MLB – 2013 PRE-SEASON NL PREDICTIONS

NL EAST – Nationals*; Braves (wild card)

NL CENTRAL – Reds

NL WEST – Dodgers; Giants (wild card)

*WS Finalist

NL EAST

1.     Washington Nationals

The Nationals finished 2012 with the best record in baseball (98-64), clinched the division, and became the first Washington-based team to advance to the postseason in almost 80 years.

But, in the fifth and deciding game of their 2012 NLDS series vs. the Cardinals, the Nats gave up a 6-0 lead and lost the series, ending their historic year in a head scratching late game collapse.

Does this abrupt end to the Nats 2012 season give me pause for picking them to get to the World Series in 2013?  Not a chance.

This 2013 Nationals team got better during the off-season, and I have a feeling that last year’s experience will stoke the team’s fire of desire to finally advance to the Championship, a feat this franchise has never accomplished.

To start with, the Nats starting pitching rotation is currently the most outstanding in the biz:

Washington   Nationals – 2012 Starting Pitching Stats

Player, Age

W-L

ERA

HR

BB

K

Stephen Strasburg, 24

15-6

3.16

15

48

197

Gio Gonzalez, 27

21-8

2.89

9

76

207

J. Zimmerman, 26

12-8

2.94

18

43

153

Dan Haren, 32

12-13

4.33

28

38

142

Ross Detwiler, 27

10-8

3.40

15

52

105

Last season, the Nationals had the 2nd best ERA; 2nd lowest opposing BA; and most wins/least losses by pitchers.  Their pitching numbers were consistently better than the Tigers in each category, the team I consider with the 2nd best pitching in the MLB and their likely competitor in the 2013 World Series.

What’s different this year for the Nats starting pitching rotation is that Stephen Strasburg will pitch the entire season, Edwin Jackson moved on to the Cubs, and they brought in Dan Haren from the Angels, a 32 year old right-handed veteran whose 10 year career record in .551, 3.66 ERA and who has the ability to complete games (4 in 2011). He’ll be an anchor and provide leadership to this young staff.

The Nationals bullpen is also excellent and greatly improved from last year by their acquisition of Rafael Soriano from the Yankees.  In 2012, Soriano had 42 saves – good enough for third most in MLB.  And, fellow reliever Tyler Clippard had 32 saves in 2012.  This alone will be a lethal combination.  Add in Drew Storen, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke, and Christian Garcia, and there’s a lot of relief to choose from.

The only blip on the Nats bullpen radar may be that Duke is the only lefty reliever in the pen this year.  However, Coach Johnson believes that it won’t be a problem due to the fact that the group overall has had success against both sides of the plate.

The Nats offense is also terrific and deep. Last year, it ranked among NL leaders with 194 home runs (2nd), .428 slugging percentage (3rd), 301 doubles (3rd), .750 OPS (4th), .261 batting average (4th) and 1468 hits (4th).

That middle lineup is formidable with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and Ian Desmond.  Each hit at least 20 home runs last year and had great RBI numbers.

The only knock on this team I could see is the lineup’s penchant for striking out. Five out of nine had 110+ strikeouts.  And, 2nd baseman Danny Espinosa struck out the most in MLB last year (189 times). Ouch.

But, at the end of the day, this Nationals team may be one of the most well-rounded clubs in MLB.  They have depth in every area, a seasoned veteran Coach, and the best pitching staff on the planet.

The difference between this team and the Tigers is lack of supreme firepower, or I’d pick the Nats as my favorite to be World Series Champ in 2013.

2.     Atlanta Braves

Similar to the Washington Nationals, the 2012 Braves regular season was defined by success, but ended abruptly in the post-season.

The Braves finished 2nd in the division with a 94-68 record (4th best in MLB) and earned a single-game wild card playoff vs. the Cardinals.  But they were unable to capitalize on the opportunity and lost that game, 6-3.

