FanIQ NL East Preview

The Nationals Reign is Only Just Beginning [FanIQ NL East Preview]

3/21/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - FanIQ NL East PreviewThe Phillies five year dominance of the NL East came to an end last year. The Nationals rode the young talent they’ve built for years to a division title and their first playoff appearance in DC, while the Braves sent Chipper Jones into retirement with a Wild Card berth and a lot of thrown garbage. The Mets made more headlines off the field as the Wilpons continued to turn, while the Marlins were a high priced disaster that was dismantled as quickly as it was built.
 
What about this year? How will the Nationals responed with expectations for the first time? Can the Uptons lead Atlanta back to the playoffs? Do the Phillies have another run in them?
 
Once again note that teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and that all projected Opening Day lineups are from MLBDepthCharts.com. Bold indicates new acquisition. Italics indicate rookie.
 
Washington Nationals
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
RHP Dan Haren
LHP Ross Detwiler
 
Closer: RHP Rafael Soriano
 
Key Losses: OF/1B Michael Morse, SP Edwin Jackson, SP John Lannan, RP Michael Gonzalez, RP Tom Gorzelanny, RP Sean Burnett, C Jesus Flores
 
Natitude was out in full force in DC, at least until Drew Storen forgot how to throw strikes in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS. Last year’s league leader in wins only got better in the winter, addressing what weaknesses they did have. Need a center fielder and lead-off man? Hello Denard Span. Need a veteran starting pitcher on a 1 year deal to replace Edwin Jackson? Welcome aboard Dan Haren. See an opportunity to pick up another top bullpen arm? Sign right here Rafael Soriano.
 
Washington’s strength is their pitching, but they were also an above average offensive team last year. Span’s career .357 OBP will work fine at the top of the order if he can stay healthy, which admittedly is not a sure thing. If Span doesn’t work at leadoff though, Werth and his team leading OBP will slot in just fine. Those two lead into a very fine heart of the order. Zimmerman is one of the best in the game at third base, LaRoche had a breakout year in 2012 and was rewarded with a new contract, and Desmond slugged .511 last year as a shortstop, which doesn’t happen much anymore. Then we come to one Bryce Harper. His .270/.340/.477 line as a 19 year old was beyond impressive, and his ability to make adjustments was incredible for his age. He will be a 30 homer guy, if not more, sooner or later. It might not be this year per se, but in 2013 he should very good once again. They even have as good a bench as anyone in the league, as guys like OF Tyler Moore, IF Steve Lombardozzi, and C Wilson Ramos can pick up some slack if need be. Ramos in fact hopes to end the year as starting catcher as he recovers from a torn ACL.
 
The Strasburg Shutdown controversy is over for now, and Strasburg is expected to pitch the entire year, which can only be bad news for opposing hitters. Baseball will finally get to see everything he can do. Flanked by Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, those three make up arguably the best 1-2-3 pitching staff in baseball right now. Dan Haren joins the team coming off the worst season of his career. Thanks to those in front of him, he doesn’t have to be as good as his prime, just healthy enough for 180-190 innings of solid work. In Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have one of the better fifth starters to boot. The main issue is that last season the Nationals didn’t need a sixth starter until Strasburg was shut down. That kind of durability is very unlikely to happen again, and with John Lannan gone to Philly, the Nationals don’t really have any depth outside of the primary five anymore.
 
Other than that and a lack of lefties in the bullpen though, this is a team with no real weaknesses. It doesn’t matter much right now, but this is the best team on paper going into the season, and they should be in the mix to get back to the playoffs and beyond.
 
Projected Record: 95-67
 
Down on the Farm: Not surprising, graduations and trades have thinned this system out considerably. The top prospect now is 3B Anthony Rendon, who has a plus hit tools but has issues staying healthy, particularly with his ankles. The latter is a big problem if he has to move to second because of Zimmerman. OF Brian Goodwin shows great speed and a decent bat, but still needs to work on pitch recognition. On the pitching side, SP Lucas Giolito has all kinds of potential coming out of high school last year, but injury concerns dropped him to 16th overall in the 2012 draft, concerns found after he needed Tommy John surgery after just 2 pro innings. If he recovers as normal, he’ll be one to watch.
 
