Baseball Fever: The 2013 NL Season Preview

By: Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 MLB season is just about here! Our resident baseball lovers Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant decided to team up and give you fine folks a full preview of both leagues. Following up on there run through the AL yesterday, read on and enjoy their take on the National League today.

Dan: Hey Chris! I really think our American League preview went well. Are you going to do the National League at some point?

Chris: Well, yeah… we’re going to do it right now.

Dan: What do you mean ‘we’?

Chris: I mean ‘we’ as in me and you, you big dumb ox.

Dan: Well I’ll be a monkeys uncle! Nobody told me! I didn’t sign up for this. Can you keep the people entertained while I collect my thoughts?

Chris. Sure! I really like the National League logo—

Dan: You don’t say–

Chris: Yeah, way sleeker than the American League. Welp, that’s all, folks.

Dan: This should be interesting. Do you mind if we stick to the same format as last time, where you make sweeping and sometimes ill-founded claims and I bust your chops?

Chris: Sure, as long as you know you’re still a jer–

Dan: Off we go!

More eagles and obscure dates: The National League.

More eagles and obscure dates: The National League.

NL East

Chris: We’ll start in the East, where the Miami Marlins are the worst team to ever be a team. They’re like the Bad News Bears at the start of the movie, and unlike their film counterparts, they will probably only get worse as the season progresses. Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison might prevent them from losing 120 games. But it will be close.

Dan: I don’t think they’ll lose 120 games. They’re not this bad. They do have some young talent left and Stanton might make the leap to superstar this season. That said, the rotation is abysmal and they won less than 80 games last year, before ‘the Trade’ with Toronto. A last place finish is likely in the cards for the Fish.

Chris: The Philadelphia Phillies were a bit frustrating last season, as their high expectations quickly shattered and reality set in that this was an aging team, mostly on the downhill slope of their careers. Slugger Ryan Howard missed a good part of last season, and his return should help spark the offense. The pitching staff is solid, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, along with closer Jonathan Papelbon, but all of those guys are past their primes. Last season they finished with 81 wins, and I would max them out at about 85 again this season.

Dan: I agree with the win total but not with how you got there. The Phillies have a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the first time since they won the World Series and that has to count for something. Also, Cliff Lee is still an elite talent and there isn’t another place in the world where you’ll read that Cole Hamels is past his prime, as he enters his age 29 season (that’s why you come to the Same Page! Unique analysis!). That said, Halladay and Jimmy Rollins are on the back end of their careers and Carlos Ruiz is suspended for the first 25 games for amphetamines, so the Phillies will likely struggle to the middle of the pack this year.

Chris: The New York Mets just traded away their best starting pitcher for two Toronto Blue Jays prospects. They currently feature one excellent position player, David Wright, one former all-star pitcher in Johan Santana, and a collection of young players still learning their trade at the MLB level. They’ll likely wind up with about 70 wins.

Dan: As you were talking (writing?), I just read this, which means the situation is even more dire. This will be a good rebuilding year for the Mets, as they can bring up Travis d’Arnaud at some point and see what they have in young pitchers Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey. While the team’s potential is looking up for the future, especially with Wright re-signing, they won’t be good this year and could give the Marlins a run for the cellar.

Chris: The Atlanta Braves look poised to challenge the Washington Nationals for NL East supremacy. They moved swiftly and decidedly in adding the Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, to play centre and left field, respectively. They’re returning their potential franchise player Jason Heyward in right, and young first baseman Freddie Freeman is a slugging machine. The pitching staff is fantastic as well, with Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson as key starters, and the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. This is a potential 90-95 win team, and at the very least a wild card contender.

Dan: What he said. This is what I was talking about yesterday when I mentioned that I didn’t think the Angels necessarily had the best outfield in baseball this season. The Braves Upton-Upton-Heyward trio is absolutely devastating, both offensively and defensively. You’ll hear more from me about Justin Upton later. I actually like the Braves to win the division with 92 (yeah that’s right, 92) wins. Want to fight about it?

Chris: It certainly could happen. Their biggest obstacle is the Washington Nationals. You know, the former Montreal Expos who FINALLY advanced to the playoffs last season after years (decades?) of futility. Stephen Strasburg has moved past his innings limit this year, so he should accumulate a ton of strikeouts. Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez round out a great rotation, and Drew Storen anchors their excellent bullpen. On offense, the potential is tremendous. Bryce Harper is another year more experienced, and still only 21. Ian Desmond was an all-star at shortstop last season, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has that potential as well. With plenty of matchups against scrubs like the Marlins and Mets, the Nationals will likely end up as the division leaders with 100 wins.