During the off-season, the team saw some players move on and meanwhile, improved their lineup.  Namely, Chipper Jones retired, Michael Bourn became a free agent and left for Cleveland, and the Braves traded Martin Prado and others for Justin Upton & Chris Johnson from the Diamondbacks.  The Braves also acquired Justin’s brother B.J. as a free agent.

With the Upton Brothers and Johnson in the lineup, the Braves offense has become much stronger.  Along with Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla, that lineup has the potential to see at least 6 players hit 20+ home runs.

As for the starting pitching staff, they were excellent last season and have stayed mostly intact. If they perform as well as last year, and are backed by that extra firepower in the newly improved lineup, it’s safe to say the numbers from 2012 could improve: 3.44 average ERA (3rd); 3rd least Earned Runs (271); 5th lowest opposing batters BAA; and 2nd least amount of runs scored against.

The Braves bullpen is also sharp and a major asset, as it was last year.  Led by Craig Kimbrel, 24 year old right hander, the team had the 7th most saves in MLB in 2012.

Thus, in analyzing the 2013 Braves season, it’s easy to see they are a good all around club.  Just how good is the mystery at this point.  It’ll come down to two main factors.

First- Justin Upton.  He’s extremely talented, but he has been criticized in the past by fans, coaches, and fellow players for not reaching his full potential due to lack of “hustle”.  So, who will he be as a Brave?  With his brother by his side, will they push each other and become a genetic powerhouse?  It’ll need to happen for this Braves club if they wish to contend.

Also, will Jason Heyward remain healthy?  He has showed us glimpses of his genius, but will he live up to expectations and become this generation’s Willie Mays?

Perhaps the best scenario for the current Braves club is to get one more power hitter to round out that lineup and take the edge off.  If Heyward’s nagging injuries creep in down the line and Justin Upton regresses, there’s a chance this club won’t snag another wild card berth.

Somehow, though, I have a feeling it’ll work out well for this club.  Let the chemistry begin.

3.     Philadelphia Phillies

There’s been a lot of chatter during spring training about the health of this Phillies club.  It’s important, because it’s everything to the success of this aging team that seems to be running its course.

Specifically, I speak of the following key players who spent time on the DL last year: pitching staff’s ace Roy Hallady (35 years old); infielder Chase Utley (34 years old); and 1st baseman Ryan Howard (33 years old).

When all of those men are healthy, they help to reinforce the club.  When some or all of them are not- they are just average.  Like they were last year finishing 81-81 and 3rd place in the division.

So, what’ll it be this year?

No one knows for sure.  But, even if those guys are healthy, it’s hard to be optimistic about this club.  The dynamic of the division has changed quickly, and quite frankly, several of the aging Phillies are past peak.  I think management is asking too much out of them.

If we look at the lineup, it’s pretty underwhelming.  Of course, we know that Ryan Howard has the potential for bigger numbers (2009 – 141 RBIs & 45 HR).  But, word on the street is that he has been limping and that Achilles is well, a real Achilles heel for him.

Philadelphia Phillies – 2012 Player Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

RBI

SO

SB

1

Jimmy Rollins, 34

.250

23

69

96

30

2

Michael Young, 36

.277

8

67

70

2

3

Chase Utley*, 34

.256

11

45

43

11

4

Ryan Howard+, 33

.219

14

56

99

0

5

Carlos Ruiz, 34

.325

16

68

50

4

6

Delmon Young, 27

.267

18

74

112

0

7

Domonic Brown>, 25

.235

5

26

34

0

8

Ben Revere

.294

0

32

54

40

9

John Mayberry, 29

.245

14

40

111

1

*Played in 83 games in 2012
+Played in 71 games in 2012
>Played in 56 games in 2012

As for the starting pitching staff, Cole Hamels has been consistently good and in fact, 2012 was his best season in his 7 years as a starter statistically (17-6, 3.05 ERA).  He’s the bright spot.

Roy Hallady did actually start 25 games in 2012 and managed to finish with an 11-8 record, but his ERA was 4.49, a drastic jump from years’ past and highest in his career since 2000.  How much more success will we really see from this 35 year old?

