2013 outlook: can the NL make it 4 in a row?

 

Can the NL make it 4 in a row ?

 

Conventional wisdom says that the American is the most talented league in baseball, but given the National’s dominance in recent All Star Games and three straight World Series wins, one must question that . Conventional wisdom also might suggest that Zack Greinke’s defection to the NL just as the entire Astros squad heads the other direction might further this inbalance!

 

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at my prognostications for the 2013 season. A word of disclosure: last year I managed to pick only two of six division winners and was a collective 285 games out in my picks (when all my projected team won-loss records were added up.) But, in my own defence, USA Today also only picked two division winners right and were 280 games out, and they have an entire staff of experts! Not to mention that on April 21 last year, I wrote (Miguel) “Cabrera to win the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.” So, in short, the future is unwritten but as it’s about 23 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the forecast for tomorrow is snow, at least I have a better record of predicting that a certain “early spring” predicting groundhog!

 

In the National East, one would have better luck finding an Bigfoot than an expert not declaring the Washington Nationals the champions before the season even kicks off. And then there’s me.

 

Atlanta– I’m not a big fan of Uptons. Neither BJ nor Justin has really lived upto the hype surrounding them nor their capabilities. And now they comprise 2/3 of the Braves outfield. Still, at 29 and 26 respectively, they should be coming into their prime and might just feed off each other’s enthusiasm. Even if not, the addition of their 145 RBI from last year should more than make up for the departure of the sainted Chipper Jones in the lineup and added to Freddie Freeman, who’s coming into his own (witness 94 RBI last year) and a once again healthy Brian McCann, this team should score some runs, and that should be more than enough to help their excellent pitching staff win. A lot.

Kris Medlen was flat out the best pitcher in the game after rejoining the rotation last July (like, in 0.97 ERA) and Tim Hudson, though nearing 38, is still on top of his game and just might surpass Roy Halladay for second place among active hurlers in the win column. (Presently he has 197 to Doc’s 199). Add in the criminally under-rated southpaw Paul Maholm (13 wins, 188 innings last year despite spending most of season with sadsack Cubs) and two out of a quartet of highly-promising young bucks – Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Brandon Beachy or Julio Teheran- and you get a starting rotation second to none in the league. And when they tire out, Craig Kimbrel , Jonny venters and Eric O’Flaherty anchor a bullpen which is more than stingy. Kimbrel gave up only 27 hits but struck out 116 in 62+ innings last year, or to put it another way , got almost as many K’s as Travis Wood did in 26 starts for Chicago last year while allowing half as many hits as Yankees star Rafael Soriano did last year in approximately the same number of frames. Once the Braves have the lead, they don’t often relinquish it. They’ll have the lead a lot this season.

Prediction; 91 wins, First place.

 

Miami – the Marlins have many new fans this year. Most of them here in Ontario. The premature dismantling of the team that began last summer continued, as we know, full tilt this winter with the Blue jays being the primary beneficiaries. So now rookie manager Mike Redmond will be asked to win games in front of plastic flamingoes and suprisingly few humans sans former team cornerstones Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson and more recent high-priced pickups mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes. Amazingly, Giancarlo Stanton surivived the purge, but look for him to move to the highest bidder by the dog days of summer in fishtown.

 

Stanton would be a superstar in the Big Apple or Lala land, but given his teammates, will be hard pressed to match either his .290 average or 37 homers of 2012. Mind you, look for Logan Morrison, just 25, to improve upon his past numbers (11 homers and 36 ribbies in about half a year last year) and those of us Toronto fans know they got a very slick-fielding shortstop in Adeiny Hechevarria. He’ll match his predecessor Jose Reyes’ glove, but not his batting title potential. Also over from the Jays, Jake Marisnick stands to make a splash as a rookie – in two or three years I’d not be surprised to see him in an All Star game and hitting .300. But it will take awhile for him to find his footing, and the park of the flamingo won’t be the easiest place to do so. Or , on second thought, maybe it will be as there’ll be so few fans there to jeer if he messes up!

 

Henderson Alvarez and Ricky Nolasco anchor the rotation; both are comparitive innings eaters (Nolasco averaging about 195 a year lately)… umm, but I didn’t say good innings eaters! Alvarez, given his new team and the confidence shown in him, should jump from third overall and have a chance to give up more hits than anyone in the game this year!

 

All in all, the fish will stink— but not as much as some might think. Look hard and squint, and you can almost make out some talent and potential.

 

Prediction: 68 wins, fifth place

 

New York – the articulate RA Dickey and his Cy Young award traded north, perhaps it’s a good thing as the most articulate thing most Mets fans will be screaming at their team will be “You guys suck!”.

 

David Wright, in a different environment and if healthy, would be a superstar, perhaps head to head with Miggy and Beltre as the best third bagger in the game. But instead, he’s here and destined to start the year on the DL again, so even if he rebounds and is in the lineup by may, will probably be good for only about a .280 average and 20-25 homers. Similar to numbers the guy across the diamond from him, Ike Davis , should post. Johan Santana seems to be the staff ace again, but at an old 34, he’s not hit 200 innings in five years and packaged all his good stuff together in just one game last year- the Mets first ever no-no (surprising given the team’s great pitching heritage of Seaver, Matlack, Gooden) . Outside of that game he was a mere 5-9 with an ERA well north of 5. Should the Mets actually have a late inning lead,they’ll pass the ball over to Frank francisco again, who on the plus side, didn’t blow a save last year after mid June, but on the minus side had an atrocious 5.53 ERA.

