The National League East in 2013


The preview columns for baseball and football are some of the most fun for me. They can involve -- despite all likely appearances and wiseass jokes -- A LOT of research and thought on my part. And, since I love baseball and football, the research doesn’t feel like work… it’s just time consuming.

But there’s a funny result that comes from doing this every year. You find out you don’t know anything. At least not anything that you can trust. You can predict good teams and bad teams… and in many cases you’ll even be able to say why they are going to be good or bad… but realistically -- especially for someone like me, with no locker room access and almost purely basing the final opinion simply on my research and knowledge -- you just don’t know.

And still… no matter how much work you do… no matter how much you put into it… in many cases, when it comes to those surprises...

The Boston Red Sox the past two years? Yeah… I don’t care who wants to claim otherwise, NO ONE predicted they wouldn’t at least clear 70 wins for the 2012 season. (And if they did, it’s only because one day someone from Dorchester stole their girlfriend… they dropped their ice cream cone at Faneuil Hall… one time their flight got delayed at Logan… or they’re just jealous of Easties. My money is on the girlfriend getting stolen. But it was not because they actually thought the Red Sox were going to fold.)

Anyway… this is not intended to excuse anything. I’m not trying to say that when my predictions go wrong it’s beyond my control. Instead… this year more than any other I’ve attempted these efforts… I’m a bit confused.

Are the Toronto Blue Jays really the best team in the AL East?

Do the Kansas City Royals really have a club that could time everything perfectly and shock the expectations for their division when September arrives?

Are the Los Angeles Dodgers a playoff option… can the Boston Red Sox really claim shooting for stability and improving the clubhouse with safe choices while gaining salary flexibility when they are going to be right back around the total dollars they spent in 2012… does anyone care about the Houston Astros or Florida Marlins… and so many questions.

And… I don’t know.

What I do know is baseball is heading into an interesting season. Very interesting. Time will tell if it also manages to be exciting.

Here’s what I think about Major League Baseball in 2013… starting in the National league East.

Washington Nationals

My prediction: 96-66

2012 finish: 98-64, division winner

Worthy of note: This is an amazing collection of talent… especially when you consider how quickly and how well it has been assembled.

2013 changes: Hold on… the most balanced team in baseball added Dan Haren, and realistically they aren’t even looking to him to be one of their top three pitchers? Nice.

But that’s not it. Rafael Soriano is a great addition to their bullpen, and Denard Span should be a tremendous presence in the outfield. (If for no other reason than allowing Bryce Harper to not kill himself with his all-out approach being positioned in center.)

With the sun shining and calm seas: This club is about as perfect as it gets. As a matter of fact… let’s compare them to their regional rival, Baltimore.

When we get to the AL East, I’m going to talk about how the Orioles were ridiculous in 2012 when it came to winning games decided by one-run or in extra innings. I mean… 29-9 in one-run games? Really? Make that a more realistic 19-19 and suddenly the Orioles are at 83 wins, out of the playoffs, and still a feel-good story of improvement.

Well… that’s funny… because while I think the Orioles were way above where you would expect, 95 or so wins feels just about right for the 2012 Nationals. 98 isn’t outrageous. They pitched wonderfully. They added players like Harper during the season. And things were great from beginning to end.

In other words… Washington is not a place where I expect much of a change. In fact, they are better than they were in 2012.

Tremendous starting pitching paired with what has every sign of being a strong bullpen.

A wonderful balance of defense and offense, with the club being above average in both respects.

This team has superstars along with depth.

And… for the most part… they are very young. (Meaning they’re good, energetic and positive, and this club should be together for a few more years.)

Since a lot of time has been given to Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann… and you may have heard of Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren… one pitching name to watch is Ross Detwiler. I admit it… Haren is a worthy experiment. But Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez have been very strong. Detwiler has been very good… and his 2012 numbers seem to show he could be one of the best back-end of a rotation guys in the league. Still… his 164.1 innings last year was by far a career high. He delivered a 3.40 ERA for those innings… with 105 strikeouts, 52 walks and 149 hits. He might be very, very good. He starts the season only 27-years old and has been around the big leagues for the past four seasons. (Made a one-inning debut in the show back in 2007.) If he turns the corner and stays near the same or improves, then the Nationals are looking ridiculously good.

