After covering the three divisions of the American League over the past few weeks, I now turn my focus to the National League. First off, the National League East. The NL East probably will be one of the least competitive divisions in baseball this season. With the Washington Nationals being the 5000-pound gorilla on top of the division, I believe the other four teams will be battling it out for second through fifth place.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Manager – Ryne Sandberg
General Manager – Ruben Amaro Jr.
Home Ballpark – Citizens Bank Ballpark
2014 Record -73-89
Key Departures – Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo
Key Additions – None
Key Returners – Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz, Dominic Brown, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere
It was not too long ago when the Phillies were the class of not just the National League East but the entire National League. It also was not too long ago when Ryan Howard was a top-five first basemen in the game. Sadly for Phillies fans, those days are long gone. The Phillies have sunk to one of the worst teams in baseball and are not very proactive about trading their aging stars for top prospects.
When you have a staff that is headlined by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, one would think this should be a pretty good team. The problem is there’s really no one else around those guys. Hamels has been brought up in numerous trade rumors this offseason, and his days in Philly seemed to be numbered. The same can be said for Cliff Lee. Though Lee has not been brought up nearly as much as Hamels, he still is a guy many playoff teams would be interested in acquiring. Both Hamels and Lee could bring back a plethora of young talent, which could turn the Phillies organization around. Behind Hamels and Lee the Phillies have two veterans in Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang. Both are serviceable big league starters, but they definitely are not guys that can help contend for a playoff spot. In the bullpen Jonathan Papelbon comes back as the closer. He may have worn out his welcome in Philly, and thus his name has also been brought up in trade rumors. He does have a pretty lucrative contract and is only a closer, so he probably wouldn’t bring back as much as Hamels or Lee would. The Phillies are pretty excited about the young guys in their bullpen, Jake Diekman and Ken Giles. Diekman is hard throwing southpaw and has been nothing but lights out since debuting in 2012. Giles has a fastball that runs up to 100 mph. He seems to be the closer in waiting once Papelbon is traded. Giles had a great rookie season posting an ERA of 1.18 in 45.2 innings while striking out 64 batters. The Phillies seem to be a team that is stuck in neutral for the time being. Once they trade Hamels and Lee for prospects, then Phillies fans can have hope for the future.
During the offseason the Phillies traded away the face of their franchise, Jimmy Rollins. The franchise all-time leader in hits was dealt to the Dodgers for two pitching prospects. It is really the only time the Phillies have been proactive in trading their veterans. Freddy Galvis will probably have the duty of replacing him at shortstop. Chase Utley is on the downside of his career, but that being said he is still a pretty darn good second basemen. He played in 155 games last season (the most since 2009) and was named to the All-Star team. He is 36 years old, but if he can produce like he did in 2014, the Phillies could get something nice in return for him. Ryan Howard has not been the same player since rupturing his Achilles in the 2011 NLDS vs. the Cardinals. Howard, much like Utley, is on the downside of his career. Though Howard has always been a player that strikes out, that was often neutralized by his power numbers. Well his power numbers have dropped and his strikeouts have remained constant, and now the Phillies are stuck with an Adam Dunn. Howard’s contract does run through next season, so at this point if any team were willing to take him, the Phillies would pull the trigger on that deal. Right now the Phillies are an aging team, and their farm system is pretty barren. That could all change though if they pull off some trades this season.
4. Atlanta Braves
Manager – Fredi Gonzalez
General Manager – John Hart
Home Ballpark – Turner Field
2014 Record – 79-83
Key Departures – Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Ervin Santana, Kris Medlan, Jordan Walden, Aaron Harang, Emilio Bonifacio
Key Additions – Nick Markakis, Shelby Miller, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski, Jonny Gomes
Key Returners – Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Melvin Upton Jr., Chris Johnson
After falling off considerably in 2014, the Atlanta Braves decided to dismantle their team and start over anew. The Braves have a new ballpark opening up in an Atlanta suburb in 2017, and they are aiming to have a competitive team when it opens. They dealt three of their top offensive players during the offseason for prospects. But unlike the Phillies, they do have some hope because of their strong pitching staff and prospects. 2015 and 2016 should be transition years for the Braves, then in 2017, they should be ready to compete as their new ballpark will be ready to open.
