The NL East was the best division in the National League last year.
This is actually not a matter of opinion, but of record. NL East teams combined to post an average record of 83-78 in 2012, best of any of the Senior Circuit's three divisions.
The NL East's quality in 2012 was mostly thanks to the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, of course. The Nats had the best record in baseball at 98-64, and the Braves weren't very far behind at 94-68.
The Nats and Braves once again look like the teams to beat after productive winters, but the Philadelphia Phillies haven't faded into the background just yet and both the Miami Marlins and New York Mets are hoping against hope that youth is the answer in 2013.
That's the outlook for the NL East this season in a nutshell. For a more comprehensive look at the division, all you have to do is keep reading.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Mets third baseman David Wright
We'll start by taking a look at the infields that each of the NL East's five teams will be using in 2013. For simplicity's sake, we'll include catchers in the discussion.
C: Brian McCann
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Dan Uggla
3B: Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson
SS: Andrelton Simmons
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Francisco and Johnson will indeed be platooning at third base. Also, McCann likely won't join the club until at least late April as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. MLB.com has the latest on his situation, which is hardly encouraging.
Regardless, this is a strong infield. The Braves got 42 homers from Freeman and Uggla in 2012, and they could do better than that if Uggla finds his old pop and Freeman builds on his hot spring (seven home runs). He looks like a candidate to find stardom in what will be his third full season.
Then there's Simmons, who is probably the best fielding shortstop in baseball. He also proved with a .289/.335/.416 slash line last year that he can hit a bit too. Like Freeman, he's a candidate to find stardom in 2013.
C: Rob Brantly
1B: Logan Morrison
2B: Donovan Solano
3B: Placido Polanco
SS: Adeiny Hechavarria
This is an infield that could have a lot of moving parts this season, but for now this is how the Marlins' official site says it's going to look.
Brantly quietly posted a solid 290/.372/.460 line in 31 games last season and has posted a solid .765 OPS in the spring. Solano was also decent as a rookie, posting a .295/.342/.375 line while playing solid defense (see FanGraphs). The Marlins got Hechaverria in their big trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has him down as Miami's sixth-best prospect.
The Marlins will need Polanco and Morrison to stay healthy. Polanco is one of the game's best contact hitters when he's right, and LoMo has the pop to be a 30-homer guy over a full season.
New York Mets
C: John Buck
1B: Ike Davis
2B: Daniel Murphy
SS: Ruben Tejada
3B: David Wright
Wright and Murphy are question marks for Opening Day due to injuries, but the word from Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger is that both of them could be ready to go.
Wright is coming off a season in which he hit .306/.391/.492 with 21 homers while playing excellent defense. Across from Wright, the Mets should be looking for big things from Davis after he shrugged off a brutal start to post an .888 OPS and hit 20 homers in the second half last year.
The Mets won't get much power from Tejada or Murphy, but both could flirt with .300 averages. Tejada hit .289 last year, and Murphy hit .291. The club will take whatever power it can get from Buck, but expect top prospect Travis d'Arnaud to take his spot at some point.
C: Erik Kratz
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Michael Young
SS: Jimmy Rollins
Kratz is only going to be the starter for the first month or so of the season as the Phillies await Carlos Ruiz's return from a 25-game drug suspension. It's doubtful that he'll do it again, but the Phillies will gladly take another .325/.394/.540 slash line from him.
Howard and Utley are past their primes, but it bodes well for the Phillies that they've both had terrific springs. If they combine for, say, 50 home runs in 2013, the Phillies will take it.
Who knows with Rollins and Young? Rollins was hot and cold all year in 2012, and Young had a dreadful season with the Texas Rangers. He'll need the sky-high BABIP that he had in 2011 to be successful, but don't expect him to play good defense at the hot corner either way.
C: Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Danny Espinosa
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
SS: Ian Desmond
According to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, Suzuki and Ramos will share time at catcher at least for the start of the season. They're both strong defenders with .700-OPS potential.
Desmond and Espinosa both have 20/20 potential this season after combining for 42 homers and 41 steals in 2012, and they make for a solid defensive duo as well.
LaRoche and Zimmerman will be expected to be the big power guys on this infield after combining for 58 homers in 2012, and they'll also be expected to be Gold Glove contenders. In Zimmerman's case, that depends on his right arm responding well to offseason shoulder surgery.
Braves left fielder Justin Upton (L) and center fielder B.J. Upton (R)
And now to the outfields, and there are some darn good ones in this division.