Third starter Cliff Lee has dropped off the radar recently with a lackluster 2012 (Started 30 games, ended up with 6-9 record).   Consistency has been an issue for him over the years.  Is he past his prime at 34 years of age, too?

Last year, both the offense and pitching statistics fell just about middle of the road, which is where their record ended up.

This year, it’ll be more of the same and perhaps worse.  The Phillies won’t contend and in fact, will probably look very different at the start of next season when Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Roy Hallady hit free agency.

4.     New York Mets

Having grown up in New York State, I’m well aware of the past travails Mets fans (my Mom included) have had to endure over the years with perpetually disappointing teams.

Unfortunately, it’ll just be more doom and gloom this year for this New York franchise.

Outside of David Wright, Ruben Tejada, and Ike Davis, there just isn’t much to like about this Mets offense. Leadoff hitter Jordany Valdepin and Lucas Duda each hit about .240 last year.  Also, three newcomers to the lineup were extremely underwhelming in 2012:  Veteran Marlon Byrd, 35, hit only .210 in the 47 games he played; John Buck, 32, hit .192 with Miami; and Collin Cowgill, 26, from Oakland hit .269 in only 38 games last year.

And, now that Johan Santana is out for the year (possibly more) due to surgery and RA Dickey has gone to Toronto, things are looking really bleak for pitching staff
too.  At least there’s Jonathan Niese who had a 13-9 record in 2012 with a 3.40 ERA.  Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey were under .500.

It’s pretty crazy to think that this mostly below average team will have an estimated 2013 payroll of about $88,877,033, when Atlanta’s payroll is projected to be slightly higher than that number with so much more talent.

Sorry, Mom, this year’s going to be another stinker.

5.     Miami Marlins

Debacle.  That is how the Marlins 2012 season will be remembered.

No one really saw it coming when the season opened.  Excitement was in the air.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had spent big bucks on stars like Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle; the team just moved into a beautiful new ballpark (Marlins Park); and they changed their name as a gesture to start anew.

But, the season hadn’t gone as planned.  As the losses started piling up, Mr. Loria started to sell off his best and most expensive players.  In July, Anibel Sanchez & Omar Infante went to the Tigers and less than two days later, Hanley Ramirez & Randy Choate were off to the Dodgers.

After the Marlins finished the season with a 69-93 record (3 more losses than the previous year) and ended up last place in the division, Mr. Loria fired Manager Ozzie Guillen, dispensed of closer Health Bell, and engaged in a 12 player monster trade with Toronto, in which he dumped the rest of the quality players for mostly young prospects.

What we’re left with for 2013 is a team in which only a few players remain in the original lineup from last year.  The rest will be rounded out by untested prospects and aging veterans acquired in the off-season.

One of those returning players and the real bright spot is Giancarlo Stanton, 23 yr old outfielder.  He is a very exciting young player to keep on the radar and will likely carry the team this season.  In 2012, he batted .290, 37 HR, and had a .608 SLG %, which was the highest in MLB (and just a hair higher than Miguel Cabrera).

The Marlins also signed Juan Pierre in the off-season to a one year contract.  The 35 year old veteran still has decent numbers.  In 2012, he played in 130 games with the Phillies, and batted .307, only struck out 27 times, and stole 37 bases.  He has the potential to steal more too.  In 2010, he took 68 bases with the White Sox.  That speed will be crucial for him in the leadoff spot.

They also signed Placido Polanco to a one year deal.  But, at 37 years old and with nagging back injuries, one wonders how much he will contribute to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, the pitching staff looks to be below average for the Marlins.  They will rely upon Ricky Nolasco to be their ace.  The 30 year old right hander has had positive seasons in the past, but his ERA is consistently over 4.50 and opposing batters like to hit off of him.  The rest of the staff has already seen some injuries to Nathan Eovaldi who was expected to be the second starter and rookie Henderson Alvarez, also expected to be in the starting rotation.