Atlanta BravesBlog Photo - FanIQ NL East Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
SS Andrelton Simmons
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
CF B.J. Upton
2B Dan Uggla
3B Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson
C Gerald Laird
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Kris Medlen
LHP Mike Minor
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Julio Teheran
 
Closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel
 
Key Losses: 3B Chipper Jones, OF/3B Martin Prado, OF Michael Bourn, SP Tommy Hanson, C David Ross, SP Jair Jurrjens, SP Randall Delgado, RP Peter Moylan
 
I’m not going to lie. I had forgotten the Braves had won 94 games last year. For me, their year basically boils down to Chipper Jones’s last hurrah and their fans throwing garbage after the awful infield fly call. Atlanta’s primary means of upgrading were a double dose of Upton. B.J. was signed to replace Michael Bourn in center field, while Justin was acquired after sending Martin Prado and some prospects to Arizona. The brothers plus Jason Heyward (who is still just 23 and is excellent with still untapped potential) form one of baseball’s most exciting young outfields. Add Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, who has a truly special glove at short and showed surprising hit ability as a rookie, and the Braves have a nice young hitting core. However, both Uptons do come with risks. B.J. is a low OBP, high power guy whose OBP dropped to .298 last season. Justin, meanwhile, has been inconsistent from year to year and is coming off a thumb injury that hurt him last year. The rest of the lineup is also an issue. Dan Uggla continues to disappoint compared to his contract. Brian McCann was racked by injuries last year, won’t be ready for Opening Day, and might not be himself anymore. Finally, at third base replacing Chipper is the Francisco/Johnson platoon, which will be a pale imitation. This was a slightly above average lineup last season, and it will be so again.
 
Turing to the rotation, Tim Hudson is the nominal ace, but if Kris Medlen is anything like he was last season as a starter, that will change quickly. Medlen was unhittable once he hit the rotation, which won’t happen again, but a full season of Medlen starting should be enough to anchor it. Hudson keeps ticking along, while Minor and Maholm are both solid innings eating lefties. Teheran is the X-factor here. A former top prospect, Teheran hasn’t been able to put it together in AAA, much less in his short big league trials. For now, he just needs to hold down the fort while Brandon Beachy rehabs from Tommy John surgery. If these guys and the rest of the bullpen can get Atlanta a lead, Craig Kimbrel will lock down the win. Kimbrel last year was the first guy to ever strike out more than half the batters he faced. He is the best reliever in the game today.
 
Once again, the Braves should be in the thick of the playoff and division race. I think the Nationals are slightly better, but if they falter, Atlanta should be ready to pounce.
 
Projected Record: 90-72
 
Down on the Farm: Despite his issues, Teheran still grades out at the Braves top prospect. Another pitcher, J.R. Graham, is the next most talked about guy, with a fantastic fastball and the ability to induce groundballs.
 

Philadelphia PhilliesBlog Photo - FanIQ NL East Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley
3B Michael Young
1B Ryan Howard
LF Laynce Nix
RF Domonic Brown
CF Ben Revere
C Erik Kratz
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Cole Hamels
RHP Roy Halladay
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Kyle Kendrick
LHP John Lannan
 
Closer: RHP Jonathan Papelbon
 
Key Losses: 3B Placido Polanco, OF Nate Schierholtz, UT Ty Wigginton, SP Vance Worley, OF Juan Pierre
 
Was last year an aberration, or was it a sign that the Phillies recent run of success is over? Those first three in the rotation in theory mean you can’t count the Phillies out. However, Roy Halladay struggled last year (bad), has gotten lit up in spring training (doesn’t matter), and is apparently only topping 85 mph with his fastball (matters a lot). Doc has gone from the best pitcher in baseball to a question mark. Cliff Lee, meanwhile, was better than his 6-9 record last year, but his homer rate ticked up and his strike out ticked down, which could be nothing, but could be the start of a decline. Kendrick and Lannan are innings eaters, which suits the club well if the Big Three are truly the Big Three.
 
