2015 National League East Preview

Bryce Harper knows that not much stands between the Nationals and the top of the NL East this season. Photo Courtesy: Scott Ableman
Bryce Harper knows that not much stands between the Nationals and the top of the NL East.
Photo Courtesy: Scott Ableman

By Patrick Malone 

ZiPS Projections Courtesy of Dan Szymborski

2015 NL East Preview

America’s past time is quickly approaching and it’s that time again to pick the winners and place the rest of the teams within their respective divisions. The National League East is a pretty clear-cut division. With the Atlanta Braves in rebuilding mode and the Marlins and Mets falling just short of some of the more elite teams in the NL, the Nationals are primed for a strong 2015 campaign and a division title.

1. Washington Nationals (98-64)

The Nationals have arguably one of the best starting rotations in baseball. After spending big money this past offseason by acquiring the services of ace pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal, they are clearly the top dogs in all of baseball.

Starting Pitchers: 2015 Pitching Projections by ZiPS
Max Scherzer (16-6, 2.64 ERA, 204.3 IP, 235 SO, 1.06 WHIP, 10.35 K/9), Stephen Strasburg (15-7, 2.93 ERA, 193.3 IP, 217 SO, 1.10 WHIP, 10.10 K/9), Jordan Zimmermann (14-7, 3.07 ERA, 193.3 IP, 159 SO, 1.11 WHIP, 7.40 K/9), Gio Gonzalez (13-8, 3.28 ERA, 170.3 IP, 171 SO, 1.24 WHIP, 9.04 K/9) and Doug Fister (12-7, 3.27 ERA, 165.3 IP, 117 SO, 1.16 WHIP, 6.37 K/9). All five starting pitchers are projected with a sub four ERA and 10 or more wins. Manager Matt Williams should be able to just sit back and watch his fab five mow down the competition.

Relief Pitchers
Tanner Roark was 15-10 last season. Now he is moving to relief status. It’s unclear if the Nats will use him in long relief or the bullpen, but with a projected 13-9 record and a 3.46 ERA in 182.3 innings pitched it’s clear he will be a large part of their success. Drew Storen (1.12 ERA last season) will continue closing duties and reliever Aaron Barrett (3-0, 2.66 ERA last season) looks to build upon his strong rookie season.

National’s 24-year-old third basemen Anthony Rendon was a MVP candidate and won a Silver Slugger award in only his second full season in the big leagues. The young slugger had 21 HRs, as well as, 17 SBs in ’14. Though his projections aren’t as high this season, bet on Rendon being a big part of the Nats offense. Fellow Silver Slugger Ian Desmond (.255, 24 HR, 91 RBI, 24 SB) looks to continue his combination of offense and speed attack. The Nationals have both power and speed on the left side of the infield.

Don’t forget about the first overall pick in the 2010 amatuer draft, Bryce Harper (.273, 13 HR, 32 RBI last season). At the ripe young age of 22, Harper is projected to take a major leap in 2015, with his slugging percentage going from .423 to .494. The rest of the outfield quietly put up respectable numbers and were MVP candidates in 2014. Jayson Worth (.292, 16 HR, 82 RBI, MVP-18) and Denard Span (.302, 5 HR, 37 RBI, MVP-19), along with Harper, gives the reigning NL East Champs a very formidable outfield.

2. New York Mets (81-81)

The Mets have some very good and young pitching talent. Matt Harvey could challenge Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in the MLB and carry the Mets straight into their first postseason since 2006. Not to mention batters hit just .223 off the reigning NL rookie of the year, Jacob deGrom.

Starting Pitchers: 2015 Pitching Projections
Matt Harvey looks to hit the ground running after sitting out the ’14 season due to Tommy John surgery. Harvey’s projected to go 8-5 with a 3.12 ERA, though many believe he will yet again be a sub 3-ERA pitcher. Jacob deGrom (10-8, 3.30 ERA, 174.3 IP, 159 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 8.21 K/9) is projected to be the Mets best pitcher. Jonathon Niese had a strong spring (3-0, 1.65 ERA, 16.1 IP, 13 SO, 1.27 WHIP, 6.92 K/9) and could be a sleeper to have a solid season.

