The Glass Eye: MLB Baseball Preview – National League, Part One

Click here for AL Preview Part 1

Click here for AL Preview part 2

On to the NL this week, and we’ll start out West, where the Dodgers are spending money like it’s on fire, but they have plenty of competition for top honors:

NL WEST

Colorado Rockies (5th in 2012)

Key Additions: RP Wilton Lopez

Key Losses: 2B Marco Scutaro

Key 2012 Stats: No Rockie pitcher recorded 100+ strikeouts, and only one pitcher threw even 100 innings – this was partly due to their 4-man, 75-pitch limit experiment, but mostly it was because their pitching was awful. Truthfully, their hitting was just as bad – they hit .300 at Coors Field but only .241 on the road, and with little power away from home, leading to 210 LESS runs on the road in 2012.

Outlook: The Rockies faced a lot of tough luck last year – particularly losing star SS Troy Tulowitzki for almost all of 2012 – but there isn’t nearly enough talent here to compete in the rugged NL West, and I’m actually shocked at how few moves they made this offseason – does the front office REALLY think this is a team that can win as-is?? Tulo’s return and an expected rebound by Carlos Gonzalez should get the offense closer to mediocre, but the pitching is flat-out awful and I see no reasonable hope for a huge improvement in 2013. 65-69 wins for the Rockies, who with the departure of the Astros will battle the Marlins to be the worst team in the NL.

San Diego Padres (4th in 2012)

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: None

Key 2012 Stats: Finished 10th in team ERA despite playing in the best pitchers’ park in MLB…only two pitchers threw over 100 innings. Only two hitters had double-digit home runs, led by Chase Headley’s amazing breakout season  – but the offense was about average overall once you account for Petco Park’s influence.

Outlook: Seriously, BOTH San Diego and Colorado stood pat this winter? I don’t get this at all…it’s not like the Padres are loaded with young talent, there’s not a player in the lineup or rotation younger than 26, and the majority are 29 or older. This is a team that gave 23 starts to Pirate castoffs Kip Wells, Jeff Suppan, and Ross Ohlendorf last season – it’s not like they are flush with depth, they REALLY needed to make some bold moves. Instead they bring back the exact same lineup and 4/5 of the rotation, expecting a completely different result? There’s growth potential for a few hitters, most notably Yonder Alonso, and a full season from Carlos Quentin will surely help…but Headley’s likely regression will cancel out much of that. The rotation is a collection of mediocrity with the possible exception of Edinson Volquez if he can find his control (105 walks in 182 innings last year). Yes, the bullpen is great – so what? It’s wasted on a 75-win team. San Diego needs to trade Headley and any other moveable assets and commit to a total rebuild, or they will be stuck in Pirate-land (i.e. 68-75 wins) for the foreseeable future. 70-73 wins for the Padres in ’13.

San Francisco Giants (1st in 2012)

Key Additions: 2B Marco Scutaro

Key Losses: 2B Ryan Theriot

Key 2012 Stats: The most durable rotation in the league – their top-5 starters each made 31+ starts, and accounted for 160 of their 162 team starts. Their top-3 starters and top-4 relievers were collectively among the best in the NL. The offense was top-heavy, relying on Buster Posey’s MVP season and the rebound from Pablo Sandoval and Melky Cabrera (before Cabrera was suspended). The Giants finished dead-last in home runs, but sixth in runs thanks to the third best average in the league.

Outlook: Every year I predict doom for the Giants, and every year they defy my expectations – and with two World Series titles in three years, clearly GM Brian Sabean deserves TONS of credit for how he built this team. Having said that…I don’t think they can win in 2013 unless Tim Lincecum’s 2012 was an aberration. This team is clearly built on pitching and defense, the 718 runs they scored in 2012 was their highest in seven years and at least partially built on Melky Cabrera’s artificially enhanced stats. They allowed more runs last year (648) than they have since 2008, and the only candidate I see for major improvement is Lincecum. Cain, Zito, and Vogelsong are likely to keep doing what they’ve done, Bumgarner is as likely to get hurt as he is to improve, and the bullpen cannot get a lot better. If Lincecum struggles, this team is going to allow 650+ runs and I cannot see this offense scoring 700 runs again without a major upgrade (or an unexpected breakthrough).  Maybe a full season from Hunter Pence will help, maybe Brandon Belt finally breaks out…and certainly I’ve learned my lesson, I’m not counting this team out until they show me they’re done. However, I think that the Dbacks and Dodgers have a bit more than the Giants this season. 81-84 wins for the Giants in 2013.

Arizona Diamondbacks (3rd in 2012)

Key Additions: RF Cody Ross, 3B Martin Prado, SP Brandon McCarthy, SS Cliff Pennington, RP Heath Bell

Key Losses: RF Justin Upton, CF Chris Young

Key 2012 Stats: Very average offense, as their hitter-friendly park boosted their stats. Arizona led the league in doubles, was second in walks and third in OBP but ranked fifth or lower in most other major categories. Their pitching staff, conversely, had below-average stats as a team, ranking ninth in ERA, runs, and home runs and 11th in strikeouts, but they were actually average or a little better when allowing for their stadium.

