MLB Preview: NL East

MLB Preview: NL East

Jarret Bailey, Sports Writer

With opening day today, what better way to start it than with a little more previews of what this season is set to bring us.  After previewing the NL Central, it’s time to head east.

We’ll start with last years division winners, and my favorite to win the division this season, the Nationals. After going 96-66 last year, and taking the division crown, the Nats have a lot to look forward to. They have one of the most exciting young players in baseball playing leftfield in Bryce Harper, and one of the games best pitchers with Stephen Strausburg at the helm of their rotation. Now, Harper did miss 62 games last year due to injury, but in the 100 games that he did play in, he accounted for 13 homers, 32 RBI and a .273 batting average. Like I said, Harper’s only concern right now is health. If he can manage to play a large majority of the 162 games this season, you can bet he will greatly contribute to this team. The only bad news for the Nationals is that they lost first basemen Adam Laroche, their leader in Home Runs (26) and RBI (92) to the White Sox.

The good news is that they have a lineup that does more than make up for his absence. With guys like Jayson Werth, who lead the team with a .394 OBP (On Base percentage), the always exciting centerfielder, Denard Span, who lead the team in hits (184) and batting average (.302), and the power combo of Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon, who combined for 45 Homers and 174 RBI, this Nationals lineup has a lot to offer. When you look at the pitching staff in Washington, they have arguably the toughest pitching staff in the NL, and maybe even the entire MLB. Their rotation, consisting of Doug Fister, Stephen Starusburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, and Tanner Roark, had a total ERA of just 2.93. If these five aces are consistent all year around, this is a team who could make a great run at the NL Pennant.

After first place, it’s pretty much just a dog fight for second in the NL East, but I think the Mets will repeat as the number two team. After finishing 2014 just four games under, .500 (79-83), the Mets could be a shocker this year. They have one of the best first basemen in baseball, Lucas Duda, who lead the team in nearly every batting category in 2014 and has the potential to be a perennial superstar for years to come. The Mets have a very young, and talented, infield composed of Duda, Daniel Murphy at Second, Ruben Tejada playing Short, and veteran captain David Wright at Third. One thing that sticks out for both Tejada and Murphy is their frequency to get on base, as they both finished 2014 with an OBP north of a .330 average.

Now on to David Wright. Wright has spent each of his 11 years in the MLB with the Mets and became the face of the franchise in 2005 with his breakout sophomore season and hasn’t looked back ever since. Wright has slowed down some as his career has progressed, but is still the captain of this team and hopes to lead them back to the playoffs. With the infield talent to go along with Curtis Granderson playing Right Field, the only thing that the Mets need is strong pitching from guys like Bartolo Colon, whose 4.09 ERA needs to decrease this season if the Mets want a chance at success. If the Mets can improve in the slightest at the pitching position, they may have a chance to make a run at an NL Wildcard spot.

I have the Braves finishing third in the division. After a 79-83 2014 season, the Braves have a chance to improve on that mark this year. Although I have them coming in third, I think Atlanta could very easily finish with a winning record and possibly steal a wildcard spot. When you look at their lineup, they have a talented infield, specifically Freddie Freeman at First and Chris Johnson at Third. Freeman had a good 2014 season, finishing with 18 home runs, 78 RBI, .288 batting average and finishing second in the NL in doubles with 43. Johnson was a complementary player in the batter’s box, accounting for 10 homers and 58 RBI. The Braves went out and signed some new talent to the roster and practically have a brand new outfield, including Nick Markakis from the Orioles, Jonny Gomes from the A’s, Eric Young Jr. from the Mets, and Cameron Maybin from the Padres. On the mound, Julio Teheran will lead the 5-man rotation for the Braves. If the Braves hitters can give their pitching staff some consistent run support, the Braves could be a possible wildcard team.

In fourth place, I have the Marlins. Miami finished 2014 with a 77-85 record. If they plan on getting any better this season, they need to acquire some talent to complement Giancarlo Stanton, and they did just that. The marlins went out and signed Third Basemen Martin Prado, whose .282 batting average and 58 RBI add some skill to their lineup. Now, the Marlins aren’t an un-skilled team. They have a few under-the-radar type players, such has the infield duo of Adeiny Hechavarria playing Shortstop and Dee Gordon and an emerging Catcher in Jarrod Saltalamacchia. That being said, other than Giancarlo Stanton, they don’t have any big bats in their lineup. Saltalamacchia is an evolving Catcher, but ended 2014 with just a .220 batting average, which needs to improve in order for him to be a bigger contributor in 2015. On the mound, they have a good leader in their rotation with Henderson Alvarez leading the way, who finished 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA in 2014. They added two other big arms to their rotation, acquiring Dan Haren from the Dodgers and Mat Latos from the Reds. If these three aces can contribute consistently to the rotation, the Marlins have a chance to be successful and improve their record from last season.

In the fifth, and final spot, in the NL East, I have the Phillies. The Phillies are a great example to show how much a team can change in the matter of just a few seasons. Back in 2009, Philly was celebrating a World Series Title. Now they are hoping to just be a .500 team. The Phillies have a roster of guys who have been with the team for quite sometime, such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Howard is nearing the end of his career at age 35, but still lead the team with 95 RBI in 2014. Utley is 36 and you have to assume that the sand in his hourglass is almost gone as well. Although they are aged veterans, both Utley and Howard are fan favorites and still have a lot to bring to the organization. On the bright side for the Phillies, they do have some good young players who are ready to lead the team through this rebuilding process. Ben Revere lead the team in both hits (184) and batting average (.306) in 2014, and he is just 26 years of age. In terms of pitching, Cole Hamels is back again in Philly as the leader of their rotation, and they brought Aaron Harang over from Atlanta to include in their rotation. If the rotation can keep their total ERA south of about 3.5, they could have a decent season and build a foundation for the process ahead.

Overall, I think that the Nationals will own the division again, and after that you have a group of teams who are going to do anything they can to earn respect.

 

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