 

On the other hand, look for him to be tossing to 2013 Rookie of the Year, Travis d’Arnaud. The best young catching prospect in the game, some Torontonians will lament his departure when he wins the award, but most of us will know Toronto wasn’t big enough for two everyday backstops AND that a Cy Young winner trumps a star catcher anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Travis hit .300 in his debut season and anchor the rotation much better than expected.

 

Prediction: 75 wins,fourth place

 

Philadelphia: turn turn turn. There is a season, turn turn turn. Seems like the Phils season of dominating the league is about to turn. This is a team which was apparently conceived not only by a deep-pocketed PA corporation a few years back, but by randy people making out to “Saturday Night Fever” … the average birth year for these guys seems to be 1977, which is an eon ago in baseball eras.

 

That’s not to say they don’t possess talent or will to win. They do. Forget salaries, the Phils can afford it. Ryan Howard is still a dominant hitter and is having a huge spring. Michael Young owns a career .300 average and is marching towards 2500 hits and proved in Texas that there are few finer team players around. Cliff Lee somehow went til about Halloween last year without winning but is still a 200 K, 200 inning workhorse even in an “off year” like 2012. And of course, those who check in here regularly know my thoughts on Roy Halladay, a man recently described by yahoo sports as the most respected player in the game by opponents. Doc’s first win of this campaign will be his 200th of his career, or to put it in another way, more than Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain put together. He and Chase Utley were picked several years ago by then president George W Bush as the two players he’d want on his team if he still owned a club; now they do play together. Throw in heavy hitting, reliable Carlos Ruiz behind the plate and still speedy Jimmy Rollins at short, not to mention newly minted uber-millionaire Cole Hamels and you have a foundation of a pretty solid force.

 

That said, Doc Halladay is throwing with reduced velocity and has had mixed results this spring. If anyone can adjust properly to the ravages of aging, Roy can, and I think he will rebound from his so-so 2012. But, alas, not to Cy Young form again. A 15 win, 3:40 ERA season would be a success. Hamels and Lee should be in good form too, but that might not be enough to keep the put the P’s in Playoffs. Ruiz will start the game suspended due to his Aderall use and even if Howard smacks 45 homers, who will be on base in front of him? And just as Halladay might have a rebound season but not to his former glory, neither should we expect 36 year old Michael Young to suddenly play in the field everyday and return to his prime, though he might top last year’s .277 and 169 hits.

 

If this team were located in middle America, it might contend, with a sched heavily weighted against teams like the Cubs. But in the tough east–

 

prediction: 83 wins, third place.

 

Washington: From 59 wins in ’09 to 98 last year, clearly the N’s are doing something right. It’s enough to make a Quebecois cry in his poutine. Re-signing Adam LaRoche, for example, the best free agent position player available in this off-season. Can he match his silver slugger/gold glove year of 2012? why not. I look for him to top his 100 RBIs and anchor a strong hitting lineup that also has injury-prone but ultra-talented Ryan Zimmerman, sure handed and decent-hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki , newly acquired Denard Span and of course, last year’s rookie phenom Bryce Harper. Can this team score a few runs ? That’s a clown question, bro.

 

Don’t forget Jayson Werth, although at 34, and comfortably set for life, one might wonder if his five homers of last year might not be more what to expect than his 27 of three years ago.

 

Span gives them a good leadoff hitter, and the 3-4 spots are solid, but I’m not convinced that Harper will escape the sophomore jinx. Undoubtedly he has talent, but he also is young, arrogant and pitchers are more likely to adjust to his weaknesses more readily than he to theirs at age 20. I’d look for him to club around a .250 average and 15-20 homers this year.

 

All of which is irrelevant if the pitching is what it is cracked up to be. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren should compare favourably to the Phil’s three or any other NL trio. And free agent Rafael Soriano gives them a lights-out closer to add to an already durable and decent ‘pen. I like Haren to fare well in the NL and improve on his baffling 12-13, 4.33 of last season with the Halos. And for Tyler Clippard to once again come out of the bullpen over 70 times with great success. Strasburg should actually improve, if he is healthy and given the chance to flat out throw as much as he can.

 

Still, there are too many question marks for my liking to ordain Washington league champions without thinking . Harper has 139 games under his belt and the cockiness of a ten time all star. Gio Gonzalez has a cloud of PED accusations (and possibly a suspension) hanging over him. Zimmerman is oft-injured and denard span’s maturity has been questioned. And most of all, there just might be such a thing as ‘karma’. Davey Johnson had a chance last year and opted to not go for it, convinced in voodoo science that said a pitcher’s arm would fall off after 160 innings when coming off surgery and that he would have the opportunity to coast to victory for many years to come. Maybe he should talk to his division rivals a few miles up the highway about that theory.

 

Prediction: 90 wins, second place.

 

 

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