NL East preview: Washington Nationals lead way
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Hey baseball fans! “The sun came out today; we’re born again, there’s new grass on the field…”
Well, not just yet, but spring training’s on the tube, and I’m getting email prompts to buy tickets, so baseball season’s on the way! If you haven’t yet checked it out, have a listen to my appearance on First Sports with Steve Bortstein, on FOX Sports Radio, where Steve and I broke down the 2013 NL East (mine was the first in a series of six TTFB appearances on First Sports, breaking down the coming season division by division). As a supplement, see below for my National League East 2013 picks. Your comments are welcome!
They have most of the parts in place. A jaw-dropping young superstar in Bryce Harper; a historically good (so far) ace, in Strasburg; hitters, defense and a solid bullpen; and a good veteran manager who seems to be able to manage different personality types (see the ’86 Mets). Denard Span is a good pickup in center field: he’s fast, dangerous and defensively strong, and in a strong lineup, he could really produce. And adding Kurt Suzuki, a solid veteran catcher who can hit a bit and has managed many young pitchers, can be more of a difference-maker than people believe. I think 100 wins will be hard to accomplish in what looks like a tough division, but I think the Washington Nationals will come pretty close.
X-Factor: Adam LaRoche. Every year, he worries both fans and fantasy owners until about mid-summer — at which point he tends to go bonkers. He’s another solid veteran presence; he also has a good glove and prodigious power, and peaking late is generally better than peaking early. However, if his early-season swoon lasts too long, or he has anything like a significant dropoff (which is a threat after such a long career, though his kind of player ages very well), the Nats could lose one of their main anchors.
Prediction: 98 wins
New York Mets
After a couple of seasons where they alternated disappointing swoons and thrilling hot streaks, the Mets seem poised to make a move. They’re battle-tested and have demonstrated an ability to hit in the clutch (last season, they were one of baseball’s best at two-out scoring). Lucas Duda is now in left field, where he has less ground to cover and seems to be acclimating. Offensively, he might be the division’s biggest dark horse, as he’s got cartoon-home-run power but is also a decent situational hitter. David Wright had a great season at the plate last year and has finally found something resembling consistecy in his throws from third base. The Mets have an abundance of on-the-cusp young talent, including Ruben Tejada, who’s one of the quietest .300 hitters in baseball and a fluid, unspectacular-but-good shortstop. Zack Wheeler seems poised for a breakout year, and seems unafraid of pressure. Shaun Marcum, acquired from the Blue Jays, has managed to put together one solid season after another in a division full of hitter’s parks. If Ike Davis – whose glove at first base is high-caliber and whose power is prodigious, but whose plate disposition is at times stupefying — returns to trending upward, then Wright will feel less pressure to be a “power hitter” and just hit like a three-spot guy with decent power. Another guy who will create a ripple effect in the lineup is Travis d’Arnaud, who seems to be as good as advertised — and isn’t bad defensively, either. Marlon Byrd is a nice pickup, and Daniel Murphy looks like a bonafide professional hitter. If they stick to situational hitting, the Mets could be one of the National League’s best offenses.
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