2014 MLB Preview: NL East

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The National League East is a strange division that includes some of the best teams in the MLB along with some of the worst. There are strong teams that have fallen off in recent years and teams that have rarely even been in the hunt. Meanwhile there are teams that look as if they will be the World Series Champions year after year. A lot of teams have found their way to the top of the division over the years but there is one that stands out amongst the rest. The Atlanta Braves have been the team that has dominated year after year and have remained one of the top teams in the MLB. They have had a very long reign as a top team in the division but their time at the top has not been without challengers. From 1995 until 2005 the Atlanta Braves would sit at the top of the division until the New York Mets would unseat them in 2006. The Philadelphia Phillies would take over from their winning the division from 2007 to 2011 and becoming the new dominant team. While all of this was going on the Atlanta Braves remained in the hunt and would consistently fight for the division even if they wouldn’t win. In 2012 a new team would begin to challenge the Atlanta Braves as the aging team from Atlanta would fall to the youngsters from Washington. The Nationals looked like they were taking over the division with a number of very promising young players that seemed to be the recipe they needed to be the next team to try to take out the Braves. As the 2013 season started it seemed like it was time for the young guns to take over as the Nationals seemed poised to become next dominant team in the division. More than that they looked to be the next possible World Series Champions. All of that promise would fall short though and the Atlanta Braves would once again stand at the top of the division. As the 2014 season approaches there are a number of questions to be answered as fans wonder if the Braves can stay at the top for another season. If they can’t who will be the team to unseat them this year? Will it be an again Phillies team or a more promising New York Mets? Or could the Washington Nationals take back their spot at the top of the division to make good on the promises of last year? The National League East is once again in the midst of a transition as the old guard is under threat from another challenger as they look to hold on to the division title while another team tries to unseat them. There is plenty of baseball ahead and all of the NL East teams will be looking to be that team although there seems to be one that has a better shot than most this year as the Braves try to continue to fend off the challengers for their title.

 

Atlanta Braves

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The Atlanta Braves have been one of the strongest teams in the MLB for many years as they continue to be threats for a postseason spot. Last year it seemed as though they might be falling under the pressure of the youngsters in Washington. They had some major holes to fill in 2013 and did not seem to fill all of them in the offseason. The additions of B.J. and Justin Upton would seem to be good moves but many would not believe it was enough to fend off the Washington Nationals. That was until the season began and the Braves would take off and begin dominating the division. They would easily take the division crown with a 10-game lead on their closest competitor. The success in the regular season would not translate to success in the postseason though as they would be eliminated in the NLDS. Still it was a successful season as they would easily take yet another division title. The Braves would see the continuation of a theme this year as the once steady team full of lifetime Braves would continue to separate. In 2013 Chipper Jones would retire while Michael Bourn would leave in free agency. This year the two longest tenured Braves would leave the team taking away two more building blocks from the Braves. Both Brian McCann and Tim Hudson would take advantage of successful seasons in free agency to earn bigger contracts in new homes. The Braves would do little to replace those big holes as they would show faith in their farm system that was shown in 2013. The 2014 team still has plenty going for it though even with the losses of those two big time players. Evan Gattis remains one of the strongest batters in the MLB and if Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton can return to form from tough 2013 seasons they will add to a strong lineup. There are few major holes in the batting order although McCann will be missed as power bats are never easy to replace. The pitching rotation of the Braves will miss the presence of Tim Hudson but the Braves group is still strong. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor have shown promise at the top of the division but both of them will be hurt to start the season with Medlen looking to be out for the majority of the season after Tommy John Surgery. The Braves are still a good team but they are becoming less of a powerhouse as they continue to lose players and have more holes every year. The Braves have some weaknesses that can be exposed but they are still a team to watch as they can never be counted out in the division race.

 

Biggest Loss:
Brian McCann, C (Free Agent, NYY)
– Power bats are becoming harder to find in the MLB and McCann was one of those few bats as he would put up 20 HRs last year and those 20 HRs will be missed even if the lineup remains strong without McCann

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Braves would lose a number of key players and some long time Braves but they would not look outside of the organization to fill the holes that were left the lineup as they showed faith in their system

Player to Watch:
Jason Heyward, OF
– He was considered the future of the team only a few years ago but after a 2013 season full of injuries for Heyward he is looking at 2014 to get back on track and become the player many thought that he would be

 

