Much like the American League, the teams in the National League are strong on the coasts, and soft in the middle. Kind of like an Oreo. The NL East is a tough division. You have three teams that could legitimately win the division, without anyone calling it a huge surprise. Granted, the two teams at the bottom aren’t great (one, I wouldn’t even call “sort of good”), but it’s still a division that looks to be very competitive in 2013. Here are my predictions:
- Atlanta Braves (93-69)
- Washington Nationals (92-70)
- Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
- New York Mets (69-93)
- Miami Marlins (58-104)
Braves: Find a hole. Go ahead. Just try to find a significant hole in this team’s makeup. They have easily the best defensive outfield in the game, and could challenge the Angels offensively as well. Their overall lineup is loaded: Upton #1, Upton #2, Heyward, McCann, Freeman, Uggla. Their bullpen is possibly the best in the NL, with a lights-out closer (Kimbrel), and multiple guys who finished 2012 with an ERA below 2.50 (O’Flaherty, Avilan, Gearrin). No, they don’t have the starting pitching of Washington (who does??), but they don’t have anyone in the rotation that I would consider a glaring weakness either. They hit a rough patch early in the season last year, and were never able to catch back up with the Nats. I don’t see that happening again.
Nationals: Everyone seems to think that with a full season of Strasburg and Harper on the roster, this team is a lock to win the division. But, I’m not convinced this team is going to be any better than last year. In fact, I see a few things happening that will cause them to slip back just a little. 1) Adam LaRoche was a 20-25 homerun guy for 5 years leading up to 2012. I think that’s more of an accurate picture of him than the 33 HR, 100 RBI performance he had in 2012. 2) Sophomore slump for Bryce Harper – it happens to nearly every player, so why wouldn’t we expect it here? 3) Gio Gonzalez – with questions arising regarding possible PED use, could it be that his performance in 2012 was a bit more dominant than he normally would have been? Either way, I expect a slight step backwards, closer to the 16-18 game winner we saw in Oakland. All that being said, with the additions of Dan Haren to the rotation and Rafael Soriano as their closer, the Nats will still win a lot of games. But, I think they’re in for a dog fight in this division.
Phillies: Like I said from the beginning, I think 3 teams have a legit chance of winning this division. And, you better not snooze on the Phils. Let’s not forget that their pitching rotation has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top. Let’s not forget that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both missed half of 2012 with injury. Let’s not forget that with several things not working out in their favor last year, they still finished with a .500 record. So, with a healthy lineup (which also includes a very nice addition in Michael Young), a nice starting rotation, an improved bullpen (thanks to the additions of guys like Mike Adams and Chad Durbin), the Phillies could make a run at winning this division. I think, in the end, they won’t be able to overtake Washington or Atlanta. But, if they do, I won’t be shocked.
Mets: Go ahead. Try to find a . . . strength? I guess the middle of the lineup isn’t awful with David Wright & Ike Davis (even though Davis’ 32 HR last year are deceiving since his OPS was just .771), but they’re the only guys on the team that finished with an OPS over .750 last year. And, if they finished 2012 ranked 11th in the NL in team ERA with Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, where does that leave them in 2013 now that he’s in Toronto? And, closer-by-committee because no one on the team had more than 7 saves at the major league level last year? Eek. I see a team that got off to a hot start last year, and then rode their Cy Young winning ace to all of 74 wins in 2012. If they didn’t get to play the Marlins 19 times, I’d drop their record even lower.
Marlins: Soooo, the “lets-outspend-everyone-on-free-agents-and-win-a-championship-now” plan didn’t quite work out, huh? Instead, it led to their second consecutive last-place finish. Now, how could that be? Could it possibly be because they overspent on the wrong kind of free agents (a lead-off hitter, and a guy that wouldn’t be an “ace” on half the teams in baseball)? Could it possibly be because they brought in an arrogant, overrated sound bite, instead of an actual quality manager? I say yes to all of the above. So, the 1-year experiment ended in futility, and they disassembled the team faster than a Marine field stripping his weapon. And, where does that leave the 2013 Marlins? Well, let’s just say that I give Giancarlo Stanton this year’s “Best Player on a Really, Really, Really Bad Team” award. Their offense might be able to put together some runs here and there, but I expect them to slide even further back than their NL-3rd-worst .690 OPS from a year ago. And, the bigger issue is their pitching. Their “ace” now is a guy that has averaged about 12-13 wins and a 4.50 ERA over a 7-year career (Ricky Nolasco). Their closer is okay (Cishek), as he saved 15 of 19 opportunities in 2012, with an ERA of 2.69. However, he’s the only guy in the bullpen who finished 2012 with an ERA under 3.50! Good thing they have that new ballpark – or else no one would come to see the Marlins play. Oh, wait…