I’ve fallen a little behind for this to be a true “prediction” I guess, but I want to finish this, so I’ll try and keep what’s occurred this year so far out of it. Also, to save time, I’ll try and cover all the NL together. As a reminder, I look at the team’s records and Pythagorean Won-Loss records (based on runs scored and allowed, a better predictor of future success than actual won-loss records) from last year, then what should be different this year. So, onward: (Previous predictions: AL East, AL Central, AL West)
Braves-96 wins/98 Pythagorean wins
Based just on the Pythagorean won-loss records, a similar finish to last year in the NL East looks reasonable, without factoring in any other changes. Maybe expecting the Phillies to finish closer to the Marlins, but otherwise there weren’t many crazy happenings, record-wise. But what’s new?
Well, the Braves lost a lot of their pitching. Tim Hudson (who pitched half a year) left as a free agent. Young starters Brandon Beachy (who also missed a lot of last year) and Kris Medlen will also miss the entire year. Mike Minor is hurt to start the year, as is fill-in Gavin Floyd. That leaves them looking a little thin on the pitching side, at least until Minor returns, although they do still have Alex Wood, Julio Teheran, and Ervin Santana, all of whom are decent. They just don’t stand out.
I really like the lineup, though. They took a major hit behind the plate, going from Brian McCann to Evan Gattis. Also, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla both looked pretty abysmal, but you have to figure that they’ll either get a dead cat bounce or be benched for not-awful hitters. But I love the Jason Heyward-Freddie Freeman-Justin Upton-Andrelton Simmons core. I expect Heyward to take strides forward. However, it’s also fair to ask whether third baseman Chris Johnson will post a BABIP over .350 for the third year in a row (it was at .394 last year, which screams “unsustainable”). Actually, looking at it again, I think I overestimated their hitting and underestimated their pitching. The rotation looks at least decent, while half of the lineup might be black holes of outs if things don’t break favorably. I can see a drop back to 90-wins, which might open them up to the Nationals.
Speaking of the Nationals…my initial reaction is that they’d win the division pretty easily given the Braves’ injuries. Looking it, though, makes me less certain. A full season of Anthony Rendon will help. They have actual depth now with Nate McLouth and Danny Espinosa (who I firmly believe played through a serious injury last year and will rebound) on the bench. Adam LaRoche will either get back to hitting or get benched, which would help. I think Bryce Harper will take a step forward with Heyward (although given his start this year, maybe I shouldn’t expect an MVP season). I also think Denard Span will bounce back a little. On the pitching side, I love the improvement they got in Doug Fister, and I expect all of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann to improve by a win each (by WAR standards). The only problem I have is that I feel like I’m projecting best-case scenarios for everything, which is unbelievable. Although I also think that last year was pretty close to a worst-case scenario, too. Maybe it all balances out?
I don’t think we’re dealing with contenders anymore, to be fully honest. The Mets might have been a surprise team this year if Matt Harvey wasn’t out for the entire season. The rotation will be solid, between Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee. It would be really good though if Harvey was back and one of Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard broke out.
On the offense side, David Wright will be good. They’ll miss Marlon Byrd’s production from last year, but I don’t think he was a good bet to repeat his performance. Everyone else is…just kind of meh. Travis d’Arnaud might provide a great second bat, but that’s still just a guess. I’m not sold on Curtis Granderson as anything above average. I’d like to see one or two players step up behind David Wright before projecting it as a good lineup, though. It’s not loaded with also-rans like the Marlins’ lineup, but it doesn’t look much better than
The Phillies are working on borrowed time. As mentioned, I don’t expect Marlon Byrd to be above average for a second year; maybe average/starter-level at best. Chase Utley might improve with help, since he’s still good at least. But the rest of the core, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz, all look like they’re at the end of the line. Dominic Brown was not too bad, but I’m still not going to call him great-he’ll need a few more points of OBP for that.
The pitching side will be not bad. Cliff Lee is still fantastic. Cole Hamels is good, but hurt already. A.J. Burnett is a great three starter, much better than Kyle Kendrick was last year as a #3. But…Kendrick is still the number four starter. The drop-off after Burnett is huge, and a hurt Hamels doesn’t help matters. This was really just a mid-60s win team last year, and they improved maybe two games if things break right, which is always a risk with older players. I could easily see a drop.
The Marlins will also not compete, but they’re young and getting better. Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton (now hopefully healthy) are a great starting point. I like the Jacob Turner-Nate Eovaldi as second and third starters (even if the former is hurt now). Jarrod Saltalamacchia is an improvement, and called-up outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna have potential. But that’s really it, as far as good things about this team.
Basically, I’m betting on the Nationals’ upside and some regression from the Braves. If all else fails, betting a team that made the playoffs last year to experience bad luck is usually a safe bet. I think the Phillies don’t have nearly enough upside, and I like the Mets and Marlins about as much as it sounded: the Mets look solid yet unspectacular, the Marlins look below-average except for a pair of spectacular players. On to the Central.