Outlook: Unlike the Rockies, Padres, and Giants, the Dbacks made bold moves this offseason. The biggest move-and biggest risk – was trading Justin Upton for Martin Prado and four minor league pitchers. Upton has been terribly inconsistent, while Prado is about as consistent as it gets – but one does wonder if Arizona sold low on Upton. In any case, Prado will fit in well at the top of the AZ batting order. They also let Chris Young go, and in-house replacement Adam Eaton figures to be an upgrade with the bat  – whether he can match Young’s elite defense remains to be seen. Pennington is a good-field, no-hit SS who should solidify the infield defense…but overall the offense is about as good as last year.

The chance for contention in Arizona lies primarily with the pitching. Ian Kennedy was great in ’11 and mediocre in ’12 – look for him to settle in-between those levels. Youngsters Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley should take small steps forward, but the real wildcard is the addition of McCarthy – he’s constantly injured, but when he’s healthy he’s generally effective. If they can get 25 starts out of him, he represents a major upgrade for the team. The bullpen is very solid through the top-4.

Arizona was very unlucky last year, outscoring their opponents by 46 runs yet only finishing .500. I think they will score about the same amount of runs and possibly allow a few less, which should get them into playoff contention, but I’m not sure they have the pitching depth to take that last step…especially with the Dodgers almost certain to make bold in-season moves. 87-91 wins for Arizona.

Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd in 2012)

Key Additions: SP Zack Grienke, SP Hyun-jin Ryu

Key Losses: SP Chris Capuano, SP Joe Blanton, LF Shane Victorino

Key 2012 Stats: 13th in runs, 15th in home runs and slugging%, second in ERA, first in home runs allowed and earned runs allowed. NOTE: the 2012 batting stats are somewhat irrelevant because of the massive in-season changes to the lineup.

Outlook: I only list offseason additions, but the Dodgers made most of their moves late last season. Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Carl Crawford replaced James Loney, Dee Brown and Victorino – which should be massive upgrades at each position.  The offense still won’t be dominant – their park and the relative weaknesses at 2B and 3B prevent that – but they should definitely be in the top half of the league this season provided they stay healthy.

The pitching was already dominant (albeit park-aided), but by swapping out Capuano and Blanton for Grienke and Ryu (who starred in S. Korea before being bought by LA), the rotation is now able to match up effectively with their rivals to the north, the Giants. Clayton Kershaw is probably the best pitcher in the NL today – he won a Cy Young in ’11 and finished second in award balloting last season, and he led the league both seasons in ERA. The bullpen is filled with hard throwers, although they are all righties – look for the Dodgers to go after a lefty reliever this summer.

This team isn’t a lock – Grienke and Ramirez are battling early injuries, and an injury to young Kershaw would be devastating – but as much as I like Arizona’s improvement, I think the LA is the team to beat in the West this season. 92-96 wins and the division title for the Dodgers.

NL EAST

Miami Marlins (5th in 2012)

Key Additions: OF Juan Pierre, SP Henderson Alvarez,

Key Losses: SS Jose Reyes, C John Buck, SP Mark Buehrle, SP Josh Johnson, SP Carlos Zambrano, RP Heath Bell (plus their in-season trades last year)

Key 2012 Stats: Aside from their record (69-97), they don’t matter, almost none of the relevant players are back.

Outlook: Terrible. Their owners are cheapskate liars who swindled the city of Miami into building them a stadium, then sold off all their high-priced assets after the first year in their new digs. Miami fans are tired of this act, as are fans around the nation. When their owners decide to act like owners, I’ll pay attention to this team. I hope Giancarlo Stanton manages to get traded, he deserves better than this joke of a franchise. There’s some young talent on this team, but I question whether many of those talented players will still be on the team in 2016 when they start to be relevant again. 58-63 wins for the Marlins.

NY Mets (4th in 2012)

Key Additions: C John Buck, RP Brandon Lyon, SP Shawn Marcum

Key Losses: SP R.A. Dickey, CF Andres Torres, SP Chris Young,

Key 2012 Stats: Aside from walks and strikeouts, the Mets ranked 10th or worse in every major category both at bat and on the mound. As their park favors pitchers, this means their pitching was even worse than it looked…and worse yet when you consider they had the Cy Young winner in Dickey.

Outlook: The Mets have been stuck in 70-win purgatory for four years, and that will extend to five years in 2013…but I see some very positive signs here. They have the makings of a fantastic pitching core in Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and Matt Harvey. If Marcum pitches to his career averages, the Mets could have five above-average starters. The bullpen isn’t as strong, but for a rebuilding team this is a good start.

The offense is more problematic – after David Wright there are no real potential stars, and quite a few question marks, certainly too many to take the Mets seriously as a contender. It’s generally a young lineup, and I expect them to improve as the season goes on, but inevitably some of these young prospects won’t pan out.

