I’m always a little depressed after the Conference Championship weekend because I know that there is only 1 game left in the NFL season (don’t try to tell me that the Pro Bowl is a game – it doesn’t matter and nobody cares about it. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a second of the Pro Bowl and I don’t ever plan to). But then I remember that my first love in this world, baseball, is right around the corner! For those of you that forgot to mark it down on your calendar, pitchers and catchers report to spring training on February 11th and the full squads report on the 15th, and I couldn’t be more excited! Hang on, I’m going to go throw the baseball in the backyard with my roommate. Be right back.
Ok, where was I? Oh yeah, baseball season! Another thing I’m excited for is that the Astros and Rangers are opening the Major League Baseball season by playing a nationally televised game on ESPN, March 31st in Houston (please, please, please don’t embarrass yourselves, Astros). So today I’m going to start my preview of the MLB season, going division-by-division and eventually culminating with the AL West (mostly to stop myself from writing a 4000 word oral history of the Astros organization). But before I start, I need to take my weekly time to brag about my NFL picks from last week. I threw another perfect game! Well, it was more of a perfect inning because there were only 2 games, but I got them both right. So if you’re keeping score at home, I’m a perfect 6-0 since the divisional round and 8-2 overall in the playoffs. This season has been kind of like my golf game – I struggle through the first 16 holes and then finally figure out a swing-key on the 17th tee only to be done 1 hole later, but leave the course optimistic enough to try it again next time! I’m not going to talk about the Super Bowl until next week partly because I’m waiting for the line to settle (it’s already moved from San Fran -4 to -3.5) and partly because I just don’t have a ton to say about it yet. Ok, let’s talk about the NL East!
Atlanta Braves – The Braves have built a great team this year and look to compete with the Nationals to win the NL East. They have done a good job of blending young talent with experienced veterans both in the lineup and on the mound and will only get better if they trade for Justin Upton. They have a very good chance to win the NL East and would be favorites in almost any other division. I think that they finish 90-72, place second in the NL East and get the first NL wildcard spot.
UPDATE: The Justin Upton trade just went through. What does this mean? Well, I still think that the Nationals will win the division because of their phenomenal pitching staff, but we are definitely looking at two teams that have a shot at the World Series. I’m going to bump the Braves record up to 94-68 with the Upton acquisition.
Miami Marlins – I like to think of myself as pretty well versed in my baseball knowledge. I follow the winter meetings and off-season moves very closely and even keep up with the minor leagues to a point, but there are some players on this team that I’ve never heard of. They traded almost all of their players with any name recognition away over the offseason leaving them with a very depleted lineup and a pitching staff that wouldn’t exactly be described as “elite”. Something along the lines of “could be decent” would be more appropriate. I think that the Marlins finish last in the NL East at 70-92 and I don’t see them as being competitive in the near-future either, at least until they get a new owner that stops stealing from their team and the good people of Miami.
New York Mets – Other than David Wright and the possibility of Matt Harvey breaking through and becoming a solid starter at the big league level, there’s not a whole lot about this team that I like. Maybe Ike Davis will finally perform like he’s been projected to every year for the last 3 seasons and they will have a respectable record but I don’t see the Mets really competing with the Braves or Nationals this year. I think they’ll finish around 79-83 with a chance to be a few games above that if Matt Harvey’s numbers stay in like with his minor-league performances.
Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies are finally starting to get some young talent on their team (Ben Revere and Domonic Brown in the outfield) after riding veterans the last several seasons. Their biggest infield addition over the offseason was probably Michael Young from the Rangers, but he’s not really a “franchise-changing” player anymore. The problem with the Phillies is that it seems that they are plagued with the injury-bug almost every season, although yes, some of that is to be expected when your roster is full of older players. For example, Ryan Howard played in 71 games last season, and Chase Utley only played in 83 and hasn’t played a full season since 2009. The Phils have a solid pitching staff with Hamels, Lee, and Halladay but again, they need to stay healthy, too. If this team can avoid major injuries this year, I think that they can compete with the Braves and Nationals but I don’t like the chances of that happening. I like the Phillies to go 84-78 but fall short of the playoffs.
Washington Nationals – There isn’t much about this team to dislike. With an outfield anchored by 20-year-old phenom Bryce Harper and a pitching staff that projects Dan Haren as the fifth starter (?!) these guys are going to be in every single game. They just signed Rafael Soriano to be the closer, which means they’re locked and loaded at just about every position. I think they win the NL East at 96-66 and their excellent pitching gives them a very good chance to make a deep playoff run.
Regular Season Final Standings:
1) Washington Nationals (96-66)
2) Atlanta Braves (90-72, Wildcard)
3) Philadelphia Phillies (84-78)
4) New York Mets (79-83)
5) Miami Marlins (70-92)