By Greg Hudson
Atlanta Braves (96-66, 1st in 2013)
The Braves had a spectacular season in 2013, finishing 30 games over .500 and falling just one game short of the Cardinals for top seed in the National League. But while they certainly had some powerful offensive performances – thanks to the likes of Chris Johnson, the brothers Upton, and Jason Heyward – the story of the Braves season was all about pitching. Atlanta pitchers ranked first in the majors in ERA at 3.18, and second in both quality starts (102) and WHIP (1.20), thanks is no small part to Chris Medlen’s 15 wins and 3.11 ERA, and the positively lights-out work from closer Craig Kimbrel.
The 2014 Braves Lineup should look very much like last year, seeing as no major moves happen into or out of Atlanta, with one major exception: the announcement that the Braves will be leaving the Atlanta Metro area and taking up residence at a new home some 15 miles out of the city. But for the next few years, until the stadium is ready for the 2017 season, Braves fans can expect the recent string of success to continue, provided the quality of players in the current lineup stick around and keep improving.
Miami Marlins (62-100, 5th in 2013)
For as impressive as the Braves were last season, the Marlins were just as much entirely awful in their second season in their new Miami home. While their pitching was an improved mediocre, Marlins hitters ranked dead last in the majors in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and were rather lucky to lose only 100 games.
With such awful hitting stats it’s no surprise that the Marlins have made several lineup changes, most notably the additions of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, and Casey McGehee, who will hopefully add some production to a lineup otherwise mostly devoid of oomph.
There have been no major moves in the pitching staff, but top prospects Andrew Heaney and Kevin Slowey will be fighting for a spot in the rotation against the likes of Tom Koehler during spring training. A successful season for either of them will be the highlight of the year for the fish.
New York Mets (74-88, 3rd in 2013)
When one looks at the Mets season last year, one has to admit they were remarkable. A team that couldn’t really hit (29th in batting average), couldn’t really field, and aside from Cy Young candidate Matt Harvey, couldn’t really pitch (20th in opponent batting average), finished less than 15 games under .500 despite having one of the worst home records in the majors.
To say that the Mets have turned the corner in the off-season would be overselling the improvements the organization has made, but there’s no doubt the division’d third-place team last season has taking steps in the right direction, signing outfielders Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, while adding veteran hurler Bartolo Colon to the rotation and set-up man Kyle Farnsworth to the bullpen.
It isn’t likely to be a very successful season this year, but with Matt Harvey due to return next season and some very highly rated prospects coming through the system, including infielders Gavin Cecchini and L.J. Mazzilli, son of Met legend Lee Mazzilli. Don’t expect them to play October just yet though. Yet.
Philadelphia Phillies (73-89, 4th in 2013)
The Phillies were a team of contradictions in 2013. The team with the 9th most quality starts had one of the worst ERA’s and WHIP’s in the league, and while ranking 21st in batting average, Phillies hitters ranked 24th in on base percentage. So for them to finish with 73 wins, it’s tough to predict the 2014 season based on last season’s lineup.
Fortunately, we don’t have to try, they’ve added several key players in an attempt to improve their weakest elements. Marlon Bird features in the outfield while AJ Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, and rookie Miguel Gonzalez are part of a total overhaul of the rotation after the retirement of Roy Halladay.
They won’t be in the playoffs, but they could prove spoilers for teams like the Braves and the Nationals as they fight for the division title.