New York is doing the right thing by going the rebuild route – it might not be pretty for the next year or two, but there is potential down the line for the Mets. For this season, though, 69-73 wins is all I can see for New York.

Philadelphia Phillies (3rd in 2012)

Key Additions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, SP John Lannan

Key Losses: 3B Placido Polanco, LF Juan Pierre

Key 2012 Stats: Average age of hitters: 31.1 – this was an OLD offense. Finished eighth in runs scored and eighth in runs allowed. The offense was very similar to 2011, but the pitching dropped from #1 in ERA, runs, and strikeouts and #2 in homers allowed to seventh in ERA, eighth in runs, and 15th in homers allowed.

Outlook: I said before last season that the window was rapidly closing for the Phils (I said they looked like a .500 team), and I don’t see a lot different in 2013. Instead of going into a rebuild, the Phils are trying to squeeze one more run out of this aging squad. The problem is that the offense simply doesn’t have much room for improvement, especially with C Carlos Ruiz out the first month via suspension, and there is so much age (five regulars 34 or older when Ruiz comes back) that an injury or major decline seems all but certain.

The pitching is also now a question mark – Cole Hamels is an ace, and Cliff Lee was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball last year (6-9 despite a 3.16 ERA), but Roy Halladay was terrible and his velocity has been poor this spring as well. The back of the rotation is mediocre and the bullpen isn’t deep.

 I suppose all of their aging stars could have one big year left and edge this team towards contention, and they should get a lot of cheap wins at the expense of the Marlins and Mets…but I can’t see this team challenging the Braves or (especially) the Nationals for the division title. 79-83 wins again for Philly, with darker times ahead when they inevitably tear the whole thing down.

Atlanta Braves (2nd in 2012)

Key Additions: OF Justin Upton, OF BJ Upton, 3B Chris Johnson, RP Jordan Walden

Key Losses: CF Michael Bourn, LF Martin Prado, 3B Chipper Jones, SP Tommy Hanson

Key 2012 Stats: Braves finished fourth in ERA and runs, fifth in walks allowed and sixth in home runs allowed. Atlanta’s offense was seventh in runs, 11th in batting average and 10th in slugging%.  No Atlanta starter pitched even 180 innings in 2012. Closer Craig Kimbrel allowed only 27 hits in 62.2 innings, and struck out 116!

Outlook: The volatility of young pitchers and the Uptons makes forecasting the 2013 Braves very, very difficult. Atlanta has three starters 26 or younger, and while all of them have potential (and Minor and Medlen have been successful in the majors), time has shown that young pitching is extremely unpredictable. Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson are solid vets, but neither is an ace, so the Braves will really rise or fall on the backs of those young starters.

On offense, the Braves have replaced two consistent performers (Prado and Jones) with two exceptional, yet mercurial talents in the Upton brothers. BJ has been more consistent – he’s a .250-ish hitter who gets on base and hits 20-25 home runs. Justin has been far less predictable – he might contend for an MVP, as he did in 2011, or he might hit 17 home runs as he did a year ago, and in 2010. The rest of the offense is solid, and there’s room for improvement from Jason Heyward and Brian McCann. Truthfully, the Braves could have a top-tier offense, and certainly the best outfield in the league, if the Uptons play to their potential and Heyward finally breaks out.

The bullpen is dominant, which will keep some pressure off the young starters as well. I see a LOT of potential here, and if everything clicks the Braves COULD win the East…but I think at least one starter and one of their outfielders will struggle, and that will keep them at around 86-93 wins and second place in the division.

Washington Nationals (1st in 2013)

Key Additions: SP Dan Haren, RP Rafael Soriano, CF Denard Span

Key Losses: 1B/OF Mike Morse, SP Edwin Jackson

Key 2012 Stats: Pitching staff was first in ERA, second in hits, runs, home runs, and third in strikeouts. Offense ranked fifth in runs, second in home runs, third in slugging but only sixth in on-base%. Average age of the team: 27 years old, and in 2013 only three important players are over 30 (Rafael Soriano, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth)

Outlook: The Nats are set to dominate this division for several years. They have abundant talent, both on the hill and at the plate, almost all of their key players are young, and barring injury they could have the best pitcher (Strasburg) and the best hitter (Harper) in the league within the next year or two. Center field was a concern, but Span fits their needs perfectly as a plus defender and leadoff man. Haren gives them some veteran presence in the rotation, but clearly Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and especially Strasburg will be the keys. If they stay healthy – and the kid gloves are off of Strasburg – they could produce 600+ innings of sub-3.00 ERA. There are always injury concerns, but this team can withstand one major injury and still make the postseason. The Nats are the best team in the NL, and despite some tough competition should win the division rather easily. 94-100 wins for Washington.

Next week, we take a look at the NL Central, with special attention to the Pirates and their quest to FINALLY win 82+ games.

Dave Glass can be reached at buggyracer@verizon.net.

 

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