X-New York Mets 95-67 (2)
After six consecutive losing seasons, the New York Mets awoke from a deep slumber to take the Big Apple and the baseball world by storm. Riding a dominant pitching staff, the Mets won the National League East for the first time since 2006, en route to their first NL Pennant since 2000. But the fairytale season for the Mets came to abrupt halt in the World Series where the experience of the Kansas City Royals was on center stage as New York fell three wins shy of their of their first title since 1986. The odds will be stacked against the Mets in 2016 as they will be out to win the NL East in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history and they are also seeking that elusive World Series Championship that they’ve been unable to win since 1986.
At first it looked like this was going to be a tough off-season for the Mets when their longtime second baseman Daniel Murphy was allowed to leave as a free agent to sign with the rival Washington Nationals. Murphy was selected by the Mets in the 13th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft and he’s been a lifer for them. During his time with the Mets, Murphy scrapped, clawed, and did whatever it took to win; which included him putting New York on his back in the first two rounds of the postseason last October as he set an MLB record with a home run in six consecutive playoff games. But Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is a big sabermetrics guy and he wasn’t a fan of Murphy’s defense or his overall talent which led to him being allowed to leave. However the Mets will miss his leadership and hustle in their lineup.
Last July, the Mets acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers and he was able to ignite their offense. In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes batted .287 with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in as he lifted New York from being one of the worst offenses in the National League to one of the best. At first it appeared that Cespedes was going to be a rental in New York as he was a pending free agent. But Cespedes and the Mets came to an agreement on a three-year deal that is worth $75 million to keep the slugger in Queens which undeniably changes the look of their lineup.
To replace Murhpy’s presence at second base, the Mets acquired Neil Walker from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Murphy and Walker have put up similar numbers at second base with Walker being the better defender which is something that the Mets are looking to solidify. Along with Walker, the Mets signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as they look to sure up their defense.
Offensively, the Mets are a team that is full of streaky hitters up and down their lineup, but they are very high on outfielder Michael Conforto. Conforto was the Mets first-round pick in 2014, and in 56 games last year for New York, he batted .270 with 9 home runs and 26 runs batted in. Conforto is expected to be the starting left fielder for the Mets and it would not surprise me to see him get some strong recognition as far as making the All-Star team.
Led by outfielder Curtis Granderson and third baseman David Wright, the Mets have veteran leadership in their lineup. But being that Wright is dealing with spinal stenosis in his back, you can’t expect him to play the hot corner everyday and I would forsee manager Terry Collins looking to give his captain a rest during day games that immediately follow night games.
Last season the Mets pitching staff’s team earned run average of 3.43 was fourth best in the National League and they have the potential to be even better in 2016. After going back and forth with inning restrictions with the Mets front office, starting pitcher Matt Harvey appears ready to go and he’s proven that he is a guy that wants the ball. And along with Harvey, starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz all have the potential to win at least 15 games as this rotation will remind baseball fans in New York City who are old enough to remember the days of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan pitching for the Mets. The Mets also have a veteran presence in their pitching staff with starting pitcher Bartolo Colon, and along with Logan Verrett. Both pitchers have the ability to either be starters or middle relievers which makes a deep pitching staff that much deeper.
After being thrust into the role last year, relief pitcher Jeurys Familia fortified the ninth inning for the Mets, and is he’s able to save at least 35 games in 2016, it should symbolize a good season in Queens. But before the Mets give the ball to Familia, they have solid setup pitchers in Addison Reed, Hansel Robles, and Antonio Bastardo that know how to get out of tight situations.
The construction of the Mets under Alderson which began in 2011 appears to be finally taking shape. And barring any huge setbacks, the Mets should in contention to win the World Series.
Washington Nationals 87-75
Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, they’ve been unable to string together consecutive solid seasons. After winning the National League East in 2014, the Nationals headed into the 2015 Major League Baseball season as one of the favorites to win the World Series. But when last October rolled around, the Nats found themselves watching the postseason from home as it was the New York Mets who won the division. The Nationals struggles in 2015 resulted in manager Matt Williams being fired which was a quick fall from grace as he was just named as the NL Manager of the Year in 2014. Williams would be replaced as the Nationals manager by a man that he played for during his time as a third baseman for the San Francisco Giants in Dusty Baker.
Baker has done it all in Major League Baseball. As a player, Baker broke in with the Atlanta Braves in 1968 and he’ll always be remembered as being in the on-deck circle when Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run in 1974 which made him MLB’s all-time home run king. Baker was also a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers 1981 World Series Championship team. In 1993, Baker began his managerial career with the Giants. Baker has also managed the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds as he has guided each team to the postseason at least once. Some feel that the game may have passed Baker by, but he is joining the Nationals now to show that his old-school work ethic can still get it done in the modern game.