Julio Teheran is the future ace of this Atlanta Braves staff. The 24-year-old Colombian has been outstanding since entering the Braves rotation in 2013. Last year was his best work so far. Teheran posted an ERA of 2.89 in 221.0 innings. He has lived up to the hype since he was once the top prospect in the Braves organization. He along with Mike Minor and Alex Wood gives the Braves three young and most importantly proven starters to build on for the future. The Braves also picked up Mike Foltynewicz from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade. Foltynewicz is known as a flame-throwing strikeout pitcher and is ranked the second prospect in the Braves’ farm system. He should get a chance to start for the Braves in 2014. Shelby Miller was also brought in via a trade this offseason. Miller has been a pretty good starter for the Cardinals and has shown flashes of dominance. If Miller can find control, he will be a steal for the Braves. Craig Kimbrel anchors down Atlanta’s bullpen as the one of best closers in the game. The Braves could get a pretty nice return for Kimbrel in a trade, but it would be unwise for the Braves to let go of him. Overall, the Braves have set themselves up nicely for the future with the moves they have made right now. I think these next two years will be transition years, with 2017 being the year they’ll make some noise.
The Braves were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball last season, and that was with Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward. It’s hard for me to believe they will be any better in 2015. Freddie Freeman headlines the lineup. The Braves rewarded him last season with a lengthy contract extension, so they see him as a franchise cornerstone type of player. Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the game, and when his offense eventually comes around, the Braves will have arguably the best shortstop in the game. Nick Markakis was signed in the offseason to a four-year deal. I found it odd because as the Braves have made an effort to get younger, yet they signed a 31-year-old to a four-year deal. However, he should provide some offensive production in right field. Christian Bethancourt is expected to get the starting nod behind the dish for the Braves. He is their top catching prospect and saw limited action in the majors last season. Overall the Braves have some promising young talent to be excited about, but they are a few years away from being contenders for this division.
3. New York Mets
Manager – Terry Collins
General Manager – Sandy Alderson
Home Ballpark – Citi Field
2014 Record – 79-83
Key Departures – None
Key Additions – Michael Cuddyer
Key Returners – David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Lucas Duda, David Murphy, Zach Wheeler, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell
The Mets have an exciting future on their hands with a foursome of stud pitchers to anchor their rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard are the four pitchers that should anchor the Mets staff for many years to come. We’ve already scene what Harvey, deGrom and Wheeler can do at the big league level, and they haven’t disappointed. Harvey is coming off of Tommy John surgery, so it will be interesting to see if he can rebound in a positive way. If he does, the Mets will have themselves an ace. deGrom won Rookie of the Year last season, and the Mets look for him to repeat his success. They also have high hopes for Zach Wheeler. Wheeler had a good season in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues. Noah Syndergaard has not gotten his chance in the big leagues yet, but he’s expected to see some action in 2015. Syndergaard is a 6-foot-6 right-handed fireballer who has the ability to dominate hitters. If he develops the way the Mets see him developing, they then will have four young and very good starters. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Jon Niese or Bartolo Colon. Niese and Colon are the elder statesmen of the pitching staff. They will be important to help bring the young guys along. Bobby Parnell and Jenrry Meija are back to headline what should be a very young bullpen. The Mets do have some young and promising pitchers, which makes me believe they will compete for a wildcard this season, but in the end I see them coming up short.
