For the third consecutive season it was home to the team with the most wins in baseball, this time the surprising 98-win Nationals, who broke Philadelphia’s strangle hold on the division. This season it just might be one of the most competitive divisions in the league, with the Nationals battling the rebuilt Braves, and a Phillies team trying to prove they still have some fight left.
We continue our divisional previews with a look at the NL East.
Past Five Champions
2012 – Washington
2011 – Philadelphia
2010 – Philadelphia
2009 – Philadelphia
2008 – Philadelphia
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 96.4
David Wright, Mets
There are a crazy amount of exciting young players in the division, but none of them can touch David Wright at this moment. Wright re-claimed his place among baseball’s elite last season, proving that an injury shortened 2011 was a fluke. He hit .306, with 21 HR, 93 RBI, an .883 OPS, and stole 15 bases. His 6.7 WAR was the fourth highest among all National League players (including pitchers), and was far above the next best player in the NL East – Jason Heyward’s 5.5 (Michael Bourn put up a 6.0 but has moved to Cleveland). On top of that, he was a rock at third, posting a 2.1 dWAR, good enough for fifth best in the NL. Wright signed an 8-year extension witth the Mets in the offseason ensuring that he’ll be a part of the team for basically the rest of his career. It may be a long year in New York, but expect Wright to put up another monster season.
Honourable Mention: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Bryce Harper, Nationals
Cliff Lee, Phillies
There are suddenly an embarrassment of riches in this division on the mound. Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Dan Haren, and Kris Medlen to name a few. But for me, nobody matches Lee. At 34 he is on the downside of his career, but you’d never know by looking at his numbers. 2012 was another sensational season for Lee, and also added more proof that wins are a meaningless stat. Lee put up a 3.16 ERA, 207 strikeouts, a 1.11 WHIP, a 4.2 WAR, and showed how ridiculous
his control is by leading the league in both BB/9 and K/BB – by a MILE. His BB/9 was a nonsensical 1.19 (Bronson Arroyo was second at 1.56), and his K/BB was a crazy 7.39 (miles ahead of Joe Blanton’s 4.88). And his reward for that brilliance? A record of 6-9 and not a single Cy Young vote. Though he may be surpassed by others soon, he is still the king of the hill for now.
Honourable Mention: Stephen Straburg, Nationals; Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Three Storylines For 2013
1. Youth is Served
There’s no doubt that baseball is becoming a young man’s game, and you need look no further than the NL East to prove it. This division is stacked with young talent – and by young talent I don’t mean prospects. I mean All-Star calibre players right now! The following players in the NL East are curently 25 years old or younger: Ben Revere (Phillies), Ike Davis (Mets), Matt Harvey (Mets), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Justin Upton (Braves), Jason Heyward (Braves), Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), and Drew Storen (Nationals). That’s not to mention the prospects that are coming, including Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, and others. All that means that the NL East, already one of the best division’s in baseball, is only going to get better – especially the team in Washington.
2. Last Shot for Philly?
When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee for the 2011 season to team with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, there was talk of a World Series dynasty. What else was to be expected when you add a dream rotation to an offense consisting of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Ruiz, and Victorino? Well, here we are two years later and Philly has zero World Series titles and is coming off a debacle of a 2012: 81-81 and 17 games back in the division. Even worse, the core of the team is aging. At the end of the 2012 season, Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Lee, Halladay, and Jonathan Papelbon were all 31 or older. So what did they do in the offseason? Bring in aging vets Michael Young, and Mike Adams, along with “27-going-on-50” year old Delmon Young. Newly acquired Ben Revere, and long-time prospect Domonic Brown are the only “young” position players. 2013 might be the final chance for this team to win.
3. A Mess in Miami
It’s funny: if you read the 2012 Division Preview for the NL East, the Marlins were in the top-3 storylines for all the right reasons. Now, after an offseason where they unloaded virtually all of their stars, alienated their fan base, angered the commissioner, and infuriated their lone remaining star, they make it for all the wrong reasons. Miami should be terrible on the field in 2013, but the real story will be off the field. How many fans will show up? How many will show up simply to boo and make their anger known? Will Stanton join the parade out of town? Jeffrey Loria was already enemy number one in many cities. He is now the most hated man in Florida too.
The Washington Nationals won 98 games in 2012. They also topped
the National League in starter’s ERA with a 3.40 mark. Normally that would be a warning – potential regression to the mean, can’t depend on the starting pitching again, and so on. But not here. Because the Washington Nationals accomplished that with less than a full season of Stephen Strasburg. In 2013, there will no longer be an innings limit and potential shutdown of baseball’s most exciting young pitcher. On top of that, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are both entering their age 27 season, and the Nats replaced an erratic Edwin Jackson with the dependable Dan Haren. And just in case they ever need the bullpen, that should be better too, with a full season of Drew Storen and the addition of Rafael Soriano. If all goes right,
that 3.40 ERA could be much lower.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column on March 25th