NL East Standings Prediction

Posted: 04/08/2015 by levcohen in Baseball

I did the over/under win totals posts, but I still feel like I have stuff to say about some of the other teams in baseball. So why not put my thoughts out in the form of a full standings prediction? We all know these predictions are impossible to come even close to nailing because winning requires luck – both on the field and off it – in addition to skill. But I’m going to do the best that I can to correctly pick every division 1-5. You know that I have the Mets winning more than 81.5 games, the Giants winning fewer than 83.5 and the Reds going under 77.5, but how about the rest of the National League? Let’s start with the NL East:

1. Washington Nationals (95-67): The Nationals have a very real chance of becoming the first team since the 2011 Phillies to win 100 games for a number of reasons. The first is that they’ll spend a lot of time playing against the Braves and Phillies, two of the worst teams in baseball, along with Miami and the Mets, neither of whom is any better than slightly above average. Those easy wins add up. More importantly, though, this team has the best rotation, from 1-5, in ages. Many, myself included, questioned the wisdom of signing Max Scherzer, but the effect is undeniable; assuming the Nationals do not trade Jordan Zimmermann or Gio Gonzalez, they’ll be able to put one of Scherzer, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gonzalez out there every night. The first three are Cy Young candidates, and Fister would be if he could prove he can stay healthy all season. And if one of those guys gets injured, the Nationals have Tanner Roark, another good starter who will be working in the bullpen until he’s needed in the rotation. They are spoiled for choice in the rotation. And assuming Bryce Harper takes that next step forward, which I think he will do this season, the lineup will be pretty strong, too, albeit not at the level of the rotation. With Ryan Zimmerman’s move to first base, the Nationals will be better both offensively and defensively. Anthony Rendon, one of last year’s breakout stars, will take Zimmerman’s place at third base and hit near the top of the lineup. He will be in the running for the batting title this season. Meanwhile, the outfield of Jayson Werth, speedy Denard Span, and Harper will get on base and score plenty of runs. Throw in Ian Desmond, one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball, and the powerful Wilson Ramos behind the plate (although Ramos has to prove he can stay healthy), and this is a lineup that can hit for average and power and take the extra base. Bullpen questions aside, this is clearly the best all-around team in baseball, at least on paper. Injuries (Rendon, Span, Werth, and backup outfielder Nate McLouth are all on the DL along with relievers Erik Davis and Casey Janssen) could keep them from winning 100, but I think they’ll win the division by early September.

2. New York Mets (85-77): I already wrote about the Mets here so won’t add too much more. As they showed in their opening day 3-1 win over the mighty Nationals, they are going to rely on their pitching. And with Matt Harvey returning and Noah Syndergaard possibly making his debut by June, their pitching is probably going to be pretty good. If they can get a good season out of David Wright and new signing Michael Cuddyer can make a difference, this team could be headed to the playoffs (perhaps only for one game, but still).

3. Miami Marlins (79-83): If the Marlins’ first two games, both home losses against the Braves, are representative of the rest of the season, this is going to be a long year for Miami. But while there are some troubling signs, I’m optimistic that the Marlins will show some promise this year. I don’t think, though, that they’ll take a big step forward this year like they did last season. The strength of this team lies in the young outfield, which includes MVP frontrunner Giancarlo Stanton (25 years old), Christian Yelich (23), and Marcell Ozuna (24). The outfield, which is projected by Fangraphs to add 15 wins to the team, might be the best in the league. The rest of the team? Not so much. I hated the Dee Gordon trade because the Marlins got a guy who had two great months but has proven that he doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t get on base. He has speed, though, which he’ll use the 30% of the time he gets on base. I like Michael Morse, but the first baseman can’t field or stay healthy. Adeiny Hechavarria is a poor man’s Andrelton Simmons offensively, and Simmons had a .286 OBP last year. He’s a black hole offensively and a great defensive player. The rotation is also troublesome. If and when Jose Fernandez comes back, it’ll look a whole lot better, but right now the ace is Henderson Alvarez, the #2 pitcher just gave up seven runs in less than an inning in his debut, and Dan Haren, who hasn’t had a sub-4 ERA since 2011 and is 34 years old, is the #3 starter. Not good. The bullpen is solid, with Steve Cishek serving as a good closer and Mike Dunn likely to be an above-average setup guy, but it’s not good enough to offset the glaring holes on this team. Best-case scenario for Miami? They hover around .500 thanks to their young outfield before getting Fernandez back in June and going on a winning streak. Could they make the playoffs? Sure. Will they finish in the top three in the division? Yes, but maybe only because 26 teams in baseball could finish third in this division. I just don’t see them making that much noise this year. Next season might be Miami’s year, but they aren’t there yet.