The top three will need to be, because there are still concerns with the lineup. Once Carlos Ruiz returns from a 50 game stimulant suspension, the newly acquired Revere will be the only regular under 30. The three stars of old are still here, but Rollins has been average at best with the bat for a few years now, and injuries have sapped Utley of his former superstar ways. As for Ryan Howard? He’s likely to be better now that’s he fully recovered from his Achilles injury, but his patience and ability to hit lefties isn’t getting better, and at 33, his contract is looking more and more like an albatross. It’s not that great an outlook elsewhere either. Michael Young gets plenty of hosannas for his personality and how he plays the game, which ignores his sub-replacement level .682 OPS last year. The crazy thing is that’s not even the worst pick-up by Philadelphia. That would be Delmon Young. While he’s not ready to play yet, the plan is to start him in right field. His complete inability to play the field, as he showed in Detroit? Not a concern apparently. Neither is his awful pitch recognition and consequent terrible OBP, nor his awful make-up, which includes a hate crime arrest.
 
I made such a big deal out of the Young signings to show that for a team that ended up exactly average in 2012 (81-81), the moves made to help the team were more than likely counterproductive. That’s not even counting the signing of the wretched Yuni Betancourt to a minor league deal. The Phillies stars have to slow down their aging curves for this team to get back in it. I still believe in Hamels and Lee, and hope as a baseball fan Halladay turns it around, and thus I don’t predict a total collapse, but don’t kid yourself, it’s in play.
 
Projected Record: 84-78
 
Down on the Farm: Two lefthanded pitchers, Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle, top what is a pretty thin system, which happens after years of trying to win now. Morgan is a college lefty who hit AA, and pitched well, in his first year of pro ball. He has a lower ceiling, but higher floor than Biddle, although Biddle also has a good chance to at least make the majors.
 
New York MetsBlog Photo - FanIQ NL East Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
2B Jordany Valdespin
CF Collin Cowgill
RF Marlon Byrd
1B Ike Davis
LF Lucas Duda
3B Justin Turner
C John Buck
SS Ruben Tejada
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Jon Niese
RHP Shaun Marcum
RHP Matt Harvey
RHP Dillon Gee
RHP Jeremy Hefner
 
Closer: RHP Bobby Parnell
 
Key Losses: SP RA Dickey, OF Scott Hairston, C Josh Thole, OF Andres Torres, SS Ronny Cedeno, SP Chris Young, RP Manny Acosta
 
Before you ask, this is assuming that neither 2B Daniel Murphy and 3B David Wright will be ready for the start of the season. Looking at the rest of the lineup, it’s obvious that they’ll need Wright ready to go as soon as possible, as the rest of the lineup shows. The outfield is a straight up mess, probably the worst in baseball. Duda is the only one with any potential, and he wasn’t great last season. Byrd is close to done, and Cowgill is 27 and has yet to establish himself as starter material. Letting their best outfielder last year, Hairston, is yet another sign the Mets financial woes are still there. With the exception of Wright, this is mostly a young, cheap lineup of guys that won’t be terrible, but don’t have a great ceiling. The only word I can come up with is “meh.”
 
Being unable to sign RA Dickey to a reasonable extension, and then trading him, tells you all to need to know about the state of Mets. While they will undoubtedly miss the reigning NL Cy Young winner, this actually isn’t a bad rotation, even accounting for the fact that no one knows exactly what Johan Santana can contribute. Niese quietly sported a 3.40 ERA with solid peripherals.  Marcum is a similarly solid pitcher, only he’s done it longer for both Toronto and Milwaukee. Gee, meanwhile, had a middling 4.10 ERA last year, but his strike out rate spiked to a career 8.0 per nine, and his walk rate dropped to 2.4 per nine. If that holds, he’s a sleeper. The real prize though is Matt Harvey. A top prospect going into the season, Harvey reached the bigs and dazzled in 10 starts, posting an ERA under 3 and striking out more than 10 per nine. He probably won’t be that good his first full year in the majors, but there’s a lot to like.
 
This year an Amway store opened on the grounds of Citi Field. This symbolizes the state of the Mets. The team is still hampered by the Wilpons and their lack of resources which they lost in an Amway-like scheme. Until then, the team will mostly run in place, and at best cultivate some young talent. They’ll need to, because while they extended Wright (to prevent fan revolt at least), it’s clear the checkbook will remain put away for the foreseeable future.
 
