Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 MLB preview, part 3: NL East breakdown

Beginning today, just before the first preseason games are played, we'll take a look at the 6 divisions, and we'll start with the NL East. We've already tabbed the Mets to finish 2nd and contend for a Wild Card. Let's scope the other teams.

Washington: Had Matt Williams not made a rookie blunder in the NLDS, maybe it's the Nationals and not the Giants winning it all. It's that simple.

Infield: Ryan Zimmerman moves across the diamond to 1st after the departure of Adam LaRoche (White Sox) via free agency. This allows Anthony Rendon to be the full time 3rd baseman, and he performed well while Zimmerman was on the DL much of last year. The middle of the infield remains solid, with Ian Desmond at short and Danny Espinosa at 2nd. Still, GM Mike Rizzo took a flier on fading vet Dan Uggla as insurance at 2nd. Uggla split time between Atlanta and San Francisco last season, but was left off the post-season roster. Tyler Moore figures to be the understudy for Zimmerman at 1st.

Outfield: The only problem might be with Jayson Werth having to hear "Jailbird!" chants early on, as he did a short stint in the pen (DUI) in the offseason. All that's needed is for Werth & Bryce Harper to stay healthy.

Catcher: Met-killer Wilson Ramos needs to stay healthy, too. Period.

Pitching: The addition of former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (Detroit) has the Nats 6 deep in the rotation, but there were some wiseguys online who thought Rizzo would deal away Stephen Strasburg. Are you kidding? Where Rizzo screwed up was letting lock-down set-up man Tyler Clippard (Oakland) and utility hurler Ross Detwiler (Texas) leave. Rafael Soriano, at last check, is still looking for work. After blowing game 2 of the NLDS, Drew Storen remains the closer. Can you say Achilles' Heel?

Miami: Giancarlo Stanton returns after getting his face broken. Like the Nats, the Marlins' outfield is relatively intact, but owner Jeff Loria opened the checkbook to lure Ichiro Suzuki (Yankees) to Miami as insurance. Jose Fernandez is already being tabbed by the pundits as the #1 starter. His only weakness? Immaturity. Loria heisted Dee Gordon from the Dodgers, sending Donovan Solano to the bench. Martin Prado (Yankees) replaces Casey McGhee (San Francisco) at 3rd. Meh. Aside from Fernandez, the starting pitching does not scare.

Atlanta: All of a sudden, the Braves look like they did before the 90's. Jason Heyward (St. Louis), Justin Upton (San Diego), and Evan Gattis (Houston) are gone, leaving Freddie Freeman with little protection in the lineup, aside from maybe infield mates Andrelton Simmons & Chris Johnson. Nick Markakis (Baltimore) was signed to replace Heyward. Melvin (Don't call me BJ!) Upton, Jr., after 2 seasons of underachieving alongside his brother, now must function alone, as he did in Tampa Bay. As for Freeman, I'm waiting for someone at ESPN or Fox to make with the Captain Marvel references. Injured last year, Kris Medlen (Kansas City) & Brandon Beachy (Dodgers) left via free agency, two more stupid moves by new GM John Hart, who was lured away from MLB Network, but after replacing Frank Wren, Hart is acting as if Stimpson J. Cat is inhabiting him. If you don't get the joke, you just don't get it. Starting pitching, like Miami, no longer scares. Just getting to closer Craig Kimbrel will be an adventure.

Philadelphia: Jimmy Rollins' departure to the Dodgers sends a message that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. can't protect his veteran core any longer. Reports had Cole Hamels wanting out, and who can blame him? Cliff Lee may have peaked already. AJ Burnett bombed in his only season with the Phillies, and went back to Pittsburgh. The outfield lost some depth with Marlon Byrd moving on (Cincinnati). Rollins' departure opens shortstop for Freddy Galvis, so he doesn't have to caddy Chase Utley anymore. I don't see closer Jonathan Papelbon sticking around past July.

Projected order of finish:

1. Washington.
2. Mets.
3. Miami.
4. Atlanta.
5. Philadelphia.

Of course, I could be wrong (and usually am).

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