2013 NL East Preview
Last year, it was all about the Nationals, but this season, the rest of the division is out to prove that it was just a fluke for Washington. The Braves and Phillies have improved their rosters, while the Mets and Marlins have seemingly regressed. At the end of the day, it will likely be a three team race to the finish, making the NL East one of the most exciting divisions in 2013. Check out the previews for each of the NL East teams by using the tabs below. Each preview has been meticulously prepared by one of the top sports bloggers for each of the respective teams, giving us the best look at how each team is projected to perform in 2013.
[tab name=’ATL Braves’]
The Atlanta Braves head into the 2013 season with new faces in key positions, and big expectations.
Long time Braves star, and future Hall of Fame third baseman, Chipper Jones, has retired. Martin Prado, who played six positions with the Braves last season, is gone to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lead off hitter Michael Bourn opted out via free agency. Popular back-up catcher David Ross found a better deal with the Boston Red Sox.
Despite the loss, the Braves organization and fans are excited about the acquisitions they made in the off-season.
The Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin will join right fielder, Jason Heyward, to from one of the best outfields in baseball. Not only do the Uptons bring speed and power, they help balance out the Braves batting order with their right-handed bats.
Justin Upton will bat third behind the left-handed Heyward and ahead of the left-handed Freeman, B.J. Upton will bat fifth, and the left-handed Brian McCann will hit sixth. That gives manager Fredi power and balance through the middle of the order.
Second year shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is already considered one of the best fielding shortstops in the National League, will bat lead-off. Simmons hit .289 in his rookie campaign, and possesses good speed, and surprising power.
Second baseman Dan Uggla will look to bounce back from a poor 2012, and regain the power stroke he showed with the Miami Marlins, and as a Brave, in the second half of 2011.
Left-handed power hitter Juan Francisco , and Chris Johnson, who the Braves acquired from Arizona in the Upton deal, will battle it out at third base.
The Braves will head into 2013 with a solid starting rotation. Slots one through four are set with right-handers Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson, and lefties Paul Maholm and Mike Minor. Julio Teheran, who has been the number one pitching prospect in the Braves organization the past few years, will man the number five spot.
The bullpen is the Braves strength, and arguably the best in baseball. Closer Craig Kimbrel is considered by many to be baseball’s best closer. Left-handed setup men, Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, return to torment left-handed hitters. Right-handers Jordan Walden and Cory Gearrin will provide excellent middle relief.
Walden was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels that sent starter Tommie Hanson to the Angels. He made the All-Star game in 2011 with 30+ saves as the Angels closer. He has a mid 90s fastball and will serve as insurance should Kimbrel get hurt.
The Braves 2012 season ended on a sour note in the wildcard game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Many Braves fans point to the infamous “left field fly rule” play as a poor call that cost Atlanta the game.
How much the play affected the game is open for debate, but what it did is send the message to the Braves that they need to win the division over a very good Washington Nationals team, and not expose themselves to a one game playoff.
The Braves certainly have the talent to make that goal a reality.
[/tab][tab name=’MIA Marlins’]
This 2013 Marlins preview is brought to you by Alex of TheFightinFish.com. You can follow the blog to stay up to date with the latest Marlins news out of Miami, or you can follow them on Twitter @TheFightinFish for even more Marlins’ news. Enjoy!
[/tab][tab name=’NY Mets’]
This 2013 Mets preview is brought to you by Michael of 2GuysTalkingMetsBaseball.com. Follow the blog to keep up with all the latest Mets news coming out of New York. You can also follow on the blog on Twitter @2GuysMets. Enjoy!
When looking at what the 2013 New York Mets represent to me the following two words spring to mind, “in process.” Since Sandy Alderson became the GM in 2010 the team has been in an unorthodox rebuilding mode, as the organization made virtually no moves to seriously contend but very few designed to jumpstart a rebuild either. Although there is a notable and highly publicized exception in the 2010 trade of impending free agent Carlos Beltran for prospect Zack Wheeler, Alderson spent most of the first two years on the job purposely standing around. The implied goal was to try and “compete” in both 2011 and 2012 and not punt those seasons, while allowing many large contracts that had been handed out by Omar Minaya as GM to expire. The results were predictable: the team had enough talent to be half-season fringe contenders and then would wilt every summer as no reinforcements came. Fans left the ballpark in droves and revenue crashed as it would have in a full deconstruction. With an ownership knee deep in personal financial hardship no salvation was coming in additional payroll; and with a passive approach to shedding contracts by Alderson, the talent level on the major league roster was worse at the end of 2012 than when Sandy inherited the reins. Worse, other than pitchers Matt Harvey and the aforementioned Zack Wheeler, there was not one Top 100 prospect in the minor league system, as major talents such as Jose Reyes, and more minor ones, like Chris Capuano and Scott Hairston, were kept around in a fruitless annual cause and then left as free agents.
The good news is Alderson accepted the situation and made a painful but needed trade this offseason, trading the popular Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, for two uber prospects, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard. More good news came with the re-signing of the still only 30-year-old David Wright to a long-term extension. Having whiffed in 2010 at the chance to package the then highly marketable Wright and Reyes with players such as Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez and do a quick reboot, it was imperative that Alderson get Wright signed. To allow him to walk as Reyes did would have set what is becoming a very long timetable back even further. Lastly, Bay, a final reminder of past failures, was mercifully released, and three years into the Alderson tenure a new start is finally beginning.
But these offseason moves, other than Wright, were all designed with 2014 and beyond in mind. Once again the idea of adding current major league talent to the team was not seriously pursued. The Mets were the last team in baseball to add a major league free agent signing of any kind and the few they made were minor moves to fill out their roster. You do need to put 25 men on the field. Let’s take a look around the diamond and sum up the parts.
The starting pitching has some quality but also many question marks. Johan Santana, if healthy, is an ace, and Jon Niese is developing into a front-end starter. Matt Harvey looked great in a short audition last fall and has great talent. New addition Sean Marcum has always pitched well when healthy, and Dillon Gee, coming off surgery, has proven to be better than many fifth starters. The issue, of course, is that Santana, Marcum, and Gee are all serious question marks to make a full season of starts. The highly rated Wheeler waits in the wings but not much else of full note. The starting pitching could be great if everything breaks right but that is a lot to ask. The bullpen is like many others in baseball, with a slew of arms in camp currently being evaluated. Bobby Parnell, who can reach 100 miles per hour, has been named the most likely closer by manager Terry Collins. Parnell has never proven he can effectively close but is talented; it would be a major step for the Mets it he succeeds. Overall the pitching has a chance to be the strength of this team, and it will need to be excellent if the 2013 Mets are to break .500.
That is because the lineup is a mess. There is no speed on the team; no one on the 2013 Mets might steal 15 bases. There is not a great deal of power either. Ike Davis is a legitimate home run threat, and Wright has true pop, but after that the only other player who could hit 20 home runs is “possible” outfielder Lucas Duda. Duda has other issues though, he cannot run, or field at anything near an acceptable level for a major league outfielder. This gets us to those words, “acceptable”, and “outfield.”
In a sure sign from management that they are punting 2013, despite words to the contrary, nothing was done to address a dreadful outfield. It is a collection of misfit toys, shot cases like Marlon Byrd and 27- and 28-year-old non-prospects who have flamed out with other more successful teams, such as Andew Brown, Mike Baxter, and Jamie Hoffman. The overall bad lineup is a result of this particular spot on the field.
The infield situation is much more promising. David Wright is a true star, and Ike Davis could emerge to be one this year. Daniel Murphy is below average defensively but a good hitting second baseman, and Ruben Tejada is a solid shortstop who does nothing great but nothing very badly. John Buck starts the season at catcher, but the best news here is that d’Arnaud should see time behind the dish at some point in 2013.
Manager Terry Collins says nutty things all the time but tends to do smart ones. The players seem to like him and play hard for him, and he has stayed positive through a tough stretch. I hope Terry can hang in there. When you add it all up, there are too many holes and question marks and little organizational depth. From a record standpoint, this team might be the worst since Alderson took over. This looks like a low 70 win team. The key will be who succeeds on this roster. If Harvey continues to shine, Wheeler is promoted and performs well, and d’Arnaud comes through, fans will see some light at the end of what has turned out to be a very long tunnel. If not, things could get very ugly in Queens.
To start to look at the 2013 Phillies team, I think you have to look back at the last three years. The last three years for the Phillies were ones of high expectations and of somewhat diminished returns. The Phils won it all in 2008 with the historic run for the World Series and after a 5 ½ hour Game 5, a game that took more than one day to actually finish with the rain delay, and a repeat trip to the World Series in 2009 almost solidified the perception that the Philadelphia Phillies may be invincible.
Players actually wanted to get traded to Philadelphia and the impression was that you wanted to come here to have a great chance to win a championship. While that may have been the most popular impression, the reality of what has happened since 2009 has been vastly different. Yes, the Phillies have led the league in drawing fans for the last few years with 3.565M fans last year, and 2011 with 3.68M fans, in 2010 the New York Yankees just edged the Phils out by 110K fans with the Phils drawing 3.647M, the expectations and the buildup in each of the last 3 seasons has been tremendous.
During and after the 2009 season, the Phillies spent more money on the players salaries than ever. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro went out and got the Phillies a stacked deck of 4 legitimate aces on the pitching staff in 2011 and talk was that they were going straight to the World Series right out of Spring Training, and reality proved to be much different.
Fast forward to 2013, the solid core of the Phillies offense is based on Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and to an extent Jimmy Rollins. The pitching staff is still top notch, with Halladay, Hamels, Lee anchoring down an envious pitching staff. Toss in Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game, and you have what appears to be a legitimate contender on paper.
The Phillies are still a legitimate contender in 2013, no, they aren’t as old as some pundits would have you believe, the Phillies are actually as a team in the prime of their careers. Can this new combination of players make it to the World Series in ’13? That is an answer that no one can actually give at this time, and that would be true with all the top contending teams of the MLB.
Teams have gotten themselves better around the Phillies, with the Washington Nationals being the biggest benefactor of making great moves to get good players after many terrible seasons since that franchise moved from Montreal. The Atlanta Braves have done a nice job too, but the Phillies added experience with Michael Young at third and speed with Ben Revere in center.
The Phillies still transitioned themselves last year by jettisoning off two able fielders, Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence. This appeared to be more of salary dump than good baseball sense by the Phils, and that will be evident with the fielders that the Phillies are going into Spring Training with this year. Some players that are or have been well touted in the Phillies minor leagues will now be given their chance to shine in 2013. Names like Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf, aren’t too well known around the league yet, but if they succeed offensively this year, they will help this team make it far.
If the Phils do not do that well this year, you can expect more moves like the ones that were made at the trade deadline last year. Notable names are Halladay and Chase Utley that could be moved before the season is over if the Phillies don’t make a legitimate run. Hopefully the Phils will get better trades if that happens than they did last year at the trade deadline.
Can the Phillies win it all in 2013? Yes, that is possible. They aren’t under the pressure of being picked to do that by many writers and publications that are supposedly in the ‘know’ about this. That is the beauty of baseball though, it is unpredictable and sometimes it’s the players that have been at the top before who know the route to get to the success that they’ve already achieved before. It all starts on April Fools day for the Phils in Atlanta, first they must play 162 games to see if they are worthy to advance. My guess is that they make the playoffs and if healthy they will play for the NLCS this year, and possibly more.
[/tab][tab name=’WAS Nationals’]
This 2013 Nationals preview is brought to you by Scott of Let Teddy Win, a blog dedicated to covering the one and only Teddy Roosevelt from the Nationals Presidents race that take place during every home game. You can keep up with Teddy on the blog, or on Twitter @LetTeddyWin. Enjoy!
What a difference a year makes. Heading into Spring 2012, the consensus among baseball insiders was that the Washington Nationals had lots of young talent but were still at least a year away. National media and casual fans thought about the Nats the way you’d expect for a team without a single winning season in its history. That is, they didn’t.
