According to the latest MLB futures, only one team has a chance of catching the Washington Nationals in the standings. The others will be left to ponder their fates and figure out how to get into the race in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 88.5
The good news is the top two-thirds in their projected batting order, with what should be a killer outfield of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward. Freddie Freeman should have fun driving in tons of runs with his sweet swing, and much is expected on offense and defense from SS Andrelton Simmons in his first full MLB season. The bad news is the bottom third of the order, with Gerald Laird pressed into service for the injured Brian McCann, Dan Uggla’s all-or-nothing at-bats, and Juan Francisco — who will remind no one of the recently retired Chipper Jones. The same good news/bad news scenario extends to the pitching staff: starter Julio Teheran and closer Craig Kimbrel are both pluses, but can Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Mike Minor get the job done? Probably, but the team won’t be outstanding unless the outfielders’ bats catch fire — and that should happen fairly often. Predicted finish: Second in the division, and fourth to seventh in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 63.5
After the deals that gutted the Marlins’ major-league roster, it’s no surprise that the club seems to have lost what few fans they had. While they will be picked by many to lose almost every game, the fact is they will pull a few upsets. They have also had fire sales before, after each of their two World Series championships (as the Florida Marlins). Too bad they’re left with only superstar outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, injured first baseman Logan Morrison, and spare parts elsewhere in the lineup — they’ve even used contact hitter Placido Polanco in the cleanup spot in spring, for crying out loud — and a pitching staff which will probably be the worst in the league. Yes, they restocked their larder of prospects and they could pay off one year. This is not that year. Predicted finish: Last in the division, and in the league.
NEW YORK METS
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 75.5
Losing Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey will hurt the Mets in the short term, but they have still have talent and depth on the pitching staff with Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Jeremy Hefner and especially up-and-coming fireballer Zack Wheeler. Former Brewer Shaun Marcum is also in the mix but, unsurprisingly, he’s now dealing with a wonky neck. The injury bug has also bitten All-Star 3B David Wright (strained rib cage), who has all the skills and plays hard but often finds ways to break down. The spring-training reports are promising for Wright, though, along with 2B David Murphy (also strained ribs). John Buck is merely a stand-in at catcher until hot prospect Travis d’Arnaud shows he can handle the pressures of a major-league job. Predicted finish: Third in the division, and seventh to 10th in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 84.5
Not much went right for the Phillies last season. The “engine room” of the batting order, 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley, missed significant time. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee didn’t have a good time, either, and trading Hunter Pence to the Giants wasn’t the brightest move for a team which needed a bat like his. Replacing Placido Polanco at third base is longtime Ranger Mike Young, but he’s getting long in the tooth. He’s not alone: shortstop Jimmy Rollins is past his prime, and Halladay and Lee are no spring chickens. Other issues include frontline catcher Carlos Ruiz being banned for 25 games after a violation of baseball’s drug policy, and the signing of Delmon Young, which they wouldn’t have had to do if they had only kept Pence. On the other hand, left fielder Domonic Brown has been crushing the ball lately, Jonathan Papelbon is a fine closer when he’s on his game and center fielder Ben Revere gives the club some necessary speed on the basepaths. With more questions hanging over them than available answers, however, it seems likely the Phillies will battle with the Mets in the middle of the division standings. Predicted finish: Fourth in the division, and eighth to 11th in the league.
2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 92.5
Anyone that knows baseball knows what a powerhouse Washington is. Stacked with players like outfielder Bryce Harper and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, few expect challenges from other teams to the Nationals’ dominance of their namesake league. Unlike many teams, there simply aren’t that many weak spots anywhere on the Nats. In fact, they unloaded Mike Morse in a deal which enabled them to restock their minor league affiliates with prospects. Speed on the basepaths might be their most glaring need, but it’s almost an afterthought given their fine blend of pitching, power hitting, clutch hitting, defense and depth. Predicted finish: First in the division, and first in the league.