Relief Pitchers
The Mets bullpen could make or break their season. Whether it’s a little bit of bad luck or just poor play, the bullpen is entering the season in almost shambles. 28-year-old Josh Edgin had a solid ’14 season where he struck out 28 batters in 27.1 innings. Unfortunately, Edgin went down with season ending TJ surgery. Both Rafael Montero and Jeurys Familia went down with injuries as well. They were some of the bullpen’s top arms last season and were expected to continue their dominance. If the Mets can get their pen healthy and ride the coat tails of their dominant young starters, then they could definitely make a run at a wild card spot.

The big name that every Mets fan, as well as baseball enthusiasts, are wondering about is David Wright. Last season, Wright saw a significant drop in slugging percentage (.374 vs .479 the previous five seasons). He dealt with a shoulder problem, but looks to be healthy to start the season.

The one offseason move the Mets did was sign 35-year-old Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer had a down season in ’14 due to injuries, but looks to return to his previous .300 BA the two seasons before. The big outfield bright spot is Juan Lagares. The 25-year-old emerged as the best defensive center fielder in baseball last season with 28 defensive runs saved.

3. Miami Marlins (79-83)

Call me an optimist, but I think the Marlins can and will compete. I’ve scored them low here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won more games. Miami is full of young talent, riddled with some older vets to fill the gaps. Led by the mammoth hitting Giancarlo Stanton and 22-year-old ace phenom Jose Fernandez, Miami can certainly be a dangerous team to face.

Starting Pitchers: 2015 Pitching Projections
Jose Fernandez. That is all. In all seriousness, before he went down with season ending TJ surgery, Fernandez pitched a dominant rookie campaign (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 172.2 IP, 187 SO, 9.7 K/9). He also walked away with the NL rookie of the year award. Before his sophomore season was cut short, he was pitching lights out, yet again (4-2, 2.44 ERA, 51.2 IP, 70 SO, 12.2 K/9). He will start the season on the DL, but could return soon. The offseason addition of Mat Latos (9-7, 3.43 ERA, 168 IP, 135 SO, 1.23 WHIP, 7.23 K/9) shores up the middle of the rotation, but is an injury risk after multiple elbow injuries with the Reds over the past few seasons. The Marlins key to success will be a healthy rotation, as injuries could very well derail their season.

Relief Pitchers
Miami’s bullpen is expected to be a strength this season. Last season, they ranked sixth in WAR in of baseball. Steve Cishek (4-5, 3.17 ERA, 39 SV, 65.1 IP, 84 SO last season) is one of the more underrated closers in MLB. His previous success will be leaned upon heavily in 2015. Another cog to the Marlins pen will be Bryan Morris (.66 ERA in 40.2 IP, 36 SO with Miami) who was acquired from the Pirates midseason of last year. If he can maintain his dominance, he will be poised to take up the setup role.

The Marlins spent some money and made some trades in the offseason. They signed Michael Morse (.279, 16 HR, 61 RBI last season) and traded for Martin Prado (.282, 12 HR, 58 RBI last season) and Dee Gordon (.289, 2 HR, 34 RBI last season). With the new additions, they added speed, power and consistency to their lineup and infield. It’s a new era of baseball in Miami. It’s been too long since they’ve sniffed the playoffs (2003) and these moves only prove they believe that too.

How much power does $300 million buy you? How about Giancarlo Stanton (.288, 37 HR, 105 RBI) power. The young all-star hit moonshots for breakfast and is one of the best, if not the best, overall outfielder in all of baseball. Oh, and there’s also this young 24-year-old center fielder by the name of Marcell Ozuna (.269, 23 HR, 85 RBI). Miami has taken the time to groom its young talent and it is clearly paying off. Expect these two to build upon their success in 2015.

4. Atlanta Braves (73-89)

The Atlanta Braves traded away three of their best four hitters. Jason Heyward (25), Justin Upton (27) and Evan Gattis (28) are all gone. But all is not lost. The Braves received one of the more dominant young pitchers in the game in Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.74 ERA, 183 IP, 127 SO) for Jason Heyward. Offense might be hard to come by this season, but one thing is for sure—the Braves have pitching.