Miami Marlins

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The 2013 season was an interesting one for the Marlins and one that would not gain a lot of fans. In 2012 the Marlins would rebrand and go from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins with a new logo, colour scheme, and most importantly a brand new state of the art stadium. Only a year after all of that work and the potential of a new era for the Marlins the management would earn everything down. They would agree to a blockbuster deal before the 2013 season that would gut their team with Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and most importantly Jose Reyes would all be headed to Toronto. The trade would not bring back a lot of players to fill the holes of the team as the entire base of the team was gone. It would upset the fans and send many season ticket holders away from the stadium as the fans would see a management that was not committed to the team or the city. After spending a lot of money on the new stadium with the promise of a winning team the city was not very happy either and the Marlins instantly became the enemies of an entire city. The trade that would gut the team would have the expected effect as the Marlins would end their 2013 season at the bottom of the division. It was not all terrible for the Marlins though as a few players would stand out as the potential future of the team. The fans are of course skeptical that these players will stay but for the 2014 season they will be the key to what the players are hoping is a comeback season and a chance to rebuild a once championship team. On the offensive side the Marlins will look to Giancarlo Stanton who remained on the team throughout the massive trade and has shown to be major player for the team. The Marlins will also look to the one of the biggest pieces of the 2013 trade to have some type of impact this year as Adeiny Hechavarria looks to take over at shortstop. Meanwhile the Marlins would make one major move in signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia who is coming off of a World Series Championship with Boston. In the rotation the Marlins have seemingly found an ace in Jose Fernandez but have done little else to upgrade the pitching staff leaving Fernandez alone to lead the pitching staff. The Marlins have made a few small moves while Fernandez, Stanton, and Hechavarria could be the building blocks for a rebuild in Miami. The rebuild is just starting though as the 2013 trade will remain a big impact and will keep the Marlins at the bottom of the division.

 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– After gutting the team in 2013 there was really not a lot left on the roster for the Marlins to get rid of and they would not see many top players leave as the roster would remain generally the same as 2013

Biggest Addition:
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (Free Agent, Bos)
– Any time that a team can add a former World Series champion they have to take full advantage and despite having a promising prospect in the minor leagues Saltalamacchia was too good to pass up as the Marlins will have experience behind the plate

Player to Watch:
Jose Fernandez, RHP
– He came out of seemingly nowhere last year as he was forced into a big role after a number of top pitchers were shipped to Toronto and the pressure seemed to work well as he would post a 2.19 ERA and a 12-6 record but will he be able to repeat that performance in 2014

 

New York Mets

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The New York Mets are another team in this division that has had a rough go as of late remaining one of the bottom teams over the last few years. A lot of the recent issues on the field for the Mets have been a direct result of the off field issues that the owners have had. Fred Wilpon would be caught up among the Bernie Madoff scandal and had reportedly come out on the winning end of the Ponzi scheme. A resulting lawsuit would put his ownership of the Mets in jeopardy providing a massive distraction for the team. A settlement out of court would end the distraction off of the field and the focus could turn to the field. In 2013 the Mets seemed like they were not going to improve as they would trade away a Cy Young award winner in RA Dickey. Replacing Dickey was Matt Harvey who turned out to be the surprise of the MLB season as he went from relatively unknown to one of the best pitchers in baseball. Harvey would help the Mets to a third place finish but the same will not be said for the 2014 season. The Mets will enter the new season without their top pitcher as Harvey is likely to miss most of the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. It is a massive loss for the team as they seemed to find an ace but have not lost him to an injury. With the injury in mind the Mets would go out to try to replace him with a promising comeback story. The Mets would sign Bartolo Colon to be their ace for 2014 season after he spent the last two years returning to his ace form in Oakland. The Mets are hoping that he can fill the hole left by Harvey and that when Harvey returns they can make a good one-two punch in the rotation. Colon was not the only big signing for the Mets this year as they would look to add a few more key pieces to the team. It was one of the first years that the Mets seemed to be ready to make immediate improvements through free agency. Colon would be the only major move for the rotation while the Mets would also add outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. The additions would help to upgrade a bad offence that will also be helped with top prospect Travis D’Arnaud playing his first full season. The Mets would make bigger changes than usual this year but the moves may not pay off and if they don’t the Mets will find themselves back near the bottom of the division.

 

Biggest Loss:
Matt Harvey, RHP (Injury)
– Nothing was bigger for the Mets than the loss of Matt Harvey in 2013 as he would not finish the season on the mound having to go under the knife for Tommy John Surgery and he will remain out of the lineup as he rehabs leaving a big hole in the Mets’ rotation

Biggest Addition:
Chris Young, OF (Free Agent, Oak)
– The Mets’ outfield was one of the worst in 2013 and two signings would change that including the signing of Chris Young who will be an immediate upgrade ion defence and a decent offensive output after providing 12 HRs and 40 RBIs to the A’s last year

Player to Watch:
Bartolo Colon, RHP
– Colon struggled three years ago as a member of the Yankees but when he seemed to be on his way out of baseball the Athletics would give him another chance and he would take advantage with two good seasons that he hopes to continue in his return to New York

 

Philadelphia Phillies

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It wasn’t long ago that the Phillies were the dominant team in the NL East but then age caught up with themand they fell behind. The Phillies have fallen into a pattern of continuing to put teams on the field that are aging and do not have the same dominance they once enjoyed. In years past the Phillies would simply add to the aging team in the offseason putting more veterans on the team while not focusing on the future. The 2013 offseason would see this attitude take hold as they thought that they had a lineup that was good enough to win. They would make no major improvements to the roster leaving an aging roster together to try to challenge for the division title once again. The strategy would not work though as the Phillies would fall to the bottom of the division staying just above the Marlins for second last place. For the 2014 season the Phillies would continue this thinking as they would make a few minor adjustments to the team. It was a step forward as the Phillies would finally make changes to their aging roster but there are questions of whether it will be enough to help the Phillies return to the top of the division. Cliff Lee will continue to lead a rotation that has gone form one of the best in the MLB to a beatable group. They would add A.J. Burnett to this group in the offseason that will add a proven pitcher and replace the retired Roy Halladay. Still the fear of the rotation is no longer there as Lee, Cole Hamels, and Burnett are not the dominant pitchers that they used to be. On offence much of the old faces remain as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins all return to the lineup for another year. The only big addition for the Phillies will be Marlon Byrd who should add a big bat to the lineup this year but is yet another veteran to an aging lineup. It is a pattern that has not been successful though as the Phillies continue to move ahead with old players and seemingly no focus on the future of the team. That attitude would work against them in 2013 and it might do the same this year. Their new acquisitions are good and are sure to bring something extra to the team but they do not look like they will be enough to help them get back into the fight for the division. The Phillies continue to think that they have a team that can win the division but they need to start a rebuild now before they are forced to as they will not be in the fight this year.

 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Phillies have their core players and none of them would leave the team in the offseason as the only major change would be the retirement of Roy Halladay who was a shell of his former self leaving the Phillies with a regular team

Biggest Addition:
Marlon Byrd, OF (Free Agent, Pit)
– The offence needed a boost and although Byrd is an aging player like the rest of the team he is still a power hitter that can bring power that the Phillies were missing in 2013 and that they will need to compete this year

Player to Watch:
Ryan Howard, 1B
– He was considered one of the best offensive players in the game only a few years ago but that pop from his bat has gone away as he looks to try to gain that ability back to try to become the offensive leader of the Phillies

 

Washington Nationals

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The Washington Nationals would enter the 2013 season as one of the fastest rising teams in the MLB and would be considered favourites to win the World Series. They were seen as a team poised to make some noise in the league and many would have them winning the championship. With Bryce Harper leading the way on offence and Stephen Strasburg leading the rotation the youth movement would take hold of the league. The Nationals were ready to take their next step as they finally seemed ready to become a contender but it would all fall apart for the favourites. After adding a number of good players to help their cause the Nationals would go about having a great Spring Training season looking absolutely dominant throughout the spring. That success would not translate to the regular season though as the Nationals would fall quickly out of the race and would end the season 10 games out of the division lead. In 2014 the Nats are hoping that the moves they made this offseason have provided the depth they need to take the division title and meet expectations. The offence would not see a lot of upgrades as Nate McLouth was the biggest addition in the field. McLouth will not have major impact on the team but he does provide depth in the outfield if someone goes down. The offence does still include Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Bryce Harper. It is a good lineup that needs to stay healthy and step up to provide plenty of support. The pitching rotation would see the biggest change as the Nationals would pull off a big trade with the Detroit Tigers to land Doug Fister. The Tigers have had a great rotation in the last few years and Fister was a major part of that and will now factor in to an already strong rotation. Stephen Strasburg leads the way as the once future of pitching is not entirely what was promised, although it is impossible to meet his expectations. He is a true MLB ace and will lead Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez to what could be a very strong rotation. The bullpen is a good one too as Rafael Soriano and Jerry Blevins provide a solid backup system for the rotation. The National enter another season with lofty expectations as many are just hoping that last year was a fluke and that the potential everyone saw will come through this year. Their lineup includes little to no holes and if they can stay healthy and all meet their potential they will be in a tighter race for the division this year as they are still a top team in the East.

 

Biggest Loss:
Dan Haren, RHP (Free Agency, LAD)
– The Nationals have a good rotation but losing one of their top five is not something they were hoping for as Haren would leave to the Dodgers and would leave a hole in the lineup despite him possibly being more useful alongside their offseason acquisition

Biggest Addition:
Doug Fister, RHP (Trade, Det)
– Fister was the one pitcher in Detroit that did not get a lot of press with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer leading the way but his addition to the lineup of the Nationals will add a big boost to a rotation that is already strong

Player to Watch:
Bryce Harper, OF
– Last year Harper ran into the outfield wall and would find himself out for a long period but this year he will need to stay healthy and take a step towards becoming the power bat in the middle of the lineup that they need

 

Prediction:
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Miami Marlins

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