The Mets lineup is not nearly as promising as their lineup but should be a pretty good if their veterans perform according to track record. David Wright has been the face of the franchise since debuting in 2004. Wright had his worst season of his career last season, but it was probably just a blip on the radar rather than a sign of things to come. I expect Wright to rebound in 2015 and lead the Mets once again. Michael Cuddyer was signed to a three-year deal this off-season, and though he is getting older, the man can still hit. It wasn’t too long ago that he was the National League batting champion, so he should provide some veteran leadership, as well as production, to what otherwise should be a young lineup. Lucas Duda had a breakthrough year in 2014 by belting out 33 home runs. The Mets hope he can continue his success rather than falling off like Ike Davis did after his 30-plus home run season in 2012. Curtis Granderson had a down year in his first season in Queens in 2014. Granderson had a pair of 40-plus home run seasons with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, so the Mets had higher expectations that the 20 home runs and 66 RBIs he gave them last season. If Granderson can find more contact rather than a bunch of swinging and missing the Mets should see more success out of him. Daniel Murphy was the lone All-Star from the Metropolitans in 2014. He is quietly one of the better second basemen in the National League. Expect another solid year out of Murphy in 2015. Juan Lagares returns are the center fielder, and he is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. The 25-year-old is just another young player Mets fans can be excited about for years to come. I like what the Mets have going for them in the future, but as for the moment I don’t see them having enough in their lineup to contend through a whole season.
2. Miami Marlins
Manager – Mike Redmond
General Manager – Mike Hill
Home Ballpark – Marlins Park
2014 Record – 77-85
Key Additions – Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Michael Morse, Ichiro Suzuki Martin Prado, Aaron Crow, David Phelps, Dan Haren
Key Departures – Casey McGehee, Dan Jennings, Nathan Eovaldi
Key Returners – Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jared Cosart, Tom Koehler, Steve Cishek, Henderson Alvarez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Miami Marlins were one of the most active teams this offseason and should be one of the most improved teams in baseball. Miami has a nice mix of young, talented players as well as proven veterans. This being so, I expect to see the Marlins in the playoff hunt throughout the season.
The Marlins will be without their 22-year-old ace, Jose Fernandez, until about June or July as Fernandez is recovering from Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Fernandez is one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. Fortunately, the Marlins have bolstered their staff enough that it should soften the blow of not having Fernandez. Mat Latos was brought over via trade this offseason from the Cincinnati Reds and should anchor this rotation until Fernandez comes back. Behind Latos, the Fightin’ Fish have three young arms in Jared Cosart, Tom Koehler and Henderson Alvarez. Cosart was lights out for the Marlins after coming over from the Houston Astros in the middle of last year. Koehler was also very effective in his first full season starting, and Alvarez was probably the best of the three in 2014. Alvarez went 12-7 and posted a 2.65 ERA in 187 innings. The Marlins have high hopes for him this upcoming season. The Marlins also have a veteran at the backend of the rotation in Dan Haren. Haren was acquired in the offseason from the Dodgers as part of the Dee Gordon trade. He is not the pitcher what he used to be, but he will provide a solid, veteran presence in a pretty young rotation. In the bullpen, the Marlins have a great closer in Steve Cishek. Cishek had 39 saves in 2014, and that number should go up as the Marlins should win more games this season. Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos will be the setup men leading up to Cishek. They both were great in 2015. I think the Marlins have the pitching to compete for a wildcard berth, especially if Fernandez comes back healthy. There are some teams in front of them that are better than them, so I see the Marlins competing for a wildcard spot, but coming up just short.
Miami might have made the biggest move in the offseason by signing Giancarlo Stanton to a 13 year, 325 million-dollar extension. Stanton is already one of the best players in baseball and is just entering his prime at age 25. Though it is a risky move to give a player so many years and so much money, the Marlins might show to be wise for signing him at age 25 rather than at 30. For what they are paying him, the Marlins expect him to be the cornerstone of the franchise for many years to come. He will headline the lineup and will have another monster season barring injury. Miami might have the best outfield not only in the division but in the National league. With Stanton, Marcel Ozuna and Christian Yelich, the Marlins are set for many years to come. None of them are older than 25 and all have proven to produce at the big league level. The Marlins have bright future with this talented outfield. The Marlins went out this offseason to bring in help for Stanton. They did that in the form of Michael Morse. Morse will provide some valuable right-handed power behind Stanton. Dee Gordon was traded for in the offseason. Gordon immediately gives the Marlins one of the best leadoff hitters and base stealers in baseball. Gordon stole 64 bases in 2014, leading all of baseball. From top to bottom, the Marlins have a pretty complete lineup. That being said, Miami will fall just short of the playoffs, but will contend throughout the summer.