4. Atlanta Braves (69-93): So the Braves are 2-0 and put up 12 runs on Mat Latos and the Marlins last night. I was going to say that this is the worst offense in baseball outside of Philadelphia, but maybe they aren’t… (checks roster)… Wow, Mat Latos really had a bad game. This is the worst offense in baseball outside of Philadelphia. Let’s start with this: Freddie Freeman is good. He’s a first baseman who is a good fielder and posted a .847 OPS last year a season after putting up a .897. But he isn’t Mike Trout, and it might take Mike Trout to make this offense even mediocre. Nick Markakis is solid, but a guy who is coming off  .729 and .685 OPS seasons shouldn’t be a three-hole hitter. Eric Young Jr. is a poor man’s Dee Gordon and is Atlanta’s lead-off hitter. Jace Peterson, the two-hole hitter, went 6-53 last year with no extra base hits. He might eventually be a decent hitter, but he isn’t there yet. I could keep going, but I don’t want to. The fact that those three guys (Young Jr, Peterson, Markakis) are hitting atop the lineup says it all. For whatever it’s worth, I think the rotation is pretty good. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood are good pitchers and Shelby Miller has shown glimpses. I doubt he’ll be better than Jason Heyward (the Braves dealt Heyward for Miller), but he’s a good #3. The bullpen, though, is another story. I’m doubtful that the remaining relievers can come close to making up for the loss of Craig Kimbrel, and I expect Jason Grilli and Co. to cost the Braves a win or two. Nobody, including the front office, expects the Braves to be good this year, frankly because their roster isn’t that good. They’re rebuilding, and it might be a few years before they return to the playoff hunt.

5. Philadelphia Phillies (65-97): If you thought the Braves were bad, have a look at this team. If not for the Rockies, I think the Phillies would have a legitimate claim to having the worst offense and pitching in baseball. And that’s with Cole Hamels. When Chad Billingsley returns, the Phillies will have a rotation of Hamels, Billingsley, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan, and Jerome Williams. Not only is it a bad rotation, it’s also an old rotation, as Buchanan is the only guy younger than 30. Harang had a good year last season but is now 36, while Billingsley has been effective throughout his career but has thrown just 12 innings since 2012 due to injury. Meanwhile, Williams is pretty much the definition of a journeyman, with stints on seven different teams. He posted a 2.83 ERA with the Phillies last year in nine starts, but that was after allowing 43 runs in 57.2 innings earlier in the season with the Astros and Rangers. One would think that it’s only a matter of time until he returns to early-2014 form. Later in the season, the Phillies are probably going to bring up prospects Aaron Nola and Ben Lively, which will prove beneficial in the longterm but not for the 2015 club. If this team has a strength, it’s the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon is still a good closer, velocity decrease and all, although he will probably be dealt in July. Ken Giles, the closer-in-waiting, is a prototypical late-inning reliever, with velocity (he throws as fast as anyone other than Aroldis Chapman) and a great slider. For more on Giles, because he really is this team’s biggest (lone?) bright spot, read this article. Jake Diekman, opening day grand slam aside, and Justin De Fratus are also generally solid relievers, which means the Phillies has four good relievers should they hold a lead late in games. But given the guys they are sending out there to get them those leads every day, I wonder how many leads they will actually be able to give to Giles and Papelbon. When a rule five pick who has never hit above AA is your two-hole hitter, as Odubel Herrera is for the Phillies, you know things are rough. Herrera is a good defender and has wheels, but he can’t really hit, which is troublesome for a two hitter. Meanwhile, Ben Revere’s average (.300+ the last two years) makes him seem like a perfect leadoff hitter, and he does add runs on the basepaths, but he had a 2.1% walk rate last year. That’s how it’s possible to hit .306 with a .325 on base percentage. He also hit his first two homers last season and has the second worse ISO power (slugging % – average) since his 2010 debut among qualified hitters (the worst is Chris Getz). Of the 10 worst guys on that list, only Revere is an everyday player. Chase Utley is still pretty good, but again, he isn’t Mike Trout, and even Mike Trout wouldn’t make this offense mediocre. Grady Sizemore and Jeff Franceour are playing regularly, and Freddy Galvis, a poor man’s Adeiny Hechavarria, is the starting shortstop, although he’s just a placeholder for top prospect J.P. Crawford. This is the first year of what might be a long rebuild for the Phillies, who have finally realized that they need to build for the future. So expect to see Hamels, Papelbon, and hopefully Ryan Howard dealt, and get excited for Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford.

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