The bottom line is that Mr. Loria built up this team in 2012 with much promise and then ripped it down piece by piece in just a matter of months.  Of course, the ill effects of this mismanagement will be felt for years to come.

Inexperienced prospects, aging veterans, and a pissed off fan base just spells 100 losses to me.

NL CENTRAL

1.     Cincinnati Reds

The history of the Reds franchise goes back to the late 1880s.  They may have changed their name over the years (Redlegs, Reds, Red Stockings), but the club has always remained in Cincinnati.  There have been 5 Championship wins and 9 Pennants.  The last time they won the World Series was in 1990.

And, during the last 23 years without an appearance in the WS, the team has seen a lot of ups and downs.  But, it’s starting to feel like a new winning era has begun again for the club.  Since Dusty Baker took over management of the team in 2008, the Reds have finished 1st in the division and made it to the post season twice.

Last year, the Reds finished with a 97-65 record (2nd best record in MLB), due to good solid batting and excellent pitching (ranked #4 ERA in MLB).  But, their hopes were dashed when they lost the 5th and deciding NLDS to the Giants who would go on to win the World Series.

As we head into the 2013 season, hope has reemerged once again for the success of this team.  Management has worked hard in the off-season to round out the offense and set the team up for what should be another winning year.

The most important move the Reds made was to acquire Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland.  Choo, a 30 year old Korean centerfielder, debuted with Seattle in 2005 and then went to the Indians from 2006-2012.  During his peak with Cleveland, he batted .300, had 20 HRs and that many stolen bases.  The Reds are hoping he will prove to be a great leadoff hitter for them as a lefty with speed, something they didn’t have in 2012.

Choo will help to set up Joey Votto, the 29 year old superstar power hitter and former 2010 MVP.  Votto missed 48 games last year due to injury, but he seems to be on the mend and the Reds expect another stellar year of production from him.  In 2012, even after playing only 111 games, he hit .337, had 14 HR, 56 RBIs and walked the most times in MLB (94).

And, the talent doesn’t stop there.  They have Ryan Ludwick, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Zack Cozart in the lineup, giving it a very good balance:

Cincinnati Reds – 2012 Player Stats

Lineup

Player, Age

BA

HR

RBI

SO

SB

1

Shin-Soo Choo, 30(Left-handed hitter)

.283

16

67

150

21

2

Brandon Phillips, 31

.281

18

77

79

15

3

Joey Votto*, 29(Left-handed hitter)

.337

14

56

85

5

4

Ryan Ludwick, 34

.275

26

60

97

0

5

Jay Bruce, 26(Left-handed hitter)

.252

34

99

155

9

6

Todd Frazier, 27

.273

19

67

103

3

7

Zack Cozart, 27

.246

15

35

113

4

8

Ryan Hanigan+, 32

.274

2

24

37

0

*Played in 111 games in 2012
+Played in 112 games in 2012

The pitching staff remains mostly intact with Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake.  And, Reliever Aroldis Chapman will be at the ready to garner a lot of saves (38 in 2012).

Overall, this team is very well rounded and deep.  Even if Votto continues to have knee issues, the team will be fine without him as they did last year.  However, if he is healthy, this team should be a force to be reckoned with, even more so than last year.

2.     St. Louis Cardinals

Despite not having made it to the World Series last year, it is pretty amazing to think what the Cardinals accomplished.  They finished 2nd in the division with an 88-74 record to earn a wild card berth.  They went on to win their wild card game against the Atlanta Braves, beat the Nationals in the NLDS, and almost beat the Giants in the NLCS to go on to the WS.

In fact, what St. Louis has done since 2000 in particular, is to build themselves a modern dynasty: 2 World Series Championships and finished 1st in the division 6 times.

I foresee this winning culture to continue over the years, but perhaps not in 2013.  They will feel the loss of Rafael Furcal in the lineup and on the field, and Kyle Lohse, star pitcher who finished with the highest winning percentage in 2012.

