2014 Predictions: NL East

The NL East had some trouble with competition this past year. The Braves ran away with the division, winning it by 10 games over the Nationals and another 12 games over the next closest competitor. It was also an injury-ridden division. Even the Braves were not immune from the bug; Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, and BJ Upton all had stints on the 15-day DL and Tim Hudson got his ankle shattered against the Mets in the middle of the summer. Despite their hard luck (it was not as hard as anyone else’s), Fredi Gonzalez rode the successes of Chris Johnson, Freddie Freeman, and Andrelton Simmons into the playoffs. I expect them to do the exact same thing in 2014.

NL East
1. Atlanta 94-68
All of the pieces are in place. Now it is time to perform. Last year, a lot of people left their game in the warm weather in Spring Training a la BJ Upton only hitting .184 and Dan Uggla .179. Evan Gattis was a pleasant surprise, crushing 21 home runs in 105 games, and he will take over the full time catching position since Brian McCann has gone to the Yankees. Freddie Freeman, coming off of an offseason engagement to his girlfriend, will be in high spirits and repeat his .319 campaign and lead the league in hugs given.

The second base position is shaky as of right now: Uggla will be back, but youngsters Joey Terdoslavich and Taylor Pastornicky (spell check is screaming at me right now) will also make a case for the spot come Spring. We’ll see what Gonzalez picks. The rotation is solid, with new pitchers Brandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd joining the squad. The newly signed Julio Teheran will continue to improve along side of young hurlers Mike Minor and Kris Medlen. Floyd and Beachy will not be 20 game winners, that’s for sure, but they are good 4th and 5th pitchers. If they can get any type of lead, they’ll be turning it over to the *new* best closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel. 

2. Washington 90-72
A lot of folks are picking the Nats to be a powerhouse and even go all the way this year. I have a few reservations about them, namely the new management. Matt Williams is a very capable manager, but it is his first year – Mike Matheny went 88-74 in his first year and then won the pennant with almost the exact same team. I see that happening with the Nats. The rotation is arguably the strongest in the NL between Strasburg, Gio, Zim, newly acquired Fister, and Detwiler.

Strasburg and Detwiler had some injury issues last season, so if they stay healthy then I think they will go far. On the offensive side of the ball, the Nats can rake. They were third in the NL in overall home runs (161), and if you take away Gio Gonzalez’s one home run, they are first in the NL in non-pitcher home runs (160). Between Zimmerman, Werth, Harper, and sometimes Ian Desmond, these fellas score a lot of runs, but their team OBP was .313, only 8th in the league. If everyone’s healthy, I expect to see them as a Wild Card and my guess at their record could be wildly wrong.

3. Philadelphia 75-87
The Phillies had a very disappointing year, ending ultimately with the termination of Charlie Manuel. The senior circuit will continue this year in the town of Brotherly Love: with signing Marlon Byrd (age 36) to two years, AJ  Burnett (age 37) to a one year deal, and Carlos Ruiz (age 35) to a three-year deal this offseason, they got good players but not any younger. Ryan Howard will be back from his season-ending injury, which is great, but again, he’s no spring chicken and he strikes out a lot

The average age of the Phillies last year was 30.1 years old (28.5-year old 25-man roster). Again, high talent, but also high age. They’ll be great for spurts, but ultimately, injuries and fatigue will catch up to them.

4. Miami 68-94
Last year’s 100-loss team will improve slightly. They ended the season on a bright note, no-hitting the Tigers and winning on a walkoff wild pitch. They have a strong young core led by reigning ROY Jose Fernandez and defensive whiz Adeiny Hechavarria.

The Fish also had a tremendous offseason, signing Rafael Furcal, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones. Mike Redmond knows what he’s doing down in Miami, and now that he has the players to back him up (at least more so than last year). Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick will get more reps and see their averages go up, not a lot, but enough. Right now, here’s what I peg their starting lineup to look like: Furcal 2B, Yelich CF, Stanton RF, Jones 1B, Salty C, Ozuna LF, Polanco/Lucas 3B, Hech SS, Pitcher. Not bad at all – a lot of growth to be done. Jones will provide useful protection for Stanton, so his average will shoot back up to his 2012 All-Star campaign of .290. The rotation is decent, again, extremely young, featuring Fernandez, Turner, Eovaldi, and Alvarez. The average age of these four is exactly 22 years old. It won’t be the Marlins year, but in four or five years, look out. 

5. New York 60-102
Unfortunately, the Mets took a step back this season and probably won’t have much hope to compete this year. Missing Matt Harvey is a huge blow, and quasi-rookie Zach Wheeler will have to step up. He went 7-5 last year which is solid, but he’ll have to throw a lot of innings this year, which I know Terry Collins won’t like (because that’s exactly what happened to Harvey). Now, anemic pitching staff aside, they are regaining Captain America (David Wright) and newly acquired Curtis Granderson.

I think Grandy is an awesome player, but his uppercut swing inside of the quite spacious Citi Field will result in a lot of long fly balls and warning track power. After playing in the little league Yankee Stadium for a few years, he’s conditioned to getting under the ball more than he probably should. His defense will shine in the green pastures of Queens, but his average will suffer (again). Travis d’Arnaud, the young but injury-ridden catcher, will take the starting role now that John Buck has left New York. Ike Davis likely will lose his job to Josh Satin, therefore rounding out the infield with Daniel Murphy and Omar Quintanilla up the middle. I may be blowing their age out of proportion and underestimating Wright’s ability to win games, but this year won’t be pretty. 

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