2014 NL Preview
Last week I came out with my 2014 AL preview, and it seems like a good time to do my 2014 NL preview.
Atlanta Braves – The Braves won the NL East in 2013 and look to come back just as strong in 2014. Atlanta caught a little bit of luck with the Nationals swoon, or else the division chase would have been a little tougher. Atlanta has a strong rotation, a good bullpen, and a powerful lineup. Other than re-signings, the biggest news they made this offseason was that they will have a new stadium in 2017, so they return basically the exact same team in 2014. Will they be good enough to repeat as division champions?
Washington Nationals - The Nationals won the NL East in 2012, and had a year long slump in 2013. The Nats added Doug Fister to the rotation in an absolute steal of a trade with the Detroit Tigers, and return a very talented team this year. A rotation of Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Fister, and Detwiler will challenge any other rotation in baseball, and Washington’s lineup has talent from top to bottom. Atlanta should be scared of their NL East foes.
Philadelphia Phillies – Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies GM, might have had one of the worst offseason’s of all-time. Instead of realizing his team isn’t a playoff caliber team, he signed Marlon Byrd, who is a 36 year old outfielder that just had his career year last season, resigned Carlos Ruiz, a 34 year old catcher that saw his production dip severely in 2013, and signed AJ Burnett to a $16M deal. By the end of the year, the Phils won’t be getting too much brotherly love from their fans.
New York Mets - The Mets are better than they were last year, as they added Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, and Chris Young, but they aren’t talented enough to contend, especially without Matt Harvey in the rotation.
Miami Marlins - The Marlins fire sale with the Blue Jays doesn’t look so bad a year later, but much like the Mets, they aren’t anywhere near talented enough to contend in 2014. The farm system is talented and they should be pretty good in a few years or so.
Division Winner: Washington Nationals
St. Louis Cardinals – Let me get this out of the way, the Cards are the most well-run franchise in the MLB. They just constantly produce young arms for the rotation, and in the offseason they make sure they plug holes and they don’t go over-the-top for anyone. Look for the Cards to run away with the NL Central in 2014.
Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates were the feel-good story of 2013, as not only did they finish over .500 for the first time in 18 years, but they also made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years as well. The Pirates lost Morneau and A.J. Burnett in free agency, and they haven’t signed anyone to fill those holes. Throw in the fact that a couple of players are sure to regress, and it will be hard for the Pirates to repeat their performances of 2013.
Cincinnati Reds - The Reds pretty much stood pat this past offseason as they let Shin Soo-Choo walk, but they plan to replace him with top prospect Billy Hamilton. The Reds have been contenders for several years now, and they will probably be there again this year, they just aren’t very exciting to talk about.
Milwaukee Brewers - The Brewers added Matt Garza to what is a surprisingly strong rotation for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun will be returning from his suspension due to his link to Biogenesis. Most people don’t expect the Brew Crew to contend, but they could possibly be a dark horse team in the NL.
Chicago Cubs – The biggest storyline for the Cubbies is whether or not Jeff Samardzija will still be on the team August 1st. Other than that, Wrigley Field will keep cheering on their lovable losers.
Division Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers have a monster payroll, and are the favorites to repeat as division champs out West. The rotation is dominant, the bullpen is deep, and the lineup is strong. Nobody is a lock to make the playoffs, but the Dodgers are as close as it gets.
Arizona Diamondbacks - The Diamondbacks struck out on Masahiro Tanaka, but they did get Mark Trumbo from the Angels. Trumbo has the potential to hit 40 HR’s in Arizona’s hitter friendly home, and he will provide Paul Goldschmidt some much needed protection in the lineup. Throw in the fact that the D-backs got Addison Reed to shore up the bullpen, and they could be thick in the wild card race in 2014.
San Francisco Giants - The Giants struggled in 2013, and they are a hard team to define in 2014. The Giants offense was bad, as it was with the 2012 World Series team, but the pitching rotation, which is the team’s strength, was awful last year. Bounce back years from Cain, Lincecum, and Pablo Sandoval will help, but the Giants are a hard team to gauge.