Fast forward to 2013. After finishing the regular season with the best record in baseball and coming within one strike of the NLCS, the Nats have become a fashionable pre-season pick to win it all. That kind of pressure can be a huge weight on a young squad, but barring injuries, it’s one of the few things that stand in the way of perhaps the deepest team in baseball.
It all starts with pitching, where it appears General Manager Mike Rizzo has managed to improve a staff that finished 2012 with the lowest ERA in the majors. The rotation will be anchored by Stephen Strasburg, who was among the most dominant pitchers in baseball last year, and now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery will have no innings limit or threat of shutdown holding him back. All Star 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez finished third in Cy Young voting, and all that young workhorse Jordan Zimmermann did was quietly compile a 2.94 ERA, striking out 153 while allowing just 43 walks in 195 innings. Yet the team’s best pitcher down the stretch was lefty fireballer Ross Detwiler, who solidified his hold on the fourth spot late in the season. Innings-eater Edwin Jackson is gone in favor of free agent Dan Haren, who signed a bargain one year contract for the chance to play in Washington and prove that his career-worst 2012 was just a hiccup. For the Nats, Haren brings nothing but upside. Now fully recovered from back injury, the three time All Star doesn’t have to approach his former dominant self to be an upgrade over Jackson.
Despite the team’s rotation strength, Manager Davey Johnson doesn’t hesitate to call on his relievers, and they responded in 2012 with the third best bullpen ERA in the league despite losing closer Drew Storen for half the season. Former All Star Tyler Clippard collected 32 saves before handing the duties back to roommate Storen, who issued only one walk in the last month of the season before famously imploding in Game 5 of the NLDS. So who will handle closing duties in 2013? Rizzo surprised everyone with the answer this winter by adding free agent Rafael Soriano to an already-stocked bullpen. With three legitimate closers in the wings, don’t look for the Nats to give up many leads after the sixth inning.
The job of making the pitchers look that much better fell to possibly the best infield defense in baseball last year with Gold Glove first baseman Adam LaRoche scooping up everything the rangy Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Danny Espinosa tossed his way. Yet Rizzo again managed to deal from strength and upgrade the team defensively, trading fan favorite outfielder Michael Morse and acquiring speedy center fielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. Span lacks Morse’s power, but gives the Nationals the pure leadoff hitter that Rizzo has long craved, and allows him to get Bryce Harper out of center field to limit the wear and tear on the youngster’s huge and still growing body. Johnson now boasts that defensively, the Nats’ now have “three center fielders” in Harper, Span, and Jayson Werth.
Offensively, the Nationals are known more for their balance than for their individual stars. Span notwithstanding, there is power up and down the lineup, with no glaring weak spots beyond the strikeout-prone Danny Espinosa. Span’s presence also now gives Johson the ability to alternate left-right-left-right hitters from top to bottom, making pitching substitutions more problematic for opposing managers. Solving the leadoff role puts Werth back into position to drive in runs, and the maturation of Harper into the cleanup spot he seems born to occupy will help generate even more productivity from Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Desmond.
The story lines surrounding the Nats in 2013 are a sportswriter’s dream. How will the young NL East champs handle the ups and downs of a long, grueling season with the pressure of a target on their backs the whole way? Will Bryce Harper suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump, or live up to the MVP-level expectations he has set for himself? What can Strasburg produce without questions of an innings limit dogging his every move? Can Dan Haren return to previous form? Will Soriano’s presence cause controversy in the bullpen? Will Davey Johnson’s announced retirement inspire his young team to help him ride off into the sunset with another World Series championship?
And then, there’s Teddy Roosevelt, who after six years won his first Nationals Park presidents race on the final day of the 2012 regular season. The Nats responded in the off season by introducing a fifth racing president, “The Big Chief” William Howard Taft, who will make his presidents race debut in the 4th inning on April 1. Will Harrison become Teddy’s newest obstacle to victory, or will “Bill” take over the role of loveable loser? For now, there are more questions than answers, but it’s sure to be an entertaining summer in the nation’s capital.
Check out the rest of our divisional previews for 2013