March 31st 2014 02:44
The Atlanta Braves were the class of the NL East in 2013, winning 96 games and taking the Los Angeles Dodgers to four games in the NLDS before losing the series. It continued a string of excellence for the franchise, which has seen them advance to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.
The Braves were led by starters Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Julio Teheran and in the bullpen by dominant closer Craig Kimbrel. Atlanta's strong pitching staff allowed the team to score 140 more runs then it had given up to the opposing teams.
Offensively, the Braves were led by the breakout campaign of Freddie Freeman at first base along with the contributions of Chris Johnson at third, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward in the outfield. Andrelton Simmons developed into one of the best two-way shortstops in the game.
It was a great year from a promising Braves team.
The Washington Nationals entered last season as the fashionable pick to win the World Series based on their loss in the 2012 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Instead, the Nats took a step back from 2012's 98 wins to drop down to 86 wins under Davey Johnson last year. Nothing quite went the way Washington expected it to go, with injuries to Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos really hurting the Nationals chances last year.
The New York Mets finished in third place with 74 wins and it was about as good as the Mets could have hoped for. Outside of David Wright and Marlon Byrd, no one on the offensive side of the ball had an above-average season.
Pitching was the Mets strength, led by Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. The bullpen was anchored by Bobby Parnell.
The Philadelphia Phillies had a disappointing, injury ravaged season in 2013, eventually leading to the Phillies changing managers during the season. Injuries to Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay really effected the team on both sides of the ball. It was a down season for SS Jimmy Rollins as well.
The Miami Marlins finished in last, winning just 62 games last year. The Marlins feature a ton of young talent led by Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. The Marlins may have lost 100, but they showed they might have the next wave of talent to challenge the division in 2015 if they can add pitching.
Here is how things look for the 2014 season:
1. Washington Nationals
Even with new, inexperienced manager Matt Williams, I really like Washington's chances this year to win the division.
Washington might have the best rotation in the National League led by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. Washington also might have made the best deal of the winter in acquiring starter Doug Fister. The bullpen is loaded with Rafael Soriano leading a very deep group. It's a group that has been built to win a division crown and a short series.
On offense, the Nats seemed primed to be one of the best groups in the league. Bryce Harper will be an MVP candidate this season surrounded by a deep lineup featuring Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and Jayson Werth.
Washington has everything it needs to win the division and have a chance at making the World Series.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have already been dealt crushing blows with the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery. Losing both pitchers has put a tremendous strain on the team's rotation now led by Julio Teheran and newcomer Ervin Santana. Craig Kimbrel will continue to be one of the best closers in the game.
Offensively, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward will lead a group that needs more production from both of the Upton brothers and second baseman Dan Uggla. Losing Brian McCann will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Evan Gattis to replace his production and leadership behind the plate.
The Braves are in a tough spot and it is hard to see this group overcoming all of these issues to make the playoffs this season.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Ryne Sandberg took over last season and went 20-22 as the interim manager. He has a tough group to deal with and it is likely that he will butt heads with the veteran players on this roster.
The Phillies have talent, but they have been constructed like a beer league softball team. Adding talent without building a team. The rotation features Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett with Cole Hamels recovering from an injury to start the year.
Offensively, the Phillies will be driven by Howard, Rollins and Chase Utley. If those three players return to form and stay healthy, the Phillies will be a formidable team. It's just unlikely enough to get this team back to the playoffs despite the top end talent on this team. The Phils might be the biggest seller at the deadline.
4. New York Mets
The Mets are already dealing with the loss of rising star Matt Harvey, on the shelf since undergoing Tommy John surgery last October. Going into this season, New York was faced by having to replace Harvey and compensated by adding Bartolo Colon in his place.
New York also brought in former Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson to help the offense. Both veteran players will help, but it unlikely to move New York out of fourth-place in the division.
The Mets have prospects coming, but it will likely be in the 2015 season when Harvey returns to join prospect Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler at the front of the rotation.
5. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have talent. It's just a question of when it will mature enough to impact the major league roster. Jose Fernandez's emergence was the first sign of this progress. The Marlins will now await the progress of starters Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi to build a rotation to compete.
At the plate, Giancarlo Stanton is one of the better young hitters in the game, but it is getting to the point where the Marlins might have to consider dealing Stanton in order to add talent to the major league roster.
Christian Yelich made a promising debut with the team last season, but the Marlins will need to have others step up to speed up their chances to compete. Newcomer Jarrod Saltalamacchia will bring leadership and offense to the catching position.
The Nationals will win the division this year. How far they advance is really the question.