LF: Justin Upton
CF: B.J. Upton
RF: Jason Heyward
Outfields don't get much more talented than this. In the Brothers Upton and Heyward, the Braves have three guys who have legit 30/30 potential and above-average gloves.
The Braves will be looking for B.J. Upton to return to form after his plate discipline went missing in 2012, and they'll be looking for Justin Upton's power to return. His spring is a good sign, as Upton has homered five times and compiled a .590 slugging percentage.
Heyward could be the best of the three in 2013. The next step for him involves cutting down on his strikeouts and taking his walks like he did in 2010 and 2011. If he does, he'll be an extremely tough out and a likely MVP candidate.
LF: Juan Pierre
CF: Justin Ruggiano
RF: Giancarlo Stanton
Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post warns that Ruggiano is no lock for Miami's center field job, but he did flash some potential last year. He compiled a rock-solid .313/374/.535 line with 13 homers and 14 steals, and his defense was better than passable.
The Marlins should get at least 30 stolen bases out of Pierre, and they'll be looking for Stanton to get even better in what will be his fourth season in the majors. He slugged 37 homers and compiled a .608 slugging percentage last year, and he did it in only 123 games. He has very real 50-homer potential.
New York Mets
LF: Lucas Duda
CF: Collin Cowgill
RF: Marlon Byrd
This is how they line up on the club's official website, but the Mets' outfield could look nothing like this on Opening Day. Marc Carig of Newsday has reported that the Mets are still weighing their options.
However the dust settles, this is not going to be a good outfield. Duda has good pop, but he struck out a ton last year and has tended to be a weak defender. Cowgill's a decent defender, but he owns just a .255/.319/.311 career batting line in the majors. Byrd has had a decent spring, but he's getting up there in age and has been largely irrelevant over the last two years.
LF: Domonic Brown
CF: Ben Revere
RF: John Mayberry/Laynce Nix/Delmon Young
Revere came into camp with a starting job in center field locked up, and the Phillies can look forward to getting 40 steals out of him to go along with excellent defense in center field. Brown was a question mark heading into the spring, but he's locked up a starting job with a 1.100 OPS and seven homers.
Brown could play either left or right, mind you, but either way the question now is who's going to line up opposite of him. Nix and Mayberry will probably form a platoon until Young is ready to return from offseason ankle surgery. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that likely won't be until mid-April.
LF: Bryce Harper
CF: Denard Span
RF: Jayson Werth
It's not Atlanta's outfield, but Washington's outfield certainly looks like one of the better outfields in the majors.
Span brings a very good glove and solid leadoff skills to the table, and Werth could be in for a big season after bouncing back with a .300/.387/.440 line in 2012. He's lost some pop, but he has the skills to be a solid No. 2 hitter in front of Harper in Washington's order.
Harper, meanwhile, has had a huge spring (1.166 OPS) and looks poised for a big season after hitting 22 homers and stealing 18 bases as a 19-year-old in 2012. A 35-homer season is within reach for him in 2013, and he'll be an MVP candidate if he keeps the RBI coming.
Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg
Here's where we take a look at the starting rotations the clubs in the NL East have lined up for 2013. Like with the outfields, there are some darn good ones to discuss here.
- Tim Hudson (R)
- Kris Medlen (R)
- Paul Maholm (L)
- Mike Minor (L)
- Julio Teheran (R)
The Braves know they're going to get an ERA in the 3.00s and maybe 200 innings from Hudson, and Maholm should give them roughly the same kind of production given his track record.
Medlen, Minor and Teheran are the really intriguing guys here. Medlen has ace potential after posting an 0.97 ERA in 12 starts down the stretch last year. Minor drastically cut down on his walks in the second half and posted a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts.
Teheran was a wild card coming into camp, but now he looks legit after compiling a 1.04 ERA and a 12.1 K/9 in six spring starts. He's been a top prospect for what feels like forever, and he looks like he's ready for the next step.
- Ricky Nolasco (R)
- Nathan Eovaldi (R)
- Wade LeBlanc (L)
- Henderson Alvarez (R)
- Jacob Turner (R)
The Marlins will be looking for Nolasco to at least eat innings atop the club's rotation, but you have to figure he's going to end the season on some other team. Outside of Giancarlo Stanton, Nolasco is probably the Marlins' best trade chip.
After Nolasco and the 28-year-old LeBlanc, it's all about the kids in this rotation. Eovaldi, Alvarez and Turner are all in their early 20s, and each of them is looking to find his way as a major league starter. The guy with the highest hill to climb is Turner, who Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post says is likely ticketed for the minors after a rough spring (9.69 ERA in four starts).
