Marlins

In an attempt to forget last years dreadful season, the Miami Marlins went out and did their best to rope in some talent. In doing so, the Marlins were able to sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia to provide experience and leadership for a very young pitching staff. It will be exciting to see Salty catch for the the 2013 Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez; who is looking to avoid a sophomore slump. If Fernandez, along with youngsters Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez can live up to their potential, and the additions of Salty, Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones and Rafael Furcal can help an offense which finished dead last in offense a year ago, then the Marlins could one of the most improved teams int he 2014 season. Adding some pop into the lineup to go along with Giancarlo Stanton and hard throwing, starting pitching could prove to be what the Marlins need to make it interesting in the National League East. (Kevin Langner)

Jose Fernandez is expected to dominate hitters again in 2014 and hopefully improve the Marlins win total.

New York Mets

The New York Mets in 2014 could very easily be the best the Mets have been in a few years but at the same time, all their acquisitions in the offseason might not pan out the way they’d like it to. The Mets could be a competitive team if all the question marks turn into positives. He was always one of my favorite Yankees over the last couple of seasons, but I like the addition of Curtis Granderson in the outfield which gives the Mets a much needed bat that was certainly lacking last year in that position. One of the main concerns for Mets fans is that Matt Harvey is having Tommy John Surgery which is never an easy thing to come back from and he had as good a start to his career as you’d like to see for a promising pitcher. They turn to 40+ year old Bartolo Colon that will hopefully be a nice substitution to Harvey while he is out of the picture. I don’t care who you are, giving a 20 million deal to a player over 40 is insane and a move some Mets fans have questioned. They also signed Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. I was way down on the Mets outfield last season and here I think is also an upgrade. New York has a lot of younger players this season. One of those is prospect catcher Travis d’Arnaud who they hope comes along this season after struggling in his first season in the Majors. Their bullpen has recently been one of the weaker links too. It’s frustrating because how hard is it to find a guy that can pitch an inning or two and not get bombed. Starters go 5-6 innings for the most part and I will never understand why it’s so hard to find bullpen pitchers to pitch one inning. The Mets have a couple positional battles going on between Lucas Duda and Ike Davis at first base and in center field with Juan Lagares who was solid defensively last year but wasn’t the best with the bat. So it will be interesting to see how those storylines develop. Lastly, as many who follow baseball have heard who follow the Mets, they have quite a luxury in that even though Matt Harvey is out. They have Zack Wheeler, who’ve I’ve heard has to potential to be even better than Harvey. Last season, Wheeler made 17 starts and had a 3.42 ERA in 100 innings. He’ll look to improve upon that this season and I think he will. Prediction: I expect there to be a significant gap in the NL East with the Braves and Nationals pretty close to each other in the standings then Phillies and Mets pretty close to each other in the mid-high 70’s win area. It will be a close race with Philadelphia, but I think the Mets will pitch consistently well enough to hold the Phillies off for a 3rd place finish in the NL. It hasn’t been easy since the Mets 2006 NLCS game 7 loss to the Cardinals, but I think the Mets are finally starting to turn the corner and once they get Harvey back, if he returns to form prior to his injury, watch out. (Dan Sohler)

Now that Matt Harvey will miss most of the season, Zack Wheeler is the Mets ace.

Philadelphia Phillies

Ruben’s Last Stand the story of the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies….It has been a steady decline in Philadelphia since the magical season of 2008, which was the final season with Pat Gillick at the helm. The 2014 Phillies will be among the oldest teams in baseball with most of the core surrounded by question marks. Ruben Amaro spent the offseason placing band aid’s of wounds bringing in veteran starting pitchers AJ Burnett and Roberto Hernandez with one year deals. Burnett and Hernandez will need to hold down the fort while Cole Hamels works his way back from shoulder fatigue. The Phillies are hoping Marlon Byrd continues to find the success he did last year with the Mets & Pirates. There are several ways this baseball season could playout. Perhaps Ryne Sandberg rallys the troops and they remain relatively healthy and chase a wild card berth deep into the fall or perhaps Ryan Howard can’t find his stroke, Chase Utley can’t find the field and Cliff Lee is moved in a July trade as the team struggles to win 70 games……Spring is a time for optimism so Phillies fans a cautiously hoping everything breaks right as the season unfolds but quietly most realize a team with this many question marks rarely finds true success. (Mike Orzechowski)

The Phillies need a healthy Ryan Howard to be in contention.

Washington Nationals

By all accounts 2013 was a slight disappointment for the Nationals. While they had a respectable 86 win season there was so much more expected from a young team that had previously made the playoffs. Mike Rizzo and the Nats front office went out and made a few targeted motions in the offseason. The end result is a still young, still talanted team that will content for the NL East crown in 2014 and beyond. With a new Manager but largely an unchanged team 2014 will be an opportunity for team and skipper to emerge. The Nationals pitching staff is their crown jewel. Stephen Strasburg is one of the brightest burning young stars in the majors with electric stuff. Although we’re starting to tack on the “if he stays healthy” label to him Strasburg is one of the best young arms in the business and the Nats feed off his performances. Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez had excellent 2013 seasons. Gonzalez in particular has improved consistently over the last 3 years showing that he’s just shy of ace level. The acquisition of Fister for 2 prospects and a utility player is still a bit of a mystery to Tiger’s fans but Nat’s fans should be smiling about this acquisition. Fister’s dominating size and throwing angle give him more outs than a typical pitcher with his stuff. He uses the plate effectively and tends to make only limited mistakes. Fister is used to the backend slot in the rotation but will give the Nationals a couple hundred innings and probably 14-17 wins. Rafael Soriano holds down a talented primarily right handed bullpen and will again give the Nationals a capable closer. The Nats outfield will feature Denard Span up the gut and while Span’s number aren’t incredible he gives them a focused leadoff hitter. Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth could flip flop in terms of productivity this year. Harper could emerge as a power hitting bat in 2014 which would give the Nationals lineup a more rounded appearance. Werth outperformed all expectations last year and while a repeat maybe tough to project he’ll still be a top tier player. Around the infield there’s talent but issues as well. Ryan Zimmerman is a capable 3B but has fallen off of his production from earlier in his career. He has the potential to pick up his production again but nothing should be counted on here. Adam LaRoche will be counted on for almost 20 HR and 60-70 RBI again. It’s one of the stranger pieces of the puzzle for the Nats but if LaRoche does well it will likely show up in run production for Harper/Werth. Ian Desmond and youngster Anthony Rendon will be up the middle and should give teh team a solid combination. Rendon may struggle early but is a capable player who will eventually stick around for a long while. Matt Williams has a short period to get acclimated to his new position as Nationals manager. This is a team that has an imense amount of talent but a few question marks as well. Last year they struggled early before making the race look respectable, however Atlanta was never really under threat. This year they should be full on chase mode throughout the season and last year’s struggles should provide a motivational spark. Expect the Nats to be relevent from start to finish and to finish either 1st or 2nd in the NL East with between 88-94 wins. (Michael Bedard)

The Nationals expect Harper to have an MVP caliber season.


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