Dan: Don’t forget the Rafael Soriano signing! He’ll open the season getting the save chances and the Nationals have Storen and Tyler Clippard to set him up, which is almost unfair to the opposition. Pitching is definitely the Nationals strength but on offense, I expect a regression from Adam LaRoche’s big year. Jayson Werth is also another year older (though actually healthy) and Ryan Zimmerman will likely go through his yearly injury at some point. I like Nationals a bit less than you and while I think they’ll at least win the wild card and could definitely win the division, it’s hard to get to 100 wins. It says here they’ll top out at 90 due to a lack of power.

NL Central

Chris: Houston moved to the AL West, and nobody noticed or cared.

Dan: It’s true! We didn’t even talk about them yesterday! They’re just going to be so bad. Giving them the DH is almost a downgrade because it means they have to play someone who wasn’t good enough to start for the Houston Astros.

Chris: This will really only affect the Chicago Cubs, who will have nobody to cushion their fall to the basement of the division. Starlin Castro is one of the best shortstops in baseball, and Anthony Rizzo could develop into a star. But beyond that, we’re looking at basically a Triple A team in an MLB stadium. 60 wins, max.

Dan: Theo Epstein has quite a job in front of him. Matt Garza and Scott Baker are injured to start the season and Alfonso Soriano’s contract seems never ending. Jeff Samardzija is a nice piece and Castro is a hit machine, so I don’t think the Cubs will lose 100 games but they’re definitely going to finish in last place due to the Astros defection.

Chris: Last season, Pittsburgh started hot, impressing fans and pundits alike with their red-hot pitching and solid offense. They cooled down considerably after the all-star break, and ended up finishing the season below .500. There are some great players on this team, and also some huge question marks. Great player: Andrew McCutchen. Will easily hit .300 with 30 homeruns and 100 RBI. Huge question mark: AJ Burnett, among others. Which Burnett will show himself this season? The one that pitched lights out for the Pirates last season and the Jays in 2008, or the AJ Burnett of the New York Yankees? The Pirates’ season could hinge on starters Burnett and James McDonald, who have shown large chunks of mediocrity in between spurts of greatness. This is another Orioles situation to me; the results of last season, especially in the early part of last season, belie the lack of talent. 70-75 wins is a reasonable expectation, and I know that even if they start hot, that does not mean they can carry it through all season.

Dan: I like Pittsburgh more than you do. McCutchen has made the jump to superstar, and while your projections for him are lofty (he’s never actually driven in 100 runs in a season and his BABIP last season was .375, a huge leap over the league average, something that’s bound to regress), they’re certainly in the cards. Garret Jones has emerged as a nice hitter for the Bucs, Pedro Alvarez attended Adam Dunn’s ‘all-or-nothing School O’ Sluggin’ and Russell Martin will provide stability and some pop from behind the dish. I think the Pirates finally break the jinx and finish over .500 this year, contending for the second wild card in the NL with somewhere around 87 wins.

Chris: Milwaukee, like Minnesota, is one of those fun-to-cheer-for, almost Canadian kind of team that Canadians love. Small market, close to the border, beer drinking, and they even feature a Canadian star, closer John Axford. The offense revolves around outfielder Ryan Braun, who is one of the top 5 hitters in the game (suspiciously good, if you know what I mean *wink*). In addition to Braun and Axford’s contributions, starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and centre fielder Carlos Gomez are burgeoning stars. This team could surprise with 85 wins.

Dan: Why are you winking at me?

Chris: Because… well you know…

Dan: No I don’t. That’s why I asked you. Have you got something in your eye?

Chris: No, the wink was about Braun! Haven’t you heard the rumours?

Dan: No I haven’t and I don’t care to! I love the Brewers and I love Braun. I visited their park in 2008 and it is everything that is right with baseball. If you ever get the chance, see a game there. In terms of baseball, Braun’s otherworldly talent will carry them to a few wins but I really don’t like their chances this year, despite Gomez, who was almost my pick for breakout player. It says here they finish below .500.

Chris: The St. Louis Cardinals bounced back nicely from the loss of Albert Pujols last season, and managed to squeeze 88 wins out of a roster of mostly unknowns. This season, those unknowns are a little more known. Allen Craig, while no Pujols, is certainly a solid slugging first-baseman. Carlos Beltran had a career resurgence last season, but that likely won’t last into this year. They will start the season with closer Jason Motte, 3B David Freese and shortstop Rafael Furcal on the DL, but they should all return soon. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leads a steady pitching staff, and a wild card spot would not be a big surprise for this team of character players.