New York Mets
- Jon Niese (L)
- Shaun Marcum (R)
- Matt Harvey (R)
- Dillon Gee (R)
- Jeremy Hefner (R)
- *Johan Santana* (L)
Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com says Santana will open the season on the disabled list. Exactly when he'll be back is anybody's guess.
Until Santana comes back, Rubin says the Mets will go with the above order for their rotation. Niese is the de facto ace of the staff after posting a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts last year, and Marcum should post his customary mid-3.00 ERA if he can stay healthy.
The guys to watch are Harvey and top prospect Zack Wheeler. Harvey was impressive with a 2.73 ERA in 10 major league starts last year, and Wheeler should be along soon to join him in the rotation. He's one of baseball's best prospects, and he doesn't have much left to prove in the minors after posting a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012.
- Cole Hamels (L)
- Roy Halladay (R)
- Cliff Lee (L)
- Kyle Kendrick (R)
- John Lannan (L)
It was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer and others last week that Hamels will start on Opening Day this year. Makes sense given his strong 2012 season, his strong spring and the fact that the Phillies are on the hook to pay him $144 million over the next six years.
The Phillies know they can count on Lee after he posted a 3.16 ERA and logged over 200 innings in only 30 starts last year, but Halladay has a big question mark hanging over his head. He was hurt for a big chunk of 2012, and he hasn't looked like his old self this spring with a 6.75 ERA and mediocre stuff.
There's some solid depth behind the big three in this rotation. Kendrick had a 3.89 ERA as a starter last year, and Lannan was a solid innings eater between 2008 and 2011 with the Nationals.
- Stephen Strasburg (R)
- Gio Gonzalez (L)
- Jordan Zimmermann (R)
- Ross Detwiler (L)
- Dan Haren (R)
Nationals starters had the best ERA in the National League last year, and they could do even better this year.
Strasburg won't be shut down early like he was in 2012. He could make a run at the NL Cy Young award after posting a 3.16 ERA with an 11.1 K/9 in his first full year as a starter last season. Gonzalez did make a run at the NL Cy Young, winning 21 games with a 2.89 ERA.
Behind them, Zimmermann is one of the game's most underappreciated pitchers with a 3.05 ERA over the last two seasons, and Detwiler proved to be a solid starter with a 3.58 ERA in 27 outings. Haren was one of the league's best pitchers between 2007 and 2011. Provided he stays healthy in 2013, he should be a fine No. 5 starter.
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel
And now to the bullpens. There's not a club out there that's not still tinkering with its 'pen at this stage of the spring, so for the most part we'll be sticking with the guys listed on each team's official site.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel (R)
Eric O'Flaherty (L)
Jonny Venters (L)
Jordan Walden (R)
Luis Avilan (L)
Cory Gearrin (R)
Cristhian Martinez (R)
Anthony Varvaro (R)
Only the Cincinnati Reds had a better bullpen ERA than the Braves in 2012, and Atlanta's 'pen should be excellent once again in 2013.
It all starts (or ends, I suppose) with Kimbrel, the genetically engineered closer. He struck out half the batters he faced in 2012 and held hitters to an absurdly low .358 OPS. As long as he's handling the ninth inning, the Braves aren't going to let many leads slip away.
O'Flaherty is one of the best lefty specialists in the game and a fine setup man for Kimbrel. Venters was brilliant in 2011, but struggled in 2012 while dealing with an elbow issue. The Braves will be looking for him to bounce back, and they'll also be looking for Walden to rediscover the form he showed as a rookie in 2011 when he saved 32 games with a 2.98 ERA for the Angels.
Closer: Steve Cishek (R)
Ryan Webb (R)
Mike Dunn (L)
A.J. Ramos (R)
Dan Jennings (L)
These are the only five relievers the Marlins have listed on their depth chart, but they also have right-handers Jose Ceda and Jon Rauch on their active roster. The former is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
So yeah, it's not a deep bullpen, nor does it feature an excess of talent. The bright side is that Cishek turned out to be a solid closer last year, posting a 2.69 ERA overall and a 3.03 ERA in save situations. Knowing the Marlins, it wouldn't be shocking if Cishek found his way onto the trading block come July.
New York Mets
Closer: Bobby Parnell (R)
Frank Francisco (R)
Josh Edgin (L)
Robert Carson (L)
Jeurys Familia (R)
Brandon Lyon (R)
Greg Burke (R)
LaTroy Hawkins (R)
Scott Atchison (R)
There are still a few spots to be decided in this bullpen, but we know that veteran lefty Pedro Feliciano is out of the mix for now and may soon be out of the mix altogether. He's been optioned to the minors, and Adam Rubin has reported that Feliciano may opt out of his deal and sign elsewhere.