1. Washington Nationals
Manager – Matt Williams
General Manager – Mike Rizzo
Home Ballpark – Nationals Park
2014 Record – 96-66
Key Additions – Max Scherzer, Yunel Escobar, Casey Janssen
Key Departures – Adam LaRoche, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Asdrubal Cabrera,
Key Returners – Jordan Zimmerman, Stephan Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Jason Worth, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span, Drew Storen, Matt Thornton, Tanner Roark, Doug Fister
The Nationals were one of the best teams in baseball last season, and they only got better in the offseason. They signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal in the offseason to add to what already was a great pitching staff. The Nationals on paper are so much better than anyone else in this division. They should run away with this division and have a deep run into the postseason.
In my opinion, this is the best starting rotation in the game. From one through five, they have a stud. On any other staff Scherzer, Zimmerman and Strasburg would all be the No. 1 option, but on this staff they are all option 1A, 1B and 1C. This team should win a lot of games because there are no off days for the opposing team. Every starter in this rotation has the ability to dominate the opposition. Gio Gonzalez had a down year in 2014, but it was just two seasons ago when he won 21 games. He has shown he can be a dominant big league starter. He just needs to find a little bit more control. I expect Gonzalez to return to form this season and have a nice season for the Nats. Doug Fister will round out the rotation as their No. 5 starter. On any other team, Fister would be more of a No. 2 or No. 3, but with a rotation like this he is the Np. 5. Having so many great starters is a good problem for the Nats to have. The Nats should also have a very good bullpen. Drew Storen should take over at closer as the Nats chose not to bring back Rafael Soriano. He took the place of Soriano late last season as Soriano faltered down the stretch. Storen had 11 saves with an ERA of 1.18 in 2014. The Nats did trade away Tyler Clippard in the offseason. He is one of the best setup men in baseball, but the Nats should have some good replacements for him. Casey Janssen was signed in the offseason, and Matt Thornton was great after coming to the Nats mid last season. Both should solidify the back end up the bullpen. It’s no question who has the best pitching staff in baseball. It’s the Washington Nationals, and it should lead them to an exciting summer and fall in our nation’s capital.
The Nats lose a ton of production with Adam LaRoche leaving for the White Sox, but I don’t think that should slow them down. Ryan Zimmerman will slide across the infield to first base from third base, and if he stays healthy, he should be able to match the offensive production of LaRoche. The left side of the infield is one of the best. Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon both had great seasons in 2014. Desmond socked 24 home runs while driving in 94 RBIs. Rendon had a breakout season in 2014 and showed to be one of the better hitters in baseball. Rendon belted 21 home runs and drove in 83 runs. He is just coming into his own, and I expect him to only get better. Now the guy the Nats really need to turn the corner this season is Bryce Harper. Harper has all the tools to be the one of best players in the game. The good thing for him is that he is only 22 years old and already has three big league seasons under his belt. He was hurt for a good portion of the 2014 season, which led to low power numbers. Harper had a phenomenal postseason in 2014 by hitting .294 and three home runs in four games. If Harper can stay healthy and cut down on the amount of swing and misses, he should have a great season. It’s only a matter of time until Harper is hitting 30-40 home runs and knocking in 100-plus RBIs; he’s that good. Jason Werth had one of his best seasons in a Nats uniform in 2014. He is the old man on this team and should be relied on to provide leadership along with his offensive production. The Nats have the most complete team in Major League Baseball. Pitching. Bullpen. Hitting. Fielding – The Nats have it all. They will ride their top-notch rotation to a second consecutive NL East Crown and much more.
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