Spring Training has come to an end and in the National League East, the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and Miami Marlins will be looking to have hot starts coming out of the gates on Opening Day. Last year, the Braves were the only team from the NL East represented in the postseason, winning the division by a comfortable 10 games over the second place Nationals.
Big moves were made by all five teams in the division throughout the off-season. The Braves brought in right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana while losing catcher Brian McCann in free agency to the Yankees. In the nation’s capital, Doug Fister was added to the Nationals, but he will start on the season on the 15-day DL due to a right lat strain. Marlon Byrd, AJ Burnett, and Roberto Hernandez were all signed by the Phillies, adding to the veteran core that Ruben Amaro Jr. has put together in Philadelphia. The Mets added depth to the outfield by signing Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while bringing in Bartolo Colon for depth in the pitching rotation. Lastly, the Marlins remained mostly the same as they were last year, but they did add Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal to the roster.
Here’s how the NL East will shape out for the 2014 MLB season.
1. Atlanta Braves
2013 Record: 96-66
Projected 2014 Record: 94-68
Despite the injuries to starting pitchers Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, and Kris Medlen, the Braves are still the best all-around team in the National League East. Their outfield is still stacked with the likes of BJ and Justin Upton along with Jason Heyward, including Jordan Schafer to come in should one of those three go down with an injury. Freddie Freeman is a machine over at first base, and will be the heart and soul of the Braves lineup this season. All the man does is drive in runs, he’s unreal. If the Braves are ever struggling to produce runs, one big hit from Freeman will change everything.
Pitching will still be solid for the Braves with Julio Teheran and Ervin Santana leading the rotation with Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen to shut the door in the ninth inning. Every close game the Braves are in they always seem to win, and that will continue because Kimbrel is that good.
The key for the Braves will be to start off the season on fire like they did last year. Because of all the injuries to their starting pitching, the Braves cannot afford to start off the season on a slump at the plate or else their postseason hopes will depend on the performance of the other teams in the NL East.
2. Washington Nationals
2013 Record: 86-76
Projected 2014 Record: 89-73
Forget about last season, this year the Washington Nationals are a very sharp baseball team in all aspects. There is no question of the talent on this team, but can that talent stay consistent? Once Doug Fister comes back from the DL, the Nationals pitching rotation will be extremely deep with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark/Taylor Jordan. Run production will not be an issue with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond leading the Nationals’ lineup.
For the Nationals, it is all about consistency and staying on the field. A deep pitching rotation and lineup along with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Rafael Soriano to anchor games out in the bullpen will spell positive outcomes for the Nationals if they remain healthy and play consistent baseball for all 162 games.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Record: 73-89
Projected 2014 Record: 79-83
The Phillies are really, really old, but Ruben Amaro Jr. will be sticking with his veteran core heading into the season. If the Phillies stay healthy for the entire season, they will be able to stay relevant before fatigue starts setting in. Their starting lineup will struggle to score runs, but the Phillies bench is the major concern because of the aged starters. The Phillies have no suitable backups on the bench to go in and stay consistent if someone were to go down with an injury, especially with Darin Ruf on the disabled list to start the season. That places loads of pressure on Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Marlon Byrd to stay healthy.
As it has been since Amaro took over the Phillies as the general manager, starting pitching will be the strong suit of this year’s Phillies team. Cole Hamels will start the season on the disabled list, but will return at the end of April leaving the Phillies with a rotation of Hamels, Cliff Lee, AJ Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, and Roberto Hernandez from May on. That is a pretty darn good rotation for a team with offensive questions.
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins will dictate this team’s success for the 2014 season. The bullpen and bench is questionable as it has been for the past two years, and the three veterans of the team will have to carry the load. If they stay healthy and produce, the Phillies may shock the world. But if Howard, Rollins, and Utley do not produce and cannot stay on the field, the Phillies could be eliminated from the playoffs before September.
4. New York Mets
2013 Record: 74-88
2014 Projected Record: 72-90
No Matt Harvey will equate to another rough season for the Mets. David Wright can only carry this team so far, and the additions of Curtis Granderson along with Bartolo Colon will help, but they will not be able to help enough. Mets’ fans should be excited about seeing another year from young-gun Zach Wheeler while seeing how Jenrry Mejia continues to develop at the bottom of the rotation.
The Mets will not be horrible, but their success will come down to whether or not their young players can produce on a daily basis, and if the pitching rotation will hold up. Who knows, the Mets could be a surprise team this year if all aspects click and if Terry Collins manages the bullpen correctly.
5. Miami Marlins
2013 Record: 62-100
2014 Projected Record: 64-98
In the eyes of all baseball fans and Marlins’ fans themselves, it is very clear that the Miami Marlins are in a rebuilding mode. Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be provide a glimpse of talent while the rest of the young members of the Marlins develop on the field. Look for Christian Yelich, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Steve Cishek to have solid seasons for the fish, as they are on the path to another developmental season.
The Atlanta Braves will win the NL East once again, followed by the Washington Nationals in second, the Philadelphia Phillies in third, the New York Mets in fourth, and the Miami Marlins finishing in fifth. Divisional records for the Braves and Nationals will be key to see who will come out on top in this division. Both teams have to win their games against the Phillies, Mets, and Marlins so the match ups between the two of them dictate the division winner.
If the Phillies stay healthy and consistent, they could shock the world of baseball and come out on top in the NL East. As far as the Mets and Marlins, they do not have a chance. Both teams have too many holes and questions when it comes to parts of their rosters, along with being in the process of mini to long developmental projects.
Regardless of whichever team wins the NL East, the 2014 Major League Baseball season will be an exciting one with the five teams in the NL East adding to that excitement.
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