The countdown to Opening Day is getting smaller. We are just five days to the beginning of the Opening Series, and fourteen to Opening Day. Every few days from now to the beginning of the season, I will be previewing one division, leading up to my postseason picks on Opening Night. We will start with the National League East division today.
1. Washington Nationals -- 2013 Record: 86-76; Projected Record: 94-68
The Washington Nationals are my pick to win the 2014 World Series. I have been saying that all off season long, and am sticking by my pick in my NL East preview. Many people (including me) had high expectations for the Nationals in 2013, and predicted them to win the World Series. In reality, they got off to a slow start, going 48-47 before the All Star break. Then, they started to play better, and went 38-29 during the second half, finishing out with an impressive 18-9 September. Even still, they went out and improved their team this off season.
On December 2, the Nationals shook the world with a trade for Doug Fister. In return, the Nationals gave Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi to the Tigers. Fister adds to an already three-headed monster rotation for the Nationals with Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg. Each of those pitchers posted ERA+'s (earned run average adjusted to home ballpark) above the league-average 100. Fister himself adds 4.1 wins to 2013 number four starter Dan Haren.
Even without Fister the Nationals were due for a comeback campaign. Both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth were unable to play 130 games, with the elder only playing 118. Speaking of Harper, have you seen him lately? He's been working hard this offseason, and is now build like a truck. That just adds to the reasons why the Nationals are ready for a great season.
2. Philadelphia Phillies -- 2013 Record: 73-89; Projected Record: 89-73
I read a nice FanGraphs article which said that the Phillies added 16 WAR to their team, and although that total is based on last season, I can see them adding 16 wins to their last season's record. The National League East division is a weak one (besides the Nationals), and the Phillies could be in for one last hurrah. Ryne Sandberg takes over as manager for the entire season, and he's ready to get the most out of every single player on his roster.
The Phillies made one really big move this off season, the signing of A.J. Burnett. And if we've learned anything from Burnett over the past few seasons, it's that he can rack up the strikeouts and can pitch at a high level, especially after rejuvenating his career in Pittsburgh. The main reason I like the Burnett signing is that he is a ground-ball pitcher, posting a 50.4% career ground-ball percentage. In a hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, pitching to ground-balls is one of the main ways to have success, and Burnett will have it.
The only thing I'm worried about with the Phillies is their obvious injury concerns. Already in Spring Training Cole Hamels is injured, and we may see a gradual snowball effect into the season. Other than that, I like the youth at third base and in the outfield (Cody Asche, Ben Revere, and Domonic Brown respectivelly), and I like the signing of Marlon Bryd as well. He, although old, can still swing the bat well, and has shown it in Spring Training. Believe it or not, the Phillies could be on the bounce-back train in 2014.
3. Atlanta Braves -- 2013 Record: 96-66; Projected Record: 87-75
Ask me to rank my NL East teams two weeks ago and the Braves would be over 90 wins and second in the division. But, boy what has happened? Well, projected Opening Day starter Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy might both need Tommy John Surgery. Their once touted rotation depth is crumbling, as the Braves scramble for options. This is the year that the Braves disappoint everyone and fall to third in the standings.
The Braves did sign the former Royal Ervin Santana to a one-year deal to cover the "damages." However, this does not seem like enough. The Braves not only lost Medlen and Beachy, but remember they lost both Tim Hudson and signal-caller Brian McCann to the Giants and Yankees, respectively. The Braves still have a good lineup with Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, and both Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin).
The Braves could reach 90 wins, but their rotation problems could spell the end of their run at the top of the National League East. They lost some valuable pieces and only signed Ervin Santana out of desperation. I could see the Braves in the playoffs in 2014, but do not be surprised if their loss of pitching comes back to haunt them, and will not be able to sustain their offense, leading to a disappointment season.
4. New York Mets -- 2013 Record: 74-88; Projected Record: 72-90
The Mets fall down to fourth place this season, after a promising third place finish. The loss of Matt Harvey does not help, but they did sign Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon this offseason, something that should help them into the future. However, this season looks bleak for the Mets, with a lack of offense and star pitching.
The Mets signed Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon this off season. In theory, it looks like the Mets offense and pitching will be helped. However, it's hard to rely on a 40-year-old coming off of a career year to lead your staff. That staff looks uneasy, as Jonathon Niese has a hyperextended left elbow. They still have John Lannan, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and others battling for another rotation spot. On the other hand, Eric Young Jr., David Wright, Ike Davis, and Granderson should lead the lineup and provide run support for their pitching staff.
Overall, the Mets should wait until 2015 before they start looking to make the postseason. They have a promising, young lineup, and also have tons of pitching depth in the minor leagues that is ready to break out to the Majors soon. Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard should be on the Mets by Opening Day and around June, respectively. However, their time is next season, not this season. Mets fans, your future is bright, but wait until next season.
5. Miami Marlins -- 2013 Record: 62-100; Projected Record: 65-97
Another year in the cellar of the NL East for Miami. They've got a good young team, but besides Giancarlo Stanton, they seem to be in the same situation as the Mets, waiting for their time. They will be improved, but they took some risks this off season. Miami does boast a young pitching staff where four of their five regular starters posted ERA+'s over the league-average 100. However, only one (Jose Fernandez) was able to pitch over 150 innings.
The Marlins made some changes this offseason, signing the likes of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, and Casey McGehee. On paper, these signings look like they will immensely help the Marlins. But, if you dig a little deeper, you see the issues with all three of these players. First, Saltalamacchia has only had one good season (2013), and never posted a OPS+ over 100 previously. He had been playing in Boston's bandbox for three seasons. Now, he's headed to a pitcher's park, and his offense is bound to go down. Second, Furcal hasn't played since 2012, and comes with his own share of injuries. And third, McGehee hasn't played since 2012 either, and last had a season above-average in 2010.
The Marlins team is full of questions. In general, Miami has some really good young prospects, and it will not be long before they rise up in the National League East. But for now, they still are the cellar-dwellers and will remain that way until they really decide to make a splash, or when their prospects fully develop. That should not take that long.