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)
MLB Network concluded their yearly series “Top 100 Players Right Now” on Tuesday night. The full list of 100 players can be found here. I’m shocked, but respect that they actually put Josh Willingham at #43. The thing about baseball is that there is never an agreement on anything. I couldn’t resist making my own “Top 20 Right Now”, starting with 20-16 today and another group of five over the next three days.
On the MLB Network list, not on my list: #15 Giancarlo Stanton, #16 Evan Longoria, and #20 Cole Hamels
Call me a homer, especially to have Kimbrel leap over NL East rivals Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Giancarlo Stanton, and David Wright into my top 20. However, when you look at players at their position that are purely dominant Kimbrel is at the head of the class. Kimbrel struck out over half the batters he faced in 2012, a first for any pitcher. He also has finished 23rd and 8th for NL MVP the last two seasons, which is better than anyone in the NL East I jumped him over. I’m going to give the best closer in the game, the respect he deserves. I would’ve done the same with Mariano Rivera a decade ago.
#19, Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (MLB Network’s #24)
Well this will end my homerism quickly, I jump Molina up a full five spots and into the top 20 after his best season in the majors. You can make a case that he’s the best catcher in the game right now. I won’t go that far, but Molina’s awesomeness at throwing out potential base stealers is unparalleled and gives the Cardinals a dynamic that other teams don’t have. Molina’s won five straight Gold Glove’s and has improved at the plate, not just behind it, hitting over .300 each of the past two seasons. Molina finished a career-best 4th in NL MVP voting in 2012.
#18, CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (MLB Network’s #18)
Our first agreement! Sabathia has almost become underrated as the ace and work horse of the Yankees staff. Even with an injury last year, Sabathia logged his 7th straight 200 innings pitched season. He’s also not just eating innings, Sabathia is giving quality innings, as he hasn’t had an ERA over 3.38 since 2006. He’s been so good for so long, that he’s being overlooked by new pitching flames like Stephen Strasburg.
#17 Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (MLB Network’s #19)
I’m such a sucker for Cliff Lee because he doesn’t walk anybody. I think growing up watching Greg Maddux not walk anybody made me have an affinity for pitchers with great control. Lee is the epitome of that now, he’s led the league in BB/9 three times and K/BB ratio twice, including leading the league in both in 2012. Lee also hasn’t had an ERA over 3.18 since his breakout Cy Young season in 2008. He’s the shining example that pitcher wins aren’t the correct barometer of pitching quality.
McCutchen moves up a spot on my list as I have him ahead of Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton, but not ahead of a future player. The other two might have more talent, but right now I think McCutchen brings the goods better than both of them. McCutchen broke out in 2012 and finished third in the MVP voting, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. The Pirates star has developed into a true 30 HR, 25 SB, .300 BA threat that is hard to find in the game. He’s the foundation for the Pirates to end their sub-.500 streak and I believe they will this season.
That’s the first part of my “Top 20 Right Now”. Who would be on your list? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter using the link below with #MapesRightNow! Tomorrow is 15-11, featuring a player who makes a big leap from the MLB Network list!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
I’m back with the 4th installment of “Five Things I Think I Think.” Here’s what’s in my brain right now!
1) I have no words to describe what Matt Kemp is doing right now. NINE home runs on April 21st? No one saw that coming. Kemp has evolved into the best player in the game. If you have seen his workout videos during the offseason then you’ll know how dedicated he is to his craft. There might not be a player in the game that deserves the accolades he’s gotten so far.
2) Philip Humber will have the best pitching performance of the 2012 season. A perfect game is special in itself. A perfect game in 96 pitches is nothing short of amazing. My favorite stats from the game? There have now been 21 perfect games in the history of MLB, the White Sox have three of them, Charlie Robertson in 1922 and Mark Buerhle in 2009 are the others. Secondly, Humber became the 7th different former New York Met to throw a no-hitter, the Mets have zero no-hitters in their franchise history.
3) Cliff Lee vs. Matt Cain is probably going to be the best pitchers duel of the season. There were 19 scoreless, efficient innings between the two aces and you’re watching it thinking that Lee could have gone into the 11th inning if needed. Both finished the game with Bill James game scores over 85. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing Cliff Lee for a while as he was put on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique.
4) I’m way too excited for this one. The Atlanta Braves are the hottest team in baseball. Since starting off 0-4 and making me already plan to 2013, Atlanta has gone 10-1 since and swept the Brewers and taken the first three games of a four-game set against the Diamondbacks. Braves and Dodgers have a 3-game series starting Monday in a matchup between two of the hottest teams to start the season. Brandon Beachy looks like an ace in the making, as he has a sparkling 0.47 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over his first three starts.
5) Ivan Rodriguez is the greatest Texas Ranger of all-time. He helped mold that team in the mid 90’s from a laughing stock into a playoff team. He has more Gold Gloves than any catcher in baseball history and won an MVP award in a Rangers uniform. There are a few players on the current roster (Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young) that can make a run at this title. For now and probably for long time, Pudge will be the greatest Ranger.
What are you thinking about right now in this MLB season?