Baker comes to the Nationals knowing that he has the reigning National League MVP in the middle of his lineup in outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper is only 23-years of age, and in four seasons with the Nats, he has established himself as one of the finest players in Major League Baseball. Harper has and will continue to do this without that much helped around him in the lineup and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that 2016 could see him become the first player in franchise history to hit 50 home runs in a season.
The Nationals are hopeful that the new additions of outfielder Ben Revere, and second baseman Daniel Murphy can make them a playoff team. This off-season, the Nats acquired Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal that saw them send disgruntled relief pitcher Drew Storen to Canada. In six Major League Baseball seasons, Revere is averaging 39 steals per season and he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Nationals at the top of their lineup. Washington has finally had enough of being hurt by Murphy who left the Mets as a free agent to play in D.C. Murphy is a professional hitter who has a career batting average of .288. Murphy became a household name last October when he set an MLB record by hitting a home run in six consecutive postseason games for the Mets. But New York decided to move on from Murphy due to the fact that he is not a solid fielder which paved the way for him to go to Washington.
The Nationals scored the third most runs in the National League last season, but they weren’t consistent in doing so which hurt their pitching staff. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer was dominant in his first season in Washington as he recorded 276 strikeouts with an earned run average of 2.79. But Scherzer only won 14 games due to the fact he wasn’t getting run support. Scherzer has the potential to win the National League Cy Young Award this year; if he is able to get the support from his team.
Washington also lost a pair of veteran starting pitchers in free agency in Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmerman. Fister and Zimmerman combined to win 18 games last season and their departure will put more pressure on Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg to provide depth in the starting rotation behind Scherzer.
In a bit of surprise, the Nationals decided to bring back relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon back for 2016. Last year the Nats acquired Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies, but all he did was help the team implode down the stretch of the regular season which included a dugout altercation with Harper. But when Papelbon is on, he is really on, and the same can be said when he is off of his game. However, if there is a manager in Major League Baseball that can get through to Papelbon, it is Baker.
The first month of the regular season should be a cakewalk for Washington as they’ll be facing bottom feeders which could give them the ammunition that they need to contend for a postseason spot.
Miami Marlins 79-83
It wouldn’t be the Miami Marlins if they didn’t begin a Major League Baseball season amid some turmoil. Last year the Marlins had aspirations of making the postseason, but after just 38 games, Mike Redmond was fired as the team’s manager. Redmond would be replaced by the Marlins general manager Dan Jennings as Miami lumbered through their sixth consecutive losing season. Jennings would also be fired and ultimately surface with the Washington Nationals as their new assistant general manager. Jennings’ departure paved the way for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to promote Michael Hill as the team’s new general manager. Hill and Loria made a splash this off-season when they brought in Don Mattingly to be the Marlins new skipper. Mattingly comes to the Marlins with a solid resume that includes him being a six-time All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees along with his previous managerial experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mattingly spent the last five years with the Dodgers where he led them to three National League West Titles and he never had a losing season. But getting to the postseason alone wasn’t enough for Mattingly to maintain his job in Hollywood. However, Mattingly has a sharp baseball mind, and it will be interesting to see if his laid back approach will be able to work with a young team in Miami.
The Marlins lineup does have potential to keep the pressure on opposing pitchers. In the last two seasons, second baseman Dee Gordon has stolen 122 bases which is by far tops in Major League Baseball. Gordon also led the National League in batting average last season at .333 and he appears to be rounding out as player. Gordon did this without having the services of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton behind him for the majority of the season. Stanton is one of the most feared power hitters in MLB, but a fracture in his hand limited him to just 74 games in 2015. And if the Marlins want to contend for a playoff spot this year, they will need Stanton to be healthy in the middle of their lineup.
Along with Stanton and Gordon, the Marlins have a plethora of young potential in their lineup with outfielder Christian Yelich and first baseman Justin Bour. But Miami must find a way to play as a unit due to the fact that they were near the bottom of most statistical categories in the National League last season and the arrival of Barry Bonds who is Major League Baseball’s all-time home run leader as the Marlins new hitting coach could help them.
Along with the youth movement, the Marlins do have a veteran presence in their lineup with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki along with infielders Chris Johnson and Martin Prado who Mattingly will lean on to provide leadership on the field.
