Well, it’s about time! With Spring Training merely days away from starting, one of the most eventful offseasons I can think of will soon be drawing to a close. Thus, it’s time for the annual division previews here at BBP, which I’ll handle this year. This week, we start with the NL East, whose first and last place picks are among the easiest to make. But it’s what’s in the middle that’s a toss-up. Read on, and let us know what your picks are in the comments!
1. Washington Nationals
2014 result: 96-66. 1st place. Lost NLDS to San Francisco Giants, 3-1.
Surprise! With that beautifully structured (but not unquestionable) Max Scherzer contract, the Nationals put an exclamation point on an already great rotation and team. Of course, we’ve seen impossibly great teams on paper (remember the Phillies’ Four Aces and the upcoming dynasty in the 2011 offseason?), including…well, the Nationals themselves. They won 98 games in 2012 and looked to be on their way to a championship, three outs away from their first NLCS berth…until those damned Cardinals happened. Last year, they boasted the most complete team in the postseason, and sailed into October on Jordan Zimmerman’s season-ending no-hitter….and then those damned Giants happened. (Not to mention, one huge Matt Williams managerial brainfart, for which he could be Washington’s veritable Grady Little if they don’t win a title soon.) And while a Twins and A’s fan like me is in no position to lecture about division series heartbreaks, this is all just a reminder that “too good to be true” teams are no guarantees. The only question left: Do they trade Jordan Zimmermann? If that sounds ridiculous, keep in mind that they failed to come to a long-term deal with him, and that money basically just went to Scherzer. Plus, Zimmermann’s a free agent after 2015, so trading him now would mean the Nats could get a James Shields/Wade Davis for Wil Myers haul while still having the best rotation in the game. They’re wise to trade Zimmermann now, but with or without him, they just might be the best team in MLB this year.
2015 prediction: 97-65. NL East Champions.
2. Miami Marlins
2014 result: 77-85. 4th Place.
Of the many dramatic overhauls of the offseason, the Marlins had among the most deftly handled in how it addressed their every need. While that overhaul sadly didn’t include new uniforms (seriously, watching them is like a 9-inning Sunkist commercial), and they still have that ineffable bag of shit Jeffrey Loria as their owner, they had a brilliant offseason. Say what you will about that backloaded contract for Giancarlo Stanton: it’s imperative to build a winner around him, and these moves look to do just that. The acquisition of Dee Gordon from the Dodgers gives the Fish serious speed at the top of the lineup, although Gordon is likely to take a step back from his All-Star 2014 season. Michael Morse, who was an invaluable power bat for the Giants’ championship run, will provide strong muscle in the lineup alongside fellow outfielders Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. Also, Mat Latos came by way of trade from Cincinnati to beef up the starting rotation. Add even just a pinch of a bounceback Jose Fernandez, and the Marlins should have enough to contend for a wild card spot, whether or not they get it. And when you consider how just getting the wild card panned out for them in 1997 and 2003, that’s hardly a raw deal.
2015 prediction: 88-74. 2nd Place. 2nd NL Wild Card.
3. New York Mets
2014 result: 79-83. Tied for 2nd Place with Atlanta.
I’ll admit, I was probably a little too eager in praising the Mets’ current position as a franchise last year. While they did make some smart acquisitions heading into the 2014 season, this team is still owned by the Wilpons, who would probably be the worst sports owners from New York in a normal world where James Dolan doesn’t own even a penny of the Knicks (or Woody Johnson and the Jets). That said, they are getting away from the fallout of the Bernie Madoff scandal, and a glance at their roster this year should have even the most bitter Mets fan optimistic. Not only will Jacob deGrom try to build on his Rookie of the Year season, but Matt Harvey is finally coming back from Tommy John surgery. The rest of the potential rotation is more than up to par: Zack Wheeler, Jonathan Niese, and Bartolo Colon, with other promising young pitchers waiting in the wings. Offseason acquisition Michael Cuddyer has age and injury risk, but if he’s healthy, he’ll provide some serious muscle for the lineup. The Amazin’ Mets probably won’t fully rise from the ashes of the 2006/2007 collapse from grace for a couple more years, but a wild card entry isn’t out of the question for 2015. They certainly have a better rotation than Miami, but an inferior offense. At this moment, I’d say it’s pretty much a coin flip as to who would come out on top in a wild card race.
2015 prediction: 86-76. Third Place.
4. Atlanta Braves
2014 result: 79-83. Tied for 2nd Place with New York.
What to do with these guys? The Braves are a team that usually seem impossible to pick against, given how they seem to make the postseason like clockwork almost every year since 1991. But a majority of their offseason moves have screamed “fire sale” to me. Jason Heyward went to the Cardinals, Justin Upton will now open outfield shop for the revamped Padres, and Evan Gattis went to the Astros. But hey, at least they still have Craig Kimbrel! Altogether, it’s going to be a step back for the Braves, who have until their move out of Turner Field in 2017 to build up for a big payoff. Or, as their own official rendering of the upcoming stadium would seem to indicate, another heartbreaking playoff flameout.
2015 prediction: 75-87. 4th Place.
2014 result: 73-89. 5th Place.
This is where the game of making predictions is the most comfortable. Aside from the Astros and this blog’s beloved Twins, no team in baseball is inevitably consigned to a dead last finish like the Phillies. They traded the beating heart of the franchise, Jimmy Rollins, to the Dodgers, and some rumors indicated an early version of the deal would have included Chase Utley as well. As of this writing, they may still yet trade Cole Hamels as well. And of course, they’re still stuck with that frightening, gangrenous monster known as the Ryan Howard contract. Even the old wizard Pat Gillick acknowledged it may take 2-3 years for the Phightins to burn off the fat and fully rebuild. That said, they’re pretty fortunate to have had the run they did from 2007-2011, with that cathartic 2008 championship nestled right in the middle. Enjoy it, Phillies fans. The sound of Harry Kalas calling Brad Lidge’s nasty final slider to Eric Hinske is gonna have to keep you satiated for a long time.
2015 prediction: 69-93. 5th Place.