The Washington Nationals were the popular pick to win the National League East last season and the Atlanta Braves were set to make a splash. The Phillies were aging but still considered legitimate while the Mets and Marlins were hoping to continue the rebuilding process.
Things do not always go as planned with the Braves comfortably winning the National League East. 2014 Spring Training has not begun and there will be injuries that affect a team’s forecasted finish as well as their fan bases spirits. However, it is never too early to look at Major League Baseball in 2014 and figure out who just might be a surprise team, who might regress, and who will be rebuilding yet again.
Last season I was dead on with some shocking picks and others I missed altogether. Upon request, this series is rolled back in 2014 removing some of the finer details and hitting the high points for each team. But here we are again and I already previewed the National League West. Now it’s on to the National League East.
Last Season: 86-76 (Second in NL East)
Key Losses: Dan Haren
Key Additions: Doug Fister, Nate McLouth
First year coach, Matt Williams, should do fine with this club if he can avoid over thinking situations and let the talent play, there is plenty of it in Washington. With a healthy lineup to begin 2014 the Nationals will have a formidable offense led by youngster Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. The latter returned to form in 2013 and there is not a reason to doubt he will continue to see pitches to hit. Ian Desmond is an underrated offensive presence with back to back 20-20 seasons. A mix of Ramos, Span and super utility Nate McLouth are more than serviceable
When healthy you cannot argue with the depth and talent of the Nationals rotation. A healthy Stephen Strasburg could give Kershaw a run for his money chasing the Cy Young Award. With Gio Gonzalez and resigned Jordan Zimmerman acting as the two and three, the Nationals are in great shape. Add the trade for Doug Fister with the depth of Ross Detwiler and Tanner Roark then you get arguably the best rotation in baseball. A bullpen with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano will be almost impossible to rally against from the seventh inning on. This could be the beginning of a 90s Braves type run in the NL East.
Predicted Finish: 94-68 (First in NL East)
Last Season: 96-66 (First in NL East)
Key Losses: Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Eric O’Flaherty
Key Additions: Gavin Floyd
Last year’s addition of the Upton brothers was seen as a huge step for the Braves. Justin delivered while BJ had a horrible campaign. Yet in 2014 the Braves will expect a return to form by the older Upton brother but even if that does not occur an outfield with Justin Upton, a healthy young and talented Jason Heyward and at worst the serviceable Jordan Schafer will suffice. The loss of Brain McCann will hurt but opens the door to full playing time for the powerful Evan Gattis. Future NL MVP in the making, Freddie Freeman, will continue to develop this talented group.
The Braves lost Tim Hudson this off-season but were not aggressive to retain the veteran due their young talent. The unquestionable one, two, three of the Braves rotation in Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will keep them in their winning ways. A return to health of Brandon Beachy coupled with the young Alex Wood and veteran Gavin Floyd will round out the Braves rotation. The retirement of Mariano Rivera ends the conversation and anoints Craig Kimbrel as the undisputed best closer in baseball.
Predicted Finish: 89-73 (Second in NL East)
Last Season:74-88 (Third in NL East)
Key Losses: LaTroy Hawkins
Key Additions: Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, Chris Young
If the Mets can get a return to 30 home run form out of Ike Davis and a healthy David Wright then the corner infield positions are safe. Juan Lagares got his first taste of the top level of baseball in 2013 and should step forward in 2014. The addition of Curtis Granderson will be interesting to watch. Granderson benefited from the dimensions and jet stream in the Bronx but will not get that same benefit in Citi Field. Backstop, Travis d’Arnaud is my early pick for 2014 Rookie of the Year and if he lives up to expectations he will fit in quite nice in Queens.
The loss of Matt Harvey for the year obviously hurts but the addition of Bartolo Colon will help ease the pain. But can Colon really continue his resurrection when he will be 41 this year? There is talent in the rotation with Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee but with that talent will come growing pains as they mature. Jon Niese is serviceable but it is a crap shoot after that. If healthy, Bobby Parnell is a solid closer but the Mets bullpen does need depth and help. Things are getting better in Queens but they aren’t there yet.
Predicted Finish: 78-84 (Third in NL East)
Last Season: 62-100 (Fifth in NL East)
Key Losses: Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano
Key Additions: Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal
The Marlins are a very young team that should trend in the right direction in 2014. The outfield in Miami is set for years to come with young talents Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. Veteran free agent additions of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, who moved to second base, and Garrett Jones should not be overlooked. All are solid players that bring a veteran presence to an otherwise young lineup.
The pitching staff in Miami is young to say the least but they are packed with talent. Jose Fernandez is the undisputed number one coming off an award winning rookie year. Fellow youngsters Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner can flat out pitch. I would expect to see Angel Sanchez crack the rotation out of Spring Training to round out the rotation. While talented they are also inexperienced and will take their lumps in 2014. Behind closer Steve Cishek, the Marlins will be better than many believe in 2014.
Predicted Finish: 76-86 (Fourth in the NL East)
Last Season: 73-89 (Fourth in NL East)
Key Losses: Roy Halladay
Key Additions: Marlon Byrd
It is hard to expect the Phillies to take a step forward in 2014. They are an old team at many key positions and many of them could not play a full 2013 due to injury. Last season they were an average, at best, offense and the returns of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley should be met with tempered expectations. The addition of another questionable late 30s player in Marlon Byrd is not worth the investment. Youngsters Dominic Brown and Cody Asche are solid talents but they are not nearly enough to make the difference.
Roy Halladay has retired and the duo of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are the one and two in Philadelphia. Hamels had a sub-par 2013 posting his worst ERA since 2009 and Cliff Lee is bound to begin to show the signs of age sooner rather than later. After those two it is a dart on the wall with a presumed three, four, five of Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone and the intriguing Miguel Gonzalez. Jonathan Papelbon is okay at best and the third best closer in his division. It will be tough for the Phillies to even catch the Marlins in the NL East.
Predicted Finish: 72-90 (Fifth in NL East)