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TSN.ca: 2014 National League East preview

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TSN.ca Staff
3/26/2014 10:02:39 AM
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Baseball season is just around the corner and TSN.ca has you covered for who's in, who's out and what to expect from all 30 teams. Check in every day this week for two new division previews, finishing up with Scott MacArthur's look at the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. Here's what to expect out of the National League East in 2014.

Atlanta Braves

GM: Frank Wren

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez

2013: 96-66, 1st in NL East. Lost to Los Angeles in National League Division Series.

That Was Then: Picked by many to be a wild card team at best, the 2013 Atlanta Braves stormed to a 96-win season and a division title.

The acquisition of the Upton brothers was the blockbuster move of last off-season but it was the development of young pitching and a few surprise offensive contributions that ended up making the difference for the Braves.

Chris Johnson, an added piece to the Justin Upton trade, finished second in the league with a .321 batting average and swatted 12 homers in an unexpected breakout season.

Andrelton Simmons provided high calibre defence at shortstop and was also a very capable producer at the plate.

Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen all emerged as top of the line starters and it was their contributions that were leaned on the hardest to push the Braves right back to the top of the NL East.

This Is Now: Everyone was prepared for the Braves to deal with pitching regression during the 2014 season but instead Spring Training has been a disaster of injuries.

Both Medlen and Brandon Beachy were forced to undergo their second Tommy John surgeries ending both of their seasons before even throwing one pitch that counts.

Much sought-after free agent Ervin Santana eventually landed in Atlanta after the injuries on a one-year deal but a clear strength of the team has been wiped out before even one game at Turner Field.

Prior to the injuries, the Braves spent the off-season locking up the core of their team long term. Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Simmons and Teheran, who will now get the opening day assignment, are all locked up, allowing the team to move forward with certainty.

After being wiped out by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series last year, the Braves will be looking to build on a strong season. Expect their biggest challenge to come in division from the Washington Nationals.

It should be a two horse race that comes right down to the wire.

Who's In?: SP Gavin Floyd, SP Aaron Harang, SP Ervin Santana.

Who's Out?: RP Luis Ayala, 3B Blake DeWitt, RP Scott Downs, SP Tim Hudson, IF Paul Janish, OF Reed Johnson, SP Paul Maholm, C Brian McCann, RP Eric O'Flaherty.

Miami Marlins

GM: Michael Hill

Manager: Mike Redmond

2013: 62-100, 5th in NL East. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That Was Then: After unloading anything that wasn't nailed down prior to the season, the Miami Marlins were not expected to do much in 2013 and they didn't.

They finished the year with a 62-100 record, which is a bad season even by their incredibly low standards and were led offensively with only two players passing even the 10-home run mark.

What to make, then, of the incredible Rookie of the Year season of Jose Fernandez?

Fernandez turned in one of the greatest seasons by a rookie pitcher in MLB's live ball era.

Taking into account all first year hurlers since 1920, he finished fifth in ERA with a 2.19 mark, second in WHIP at .979 and sixth in K/9 at 9.7.

His season is even more incredible when you see the team that was surrounding him when he posted those lofty numbers.

He even hit his first career home run, which ties him with two players that had regular at bats over the course of the season.

This Is Now: Henderson Alvarez, one of the players the Marlins acquired in last season's blockbuster deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, threw a no-hitter in his final start of the season last year and his continued improvement is one of the keys to their season.

Giancarlo Stanton is the only offensive weapon in the lineup and his tape measure blasts will once again be counted on by the Marlins to keep them in games.

They will also hope Fernandez can be as good or better in his sophomore season.

It is going to be another long year in Miami but this is a team with good young talent that will continue to grow.

Who's In?: IF Jeff Baker, OF Brian Bogusevic, RP Carter Capps, OF Reed Johnson, IF Garrett Jones, RP Carlos Marmol, RP Henry Rodriguez, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, OF Jordany Valdespin, IF Ty Wigginton.

Who's Out?: RP Duane Below, 1B Jordan Brown, OF Chris Coghlan, OF Matt Diaz, OF Logan Morrison, C Miguel Olivo, RP Chad Qualls, RP Ryan Webb .

New York Mets

GM: Sandy Alderson

Manager: Terry Collins

2013: 74-88, 3rd in NL East. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That Was Then: 2013 was another lost season for the New York Mets, as they finished under .500 for the fifth straight season and found themselves outside of the playoff picture for the seventh in a row.

They were never a factor in the National League playoff race and even the two high points of their season were in the end bittersweet.

All-Star third baseman David Wright was posting elite level numbers and was well on his way to being part of the end of the season MVP conversation when an August hamstring injury stole 45 games right out of the stretch drive of his season.

As it was, he finished with 18 homers and 58 RBIs while providing the team with his usual defence and leadership along the way.

However the story for the 2013 Mets was starter Matt Harvey, who was named as the NL starting pitcher at the 2013 All-Star game and was dominant in his breakout season.

Harvey posted a 9-5 record and 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 178.1 innings but on Aug. 26 doctors discovered a partially torn UCL bringing his season to an end.

He would eventually undergo Tommy John surgery that will also cost him his entire 2014 campaign.

This Is Now: A healthy Wright will once again be one of the key cogs in the Mets machine in 2014 but without Harvey they will have to compete all season with a huge hole in their rotation.

To help Wright, the Mets signed outfielder Curtis Granderson away from their cross-town rival New York Yankees and will count on his veteran bat.

They splashed the cash for starter Bartolo Colon who cannot be expected to replace Harvey but will be a boost to their rotation.

They will also rely on youngsters like highly touted prospect Travis d'Arnaud who should get his chance at some point this season to finally show what he can do at the Major League level.

Who's In?: SP Bartolo Colon, RP Kyle Farnsworth, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Jeremy Hefner, SP John Lannan, RP Jose Valverde, OF Chris Young.

Who's Out?: RP David Aardsma, OF Rick Ankiel, RP LaTroy Hawkins, SP Shaun Marcum, IF Justin Turner, OF Jordany Valdespin.

Philadelphia Phillies

GM: Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Manager: Ryne Sandberg

2013: 73-89, 4th in NL East. Did not qualify for playoffs

That Was Then: A 53-67 record over their first 120 games spelled the end of the line for long time manager Charlie Manuel, who was fired and replaced by Ryne Sandberg.

This list of players that under-performed for the Phillies is long but is highlighted by slugger Ryan Howard who produced at career-low levels with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 80 games. He lost much of the season after having to undergo knee surgery.

A shoulder injury hampered two-time Cy Young Award-winner Roy Halladay, who turned in a 4-5 season with a 6.82 ERA after being limited to only 13 starts. It would turn out to be his last Major League season, with the Doctor retiring over the winter.

In a tough division the Phillies looked older and a step behind for the entire season.

This Is Now: Coming into 2014 the question surrounding the Phillies was: Would they blow it all up or try to add a few pieces to their veteran lineup and take another run at being a real player in the NL East?

Locking up starter A.J. Burnett in the off-season was as good a signal as any that the Phillies were indeed looking up instead of looking ahead.

With a rotation that now includes Burnett along with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, they should be in most games.

The problem they have is: What can they expect out of their aging lineup?

A bounce-back season from not only Howard but former league MVP Jimmy Rollins will be key components to any success they have throughout the season.

The addition of Marlon Byrd didn't make them any younger but it does make them stronger and deeper.

Sandberg finished 2013 20-22 at the helm of a team that had already packed it in for the season , in his first full year in charge he'll have a huge task in trying to get this ship once again headed in the proper direction.

Who's In?: SS Reid Brignac, SP A.J. Burnett, OF Marlon Byrd, RP Shawn Camp, IF Ronny Cedeno, SP Chad Gaudin, SP Roberto Hernandez, RP Brad Lincoln, C Lou Marson, C Wil Nieves, OF Clete Thomas.

Who's Out?: OF Roger Bernadina, RP Chad Durbin, SP Roy Halladay, C Erik Kratz, SP John Lannan, RP Zach Miner, OF Laynce Nix, IF Pete Orr, OF Casper Wells.

Washington Nationals

GM: Mike Rizzo

Manager: Matt Williams

2013: 86-76, 2nd in NL East. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That Was Then: After making the playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated, the Washington Nationals were a team on the rise, with elite young talent at important positions ready to contribute and an old school manager with the moxy to label the 2013 season: World Series or Bust.

Unfortunately, and despite a strong 29-11 finish to the season, Davey Johnson's Nationals went bust as they were only able to pick up 86 wins on their way to finishing outside of the playoff picture.

It doesn't take a deep dive into the numbers to see what went wrong in the American Capital in 2013. The team's starters ERA which was a league best the season before slipped to sixth as did their overall defensive ranking.

Additions of players like Dan Haren and Denard Span failed to have the effect that management had hoped when they picked them up in the off- season.

Outfielder Bryce Harper showed a lot of heart and fearlessness as he twice made the highlight reel crashing into walls, unfortunately those incidents would end up costing him as the season wore on and staff ace Stephen Strasburg finished with an 8-9 record coming off a career best 15-win campaign.

This Is Now: Matt Williams is now the man in charge, taking over for Johnson who retired at the end of the 2013 season and he will be debuting with a roster that is almost totally intact from the prior season.

The two biggest additions to this year's team are starter Doug Fister who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers and, of course, another year of experience under the belt of both Harper and Strasburg.

In Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, the Nationals will have one of the best combinations of speed and power in the outfield league wide and if these three can stay healthy and produce, should also form one of the best top of the lineup combinations.

As far as starters go, it would be hard not to be excited by the combination of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Fister. Again, with health on their side, it would be very difficult to find a better or deeper top-four rotation in the entire league.

If the Nationals can also count on a bullpen that let them down last season but is chalked full of talent, there is no question they are once again among the favourites to make the post season.

Just don't expect Matt Williams to label his new squad World Series or bust.

Who's In?: RP Luis Ayala, RP Jerry Blevins, SP Doug Fister, RP Michael Gonzalez, C Koyie Hill, C Jose Lobaton, OF Nate McLouth, RP Daniel Stange.

Who's Out?: RP Fernando Abad, SP Dan Haren, SP Nathan Karns, RP Ian Krol, IF Steve Lombardozzi, RP Mark Lowe, 1B Chris Marrero, RP Yunesky Maya, 3B Chad Tracy.

Braves celebrate (Photo: David Banks/Getty Images)

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(Photo: David Banks/Getty Images)
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