The countdown to the 2014 season gets shorter everyday thankfully. We’ve taken a look at the opening series for each NL East team and some fantasy stars you should have drafted by now. With the teams all in a five-way tie for first place only a few days more, it’s time to throw out my predictions for this season.
I don’t see the Phillies competing much at all this year. Cole Hamels is starting the season on the disabled list. He may be joined by more members of the team. It seems every Phillies player has seen time on the DL for extended periods of time over the last few seasons. With a team full of aged veterans, AARP memberships will be kicking in for most of them in terms of baseball age.
Old age equals more injuries. Between Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cliff Lee, there better be a handful of prospects ready to see ample game time. Nothing is certain in Philadelphia this season in regards to the starting lineup and roster. What is certain is that the Phillies will have trouble winning ball games and will find themselves in the cellar this season.
Miami has a strong hitter and a strong pitcher. Giancarlo Stanton and Jesus Fernandez could compete for the MVP and Cy Young awards respectively. The problem is that there isn’t much more talent around them to utilize these two all-stars. Jarrod Saltalamacchia should be a nice addition behind the plate, and Christian Yelich may be in the Rookie of the Year hunt by year’s end.
Despite the guy here and a guy there, the Marlins don’t have the firepower to compete with the better teams in the division. Fernandez will be a factor in the series he gets to pitch against the division, but he will still lose his share of games. There is no home field advantage in Miami either, but at least they will get to see the home run statue rotate a few times this season on Stanton home runs.
New York Mets
The Mets have some talent. The keyword is some. There are former all-stars scattered on the roster, but many of them were with other teams. If the Mets can put the pieces together and make the team work together, they could find themselves on the right side of .500 at season’s end. Standing in their way are the top two teams in the division and the Mets themselves.
The pitching staff could be decent if potential was always optimized. Bartolo Colon won 18 games last season. Daisuke Matsuzaka is trying to make a resurgence in the Majors, but he is a long ways from when he went 18-3 in 2008 in Boston. Dillion Gee has the ability to win 10+ games as he has done twice before. Zack Wheeler is going to give his best Matt Harvey impersonation this season, minus the injury part.
New York always seems to have recognizable names on the roster but never seems to make the most out of them. We’ll see if that happens to the likes of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young or if they can outperform the likes of recent busts like Jason Bay.
If Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy had not both underwent Tommy John surgery, I would probably have them picked to win the division this season. With those two out for the year, Tim Hudson now in San Francisco, and Johnny Venters not returning from Tommy John until June, the Braves may have a hard time keeping opponents from scoring. Throw in Evan Gattis taking over catching duties and only time will tell how well he can handle the staff.
On paper, the Braves have one of the best starting nine in baseball. They are young, good-looking, and productive at the plate. Freddie Freeman is the face of the franchise and should find plenty of votes in the MVP ballot this season. Chris Johnson almost won the batting title last season as a surprise piece in the Justin Upton trade.
Andrelton Simmons won his first Gold Glove. The outfield will be solidified with B.J. Upton looking more impressive in his second season with Atlanta. And of course late in the games they are winning the ball will turned over to Craig Kimbrell. Unfortunately, you need to be strong in all facets of the game to win a division, and the Braves don’t have the starting pitching they did a year ago.
After a division title in 2012, the Washington Nationals regressed in 2013. They should bounce back this season and reclaim the division title with the likes of Stephen Strasburg finally living up to his potential. Strasburg heads a strong rotation that has all-stars scattered throughout the pitching staff. Gio Gonzalez could be a number one on many teams and Jordan Zimmermann won 19 games last season.
The left side of the infield is as secure as any team in the league with Ryan Zimmerman at third base and Ian Desmond at shortstop. The biggest question is perhaps behind the plate, where Washington traded for Jose Lobaton from Tampa Bay earlier in spring training to split duties with Wilson Ramos. There aren’t many sure fire catchers in baseball, but the Nationals have a solid combo behind the dish this season.
Opposing pitchers will have a tough time facing a Washington lineup that still includes Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Werth may play better with each day he doesn’t shave his beard, but Harper just makes everyone around him better. He really is a special kind of player who rubs off on his teammates and makes them want to win even more. Harper may have had to earn some respect when he first came up, but he has certainly earned it and then some with his work ethic and results on the field.
Washington will not run away with the division title like they did in 2012. Atlanta will be right there with them the entire way. I think if the Braves’ starting pitching can even come close to rivaling Washington’s then Atlanta will come out on top. Either way, both Washington and Atlanta will make the playoffs. The important part is who wins the division and doesn’t have to play in the wild card play-in game. Whoever wins the division will be sitting pretty and a better spot to send an NL East representative to the NLCS and World Series.