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Sports Major League Baseball Preview: National League East

Major League Baseball Preview: National League East

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Sports writer Barry Svrluga analyzed the 2014 baseball season for The Washington Post. Here is how he sees the teams lining up in the National League’s East Division:

1. Washington Nationals

86-76, second

Manager: Matt Williams, first season.

Biggest additions: The Nationals continued a trend of trying to strengthen a strength by trading for RHP Doug Fister (3.67 ERA over 2082/3 innings for Detroit in 2013). They also addressed their poorly constructed and underperforming bench, adding two versatile veterans in OF Nate McLouth and IF Jamey Carroll and backup C Jose Lobaton.

Biggest losses: Really, the most significant “loss” came from the minor league side in LHP Robbie Ray, the key to the Fister trade. That deal also sent fan favorite (but weak-hitting) reserve Steve Lombardozzi to Detroit. Other departures – RHP Dan Haren, PH Chad Tracy – were welcome.

Guy(s) who make(s) the manager look good: Williams can put Bryce Harper, 21, in the lineup every day and send Stephen Strasburg, 25, to the mound every fifth day. Will this be the year they break out?

2. Atlanta Braves

96-66, first, lost to Dodgers in division series

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez, fourth season.

Biggest additions: Though the spring training acquisition of veteran RHP Ervin Santana filled an unexpected need in the rotation, the Braves’ most significant moves were signing their own stars to long-term extensions. Nats fans already used to being tormented by closer Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million), 1B Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million) and SS Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million) can expect more of the same for years.

Biggest losses: The Braves’ sturdy rotation fell apart in one horrific spring training week that left RHPs Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy with torn elbow ligaments and headed for Tommy John surgery. That puts the heat on 23-year-old Julio Teheran, who has 34 major league starts, to be an ace.

Guy who makes the manager look good: In his three full seasons, Kimbrel has led the NL in saves three times, posted a 1.48 ERA and a 0.871 WHIP, making him the best reliever in the game.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

73-89, fourth

Manager: Ryne Sandberg, first full season.

Biggest additions: Marlon Byrd’s career year with the Mets and Pirates resulted in a two-year, $16 million deal with Philadelphia, but he’s 36 and had never before topped his .847 OPS from 2013. RHP A.J. Burnett also took advantage of a stellar season with Pittsburgh (one year, $16 million). Back-of-the-rotation RHP Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) is also aboard.

Biggest losses: Symbolically, RHP Roy Halladay’s retirement marked the end of the Phillies’ dominant era in the NL East – five straight division titles from 2007 to 2011. Infielder Michael Young was traded to the Dodgers late last season, and a pair of former Nats – lefty John Lannan and OF Roger Bernadina – also signed elsewhere.

Guy who makes the manager look good: This was once SS Jimmy Rollins, a four-time Gold Glover and the NL MVP in 2007. But the tense relationship between Rollins and Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman, defined the Phillies’ spring and threatens their season.

4. New York Mets

74-88, third

Manager: Terry Collins, fourth season.

Biggest additions: CF Curtis Granderson signed a four-year, $60 million deal even though he hit .231 with a mediocre .788 OPS over the past two seasons with the Yankees. RHP Bartolo Colon just went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA for Oakland, but his two-year, $20 million deal with the Mets will conclude when he’s – gulp – 42. And from the fans’ perspective, the most significant addition may have been the one the Mets didn’t make: SS Stephen Drew, who won a World Series with Boston, remains a free agent despite New York’s glaring hole at his position.

Biggest losses: The most significant will likely only impact this season: RHP Matt Harvey, a flame-throwing sensation in 2013, is expected to miss the season after Tommy John surgery.

Guy who makes the manager look good: Since 2005, it’s possible the NL East hasn’t known a more consistent force than 3B David Wright. Limited to 112 games in 2013, Wright was back to his old form with a .904 OPS, his best in five seasons. If he’s healthy all year, Collins has his man around whom he can build his lineup.

5. Miami Marlins

62-100, fifth

Manager: Mike Redmond, second season.

Biggest additions: Cubs fans may be thrilled to never see Carlos Marmol in the bullpen at Wrigley again, but at $1.25 million, he’s a minimal risk – particularly if, as reported, he has rediscovered his delivery. He’ll throw to C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who won a World Series with Boston but signed for three years and $21 million with Miami. 1B Garrett Jones comes over from a 2013 playoff run with Pittsburgh, and veteran SS Rafael Furcal, 36, will play second.

Biggest losses: 1B Logan Morrison was dealt to Seattle, but he’ll be missed more for his personality (a Twitter star) than his bat (career .249 hitter). How bad was last year’s team? 3B Placido Polanco and LF Juan Pierre were regulars – and they are still unsigned free agents.

Guy who makes the manager look good: The Marlins were a laughingstock a year ago, but they head into this year with two rocks: rookie of the year RHP Jose Fernandez, 21, and OF Giancarlo Stanton, 24 – the closest pair to Strasburg and Harper in the majors.

 

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