Friday, May 13, 2016

Season 34 NL East Preview

Washington D.C. Nationals
Season 33:  97-65, lost in 2nd Round to Pittsburgh
GM:  chase39

Offseason:   No free agent losses of any importance and no free agent signings.  The only rookie to crack the Opening Day roster is RP Will Rathjen, a 3rd-rounder who turned into a ditr and should be on the ROY ballot (if he can get enough innings in D.C.'s already-sterling bullpen).

Outlook:  We said here last year they have no weaknesses, but that understates the case. They have 4 #1 starters in Benavente, Camacho, Velazquez and Spruill, with a #2 starter (Lee) in the 5th spot.  They have 3 absolute studs (Stevenson, Cervantes and Satou) in the bullpen.  The offense led the NL in runs (with 790) again, with 7 regulars OPS'ing over .800.  Only a spotty record (15-22) in 1-run games (compared to Atlanta's 30-19) kept them form having the NL's best regular-season record last year.  They're the favorite to win the East and the WS.

New York Mets
Season 33: 92-70
GM: overeasy

Offseason:   They're one of the league's youngest teams, so FA isn't hitting them yet.  They did step up and sign J.J. Bibby to be their closer for the next 3 seasons ($10MM per).  Rico Lopez got an early callup last year and OPS'd .799 as a 20 year-old - major contributions on the way.

Outlook:  No team in Major Leagues is as loaded with young stars as the Mets.  1B Ricardo Pena, 3B Lopez, LF Cecil Bonilla, and SP's Daniel Stevenson, Dante Day and Ruben Ozuna (2 CY's already) are all 24 or younger.  The overlooked guy, 25-yo SP Grant Young, has a 3.30 ERA over 4 seasons.  This team could win 115 games.  They play more defense than the Nats, especially at C, SS and CF, so they won't outscore D.C.  And they can't match Washington's bullpen.  I don't think they'll beat the Nationals, but with their star-power, they could.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Season 33:  94-68, won World Series
GM:  blanch13

Offseason:  Did lose a fairly important contributor (3B Juan Cordero) in FA; replaced him with a trade for 1B Andres Almora, moving Eddie Hamels to RF and R.A. Hollins to 3B.  The net is probably more pop at the expense of some defense at 3B.  SP Rafael Roque will make his regular season debut at Game 21after starring in last year's playoff run.

Outlook:  Only 1 real star on offense (ROY LF Robert Esposito), but they're competent offensively at 7 of 8 spots (except SS).  Even with a good offense (3rd in runs), they put up a stunning 114/14 on +/- plays.  When Roque arrives, they'll have their own Big 3 (with Milton Watson and Tony Baerga), and the bullpen, while not Nationals-esque, is more than adequate with Ernesto Johnson, Tito Grichuk and Frank Donald.  They'll probably be a it better than 94 wins this year.

Philadelphia Phillies
Season 32:  66-96
GM: tk21775

Offseason:  The Phils lost some older pitchers in FA - Steve Davenport, Benito Acosta, Dioner Encarnacion, and a couple of others.  They mostly went low-budget on the replacements - Andy Brantley for $1.3MM, Alex Burks for $2.3MM - but stepped up a bit to land Joe Roenicke for $4.8MM x 3 years. They also picked up Kiki Mijares to play 3B and Benji Nieto/Slash Rath to share 2B duties.

Outlook:  Not enough talent to hang with D.C., New York and Pittsburgh all season.  The offense is below average (560 runs last year) and the pitching isn't deep enough to weather 1400-1450 innings.  The front four of Alvin Phillips (12-10, 2.40 in 210 IP), Hooks Bogusevic (3.43 ERA in 134 IP), Roenicke (12-9, 3.07 in 198 for Montreal), and Earl Mesoraco (3.34 ERA over 7 seasons) is certainly good enough for them to surprise for awhile (as they did last year).  The bigger question is how they build a productive enough minor league pipeline to eventually compete in the East, while remaining competitive.  They have the 6th and 15th picks in this year's draft - nailing those would be a good start.

Division Outlook

I still think the Nationals are a nose better than the Mets and Pirates - a prediction that worked out last year.  Any of the 3 could go on a run and win the WS - if they get there.  Still, I'm picking Washington D.C. to take their 9th straight NL East title.

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