Friday, March 7, 2014

MLB 2014 preview, part 2: NL East

National League East:

It's not so certain to say that the ATLANTA BRAVES are back. Yes, they ended a 7 year stretch where they weren't division champions, but they didn't get very far in the postseason.

And, then, there are changes. Catcher Brian McCann is gone (Yankees), but now 2nd year catcher Evan Gattis will be the understudy to Ryan Doumit, who comes over from Minnesota, and returns to the NL (previously was in Pittsburgh). Cosmetically, that's really the only major change in the starting lineup, as everyone else returns. Reliever Johnny Venters is back after missing most of last year due to injury, but Eric O'Flaherty is gone as well, and has landed in Oakland. Former staff ace Tim Hudson fled via free agency to San Francisco, so GM Frank Wren picks up Gavin Floyd from the White Sox to fill the void. However, Floyd is likely to be a reliever himself, provided Brandon Beachy is all the way back from injury.

No one expected the MIAMI MARLINS to be as competitive as they were last year. However, they're not sneaking up on anyone this time. Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez raised eyebrows by hot-dogging it on the basepaths after hitting a homer vs. Atlanta. Sorry, but the 2nd coming of Dwight Gooden he ain't. Teams have to figure him out and quickly, otherwise, the 2nd year starter could be looking at a Cy Young award this year. Pretty heady stuff, and, yeah, Gooden pulled off that daily double in New York 30 years ago.

Offensively, Miami got some veteran help for Giancarlo Stanton. Shortstop Rafael Furcal missed last season, his last in St. Louis, but he's being asked to move to 2nd base this year, with Adeiny Hechavarria entrenched at short. Casey McGehee was in Japan last year after a cameo appearance with the Yankees in 2012. Donovan Solano, who was the starting second baseman last year, may start on the bench if Furcal is healthy. That's something that ain't so certain. Meanwhile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia becomes the catcher, coming over from the World Champion Red Sox, and returns to the NL East, where he started his career (Atlanta). Miami also upgraded at first, picking up Garrett Jones from Pittsburgh. Scary? Maybe.

The PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES have one glaring problem. Their star players are old. Period. They're the NL's answer to the Yankees, and ownership ain't exactly breaking the bank to solve the problem. Ryan Howard has had injury issues the last two seasons. So has Chase Utley. They're near the end of the trail, but then that's when the "Fightin' Phils" will start proving people wrong. They welcomed back Marlon Byrd, who started his career in Philadelphia, and played last year with the Mets & Pirates, to help Dominic Brown and Ben Revere in the outfield. To back up Carlos Ruiz, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. signed journeyman Wil Nieves (Arizona), but there's a reason he's always on the move. Erik Kratz, who was being groomed as Ruiz's successor, was shipped off to Toronto for pitcher Brad Lincoln. Sounds to me like the Phils got the worst of that deal. Roy Halladay retired, but is Roberto Hernandez (Tampa Bay), the former Fausto Carmona, the answer? Cole Hamels, Mr. Hard Luck last year, will miss almost the first month, and then the Phillies picked up AJ Burnett (Pittsburgh). Makes the decision to cut Vance Worley loose after the 2012 season even more of a bad one, doesn't it? Sure it does. Worley wasn't exactly a world beater in Minnesota last year. Proof? The Mets lit him up.

Speaking of the METS, Sandy Alderson must have been drinking James Dolan's kool-aid, because the GM thinks the Mets can win 90 games this year. Uh, maybe, but I wouldn't count on it, especially if he's been anywhere near Dolan, who has all the basketball acumen of a bag of chips. An empty one, of course, but you get the idea.

Most of us assumed the WASHINGTON NATIONALS would have repeated as division champs last year. Didn't happen. Now, Davey Johnson has retired, and Matt Williams comes over from Kirk Gibson's coaching staff in Arizona to take over. The only real cosmetic change is in the starting rotation, as Doug Fister comes over from Detroit to be the 4th starter (he was a #2 in Detroit) behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, & Jordan Zimmermann. The starting offense remains intact, which helps, but they also signed free agent outfielder Nate McClouth (Baltimore) to provide some insurance behind the likes of Denard Span & Bryce Harper. Backup utilityman Steve Lombardozzi, Jr. was shipped off to Detroit for Fister. That may come back to bite the Nats later.

Projected order of finish:

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

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