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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2013 MLB Preview – National League

America’s pastime began another campaign on Sunday night, with the first full day of action being yesterday. With all of the March Madness and Miami Mania in the NBA, it may have been easy for baseball to fall off of your sports fan radar. The Hat Trick is here to usher you in to another year of Major League Baseball.
As we have done in the past, we will update our expectations for the season before, at, and after the All-Star break. Teams are listed in order of expected 2013 finish. American League teams will be previewed tomorrow.

N.L. East

Washington Nationals

Last year, they were a feel good story. This year, they are a front runner. Washington has the best pitching in the National League. They can hit the ball as well as any team in the N.L.. They are the hunted, not the hunters.

The keys to the Nats building on their 2012 breakout out are their start players. Outfielder Bryce Harper needs to continue to build on a great rookie campaign (he’s off to a great start, one game into the season). Ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg simply needs to remain healthy, and fellow starter Gio Gonzalez needs to show that last year’s Cy Young contending season was not a fluke.   

Atlanta Braves

Expect the first year of the post Chipper Jones era to be no different than last year. Atlanta will play well. They will be a tough win. They will pitch very well. A playoff appearance should not be a surprise. But I don’t expect them to appear in the NLCS.

I like the acquisition of left fielder Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks and love the acquisition of his brother, centerfielder B.J. Upton from the Rays. Still, the driving force on this team will continue to be pitching. Time will tell if the Braves made the correct choice in letting go of often injured starter Jair Jurrjens (Orioles). The bullpen is as solid as ever and ace starter, 37 year old Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA in 2012), is poised for another solid season.

Philadelphia Phillies

What to make of the Philadelphia Phillies. They owned the N.L. East for the previous half decade and then went into a black hole last season. They are not the team they were, a team that was a presumptive front runner in the National League for the last several years. 

The Phillies got into too deep of a hole too early to make it out last season. They must have better play from their bullpen, which often led Philly into the abyss last season. I like the pick-up of third baseman Michael Young. Their position players must play up to expectations. Having former All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard for (hopefully) the entire season should be a boost. Don’t be surprised to see the Phillies get at least one game to prove themselves in the postseason.

New York Mets

There’s the first pitch…and the season’s over!

Miami Marlins

Ah! Brand new, state of the art Marlins Park! Opened 2012!
Grand opening…grand closing, just like this season in Miami.

Let life imitate art.

N.L. Central

Cincinnati Reds

This team is LOADED! I cannot help but wonder how far this team could have gone last year had ace Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA in 2012) not been injured in the first inning of the National League Divisional Series against the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The Reds have the same potent weapons on the mound and at the plate and I can only imagine a chip on their collective shoulder after last year’s bitter postseason disappointment.   

Pittsburgh Pirates

Can this team end its 21 year playoff drought? They have their star in centerfielder Andrew McCutchen (.327 avg., 31 HR, 96 RBI, .400 OBP), made a key pickup in catcher Russell Martin (21 HR in 2012 with the Yankees) and have the most of same stellar bullpen that carried this team to wins last season.
The notable absence? Closer Joel Hanrahan left the Bucs for the Boston Red Sox this past offseason. That will leave it on the shoulders of 36 year old Jason Grilli, who is untested as a closer, to nail down close games. 

The biggest improvement the Pirates made over the last year is to their starting pitching. What could push Pittsburgh into the post season is the addition of Wandy Rodriguez late last season in concert with a sustained successful campaign of pitcher James McDonald, who started off 2012 looking like a Cy Young winner and utterly collapsed after the All-Star break. Also, 36 year old ace A.J. Burnett needs to remain healthy.  

St. Louis Cardinals

Chris Carpenter: gone. Lance Berkman: gone. Kyle Loshe: gone. Chances at a third straight playoff run: gone.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brew Crew made a splash, sort of, by signing Kyle Loshe (16-3, 2.86 ERA in 2012)to a lucrative, long term contract. They are solid in the field and at the plate. The Lohse signing will give the starting rotation a desperately needed boost. But will it be enough to get the Brewers back into the postseason?

Chicago Cubs

Good news: Theo Epstein is behind the controls. Bad news: the car was a junkyard chassis when he was handed the keys. Epstein has fast-tracked some of the Cubs’ young talent full-time to the big leagues quickly and expectations are high. First baseman Anthony Rizzo (.285, 15 HR in 87 GP in 2012) is one to keep an eye on. He’s a young talent who came on strong late last season and could bolster the Cubs’ lineup this year.
The Cubs pipeline, from all accounts, is moving quickly, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Cubs can only make so many changes in two seasons. A non-cellar dweller finish would be a success for this team, but I am not willing to pick the Cubbies ahead of anyone in this division…yet.

With Aroldis Chapman as the closer, the Reds' opponents essentially have to get it done in eight innings while the Reds have nine. 1

N.L. West

Los Angeles Dodgers

Whoever said you can’t buy success never watched Major League Baseball. The Los Dodgers have upped the ante in the N.L. West. Since the start of last season, the Dodgers have broken the bank to bring in shortstop Hanley Ramirez, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, left fielder Carl Crawford, utility man Skip Schumaker, and starting pitchers Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke. This looks more like an All-Star Game lineup than an opening day roster.

Don Mattingly is running the dugout. Front man Magic Johnson and his group are running the front office. I think the Dodgers are running the division this year.

San Francisco Giants

By and large, these are the same old Giants. That isn’t a bad thing. They’ve won two of the last three World Series. This team is going to live and die by its pitching, but it is clear that the Giants took a step up at the plate last year. The addition of right fielder Hunter Pence (.253 avg., 24 HR, 104 RBI in 2012) via trade from the Phillies provided a big push to the batting order.  Second baseman Marco Scutaro (.306 avg, 7 HR, 74 RBI in 2012) also came on strong after the All-Star break after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies. With no changes to the starting pitching and closer Sergio Romo filling the shoes of the now departed Brian Wilson, expect the Giants to be in a slugfest with the Dodgers for most of the season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Snakes can sneak up on their prey in the West. Arizona quietly remained within striking distance of a playoff spot until the final weeks of the 2012 season. It has to improve on its .500 record from last year. The problem? This is a team whose strength was in its offense, lost key offensive players, and made no major starting pitching upgrades. Third baseman Martin Prado (.301, 10 HR, 70 RBI) was a key pick-up, but it hardly offsets the power losses of Justin Upton and Chris Young.

San Diego Padres

I read an article in Bleacher Report saying, “Don’t count the Padres out.” One, two, three…ten. They’re out! Lackluster pitching plus an infield with guys I’ve never heard of equals a lot of free ticket giveaways after the All-Star break.

Colorado Rockies

Good position players…. Worst…starting…pitching…ever! EV-ER!!!

If Hanley Ramirez (13) behaves himself this year, he and the Dodgers might steal more than second base from the Giants. 2
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