Whatever the final mix, this is a bullpen that has nowhere to go but up in 2013. Mets relievers combined to post a 4.65 ERA in 2012, second-worst in MLB next to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Francisco's balky right elbow forced the Mets to turn the closer role over to Parnell, who just so happens to be the one Mets reliever who wasn't a constant liability in 2012. Parnell posted a 2.49 ERA with a solid 3.05 K/BB ratio, and he has the right kind of stuff to be a stud closer.
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (R)
Mike Adams (R)
Antonio Bastardo (L)
Chad Durbin (R)
Phillippe Aumont (R)
Jeremy Horst (L)
Raul Valdes (L)
Michael Stutes (R)
There are eight names here, but Todd Zolecki of MLB.com wrote earlier this month that the Phillies are going to break camp with a seven-man 'pen.
Regardless, we know that Papelbon is going to be the closer and that Adams and Bastardo are going to be his two primary setup men. Papelbon saved 38 games with a 2.44 ERA in his first season with the Phillies last year, but he also gave up eight homers. That's something to watch in 2013, and his velocity is worth monitoring as well. According to FanGraphs, it dropped last year.
Adams brings one of the game's better cutters to the table, and it bodes well for the Phillies that he's had a very strong spring. It bodes less well that Bastardo hasn't looked so great (4.70 ERA) after taking a step back in 2012.
Closer: Rafael Soriano (R)
Drew Storen (R)
Tyler Clippard (R)
Zach Duke (L)
Craig Stammen (R)
Ryan Mattheus (R)
Henry Rodriguez (R)
The Nationals turned their bullpen from a potential weakness into a strength when they signed Soriano as a free agent. He did an excellent job filling in for Mariano Rivera in 2012, and he was very solid the last time he pitched in the National League with the Braves in 2009.
In addition to Soriano, the Nats have two electric right-handers in Storen and Clippard. Storen saved 43 games as a closer in 2011, and Clippard was one of the league's top setup men with 38 holds.
The lack of a solid left-handed setup man is this bullpen's Achilles' heel, but Duke showed some promise in eight relief appearances last year with a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings.
Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud
There are elite prospects, and then there are prospects who could potentially make a difference at the major league level in 2013. This slide will focus on the latter.
Sean Gilmartin, LHP
Evan Gattis, C/OF
Julio Teheran is technically still a prospect. But since he's going to start the season in Atlanta's starting rotation, the honor of being Atlanta's next-best MLB-ready pitching prospect goes to Gilmartin.
The Braves have other talented hurlers in their system, but Gilmartin is a little further along in his development. He made 27 starts between Double-A and Triple-A last year, posting a 3.84 ERA.
Gattis, meanwhile, has been a big-time producer this spring with a 1.200 OPS and five homers. He also has a feel-good story thing going for him, which Mark Bowman of MLB.com can tell you all about. He could break camp with the big club, but he could be needed soon even if he doesn't.
Andrew Heaney, LHP
Jake Marisnick, OF
Jose Fernandez is Miami's best pitching prospect by a long shot, but Heaney is likely to reach the majors sooner. He entered the majors as a polished pitcher after a solid college career at Oklahoma State, and his pitchability should allow him to shoot through the ranks this year.
I'm going with Marisnick for Miami's most MLB-ready position player, but Derek Dietrich could go here just as easily. Both made it as far as Double-A in 2012, and both could see time in the majors this year.
New York Mets
Zack Wheeler, RHP
Travis d'Arnaud, C
Wheeler is going to start the season in the minors, but Mets manager Terry Collins told The Star-Ledger that he's expecting Wheeler to make it to the bigs and stick, just like Matt Harvey. There's a lot to like about Wheeler's stuff, especially his fastball and hammer curveball.
The Mets are also starting d'Arnaud out in the minors this year, but the word from the New York Daily News is that general manager Sandy Alderson sees d'Arnaud as the next guy in line if John Buck gets hurt. D'Arnaud looked good this spring, and he posted an OPS near 1.000 at Triple-A in 2012.
Ethan Martin, RHP
Cody Asche, 3B
Martin made all 27 of his starts at the Double-A level in 2012, posting a 3.48 ERA. He's not far off from the big leagues, though he'll need to sharpen up his control this year before he gets the call.
Asche posted an .873 OPS in 68 games at the Double-A level last year. He could see some time at third base with the Phillies this year if Michael Young fails to improve on his 2012 performance.