San Diego Padres - Many people are calling the Padres a dark horse candidate in 2014, but I don’t see it. Yes, they added Josh Johnson to the rotation, and yes they added Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen, but are those two guys good enough to push them from 76 wins in 2013 to 90+ wins in 2014? I don’t think so.
Colorado Rockies – The Rockies are another team middling in mediocrity. As always, the Rockies will be good if they get full seasons out of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but I’m sure than won’t happen. The Rox added Brett Anderson and Justin Morneau, and while they should be better in 2014, I’m just not sure how much better.
Division Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Award Winners
NL MVP: Bryce Harper – Harper had an amazing rookie campaign in 2012, and while he was productive when he played in 2013, he was hurt quite often and missed lots of time. In order for the Nats to make the playoffs, Harper must have a healthy, productive season. If he does, then the Nats will be a force in the NL, and Harper will be a MVP candidate.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw - Writers don’t like to hand out repeats for awards such as the Cy Young, but Kershaw is so dominant that I would be surprised if he doesn’t repeat. His stuff is nasty, he plays for a team that has a good lineup and will inflate his win numbers, and Kershaw will repeat as Cy Young.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Tim Lincecum - Lincecum had a terrible season in 2012, along with a dreadful 2013. If Lincecum can return to his Cy Young form from the 2010 World Series team and the Giants make the playoffs, then Lincecum might bring home Comeback Player of the Year honors.
NL Rookie of the Year: Archie Bradley - The Diamondbacks will feel the pressure to call up the dominant right hander, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the MLB by May. Bradley dominated the Futures game last year, and he’s been dominating minor league hitters since he was drafted. The NL has lots of candidates for ROY, and I might be wrong here, but Bradley should be the front runner.
NL Manager of the Year: Kirk Gibson - Mr. Fist Pump himself returns for his fourth season as Diamondbacks manager. The D-Backs added Mark Trumbo to a lineup that needed a little more firepower, Bronson Arroyo to the rotation, and Addison Reed to the back end of the rotation. The Diamondbacks are a dark horse in the NL, and if they play as I expect them to, then Gibson might bring home Manager of the Year.
NL Wild Card
Just to recap, my division winners were the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Nationals. I don’t think the NL will have as much parity as the AL, but remember that the Nationals missed the playoffs last year, so it isn’t all division repeats. The two-team wild card era returns for a third season in 2014, and the race should be an exciting one. I expect the Braves, Pirates, Reds, Diamondbacks, and Giants to all be in the thick of the wild card race come the start of September. The Braves are the most talented team of the group, and I expect the defending NL East champs to bring home the top NL wild card slot. That leaves the Pirates, Reds, Diamondbacks, and Giants for the second wild card spot. The Pirates and Reds were the two wild card teams last year, and with the Braves taking one of the wild card spots, at least one of the teams will miss the playoffs. The Pirates benefitted from career years by multiple players, and with the losses of A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, and Justin Morneau, the Pirates might have trouble repeating last year’s performance. The Reds lose their table-setter in Shin Soo-Choo, and while they are replacing him with top prospect Billy Hamilton, Hamilton only had a .308 OBP in AAA. Losing Bronson Arroyo from the rotation won’t help them either, and I just don’t think the Reds have the firepower to reach the playoffs. That leaves an NL West battle for the final wild card spot, the Diamondbacks and the Giants. The addition of Michael Morse to the lineup will help the Giants, and the Giants rotation should expect bounce-back years from Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The Diamondbacks added Trumbo, Addison Reed, and Bronson Arroyo to the team, and Catcher Miguel Montero should have a bounce-back year. That being said, I believe the D-backs will nab the second wild card spot.
Final Playoff Picture
Wild Card One: Atlanta Braves
Wild Card Two: Arizona Diamondbacks
NL East Champion: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers