NL East Betting Outlook
March 27, 2013
By Matt Zylbert
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Last week, I gave you my in-depth predictions for the American League heading into 2013. Now, it’s the National League’s turn to be dissected. Without further ado, here are your spoilers pertaining to what exactly will occur in the NL this season…
National League East
For reasons unbeknownst, the Nationals last year apparently assumed they’re suddenly a franchise that will be at or near the top every year. Otherwise, why else would they shut down Stephen Strasburg right before a big potential playoff run following their most successful regular season in decades? In one of the more curious decisions baseball has seen in recent memory, the Nationals elected to leave Strasburg, arguably the best young pitcher in the league, off its postseason roster, in an example of teams being way too conservative in order to protect young pitchers coming off surgery. The end result, of course, was a painful first-round exit at the hands of the Cardinals, despite owning baseball’s best record - yet they chose not to field one of the main players that got them there in the first place. Is it even a given that the Nationals return to the glory they reveled in last season? Actually, it might be. Pitching-wise, Washington should still be in great shape, as the kid gloves will finally be taken off Strasburg, who, to his credit, completely disagreed with the club’s horrific decision to end his season early. Beyond him is a very deep group of starters, consisting of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, newly-acquired Dan Haren, and one of the more productive No. 5 starters there is in Ross Detwiler. In the bullpen, the Nationals possess an equally-as-dangerous bunch, anchored by their new closer Rafael Soriano. With Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, and Ryan Mattheus in charge of handing him a lead, it’ll be awfully tough to muster up any sort of comeback against this team.
Meanwhile, the Nationals realized they had a good balanced offense last season so for the most part, they kept it together. That means their NL East foes will still have to regularly deal with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and Adam LaRoche. The only difference was shipping out slugger Michael Morse and importing Denard Span, which is a crucial acquisition. The Nationals haven’t really had a true textbook lead-off hitter with outstanding speed in the recent past, and Span will fill that need. Considering this is mostly the same roster that churned out an incredible 2012, except with a few upgrades, you can expect much of the same in 2013 - only this time, Washington will have Strasburg for the stretch run.
Predicted Record: 94-68
There are seemingly three things certain in life: death, taxes, and the fact that the Braves will be contenders, no matter what year it is. That latter statement will be tested, though, as for the first time in what seems like forever, Atlanta is preparing for a season without the services of star third-baseman Chipper Jones, their former longstanding face of the franchise. But, much like when they were getting prepared without former longtime manager Bobby Cox for the first time going into 2011, the show must go on, and the Braves have the personnel and the talent to remain heavily in the mix. When it comes to starting pitching, Atlanta is always stacked, and this year will be no different, as much of the same rotation from last season is still intact. Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, and Brandon Beachy are three of the usual holdovers, not to mention last year’s mid-season acquisition Paul Maholm, who continued his vastly underrated pitching in Atlanta that was often witnessed through his previous stops in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Above all, though, is the continued progression of Kris Medlen, after the right-hander simply dazzled anyone that watched any of his starts. If last year is any indication, Medlen’s on the path to becoming a bona fide ace. Julio Teheran has also impressed. As strong as their rotation looks, the bullpen might be even more masterful - as it usually is - and it all begins with the league’s best closer, Craig Kimbrel. With Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and the newly-acquired Jordan Walden setting it up for him, it’s pretty much a certainty that Atlanta closes out any late lead.
Obtaining said lead isn’t a problem either with the type of offense the Braves possess, especially after the retooling they did within their lineup. The big news they created was bringing in the Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., who will patrol the outfield along with budding star Jason Heyward. The infield is pretty good as well, honing the presence of Freddie Freeman fresh off a nice sophomore campaign, as well as Dan Uggla, who is always a threat at the plate. The Braves are going to have to make up for the loss of Michael Bourn at the top of the order, and they hope they can do that with inserting Andrelton Simmons in that position after flashing the potential to be a capable lead-off hitter last season. If Brian McCann returns healthy and back to form, that could be a huge bonus. In any case, this is a club built to contend, and that is exactly what they shall do.
Predicted Record: 84-78
Going into last season, the Phillies were on quite the remarkable run, having secured five straight division championships in the always competitive NL East. However, injuries would cause them to stumble out of the gate in ‘12, and it wouldn’t be until much later in the year when Philadelphia ultimately made their playoff push - which ended up being a little too late, as they missed the postseason for the first time since 2006. At the very least, they did reach .500, which seemed very unlikely prior to their late-season surge, and established momentum going into this new campaign, where they hope to get back on track in typical Philadelphia fashion. As usual, the Phillies have a lineup that boasts a lot of talent, but the thing they’re most excited about is the fact that they’ll have a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to open up the season, unlike last year. Despite both getting up there in age, there’s no denying that each is known as one of the best at his respective position. Furthermore, Jimmy Rollins is still resides at the top of the order with his notable skillset, while the club also added Michael Young, Delmon Young, and Ben Revere to make the offense more potent.
