Mar 3, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward (22) warms up before the spring training exhibition game against the New York Mets at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves vs. the NL East/The Summary


Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve run through the primary lineups for all of the NL East teams in an attempt to break down how these teams can be expected to perform in 2014.  We’ve grouped them by infielders, outfielders, the catchers, starting rotations, and the bullpens.  Now it’s time to sum it all up.

 

Here’s the Rankings

NLEastSummary

 

Yes, I’m afraid that the gNats have to get the nod as best overall club:  they have balance, consistency, and enough overall talent.  The starting rotation is easily best, and they should have the means to generate a lot more consistent offense than last year.

At this point in the year, I would also use these rankings to project the divisional finishing order (though I might also put the Marlins 3rd).  But then… a great number of pundits were also projecting the Nationals all the way to the World Series in 2013.  How’d that work out?

 

Reasons to Think Otherwise:  pros/cons

Before we leave you on this topic, here’s my take on the possibilities that can change all of the above in 2014:

BAD THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN

  • Another pitcher goes down.  When the starting rotation rankings post was written, we still thought Brandon Beachy would be in that group.  No longer.  I kept the team rank at #3, though #4 is a real possibility – because the Marlins could be better than advertised, and the Mets will likely call up Noah Syndergaard at some point.  Meanwhile, if the Braves lose another hurler, then we face the chance of having the worst rotation in the division.  Certainly, this is the weakest aspect of the roster right now, and it is rather optimistic to expect an uneventful year from here.
  • Inconsistent offense.  Yes, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton seem to be a little better.  And frankly, even a “little” better goes a long way.  But this team also needs Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman to be great while maintaining Chris Johnson‘s hitting from 2013.  To a great extent, a solid offense will help the defense (pitching) a lot.
  • Pitching struggles later in the year.  The schedule is not nearly as kind in 2014 as it was in 2013:  The AL West is on the docket, which means more trips west of the Mississippi.  The post-All-Star break schedule is the tougher part, as well.  Facing teams like Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, and an improved Seattle won’t help.  If the youngsters wilt under the additional innings, or if Floyd needs time off, this would be a concern.
  • The Marlins could jump up and surprise us.  Of the ‘also-ran’ teams in the NL East, the Marlins scare me the most:  they have pitching depth and enough bodies running around that will play hard and be scrappy enough to eke out some wins that they probably will earn, though perhaps not deserve.  Those will still count, though.  Nobody should take them lightly.

 

GOOD THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN

  • 2013 was a year in which the Braves were 2nd worst in baseball in roster DL days.  The Marlins were 1 day worse.  Already, there will be 360-ish DL days from Medlen and Beachy (there’s 180+/- days in the season), plus another 75-120 for Gavin Floyd, Mike Minor and Jonny VentersIf this team can limit the DL-stints from everybody else, then we can expect better performances overall – particularly from the offense.
  • Ervin Santana can excel in the National League.  The planets are fully aligned for him:  pitcher’s park, solid support from both offense and defense, generally weaker divisional foes, and no DH… most of the time.  He couldn’t possibly ask for a better setup for a “walk” year.
  • The Nationals could repeat their poor outings from 2013.  All they need to do that is have 1-2 mediocre years from pitchers, plus the offense doing the same from last year.
  • B.J. and Uggla could hit 50 points better.  That’s hardly far-fetched, given the Interstates they were frequenting (.184 and .179, respectively).  But just that much improvement will mean not only better production, but much better ABs even when they don’t get hits.
  • Getting more help from other places.  The Phils, Mets, and Marlins could all be bad – certainly their downsides are worse than their upsides (excepting possibly that of the Marlins).  Beyond that, if the Nats are merely mortal, then Atlanta could build a lead early (they will need to – see the schedule discussion above) and hang on for dear life.  The Braves will need to beat up on the beatable clubs, for sure.

 

Final Projection

As we sit here ten days from the start of the regular season, I find myself believing that the Braves and Nats will have a dogfight to the finish in 2014, while the Phils and Marlins fight it out for 3rd place at a near-to-slightly-above .500 clip.  Pitching will be the grit-your-teeth struggle for this team – virtually all year, I fear.  I think the division could come down to a race within a single game, somewhere roughly at the 90-91 win plateau.

The good news?  Checking back over the past six years, 90 wins would have been enough to secure at least one of the two Wild Card slots… if not the division itself.  The bad news?  Expect the Reds, Pirates and Giants to want Wild Card spots, too – behind the Dodgers and the Cardinals.

Let’s see how it plays out… and also what your own reading of the tea leaves is:  comments welcomed below!

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves