Welcome to part three of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the NL East.
Past Five Champions
2013 – Atlanta
2012 – Washington
2011 – Philadelphia
2010 – Philadelphia
2009 – Philadelphia
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 97.2
David Wright, Mets
There are a ton of outstanding, exciting, future superstars in this division, from Bryce Harper to Giancarlo Stanton to Jason Heyward to Travis d’Arnaud. But for now the best player in the division is still the old guy, David Wright (and old in this case is relative, as Wright is still only 31). Wright was second out of all NL East players in WAR last year at 5.9, only behind Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons (whose number was primarily due to defense). Wright batted .307 with a .904 OPS, 18 HR, and
58 RBI, and put up those stats despite missing 50 games. That, of course, has always been the rub with Wright. When healthy he is one of the best in the game, but he has missed 50+ games in two of the past three seasons. Still, a less than healthy Wright is still better than most other players in the game, and he is the perfect player to lead a young Mets team.
Honourable Mention: Freddie Freeman, Braves; Bryce Harper, Nationals
Cliff Lee, Phillies
Just like on the player side, this division is loaded with young studs: Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Harvey. But the best pitcher in the East has to be Cliff Lee. For what seems like the 50th year in a row, Lee was dazzling in 2013: 6th in the NL in ERA (2.87), 4th in WHIP (1.01), 2nd in Ks (222), 2nd in WAR (7.3), and 1st by a mile in K/BB (6.94). He seems to dominate opposing hitters year after year after year, and he’ll have to be at his usual amazing self to help lead the aging Phillies back to the playoffs in 2014.
Honourable Mention: Jose Fernandez, Marlins; Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Three Storylines For 2014
1. Washington Rebound
The Nationals were picked by many to win the World Series last year, but after injuries, sloppy play, and a terrible start, they finished with 86 wins and missed the playoffs. This year, they welcome a new manager, Matt Williams, to the fold and for the second year in a row appear to be the divison favourites. Their pitching staff, solid in 2013, should be even better after the acquisition of Doug Fister, especially with young studs Strasburg and Zimmermann being another year older. With Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth they have plenty of power, and if Bryce Harper can avoid running into outfield walls, this is a team that could romp to a division title.
2. The Futility Twins
So many things went wrong for the Atlanta Braves in 2013, yet despite the bad luck they still won the NL East title for the first time since 2005. 2014 is already shaping up to be a tough year: Brian McCann left for the Yankees, and the rotation has already been decimated by injury. All of which means Atlanta will need more – any – production out of its two high priced players. Dan Uggla was incredibly bad last year (.179 AVG, .671 OPS, -1.3 WAR) but the only thing that saved him from total embarrassment was the fact that B.J. Upton was even worse (.184 AVG, .557 OPS, -1.8 WAR). Combined they were the two worst regulars in baseball. The good news for Atlanta is that the futility twins can’t possibly get any worse…..can they?
3. The Young
The New York Mets might not be very good in 2014, but they will be very exciting. Though they are still lead by David Wright and veteran newcomer Curtis Granderson, this is a team that is suddenly loaded with young, potential superstars, and many – if not all – will get a chance to shine at some point in 2014. Matt Harvey will miss the season due to injury, but that still leaves guys like Zack Wheeler, Wilmer Flores, and two guys that Blue Jay fans know plenty about: Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. Though Syndergaard will start the season in the minor leagues, it won’t be long before he starts tearing apart big league hitters. And with each major league strikeout he collects, a single tear will fall from the eyes of baseball fans in Toronto.
Washington was a heavy favourite to win the NL East last season, mainly due to their starting rotation. While the rotation didn’t perform terribly, it posted a combined ERA+ of 97, a below average number that ranked 10th in the NL. To rectify that, the Nationals brought in Doug Fister from Detroit to replace the departed Dan Haren. Last year, Fister posted an ERA+ of 115, good for 15th in the AL out of 37 qualified pitchers. The man he replaces, Haren, posted an ERA+ of 81, a dismal number that ranked 38th out of 43 NL pitchers. Washington missed the playoffs by only 4 games last year, a deficit that may be easily overcome with Fister replacing Haren.
What the Bloggers are Saying
With the season ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy that puts a big crimp in the Braves competing with the Nationals for the NL East title. Can Ervin Santana and Freddy Garcia step up and can Gavin Floyd rebound from Tommy John surgery to make a contribution to the Braves defending their NL East crown and a post season birth?
Most Interesting Player
Not just because I’m a Mets fan, because I think most baseball fans feel the same way, I’m waiting to see Noah Syndergaard make his big league debut. With Matt Harvey out with TJ surgery, Syndergaard is the next in line of the Mets bumper crop of young pitching to whip up fans into a frenzy.
Hard to go against the Nationals. They look loaded with solid starting pitching 1-4 along with depth in the bullpen. Could this be the breakout season for Bryce Harper? I think so. He’s a solid MVP candidate.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column on March 27th.