Trouble in paradise: Not much. I don’t know a great deal about their minor league rosters, but there is plenty of flexibility on the major league unit. Watch…

Rafael Soriano was signed as a free agent and named the team’s closer. But… in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the club has their closers from the past two seasons still in the bullpen, and capable of not only helping shorten games but also stepping in to close if there is even a whisper of trouble.

Dan Haren… when he’s right, he can be one of the better pitchers in the game. In Washington, he’s a luxury. They’re basically building around Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez.

They’re likely either going to be really, really good, or positioned very well to make a trade without weakening their playoff expectations in any way.

2013 expectations: In the offseason, the Nationals traded with the Twins to obtain Denard Span… a centerfielder that likely will lead off in the batting order.

All Span does is allow the Nationals to not wear out Bryce Harper by asking him to play center or hit first in the lineup. All Span does is solidify one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. All Span does is give the Nationals the ability to place their batting order in some version Span, Werth, Harper, (Ryan) Zimmerman, and then follow it up with Adam LaRoche and the others. And for hitting sixth, seventh and eighth in a National league lineup, the “others” on the Nationals roster are just fine.

And leading the way? Davey Johnson.

Make no mistake… everything sounds like this is a club not only expected to win, but loving every bit of the challenge while being fully equipped to win games in just about any fashion.

I’ve got them at 96 wins… but honestly, the sky is the limit here. They could crack 100 wins… they should have the best record in the National League (if not all of baseball)… and realistically I just wonder if they might ease off the gas heading into the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves

My prediction: 91-71

2012 finish: 94-68, playoff wild card

Worthy of note: Wild card positions mean a one-game, winner-moves-on scenario. And honestly, I don’t recall many years since the wild card began that are as interesting as 2013. Think about this…

If Washington is the class of baseball (and they are), and Atlanta is a playoff team (and they are), then the Braves are a wild card entry. Now…

I think San Francisco and Los Angeles will both be in the playoffs, battling for the West crown and the second wild card position.

So in the National League you would have the Braves facing either last year’s champion or the new-payroll-legends in a one-and-done scenario.

(To finish the thought… the A’s won the American League West last year and I have them on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive. Same with Baltimore in the East. The baseball world as we know it is changing, and October is going to be very interesting as a result… with September 2013 offering potential the likes of which we’ve never seen ahead of a year’s beginnings.)

2013 changes: After winning 94 games and making the playoffs in 2012… plus being in the race until passed by on the last day of 2011… the Braves have placed themselves into the annual gang of playoff consideration again. They have youth, talent, and the weight of all the expectations placed squarely on another squad in the division. (Washington)

So bringing in the Upton boys (Justin and B.J.)… accept the options for players like Brian McCann, Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson… not a bad offseason, and they weren’t looking for (or needing) a great offseason.

It should be noted that Michael Bourn left. And I’m about to comment on their need to have a rookie catching, so we should at least mention David Ross heading to Boston.

With the sun shining and calm seas: This is probably the second-best team in the National League. They have a good balance of pitching and defense to go along with offensive pop and youth. (They just don’t have it on a level like the Nationals do with Strasburg and Harper, supported by Zimmerman, Zimmermann and Gonzalez.)

Tim Hudson brings that veteran leadership role to the rotation. But in reality, the times have changed. You should be watching the arms of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran (or even Paul Maholm). (Teheran is young… but he’s got decent stuff.)

I also expect them to be able to score more runs in 2012. That outfield isn’t just there for defense… they give the Braves three solid hitters in the order, with the potential of two MVP candidates (Justin Upton and Jason Heyward).

Trouble in paradise: It’s hard not to like what they’ve done… they are better than they were in 2013 and have several players hitting their primes at the same time. Heck… again, Justin Upton is likely to be an MVP candidate, and the outfield with him, his brother B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward combine to make a trio that virtually any other major league club would be envious of. (Again… go figure… except maybe Washington.)

That said… B.J. Upton comes with questions. His on-base percentage last year was under .300, and he hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire for a couple of seasons now.

I’m noticing two other problems: (1) Ok… probably the case with all National League teams, since it usually is, but they have no real DH. If you can hit, they’ve found a place for you in the lineup already. (2) I can’t say that I see much depth here. If something happens in the outfield, the difference between everyday players and the bench is startling.

Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird are the catchers to start the year… a rookie and a player that was once much sought after and now is making the rounds as a backup. Might be nothing… Brian McCann is missing due to injury… but a rookie catcher on a team looking to prioritize pitching is something to have written down.

The scary thing is how damn young this club is. The Nationals and Braves could be fighting in this division, without much competition, for several years beyond 2013.

2013 expectations: I like the Braves. A lot. They are good just about every way you could be good.

The trouble? In every way it’s one step behind the level Washington has.

Philadelphia Phillies

My prediction: 84-78

2012 finish: 81-81

Worthy of note: Old. Getting very old.

If things go bad, this could become really ugly. (And I don’t think it’s going to be even remotely pretty at its best.)

2013 changes: In a regular offseason of recent years, bringing in Michael Young and Mike Adams (and even Delmon Young) would be interesting for Philadelphia. I mean, honestly, losing Placido Polanco and Ty Wigginton and… and, are you seeing that? This club really didn’t change much.

The biggest problem for them is simple… did you read my previews of Washington and Atlanta? And that’s the biggest problem because the Phillies are getting old, seem to be breaking down, and don’t have much coming in as support.

With the sun shining and calm seas: This club could push for a playoff spot. (Hold on for a second… I need to stop laughing before I continue.)

(Ok. That’s better.)

Halladay… Hamels… Lee… when things are right, that’s still the design of a good rotation.

Trouble in paradise: The Nationals and Braves are the trouble here.

Barring some sort of unpredictable and catastrophic misfortune, the Phillies have one chance at the playoffs… the second wild card. They are not as talented as Washington or Atlanta… they have zero room for error, subpar performance or injuries… they will not finish first or second in this division, regardless of how well they play. And, in order to even earn the second wild card, a huge chunk of their season involves games against what might just be the two best teams in baseball… their division rivals.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are not only providing less as they age, there are also major concerns for either of them staying on the field.

And things haven’t been perfect with Roy Halladay for a while now.

2013 expectations: Let’s see… the catching dynamo Carlos Ruiz is suspended for 25 games to start the year. And, we don’t really have any answers about Roy Halladay and what he might bring to the mound. Yeah… this is looking just spiffy.

An even record is my guess, but that’s giving them credit for a pitching staff led by Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Halladay. Let’s keep in mind, Hamels and Lee are still a nice presence to be sending to the mound. Very nice. Also, I kind of like the bullpen built around Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams.

But make no mistake… chances are that when we reach Labor Day weekend, the only challenge facing the Phillies will be that of finishing above .500.

New York Mets

My prediction: 74-88

2012 finish: 74-88

Worthy of note: Considering that this club is at least a couple of years away from being relevant in a division with young and loaded teams like Washington and Atlanta, I don’t get the David Wright contract.

Good player? Sure he is. I’d take him on my team.

But the Mets have been bad and had organizational troubles with him. (Not from or with him specifically mind you… he’s by all accounts a good guy to have around. The point is the Mets haven’t been a good or well-run club in recent years, and you can lose 88 a year with him or without him. Heck… they lost with him and Jose Reyes. I’m not sure the $120-plus million for him to possibly play out his career in their uniform… especially with no DH slot available… is worth it, regardless of the publicity nightmare his departure might have caused.)

By the way… they gave him a huge deal, Johan Santana continues to struggle with his health, and I believe the Mets have yet to place an outfielder on their 40-man roster. (Update… as I was finishing this column, word came out that Santana could very possibly miss the entire year. And that means the Mets will get nothing for him… because they can’t trade him, and they definitely won’t make any offer to him that would return a draft pick. The outfield comment is sarcasm and, of course, a joke… but at least a decent argument could be made that they would be better off playing seven guys around the infield and placing no one in the outfield at all instead of sending any combination of three outfielders that they plan on using onto the field.)

2013 changes: Shaun Marcum? Like him… don’t like his injuries. Only made 21 starts for Milwaukee last year. Still… 20-plus starts in five of six years since 2007. (And he’s already in line to be on the DL to start the year.)

What else you got?