Starting Pitchers: 2015 Pitching Projections
With the acquisition of Miller (11-9, 3.56 ERA, 172 IP, 157 SO, 1.24 WHIP, 8.22 K/9), the Braves have a very formidable young pitching staff anchored by Julio Teheran (15-10, 3.22 ERA, 204 IP, 181 SO, 1.13 WHIP, 7.99 K/9), Alex Wood (11-8, 3.21 ERA, 165.3 IP, 154 SO, 1.20 WHIP, 8.38 K/9) and Mike Minor (11-10, 3.68 ERA, 178.3 IP, 153 SO, 1.18 WHIP, 7.72 K/9). Add in newly acquired Trevor Cahill (9-11, 4.43, 154.3 IP, 130 SO, 1.44 WHIP, 7.58 K/9) to round out the back end of the rotation and the Braves have a pretty good young core of pitchers to look forward to.

Relief Pitchers
Atlanta has the top closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel (4-1, 1.56 ERA, 63.3 IP, 14.36 k/9) who has averaged 46 saves in four seasons with the Braves. Will Kimbrel continue his success and surmount more than 42 saves this season? Probably, yes. As for his setup man, the Braves brought in a couple of veteran closers Jason Grilli (2-2, 3.06 ERA, 47 IP, 56 SO) and Jim Johnson (4-4, 4.00 ERA, 63 IP, 47 SO). The duo has had success over previous years (including all-star stints) and will look to channel that past success once more.

Atlanta has youth going for them. Good, young players. Freddie Freeman (.303, 41 HR, 187 RBI the past two seasons) has been extremely solid at first base. The other young stud across from him, Andrelton Simmons, has two Gold Glove awards in as many years. Mostly known as a defensive short stop, I expect to see Simmons step up his offense some in 2015.

The Braves signed Nick Markakis (.276, 14 HR, 50 RBI) and Jonny Gomes (.234, 6 HR, 37 RBI last season) in the offseason to man the corners of their outfield. Markakis is coming off a season in which he won his second Gold Glove award. While both Markakis and Gomes provide more of a placeholder till the younger players are ready, both do add value to the team with their veteran presence, capabilities and solid fielding from Markakis.

5. Philadelphia Phillies (69-93)

The Phillies are a mess. There is just no way around it. They are the worst team in baseball and Ruben Amaro Jr. paved the way. They are old and have bad contracts every which way you look at them. Cole Hamels is about the only bright spot left on the team, and even he’s looking to be traded away off the trash heap. And don’t even try to figure out what to do with Ryan Howard’s massive contract. Headaches all around.

Starting Pitchers: 2015 Pitching Projections
So here is the good news. Cole Hamels (3.34, 202 IP, 194 SO, 1.16 WHIP, 8.64 K/9) is still Cole Hamels. He has been one of the most reliable pitchers for a while now. The bad news? He will probably be traded away before the seasons even over. Cliff Lee (3.44, 138.7 IP, 130 SO, 1.12 WHIP, 8.44 K/9) will start the season on the DL and may not come back till the summer.

Relief Pitchers
Jonathan Papelbon (2-3, 2.04 ERA, 39 SV, 66.1 IP, 63 SO, 0.905 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) Ken Giles (3-1, 1.18 ERA, 1 SV, 45.2 IP, 64 SO, 0.788 WHIP, 12.6 K/9) and Jake Diekman (5-5, 3.80 ERA, 71 IP, 100 SO, 1.423 WHIP, 12.7 K/9). That’s it. The rest of the bullpen is a mess. Starting to see the pattern here?

Philly has Ryan Howard at first and Chase Utley at second. Between the two of those positions, there is over 70 years of experience. That’s not good for a team that is desperately seeking to rebuild and go young. The one bright spot though might be 22-year-old Maikel Franco who is projected to take a big step up this season from last (.179 vs .259, 0 HR vs 23 HR, 1 RBI vs 82 RBI). Franco is also projected to post the highest slugging percentage on the team (.446).

Ben Revere might be the only positive when analyzing Phillies outfield. He’s projected to post a .303 BA and 2 WAR. The former first round pick uses his speed in the outfield to make numerous circus catches. Grady Sizemore (.233, 5 HR, 27 RBI last season) is on the wrong side of 30 and it appears he will never regain his all-star form again.

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