Luckily, the Cards have almost the same excellent lineup as last year including catcher Yadier Molina (.315, 22 HRs in 2012); Allen Craig (.307, 22 HRs); Matt Holliday (.295, 27 HRs, 102 RBIs); and Carlos Beltran (.269, 32 HRs, 97 RBIs).

That 2012 offense was able to garner the following team statistics in MLB:

  • #1 – OBP;
  • #2 – Hits;
  • #4 – Highest Average;
  • #5 – RBIs;
  • #5 – Most Runs Scored;
  • #9 – Doubles;
  • #9 – Triples.

However, and this is a big problem for the Cardinals – Rafael Furcal, 34 yr old shortstop, announced in March that he would be having season ending Tommy John surgery. They plan to replace him with Pete Kozma, 24, Rookie, who did aptly fill in for Furcal the last 6 weeks of 2012 season, but is largely untested otherwise.

Still, Furcal helped drive the bus into the station last year.  Without him, and with other big powerhouse teams emerging in the NL, I just don’t foresee the offense succeeding the same as last year.

As for the starting pitching staff, it took a big blow over the off-season.  Namely, Kyle Lohse, 34 Righthander, left for Milwaukee.  He helped the Cardinals get to the post-season with a 16-3 record and led the National League in winning percentage, at .842.  I have a hard time believing that without him, that staff will get another top 10 ranking in the MLB this year.  Fortunately, the Cards still have Jason Motte as their star reliever.  He pitched 42 saves last year which will help.

In the end, the Cardinals lineup looks very good overall, but the pitching staff is somewhat weakened by the loss of Lohse.  With a good reliever at the helm, the team still does look well balanced.  Will they use their excellent farm system to help bridge the gap(s)?  It’s possible.

But, now that the Nationals, Braves, and Reds are reinforced since last year, I don’t see this team having the same success as they did in 2012.

3.     Milwaukee Brewers

Last year, the Brewers finished 3rd in the division and had an 83-79 record.  Their stats show that they were top heavy in hitting (ranked top 10 in MLB: Runs, Doubles, Triples, HRs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS).  But, the pitching was below average.  They gave up too many runs and walked too many batters.

This year should be more of the same.

The lineup is the same exact one as last year, which is great.  But, starting pitching has not been dealt with as much as it should have.  They picked up Kyle Lohse from the Cards, who I described above as an asset.  But, other than him and Yovani Gallardo (16-9, 3.66 ERA in 2012), there’s not much else here to like.

One further concern is Ryan Braun himself.  Yes, he is a true superstar hitter and some say could give a run at this year’s triple crown.  But, his appearance on the list in the Miami clinic earlier this year that was connected to alleged PED use by ARod and Melky Cabrera, among others, is troublesome and not going away.  As we speak, investigations are ongoing.

With this new revelation, I can’t help but to think that black cloud over the Brewers clubhouse will reemerge again as it did in late 2011 when he allegedly tested positive for PEDs and the saga that followed.  He won his appeal then, but the mystery of his drug use has been reignited with this new allegation.  It won’t just effect Braun, but the confidence in him by the fans, management, and MLB.

Thus, due to the obvious pitching holes and possible Ryan Braun PED saga blowing up again, I can’t put much stock into this team.

4.     Pittsburgh Pirates

Around mid-season last year, Pirates fans and baseball writers started to prepare themselves for the idea that the 20 year wait might be over for this team to finally get into the post-season once again.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  The Pirates went from a 63-47 record in August to 79-83 at the end of the season and finished 4th in the division.

What went wrong?

Well, the pitching staff couldn’t keep up their winning ways down the stretch and collapsed.  Some of the pitchers petered out like A.J. Burnett and James McDonald; others got injured like Jeff Karstens; and the rest just faltered.

The Pirates offense was good and had some firepower, but not good enough to make up for the pitching shortcomings.

However, the lineup and pitching should improve this year due to the acquisition of Russell Martin during the off-season.  An excellent and veteran clutch hitting catcher, Martin, 30 years old, will add some firepower into the lineup (21 HRs in 2012) and provide expertise and knowledge to the pitching staff.