The Marlins are hopeful that starting pitcher Jose Fernandez will be able to remain healthy and be their ace, but at the same time the salty relationship that his agent Scott Boras has with Loria makes you wonder if his days in South Florida are numbered. This off-season the Marlins did sign starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year deal that is worth $80 million. In four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Chen was 46-32 as a starting pitcher with an earned run average of 3.72 and Miami is hopeful that the move to the National League from the American League will see him become more dominant.
The Marlins schedule to begin the 2016 Major League Baseball season won’t be an easy one with series against the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals, and New York Mets right out of the chute. But even with a slow start, Mattingly will be preaching consistency and accountability to his young bunch of players as they’ll attempt to push for a postseason spot.
Philadelphia Phillies 65-97
Tough times have caught up to the Philadelphia Phillies as they are now in the midst of rebuilding. After nine consecutive winning seasons, the Phillies are coming off of their third straight losing season and they are looking to avoid finishing in the basement of the National League East for a third consecutive year.
The Ruben Amaro Jr., era as Phillies general manager is over as there is a new brain trust that is running things. Andy MacPhail was brought in last year to be the Phillies new president of baseball operations and he brings with him a wealth of baseball knowledge. Prior to joining the Phillies, MacPhail served as the general manager of Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, and Baltimore Orioles. And in Minnesota, MacPhail helped the Twins win their only two World Series Championships in franchise history. Along with MacPhail, the Phillies have a new general manager in Matt Klentak. But Pete Mackanin will be returning to manage the Phils after taking over mid-season last year when Ryne Sandberg was fired.
The Phillies were one of the worst teams in each aspect of the game last year, but they do appear to have themselves some building blocks in outfielder Odubel Herrera and starting pitcher Aaron Nola. Last year as a a rookie, Herrera batted .297 while he provided the Phillies with solid defense in center field, and he should only get better with his fielding and at the plate in 2016. Nola was the seventh overall pick of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft by the Phiilies and he made his debut with the big club last year. In 13 starts with the Phils, Nola went 6-2 with a 3.59 earned run average as he has displayed the command of the strike zone that will see him develop into the ace in Philadelphia real soon.
The Phillies are on the hook to pay first baseman Ryan Howard $25 million this season as it is the final year of his deal. Howard is no longer an MVP-caliber player and if the Philadelphia is able to ship him out of town to an American League team where he could become a designated hitter, it would be a win-win for both parties.
As good as the 2000’s were the for the Phillies organization which was highlighted by winning the World Series in 2008, the 2010’s are just as bad. But all is not lost as MacPhail appears to be the right guy to get things turned around in Philadelphia.
Atlanta Braves 64-98
The Atlanta Braves are in the process of rebuilding as they look to once again be a player in the National League East. The Braves are coming off of consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1990 and it is highly unlikely that things will get any better for them in 2016.
John Hart is entering his second full season as the Braves president of baseball operations and he is attempting to build this franchise in his own image. Hart named John Coppolella as the Braves general manager and after gutting the roster in Atlanta, the only way for this organization to go is up.
In this rebuilding process by the Braves, they lack an identity in each faze of the game. Last season the Braves were 13th in the National League in team earned run average at 4.41 and they only had one starting pitcher in Julio Teheran win at least 10 games. And there doesn’t appear to be that much protection behind Teheran in the Braves starting rotation in 2016 either.
The Braves were near the bottom of most statistical categories in the National League last season, but they are hopeful that the return of a healthy Freddie Freeman at first base will provide them with a catalyst in their lineup. The Braves do have some veterans in their lineup as this off-season has seen them acquire shortstop Erick Aybar from the Los Angeles Angels while also signing former Chicago White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham. Aybar is a slick fielding infielder that should help the Braves improve defensively. Beckham is a seven-year Major League Baseball vet that is a native of the State of Georgia which is something that the Braves are hopeful will result in improved numbers for him.
After being one of the most prolific base stealers of the 2000’s ,injuries have begun to slow outfielder Michael Bourn down. After leaving Atlanta in 2012 as a free agent, Bourn was reacquired by the Braves from the Cleveland Indians. And at the age of 33, Hart and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez are hopeful that he still has some burst left in the legs that have led the National League in steals on three separate occasions.
With a very difficult schedule to begin the 2016 Major League Baseball season, it is very conceivable that the Braves could use the first few months of the campaign to showcase some of their veteran players in the hopes that a contending team would be willing to pick them up while sending some prospects back to Atlanta. And unfortunately for the folks in Dixie, that is all that they have to look forward to this summer from their baseball team.