Dan: Hah. What do you get when you cross a known with an unknown?

Chris: Uh… I don’t know?

Dan: You don’t? You were just talking about them. That’s a tease!

Chris: What? I thought you were telling a joke.

Dan: Why would you think that?

Chris: Because you said ‘hah’ and then asked me a stupid ques—

Dan: Moving on!

Chris: I think we might need to buy you a helmet.

Dan: I SAID MOVING ON!

Chris: Fine. I really like Cincinnati. I know this isn’t exactly an extreme position to take, but this is probably the best team on paper in the National League. All 9 positions are filled with skilled players, the best being Toronto’s own Joey Votto. He’s joined by Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick, among others, to create an offensive powerhouse. The pitching staff is fantastic, with Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Jonathan Broxton and Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman. I expect 100 wins, and a division title, for the Big Red Machine.

Dan: Love the Reds and everything you just said. This is definitely a team that could get to 100 wins and the division title is theirs to lose. Also, Billy Hamilton! (though not until later in the year).

NL West

Chris: Colorado might be the team that makes the biggest jump in the NL this season. They finished last season with only 64 wins, which is way less than a team with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez should manage. They feature good role players like centre fielder Dexter Fowler and second baseman Reid Brignac, and a slugging catcher in Wilin Rosario. Pitching might be a weakness, especially given the thin air and easy homeruns of Coors Field. Jhoulys Chacin is the de facto ace, and given his propensity to make batters ground out, he might be the perfect pitcher for Colorado. Speaking of groundball pitchers, Jon Garland recently signed with Colorado, and could end up having a career year with them. All told, I’d expect about 80 wins for this team, and while that is not good enough to get to the playoffs, it’s still a huge step in the right direction for this franchise.

Dan: A big reason for the low win total last year was that Tulo just can’t stay healthy, playing over 150 games just twice in his seven major league seasons. He’s a top 10 player in baseball when he can stay on the field but, like the Rays Evan Longoria, it remains to be seen whether he can do so consistently. I think Colorado’s pitching is bad enough that they’re going to stall out between 70-75 wins and battle San Diego for last in the West.

Chris: You’re right, San Diego will be terrible. They just lost their best player for 6 weeks at least, and by then the Padres will probably already be dead last in the division by a long way. 60 wins, lock it up.

Dan: I actually like some pieces the Padres have. Everth Cabrera is lightning in human form and will join Cameron Maybin in giving San Diego speed at the top of the order. Carlos Quentin is healthy (ish) and it’s possible that this is the year Cuban prospect Yonder Alonso breaks out. That said, the Headley injury hurts and beyond Edinson Volquez, the starting rotation is terrible. Look for closer Huston Street to get dealt to a contender if he can stay off the DL. A healthy Cory Luebke in the second half will help, but he won’t be back until the All-Star break at the earliest. A last place finish is in the cards for this squad.

Chris: The Arizona Diamondbacks can be a really interesting team this season. They feature former Blue Jay Aaron Hill, who had a great 2012 but as Jays fans will know, he can bounce all over the map with his bat. Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt supply the power, while Trevor Cahill, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy are a very good top-3. The bullpen, with Heath Bell and JJ Putz, can be dominant, and Arizona has a good chance to post 85 wins and challenge for a wild card spot.

Dan: I agree with all of that! Except for using the words Martin Prado and ‘power’ in the same sentence. He’s a good hitter… but power?

Chris: Well uh… he has a good swing! There’s power in there!

Dan: Are you sure you didn’t mean Jason Kubel?

Chris: I admit nothing! Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp both have a lot to prove this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers–

Dan: Yeah just like you, after that Prado thing.

Chris: —both are coming off injuries and sub-par seasons, and both have been questioned for their contracts. Do they step up and tear the cover off the ball? Do the injuries linger and limit their productivity? Or did they just overachieve early in their careers, and have regressed? I suppose time will tell on that front. One sure thing about the Dodgers is that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke form a top-notch 1-2 combo, and the bullpen duo of Kenley Jansen and Brandon League can be dominant when at the top of their games. Assuming Kemp’s and Ramirez’s health issues disappear, this is a 90 win team with playoff intentions.

Dan: You can’t talk about health and the LA Dodgers without also mentioning Carl Crawford!. He, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, acquired in last summer’s mammoth trade with the Boston Red Sox, are going to be a big part of any noise that LA makes in the West. And considering they’re making roughly 60 million combined this season, they better. That chart also doesn’t include Matt Kemp’s mammoth 160 million extension for whatever reason. But the Dodgers are paying through the nose and the new ownership, headed up by Magic Johnson, will want bang for their buck.