R.A. Dickey traded away… and…

Ok… let’s just stop this right now. Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets added a potential star catcher as he begins his career. After that it’s bandages and space fillers.

With the sun shining and calm seas: There is not a lot of sun in New York in 2013. Please prepare for that.

Oh… it won’t be raining… mostly cloudy and possibly a drizzle… but it’s not going to be a fun year filled with high-lights.

I will be watching Matt Harvey though. And he’s a great example of where the sunshine in New York might be found. Young (24)… local (Connecticut)… and not a lot of press about him. Watching him succeed is a real treat.

Trouble in paradise: I won’t make fun of them for getting rid of Dickey. If anything, they should be applauded for turning an aging knuckleballer… regardless of his results last season… into a potential franchise catcher.

But I’m going to say this… given what we see in place, the Mets will need a ton of help and perfect organizational moves in order to be challenging for the postseason while David Wright is still under contract. (Sarcasm again. There is some talent and potential for pitching. We could have something here in 2015 or 2016. But most of it is not ready yet.)

2013 expectations: The Mets will host the midsummer coin flip this season.

And other than that… they will cross days off the calendar because 2013 should just be passing the time.

Look up above… the Mets do not have good defense… they do not have a regular batting order sorted out… they will struggle to score runs… they will struggle to prevent runs from being scored. Heck… they are about as close as possible to literally not having an outfield.

That said… the pitching staff could develop into a decent group in the next year or two. Jon Neise and Dillon Gee are both around 26… kind of old when you check out what the Nationals will be dominating with… but young enough that along with Matt Harvey, they could have a decent trio in place to build around. If Zack Wheeler ends up developing as expected, there is a core being assembled. And… well… they’ll be better than the Marlins.

(Oh yeah… the Marlins.)

Florida Marlins

My prediction: 60-102

2012 finish: 69-93

Worthy of note: Have you ever seen the classic version of The Bad News Bears?

In that movie, Walter Mathau plays the role of Coach Morris Buttermaker. And, at one point he delivers a line that keeps coming back to me as I consider the Marlins: “At least he'll try.”

It’s not a perfect sentiment… especially when you start comparing context… but it does do a decent job of explaining why I’m not completely sure what to think of the 2013 Florida Marlins.

They should stink.

Management has done a job tearing this club apart and… from what I know of the situation… treating the city of Miami and the fan base terribly. And the players? Yeah… just about any player with a decent second alternative is no doubt steering clear of the Marlins after the latest fiasco. (Which involved trading players that had been basically told they wouldn’t be traded and more.)

There is no reason to think the Marlins will do much in 2013. And then…

“At least he'll try.”

See… strange things can happen when professional ballplayers take the field, even in a lousy situation. Maybe it’s an audition to be traded during the year or signed by another club after the season. Maybe it’s just personal pride. Like I said, it doesn’t match up with The Bad News Bears perfectly in context and situation… just consider the sentiment.

The Mets have no outfield… but they have a few glimmers of excitement and youth, and at least they’ll try. That could get them to the mid-70s.

The Marlins might be drained of all desire… or… they might try. That could get them to the mid-60s.

No team loses all 162 games. I don’t think the Marlins will be the worst team in baseball this season. (I do think they have the worst ownership group though.)

2013 changes: Please. Said Buh-bye to Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes. Said buy-bye to their fans… buh-bye to any reason for someone to respect them… buh-bye to credibility… buh-bye to looking like anything more than a double-a team in 2013. (And yet they still have more interesting pieces than Houston. Yeah team!)

Hey… if any organization can claim the ability to successfully dump players and start over, Florida would be the place. But wow… this one is ugly.

They did get someone to take Heath Bell though. That’s kind of a stunner.

And there is always Giancarlo Stanton.

With the sun shining and calm seas: At least they’ll try.

Trouble in paradise: The club could decide to strip everything to the bare ground and trade Stanton too.

I want you to consider this… if it weren’t for John Maine and Kevin Slowey, there’s a good chance I could challenge you to name two pitchers on this roster and you wouldn’t even come up with one. (Not even starters. I’ll give you relievers too, and heck, you can even use Maine or Slowey as one of your picks.)

Yeah… the pitching is that good.

2013 expectations: I’ve got nothing. I don’t expect much.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at