We took our glance at the American League last year as part of March’s United Cardinal Bloggers project, but now we turn our attention to the league that matters the most. We’ll start out East, because that’s just the way things tend to work. It’s a division that has a lot of question marks and a team looking to fulfill last year’s predictions.
1) Washington–It’s still surprising how far this team missed projections last year. When everyone got healthy and got going, they made a late push to be the 2013 version of the 2011 Cardinals, but came up just short. Which was probably for the best, because watching this team sneak into the playoffs would have given many folks heart palpitations.
So to go along with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, the Nats go out and add a highly-thought-of Doug Fister to the mix without any major sacrifice required. A rotation like that, backed with a lineup including Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond? With a solid bullpen core as well? There’s little reason to think they can’t be the class of this division. Then again, that’s what we said last year.
2) Atlanta–When you are the defending divisional champs, you do deserve some respect. And it’s true that a healthy Braves team could be right in the mix at the top of the division yet again. The issue is, this isn’t a healthy Braves team, at least right now.
Kris Medlen is out for the year with another Tommy John surgery. Brandon Beachy isn’t peachy. Tim Hudson is out in San Francisco. Even though they still have some pitching talent–Julio Teheran is no slouch and they did sign Ervin Santana–it seems like the pitching staff might be too depleted to keep up with Justin Upton and company in the lineup.
3) Miami–I’m really not convinced of the order of these last three. All of them have their good points, but most of those are overwhelmed by flaws. I’m putting the Marlins in the third spot because I think they have the most upside of any of the other teams.
Anytime you’ve got Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, you are doing pretty well, but if offseason acquisition Jared Saltalamacchia hits like they expect and Christian Yelich continues to develop, this could be a team on the rise. They still have many issues to deal with before they seriously contend, but they could well jump over some teams and at least not finish last.
4) New York–If Matt Harvey was available, I think I’d have moved them up a spot. As Mets fans know, though, he’s not and so I’ve got them settling for fourth. There are potentially some brighter days on the horizon, however.
Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler will provide the youth in the rotation while Bartolo Colon provides the veteran stability. Travis d’Arnaud should be plenty of chances to prove if he’s the prospect everyone thought he was. The big signing of Curtis Granderson should at least mean David Wright doesn’t have to do everything by himself. All in all, they could push for third, but I think they’ll come up just short.
5) Philadelphia–The slide from World Series champion down the hill finishes this year. Even with the addition of A.J. Burnett, the pitching staff seems to be a shell of the days when there were four aces in the mix. Cole Hamels starting the season on the disabled list doesn’t help matters, even though he might be back by the middle of April.
The lineup is getting old and creaky. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard might dig deep and put up some old time numbers, but they are also likely to spend some time on the disabled list nursing nagging injuries (or not so nagging ones). All in all, it seems like things are finally going to catch up with the Phillies this year.
Tomorrow we’ll tackle the best division in baseball, the NL Central!