Has the National League evolved into a two-team arms race between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves? It seemed all offseason one would make a move and the other would counter it. B.J. Upton, Dan Haren, Denard Span, Rafael Soriano, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, and Jordan Walden all enter the fray and make these two teams on paper the teams to beat. The Phillies aren’t ready to go down with a fight adding Ben Revere and Michael Young in the offseason. The Mets and Marlins? Well they might go down without a fight, let’s break down the National League East.
Projected Order of Finish: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Miami Marlins
Why the Braves could win the N.L. East: It’s pretty hard to believe that Atlanta lost three of the four best hitters from last season in Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn and the lineup is better. The Upton brothers move into the outfield along with Jason Heyward, giving the Braves two MVP-potential candidates in the corners. Andrelton Simmons showed in the WBC that he is ready, especially defensively. Freddie Freeman’s growth continues in an all-star caliber 1st baseman. The rotation might not be on the Nationals level overall, but Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran is solid. Teheran could be ready to shine as he was spectacular in spring training. Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, while Eric O’ Flaherty is among the best setup men. All the pieces are there for a return to the playoffs.
Why the Braves wouldn’t win the N.L. East: First, the leadership from Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Michael Bourn’s departure throws off the clubhouse and no one behind Tim Hudson steps up. The lineup is filled with just too many strikeouts that kills putting together rallies. Brian McCann’s shoulder is completely shot and he’s not the player he once was or even comes back at all leaving the catching duties to Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis. Jonny Venters injury is more serious than planned (i.e. Tommy John surgery) and Jordan Walden isn’t ready to go and the bullpen suffers and becomes overworked. Brandon Beachy returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season isn’t able to come close to the form he displayed at the start of 2012.
Why the Nationals could win the N.L. East: The rotation is the best in MLB with Stephen Strasburg’s innings cap behind him, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Detwiler. The bullpen is no slouch either with Rafael Soriano (42 saves in 2012) joining Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Mattheus is a great bullpen. The lineup is good to great and can be better than great if “The Phenom” Bryce Harper continues to progress into an MVP candidate.
Why the Nationals wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The Braves end up just slightly better top to bottom. Newly-signed Denard Span reverts back to an injury-plagued season like in 2011. Ryan Zimmerman’s right shoulder, that caused him to receive cortisone shots throughout last season, acts up and his bat his lost from the middle of the lineup. It’s really hard not to see the Nationals as a probable playoff team.
Why the Phillies could win the N.L. East: Roy Halladay might not be what he used to be, but Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are both still good enough to carry a rotation. I highly doubt Lee will only win six games again. The lineup is improved with a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, plus Ben Revere providing speed at lead-off. Michael Young joins Philadelphia to provide leadership and hitting prowess. He would need get back to hitting .300 for the Phillies to have a real chance. Domonic Brown’s spring breakout continues into the season and he finally pays dividends for all of those trades Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to do when Brown was a prospect. Plus, Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the games.
Why the Phillies wouldn’t win the N.L. East: It’s entirely possible that Roy Halladay never gets back to what he was before 2012. His velocity has been down after an injury-plagued season. The lineup is on the wrong side of their prime with Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Young all over 33 years-old. Carlos Ruiz’s 25-game suspension messes with the pitching staff and they get off on the wrong foot after Ruiz broke out offensively. Brown does what he’s done his whole career and tease greatness, but not come through.
Why the Mets could win the N.L. East: David Wright’s injury is nothing and the new Mets captain goes on to be his usual self in the middle of the lineup. Ike Davis evolves into a 35-40 home run hitting first baseman. The Mets call up Zack Wheeler and pair him with Matt Harvey and create the best young pitching duo in the division. Travis d’Arnuad can’t be held back anymore in the minors and starts developing into the next Mike Piazza.
Why the Mets wouldn’t win the N.L. East: Johan Santana is probably out for the season taking leadership out of the clubhouse on a daily basis. The bullpen in atrocious. The outfield is near-atrocious, unless Jordany Valdespin steps up big. The Mets are a rebuilding project, but there are some nice pieces coming to Flushing.
Why the Marlins could win the N.L. East: They can’t, but what kind of season would Giancarlo Stanton have to have to put Miami in contention? 60 home runs? I do like Steve Cishek a lot as a potential closer, but he may end up trade bait at the deadline. I might just like him because he’s a submariner.
Why the Marlins wouldn’t win the N.L. East: The rotation is the worst in the division, where their “ace” Ricky Nolasco can’t be trusted to not blow up on any given start. The lineup has some veterans who can hit for average in Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Justin Ruggiano, and Casey Kotchman, but aside from Stanton there isn’t a 2nd run producer. This might take years for Miami to get into contention.
Jason Heyward and Justin Upton-Braves
Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasberg-Nationals
Craig Kimbrel and Kris Medlen-Braves
Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez-Nationals
Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee-Phillies
Rookie of the Year
Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria-Marlins
Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler-Mets
Who do you think wins the N.L. East? The Nationals? The Braves? Can one of the other three teams steal the division away? Let us know in the comments!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)