Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Time for April Madness - Our MLB Preview - National League

Washington Nationals – 2012 Record 98-64 (1st in NL East) The long off season for the Nats of… what if, is now over. The what if of course being the pre-mature shut down of ace Steven Strasburg for the post-season coming off arm surgery the previous year. Washington was upset in the divisional series against the Cardinals in a set they basically had won until the final inning of game seven. That however is the past and the future is bright on the diamond in the nation’s capital. With the return of Strasburg the Nats have arguably the best starting staff in the east. Gio Gonzalez is back from a 21 win season. He is joined by Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and newcomer Dan Haren. This staff sported the best ERA in the National League last year and could be better in 2013. Strasburg should make a run at the NL CY Young Award. A solid infield of Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos behind the plate, Adam LaRoche at first rounded out with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman all return with a full year under their belts as a unit. Zimmerman did undergo off-season arm surgery on his throwing arm, so they’ll keep an eye out on him in the hot corner. Desmond and Espinosa are potential 20/20 guys at the plate and on the bases, while LaRoche and Zimmerman supply the pop after combining for 58 homers in 2012. Future superstar Bryce Harper of course will be holding down leftfield with a year of experience in the show. He’ll be joined by off-season acquisition Denard Span in center and veteran Jayson Werth in right field. Besides the Braves the Nats have the next best outfield in the division. Span is a solid glove with good leadoff skills in the box. Werth can drive the ball to all areas of the outfield and Harper is coming off a 22 homer season with 18 stolen bases and he’s only 20! Look for a possible 35-homer season from the youngster in 2013. As far as the bullpen goes, Washington only got stronger with the addition of Rafael Soriano. TWIB Notes: The addition of Soriano gives manager Davy Johnson more options with a pen that some considered a weakness last season. Tyler Clippard was one of the league’s best set-up men in 2012 with 38 holds while Drew Storen saved 43 games as the closer in 2011 but now can be used in middle relief with Soriano taking over the role as the 9th inning closer. The Nationals have no weaknesses on paper and that’s why they are our pick to win the division for a second straight season. Atlanta Braves- 2012 Record 94-68 (2nd in NL East) The post-season and the career of Braves legend Chipper Jones came to an abrupt end in 2012 with a wild-card series loss to the Cardinals. The loss of Jones will be huge in the Atlanta clubhouse not to mention third base as well, as will the trading of team leader Martin Prado to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But like the Nationals, Atlanta sports one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. Veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm will give the staff ERA numbers in the 3.00 range and possibly 200 innings of work. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are the wild card as far as potential goes. Medlen has the makings of an ace after he posted a 0.97 ERA in his final 12 starts of the season last year. Minor was another bright spot with a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts. Brian McCann once again is behind the dish with slugger Freddie Freeman at first, Dan Uggla who struggled in 2012 at second, newcomer Andrelton Simmons taking over full-time duties at short with the combination of Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson at third. Many believe Simmons might be the best fielding shortstop in the game in 2013. Atlanta’s outfield is a fun one indeed! The Prado trade brought centerfielder Justin Upton from Arizona to be joined by brother B.J. in left. Add in future superstar in the making Jason Heyward and outfields don’t get more talented than this! All three have 30/30 potential at the plate and on the bases and above average gloves in the outfield. As far as the bullpen goes, only the Reds sported a better ERA last season. The big name is closer Craig Kimbrel. He struck out half the hitters he faced in 2012, while holding hitters to an amazing .358 OPS. Setting him up are lefties Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Luis Avilan. Right handed relief comes from Jordan Walden, Cory Gearrin, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro. TWIB Notes: The Upton brothers could have the best season in the box on the same team since Paul and Lloyd Waner played together with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1920’s and 30’s. Also the heat could be on Manager Freddie Gonzalez in 2013. Remember he endured the collapse of 2011 and then last year’s wild-card disappointment against St. Louis. The Braves need to win a playoff series come fall or his job could be in jeopardy. Philadelphia Phillies- 2012 Record 81-81 (3rd in NL East) To say 2012 was a huge disappointment for the Fighting Phils is like saying Philadelphia has a lot of places to enjoy a good cheesesteak! Injuries to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz were the main reason Charlie Manual’s team missed the post-season for the first time since the 2006 season. This will most likely be old Charlie boy’s final season at the age of 69, so the Phils are looking to send him out with a bang! Of course with the Phils it’s all about the pitching, which could be a concern if you’ve watched any spring training action concerning ace Roy Halladay. He was hurt for a big part of last season and has returned this spring with subpar stuff and a whopping 6.75 ERA to match. That’s why Cole Hamels will be the opening day starter followed up by Halladay, the reliable Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick who sported a 3.89 ERA as a starter in 2012 and former National John Lannan in the fifth spot. While Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game drug suspension, Erik Kratz will do the catching. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers Ruiz puts up after coming off whatever the actual substance was from last season. Howard should be back in full swing off the Achilles Injury from the 2011 playoffs. Utley, like Howard has had a terrific spring so they could combine for 55 homers. Jimmy Rollins is now on the downside of his career at short and coming off a down year, while Michael Young comes over from the Texas Rangers at third after an awful 2012 season so he is indeed a wildcard at the hot corner both in the field and at the plate. The outfield will be flanked by five-tool player Domonic Brown, steady glove man Ben Revere in centerfield and the platoon of John Mayberry/Lance Nix until Delmon Young who came over from Detroit is ready to go after offseason ankle surgery which might not be until sometime in mid-April according to the Philadelphia Daily News. In the pen, the closer again is Jonathan Papelbon with Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams as the primary set-up men. Chad Durbin, Phillipe Aumont, Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes and Michael Stutes round out the rest of the relievers. TWIB Notes: Gone from this team are some key contributors in Placido Polanco, pitcher Vance Worley and outfielder Juan Pierre. Ryne Sandberg takes over as the Phils third base coach as he continues to be groomed to take over for Manual most likely next season. This group will have to fight to just grab a wild-card spot or miss the post-season for the second straight season. Both Washington and Atlanta are superior in all aspects of the game. New York Mets- 2012 record 74-88 (4th in NL East) Gone is NL CY Young winner R.A. Dickey and with Johan Santana starting the year on the disabled list, things don’t bode well for the “not so amazings” on the mound. Jon Niese is the de facto ace and opening day starter, after posting an ERA of 3.40 in 30 starts last season. Shaun Marcum will follow him up most likely while Matt Harvey, Dillion Gee and Jeremy Hefner round out the starters for now. Expect top prospect Zack Wheeler to make his big league debut at some point after sporting a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012. John Buck who came over in the Dickey trade will handle the duties behind the plate for now until top prospect Travis d’Arnaud is ready to play every day. Ike Davis returns at first with Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and David Wright rounding out the infield. Wright of course was hurt in the WBC playing for the United States but could be ready by opening day. His .306 average with 21 homers is a must for the Mets to just be competitive in a tough division. Both Murphy and Tejada could possibly be .300 hitters and will need to for the Mets to just hang around for a while. The outfield is up for grabs with Lucas Duda getting the start in left despite his tendency to strike out. Collin Cowgill could start in center with Marlon Byrd in right. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter will also see time in arguably the least proven outfield in the majors this season. When the Mets do have a late lead, Bobby Parnell will try to seal the deal, as this bullpen looks to regroup after an ERA of 4.65 last year, second worst in the majors next to the Brewers. Frank Francisco, Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Jeurys Familia, Brandon Lyon, Greg Burke and LaTroy Hawkins are all fighting to make the big league roster along with Scott Atchison. TWIB Notes: You have to almost feel sorry for manager Terry Collins. In his third season since replacing Jerry Manuel he could be gone by mid-season but would it really be fair? If you look at the pitching prospects and outfield situation this roster is by far the worst in the division so what’s a manager supposed to do? Miami Marlins - 2012 Record 69-93(5th in NL East) Last season’s debacle along with Ozzie Guillen’s ridiculous statements about Fidel Castro cost him his job after just one season of a four-year contract. So Mike Redmond tries to pick up the pieces after two years as a Class-A manager in the Blue Jays system. Lots of new faces on the field for the Marlins this season, after the front office purged the roster to save money. Ricky Nolasco will be the club’s so called ace, followed by Wade LeBlanc for Dodgers prospect Nate Eovaldi and youngsters Henderson Alverez and Jacob Turner who could actually end up back in the minors after a rough spring, according to the Palm Beach Post. Catching the fresh-faced rotation will be Rob Brantly, who started 31 games last season. Logan Morrison is back in the starting line-up at first with Donovan Solano at second, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and newcomer and solid contact hitter Placido Polanco at third. The outfield does sport power-hitter Giancarlo Stanton (37 homer in 2012) in right and veteran and solid glove man Juan Pierre in left. Justin Ruggiano is the starting centerfielder for now after hitting .313 with 13 homers and 14 steals last season. Steve Cishek gets the closers spot after posting a 2.69 ERA overall last season. Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and Dan Jennings will all be on the roster to start the season as young but up and coming relievers. TWIB Notes: 2013 Is all about finding the right prospects at the right price for the Marlins organization. The danger however is how long will it take for the fickle fan base to start not showing up in just the second season of that brand new beautiful but publicly funded ballpark? No one likes to watch last place baseball which is definitely where the Marlins are headed this season. It is truly a rebuilding year in South Florida.

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