When it comes to pitching, Philadelphia has always had one of the best rotations year in and year out, but with all of the questions lingering around staff ace Roy Halladay lately, that could be the difference whether or not they ascend back to the top of the division. In any event, they still have a lot of depth in case the aged Halladay falters, beginning with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, two of the more dominant left-handers in baseball. Kyle Kendrick has been a swingman starter over the past two years, but is back full-time again after some relatively impressive pitching in that time. Veterans John Lannan and Aaron Cook were inked to deals, and could be very valuable picking up any potential slack left behind by Halladay. As long as their starting pitching produces, that’s a good sign for where this team is headed, considering their back-end of the bullpen is as lethal as ever. Featuring Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, B.J. Rosenberg, and the newly-signed Mike Adams, the Phillies will have no problems handing the ball over to premiere closer Jonathan Papelbon. As long as they stay healthy, the Phillies can return to prominence.
Predicted Record: 83-79
New York Mets
Long serving as the punch line of jokes related to bankruptcy and poor play, the Mets appeared to finally turn things around in 2012 after three straight fourth-place finishes. Then, the second half of the season happened, and as usual, New York ended up fading down the stretch without a whimper, en route to - what else - yet another fourth-place finish. Much of the downfall had to do with the Mets’ horrendous bullpen, which clocked in tied for the worst ERA in all of baseball. A good portion of the blame rightfully went to Frank Francisco, who has since been demoted to a set-up role, where he might be more effective in less-pressure situations. Enter Bobby Parnell, the club’s new closer - at least for now - after showing a lot of promise at the tail-end of last year. The Mets also added LaTroy Hawkins and Brandon Lyon to address their bullpen woes, and if that unit does improve, then perhaps this is a team that has a chance to impress. Despite the fact that NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey was dealt away, not to mention the seemingly never-ending injury issues with Johan Santana, the Mets still might have themselves a pretty solid rotation, having added some depth in the form of Shaun Marcum, who arrives in Flushing with a terrific track record. Meanwhile, Jon Niese is coming off the best season of his career, although it is probably Matt Harvey whom Mets fans are most excited about on the pitching front. Harvey was called up for the first time in late July, when he proceeded to make ten starts, eight of which saw him surrender two earned runs or less.
On offense, New York has some feared hitters, like newly-anointed captain David Wright, one of the most complete players in all of baseball. Ike Davis is also a player of note, containing freakish power, but for him to be seen as a consistent threat, he’ll need to pick up his laughably low batting average. Other than that, this is a lineup that leaves a lot to be desired, and will certainly need some of its role players, such as Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, to step it up. At the very least, the Mets figure to break in top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud at some point early on, which could provide hope, but they’ll certainly need a lot more than that to return to relevancy. Will it be fourth place for the fifth year in a row for the lowly Mets? In this competitive division, it sure looks like it.
Predicted Record: 76-86
Without hesitation, it’s easy to assume that every legitimate published 2013 Major League Baseball preview, including this one, has the Marlins pegged to finish in last place in the NL East. But, are they really that bad? Well, they’re not good, and this general sentiment revolves around one really, really horrendous trade they made with Toronto that saw the club part ways with three of their key players from a year ago, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, two of whom are still in their prime. And what did they get in return? A promising young mid-rotation pitcher, a back-up catcher who is now out over a month, and a slew of mediocre-at-best prospects, one being Adeiny Hechavarria, who is penciled in to start at shortstop for this mostly punch-less offense. That term certainly doesn’t apply to big bopper Giancarlo Stanton, the widely-regarded best home-run hitter in the National League. It’s a shame that a portion of his prime is potentially being wasted on a team that really has no chance to do anything, although he is at least joined by fellow talented bats in the heart of the order, Logan Morrison and Justin Ruggiano, who could ultimately boost his statistics. But other than that, you have veterans Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco, and a whole lot of nothing.
Henderson Alvarez is the pitcher that came over from the Blue Jays, as he joins a curious group that could be really good - a few years from now. The one veteran presence, Ricky Nolasco, is slotted in as the club’s ace, with Alvarez right behind him, and then Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Wade LeBlanc. In essence, it’s really not a bad staff at all, but with potentially very little run support, that could turn out to be damaging to the progress made by their young starters. The bullpen looks okay at first glance, with Steve Cishek picking up where he left off last season as the team’s closer, and some decent arms like Ryan Webb, Michael Dunn, and Jon Rauch in charge of getting him the ball. Under first-year manager Mike Redmond, this could be a long, long season, but there are actually pieces here to get something going.
Predicted Record: 66-96