Chris: It only seems appropriate to leave the San Francisco Giants to last. They are, after all, the defending World Series champs. The lineup doesn’t raise eyebrows at first glance, but this is a team that knows how to use its role players and strategic hitting to full effect. Catcher Buster Posey is the team’s slugger, but Pablo “Kung-Fu Panda” Sandoval and Brandon Belt will chip in their fair share of home runs and RBIs. This team’s strength is on the mound, where Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, and Barry Zito might be the best rotation in baseball (again, it feels nice to put Toronto in this category as well). The bullpen is full of monsters, and closer Sergio Romo is the most monstrous of all. This team can easily repeat as division champs and will likely see significant playing time in October as well.

Dan: Buster Posey, the reigning NL MVP, is a great leader and fresh slate for a franchise that was marred by everything Barry Bonds touched. He’s also led them to two World Series wins in three years, something Bonds was never able to achieve. Sandoval has struggled with his health and Belt has struggled with consistency, but the team has added Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan in the outfield and will be a threat to head back to the post-season.

mlb-logo

NL Breakout Player

Chris: SS Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves.

Simmons impressed in 49 games last season with the Braves, but will begin this season as the starting shortstop for a very good team. He will hit leadoff, and if he can get on base, he’ll see plenty of opportunities to steal bases and score runs. He’s also a defensive wiz, even by Sabermetric standards, with great range and a strong arm, and should gain the attention of the league this year.

Dan: 3B Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds

Frazier had a great rookie campaign last year, getting into 128 games all over the diamond. Called up to fill in for a Scott Rolen injury at third base, Frazier’s bat proved too valuable to lose and when Joey Votto went down later in the season, Frazier moved across the diamond. When Votto came back, Frazier stuck around by moving out to left field and spelling Rolen at third when the veteran needed a rest. This year, Rolen has retired and the third base job is all Frazier’s. Look for improvements on his 19 home runs and 26 doubles from last year, though he’ll have to work on his plate discipline (103 strikeouts in just 465 plate appearances is a high number). I like Frazier to see a lot of pitches to hit down in the 6th and 7th spots of a loaded Reds lineup and to establish himself as a premier corner infielder.

NL Cy Young

Chris: LHP Clayton Kershaw, LA Dodgers.

Kershaw is a southpaw, which always adds a degree of difficulty to hitters trying to keep pace with his nasty stuff. He strikes out everyone, and has already led the NL in ERA twice, in 2011 and 2012.

Honorable Mentions: Matt Cain, Mat Latos, Stephen Strasburg.

Dan: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals

Strasburg probably would have won this award last season if he hadn’t been shut down in early September due to his team imposed innings limitation. Strasburg has a great offence and a solid defense behind him and he struck out 197 batters in just 159 innings last season. Up both those totals by 50 and Mr. Cy is going to Washington and maybe not for the last time. And once again, honorable mentions are for hookers and swine!

NL MVP

Chris: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals.

Why not? He hit 22 home runs with a .270 average last season, despite a disastrous July and August. His September numbers indicate he had calmed down and began to see the ball much clearer, and was able to put the ball into play in all sorts of situations. If he can put it all together in his sophomore season, you can expect 35 home runs and over 100 RBI, with 20 stolen bases and a .280-.300 average. With Washington playing at a high level, Harper could be the offensive sparkplug.

Honorable Mentions: Matt Kemp, Joey Votto, Buster Posey.

Dan: Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves

Upton finished fourth in MVP voting in 2011 before he struggled through a wrist injury for much of last year. According to all sources, he looks relaxed and confident in Atlanta, and hitting third in front of Jason Heyward and his older brother BJ, with the electric Andrelton Simmons setting the table in front of him, will only help the now healthy and happy Upton. He’s been around for a long time so it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25 years old! I think this is the year he recognizes his monster potential, drives the Braves to a division title and takes home the hardware.

Chris: Well Dan, that’s it for us!

Dan: I have to say, I think I did pretty well on the fly there.

Chris: No, you were pretty terrible.

Dan: Whatever, Double P.

Chris: Double P?

Dan: Yeah. It’s your new nickname. It stands for Prado and Pedroia so you’ll always remember your most egregiously horrendous statements from these previews.

Chris: Go to hell!

Dan: Nope! Thanks for reading everybody! Remember to check back on Monday for my piece about the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. BASEBALL!

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