Projected Record: 73-89
 
Down on the Farm: As the centerpiece of the Dickey trade, C Travis d’Arnaud will have a lot of expectations placed on him. He has the ability to hit for power, get on base, and play good defense behind the plate. The issue is he suffers at least one injury every year. He’ll likely get some AAA bats to finish his development. The Mets’ best pitching prospect also came via trade, SP Zach Wheeler in the 2011 Carlos Beltran deal. Wheeler was excellent in AA last season, and could be on a similar track to Harvey last year, spending most of the year in AAA before a late season cameo.
 

Miami MarlinsBlog Photo - FanIQ NL East Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
LF Juan Pierre
3B Placido Polanco
RF Giancarlo Stanton
C Rob Brantly
CF Justin Ruggiano
2B Donovan Solano
1B Casey Kotchman
SS Adeiny Hechavarra
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Henderson Alvarez
LHP Wade LeBlanc
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Jacob Turner
 
Closer: RHP Steve Cishek
 
Key Losses: SS Jose Reyes, SP Mark Buehrle, SP Josh Johnson, UT Emilio Bonifacio, OF Scott Cousins, RP Heath Bell, SP Carlos Zambrano, RP Chad Gaudin, C John Buck

Well, Giancarlo Stanton is awesome, and Ricky Nolasco can at least eat innings and is not bad. Otherwise? I got nothing. Once again, the Marlins sold off just about everyone and what’s left is mostly flotsam. Starting with the lineup, you have two long time veterans in Pierre and Polanco who have little left in the tank. Also new to the team is Kotchman, who came off his career year in Tampa with a beyond awful year in Cleveland. Hechavarra came over in the trade with Toronto, and while he doesn’t project as a good hitter at all, he does have a plus glove at short, which has plenty of value. The three non-Stanton returnees are at least young, cheap, and can at least be decent. Ruggiano in particular looked good last year with a .909 OPS, but a .401 BABIP means that is unsustainable.
 
With all the 2012 acquisitions and stalwart Josh Johnson gone, Nolasco is now the veteran of the rotation. He usually can give them 190-200 innings, but they are below average innings (93 career ERA+). The rest of the rotation all has the same problem. They don’t miss enough bats (neither does Nolasco actually). This doesn’t mean they’ll get bombed necessarily, but it limits all of their ceilings. It’s a group of mid to back-end starters, and while their ballpark will help them,  there’s not much to recommend as is. At least they work cheap.
 
There’s not much to say that isn’t already been said about the Marlins. It’s an organization rotten to the core, and it starts at the top with Jeffrey Loria. Their new ballpark honeymoon is already over (that photo above is real), and given the history of the franchise, it’s hard to see much optimism. Stanton has four years before becoming a free agent. Enjoy him while you can Marlins fans.
 
Projected Record: 65-97
 
Down on the Farm: No, they haven’t been spending on the minor league system either, and needed the Toronto trade to charge things up. The exception is OF Christian Yelich. At just 20 years old, Yelich led the Class A Florida State League in slugging and was second in batting average and OBP. It’s not clear if his glove will allow him to stay at center, but even if he can’t, he can be a very useful player. SP Jose Fernandez also had a great year in A-ball, but is probably a bit further behind than Yelich. SP Justin Nicolino and OF Jake Marisnick were the prizes of the big trade with the Blue Jays. Nicolino gets compared to Cole Hamels, which is probably a bit too optimistic, but he is coming off a nice year in the Midwest League. Marisnick has good tools that haven’t translated into ability yet.
 
Those are my picks and predictions for the NL East. What are yours?
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3/27/13   |   Scott   |   52880 respect

I'm already on record in predicting that the Braves offense is going to lead the major leagues in strikeouts.  I like what they have done in trying to close the gap between themselves and the Nationals but I think when your pitching staff can send out 3, possibly 4 really good strikeout pitchers, you have a big advantage over the Braves

3/21/13   |   mcleodglen   |   32 respect

Nationals are slightly better, that's true.