Christian Garcia, RHP
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Garcia made 13 relief appearances with the Nats in 2012, posting a 2.13 ERA and a 10.7 K/9. He could be seen again in the bullpen this year, but only if he recovers from a partially torn tendon in his right forearm that has landed him on the disabled list (see the Washington Post).
Rendon, meanwhile, absolutely raked this spring with a 1.287 OPS and four homers. He's blocked by Ryan Zimmerman at third base, but you better believe he'll be an option to be called up if there's an injury somewhere this season.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel
And now to the rest of the guys in uniform: the coaches. We'll focus on the managers and the guys in charge of hitting and pitching.
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez
Hitting: Greg Walker
Pitching: Roger McDowell
Give Gonzalez credit for getting his team to bounce back in 2012 after the 2011 season came to such a shocking and disappointing end. He also got the Braves to do two wins better than their Pythagorean record (see Baseball-Reference.com), which reflects well on him.
Last season was Walker's first as Atlanta's hitting coach, and the Braves upped their run total from 641 to an even 700 under him. 2012 was McDowell's seventh season as Atlanta's pitching coach, and it was the Braves' fourth straight season with an ERA in the mid-3.00 range.
Manager: Mike Redmond
Hitting: Tino Martinez
Pitching: Chuck Hernandez
Things should be a lot calmer under Redmond than they were under Ozzie Guillen. Beyond that, Redmond is an unproven commodity as a manager. He'll deserve a pat on the back if he gets Miami's roster to produce anything even remotely close to a .500 record.
Martinez is replacing Eduardo Perez as Miami's hitting coach, a job he's never worked before. He was a good hitter in his day, and there's plenty of room for improvement after Miami's bats produced only 609 runs in 2012. Hernandez is heading into his first season as the team's pitching coach, and he bears the important responsibility of molding Miami's young pitchers into productive players.
New York Mets
Manager: Terry Collins
Hitting: Dave Hudgens
Pitching: Dan Warthen
The Mets have finished in fourth place in both of Collins' two years at the helm, but he's done pretty well with the talent he's had to work with. This is a lame-duck year for him, but he told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post in February that he's not worried about it.
This will be Hudgens' third season as the Mets' hitting coach. He has his work cut out for him with the lineup the Mets are due to field.
Warthen has it a little better, as the club's rotation has some solid talent despite the departure of Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. The bigger headache for him will be getting the team's relievers in shape.
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Hitting: Steve Henderson
Pitching: Rich Dubee
Manuel told Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com that he doesn't want to talk about retirement, but this is very likely to be his last hurrah as Philly's manager. Going out with a bang is going to be tough given the collective age of Philly's roster and the depth of the NL East.
This is going to be Henderson's first season as the big club's hitting coach, and he's charged with improving an offense that only managed 684 runs in 2012. This will be Rich Dubee's ninth season as Philly's pitching coach, and he'll be looking to get the Phillies back to where they were in 2011 when they had a league-best 3.02 ERA.
Manager: Davey Johnson
Hitting: Rick Eckstein
Pitching: Steve McCatty
The Nats played solid baseball under Johnson after he took over in 2011, and he got them to surpass their Pythagorean record in 2012 by two wins. He was named NL Manager of the Year.
Eckstein didn't have much to work with in the first half last year, but Washington's offense exploded for a .772 OPS and 104 home runs when good health found key players. McCatty presided over the National League's best pitching staff last year, and he has a ton of talent to work with this year.
And now for how they'll finish. Drum roll, please.
Division Winner: Washington Nationals (96-66)
From top to bottom, there's no stronger team in baseball than the Nationals. They're good enough to win 100 games, but the Braves and Phillies are good enough to keep them from getting there.
Second Place: Atlanta Braves (94-68)
Exact same record as last year for the Braves. They have enough talent to be a legit World Series contender and I also have them pegged as one of the NL's two wild-card teams, but it's going to be hard for them to drastically improve on their record from last season.
Third Place: Philadelphia Phillies (85-77)
The Phillies are going to be solid this year, but I worry about Roy Halladay and about their lineup. There are too many potential weaknesses for my tastes.
Fourth Place: New York Mets (78-84)
Yup, I foresee an improvement for the Mets this year. Not much of an improvement, mind you, but any improvement will do given the relative mediocrity of their roster. The kids will help, which should intrigue Mets fans.
Fifth Place: Miami Marlins (62-100)
I tried to think of reasons why the Marlins won't lose 100 games this year. I've got nothing.
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