Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 NL East Predictions

Today,we conclude our annual prediction series with the only division yet to be covered; the National League East. With so many questions throughout this division, predicting the order for the end of the year may not be as obvious as you might think. Will the buzz of a new ballpark be enough to bring Atlanta into the playoff picture? Will we see the fruits of the rebuild in Philadelphia this season? Can Miami overcome the loss of their team leader and staff ace? Does New York have enough offense to stay relevant and can Washington get the monkey off their back and win a playoff series? Let's talk NL East baseball.

5. Miami Marlins
I realize you might be thinking, "how can a team with an offense like Miami finish last?" Well, the offense in South Beach isn't the problem, it's the pitching. Actually, the Marlins offense is pretty damn good; with guys like Dee Gordon and Martin Prado to set the table at the top. Christian Yellich looks like he could win a batting title someday and Giancarlo Stanton is a fully healthy season away from challenging some of baseball's all-time homerun marks. And Marcel Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bohr all had quality 2016 campaigns and look to build off of that success this season. But, the loss of team captain and staff ace Jose Fernandez not only left a hole in the heart of his teammates but has also left an even larger hole atop the Marlins rotation. With Fernandez, the rotation already looked thin. Now without him, it looks damn near barren. Newly acquired Edison Volquez was named Opening Day starter, followed by former Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen. Adam Conley, Tom Koehler and Jeff Locke make up the remainder of the Marlins below-average starting staff. And even if the starters exceed expectations, Miami has only Brad Ziegler to rely upon in the pen. You can have all the offense you want; but when you can't pitch, you can't win.

4. Philadelphia Phillies
Last year, we had a chance to see some of what the future will look like in Philadelphia and should see much of the same in 2017. The Phillies smartly added a few veterans on both sides of the ball to help in the development of their young and potential-laden roster. On offense, the addition of Howie Kendrick to the infield provides a quality bat to an already talented infield: including Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph, Freddie Galvis and Maikel Franco. If they stick him in the outfield, Kendrick will play along side to up and coming youngsters: the speedy Oduble Herrera and the power-hitting right fielder Aaron Altherr. On the mound, they also added Clay Buchholz to bring a championship mentality to Philly. But, breaking into a rotation that already includes Jeremy Hellickson, Vincent Velasquez, Jared Eickoff, Adam Morgan and Aaron Nola may be too steep a challenge for the aging veteran. In the bullpen, Philadelphia brought on Joaquin Benoit to be the bridge to their newly named closer Jeanmar Gomez. Despite all the potential, I believe they're still at least one year away from truly being competitive.

3. Atlanta Braves
As they start playing ball in the new SunTrust Field, the team on the field might be a whole lot better than people realize. Atlanta was first to act this winter when they signed starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to add to their rotation that is headed by the Dominican right-hander Julio Teheran. The Braves also added the services of former Cardinal left-hander Jaime Garcia to fill the fourth spot in the rotation. Now, Atlanta's fifth spot will be filled by one of a handful of capable starters: including Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz. Mauricio Cabrera proved last year that he has some quality tools to be a special part of their bullpen. Add him to a pen with the likes of Josh Collmenter and Jim Johnson, and you've got plenty of bridge to get to the electric righty Arodys Vizcaino.  On the offensive side of the ball, Braves fans will quickly fall in love with the new second baseman acquired via trade with the Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Phillips. Phillips still has plenty left in the tank, both on offense and in the field. His bat will fit in perfectly to the top of a strong lineup that includes Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, Ender Enciarte and Freddy Freeman. And his glove and talent will help get the most out of their extremely talented shortstop Danzby Swanson. The more this team plays together, the more dangerous they will become. Though they won't be postseason relevant, look for the Atlanta Braves to turn some heads this season.

2. New York Mets
When I think of the New York Mets, two words come to mind: starting pitching. This Mets rotation is chocked full of young studs, and we haven't even seen all of what they can do yet. Noah Syndergaard, also known as Thor, is the ace of the staff and brings no-hit type stuff every time he takes the mound. Jacob deGram is looking to rebound from an injury marred 2016 in the two hole, and so to is the case for Matt Harvey in the three spot. Left-hander Stephen Matz looks to improve upon an average 2016 as the fourth starter. And remember when Carlos Beltran was traded to San Francisco a few years ago? Well, the big piece of the return package, Zach Wheeler, has yet to experience a full year in the majors and is looking to showcase why he was once so highly sought after.  And speaking of old familiar faces, New York immediately reaped the benefits of signing their old shortstop Jose Reyes last season, and now he seems to be a key component at the top of the lineup in 2017. If the Mets could get healthy years out of Jay Bruce, Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes, New York could finally have a legitimate scoring offense. Where I think they will come up short, however, is in the bullpen. Though they have Addison Reed to take over as the closer until Gerys Familia finishes his DV suspension, the rest of the pen leaves a lot to be desired. Unless they can make a move or two to shore up the back end, New York will be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

1. Washington Nationals
With The impending free agency of 2015 MVP Bryce Harper looming around the corner, the mindset of "win now" has never been more alive then it is now in Washington.  Offensively, they're absolutely loaded from top to bottom. With the addition of centerfielder Adam Eaton, Trey Turner can now move to his more natural position of shortstop.  And if his debut was any indication, the nationals have themselves a real gem atop their order. Behind Eaton and Turner is the aforementioned Harper, the extra-base machine Anthony Rendon and the most clutch hitter in baseball now that David Ortiz is retired, Daniel Murphy. Jayson Werth is definitely looking to over perform in a contract year and the longest tenured National Ryan Zimmerman still finds a way to get it done for the only team he's ever known. And with the additions of left-handed first baseman Adam Lind and catcher Matt Wieters, Washington can easily fill the designated hitter role whenever they find themselves in an American League ballpark. And as good as their offense is, their pitching staff might be even better. 2016 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is not only their ace but is a top three pitcher in all of baseball. Stephen Strasburg is hoping to return to his dominant form after an injury cut is 2016 campaign short. WBC team USA pitcher Tanner Roark sits in the three hole, the innings eating left-hander Geo Gonzalez is in the four spot and Joe Ross and all his talent rounds out the rotation. Washington also added the services of journeyman reliever Joe Blanton to go along with the likes of Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley to serve as the bridge to newly named closer Blake Treinen. And though little known, Treinen was second only to the impressive Zach Britton in ground ball rate a season ago. With those skills, he could definitely be the ninth-inning man they have been looking for and was in their system all along. This team is loaded and ready to go, and looks poised to be the last team standing in 2017.

Can the Yankees take a Mulligan?...

Credit:  Brian Blanco, Getty Images

It was exciting to finally see Opening Day…for a couple of minutes.  

Masahiro Tanaka sailed through Spring Training with a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings of work, only relinquishing runs in his final start (with only one earned).  For the first game of the regular season, the results were substantially different.  Tanaka was tagged for three runs in the first, and was out of the game in the third inning after surrendering a total seven runs.  He took the loss as the Yankees fell to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-3, and he starts the year with an ERA of 23.63.  It was perhaps his worst start as a Yankee.

As a sign for the game to come, the Yankees lost a replay challenge in the top of the first inning when it appeared that Matt Holliday barely beat out a throw to first.  If he had been ruled safe, the Yankees would have had two runners on base with Jacoby Ellsbury coming to the plate.  Instead, it was the end of the inning and the Rays proceeded to wallop Tanaka who seemingly had no command of his pitches.

Gary Sanchez was 0-for-5 and he left five runners stranded. 

Both Starlin Castro and Chase Headley were 3-for-4 but it wasn’t enough.

This Spring, while running up Major League Baseball’s best exhibition season record, the Yankees seemed to be very loose.  On Opening Day, they felt tight.  They need to relax and move on.  It was just one game and there will be better days.

The Yankees begin the year 0-1 (with 161 to go) and now have a day off today before resuming the series with the Rays on Tuesday.  CC Sabathia will take the mound for the Yankees versus Jake Odorizzi.  As ugly as yesterday’s loss was, the Yankees can still take the series with two wins.  

In the category of misery loves company, the Yankees shared Opening Day losses with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, two pretty good teams.  The Giants lost despite two home runs from their starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner.

Of the two Rule 5 draftees that I was hoping to get back, the Pittsburgh Pirates did return lefty pitcher Tyler Webb to the Yankees.  He was assigned to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  The other, catcher Luis Torrens, made the Opening Day Roster for the San Diego Padres.  The Padres are carrying three Rule 5 draftees on their roster, including the 20-year-old Torrens.  Torrens only hit .167 with a 26% strikeout rate this Spring, but the Padres kept him as backup catcher.  They also have Christian Bethancourt as backup catcher, but Bethancourt has also been working on pitching too.  Time will tell if the Padres retain Torrens all season long.  If they don’t, he’ll have to be offered  back to the Yankees.

The Yankees also placed Didi Gregorius (10-day) and Tyler Austin (60-day) on the Disabled List, and signed shortstop Pete Kozma to a major league contract, adding him to the 40-man and active rosters prior to yesterday’s game.

Lastly, the Yankees have fallen to third in total payroll.  After years of being the payroll leader before being unseated by the Los Angeles Dodgers (The Greedy Blue?), the Yankees have slipped to third behind the Detroit Tigers.  Dodgers still lead with total payroll of $225 million, but even they have been borrowing a chapter from Hal Steinbrenner’s play book for salary reduction as they’ve reduced it by $45 million over the last couple of years.  The Yankees came in at $195 million, while the Tigers are at $199.75 million.  Remove the dead contract of Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees are only at $174 million.  Have to save those pennies for Bryce Harper!

Have a great Monday!