The Pirates still also have some excellent talent in the lineup including Andrew McCutchen, 26 year old centerfielder, who hit .327, 31 HRs, brought in 96 RBIs, and had 194 hits, most in MLB.  He also stole 20 bases last year and has the potential to steal more (33 SB in 2010).

Thus, it’s fair to say that the Pirates definitely have some talent and are rumored to have a farm system which will soon be delivering the goods.  But, the team did nothing to fix its pitching woes in the off-season (besides hiring a better catcher).  And, the offense still lacks sufficient power to contend.  If somehow management fills these holes, we could have something here.  But, until then – we do not.

5.     Chicago Cubs

Last season, the Cubs finished with a 61-101 record and 5th in the division.  This is a far cry from Theo Epstein’s promise one year earlier, when he was announced as the new president of baseball ops: “I firmly believe that we can preserve the things that make the Cubs so special and over time build a consistent winner, a team that will be playing baseball in October consistently and a team that will ultimately win the World Series.”

A seemingly Herculean statement for a man who runs a club that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908.

Yet, Epstein did inform the fan base with his statement that it will take time to remake the organization from the inside out.

In the meantime, while he rebuilds the team by focusing on scouting and drafting amateur players, the team is clearly not there yet.  Not even close.

The offense lacks for any real firepower and depth, except for Alfonso Soriano, who hit 32 home runs in 2012.  And, last season, the team’s offense ranked near the bottom in all of the following categories in MLB: Runs, Hits, RBIs, OBP, SLG, OPS.

The pitching didn’t fare much better.  They had the least amount of saves in MLB; gave up the 2nd most walks; ranked 27th in SO; #24th in ERA; #25th in Quality Starts; and #7th in Earned Runs given up by pitchers.

That said, this team has some rebuilding to do.  There’s only up from here.

Until then, the Cubs will be firmly entrenched in the cellar where they’ve been for the last few years.

NL WEST

1.     Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s safe to say that when the controlling partners of Guggenheim Baseball Management purchased the Dodgers in March 2012, their goal was to remake a mediocre team into one that could compete at the highest level.

It wasn’t that far of a stretch, really.  The 2011/early 2012 Dodgers already had a good solid core of young talent, including Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Cy-Young pitcher Clayton Kershaw, among others.  They also had a decent manager in Don Mattingly, an excellent former player and coach for the New York Yankees.

The new controlling partners only did what we were expecting a group of investors with muchos dolares to do – they bought higher caliber players to round out the potential of the team.

They got it done by acquiring a collection of first-rate veteran players from the Marlins during mid-season, and the Red Sox towards the end of the season.  And, during this off-season, they went one step farther and acquired 29 yr old former Cy Young Pitcher Zack Greinke.  This all equates to the Dodgers most likely ending up with the highest payroll in the majors, topping the Yankees who uncharacteristically are cutting back.

So now that the Dodgers have finally put themselves in contention with a solid team including a nice mixture of both veterans and youth, the question will be if they have the most important piece of the puzzle to pull it all together: chemistry.

Matt Kemp thinks so.  As reported by the Los Angeles Times, he said “I can already tell with the people that we have here that the chemistry’s going to be good”.

If so, this team could storm through the NL and give the Nationals a run for their money, which I expect they will.

2.     San Francisco Giants

I think the Giants will be right on the Dodgers’ heels and should win a wild card spot.  Their team is mostly in tact this year from last and well, they were a good team with all the right components and chemistry to win the World Series the last two out of three years.

The obvious strengths of the club include catcher Buster Posey who just signed a long-term high-priced contract to solidify his tenure with the club, and that starting pitching staff who was so very clutch in 2012.  All five starters return this season (Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum, and Zito).

And, even if Lincecum does not perform up to the standards he is capable of, the rest of the pitching staff should carry the team.

My real concerns are: Pablo Sandoval’s weight and elbow.  He probably won’t be healthy the entire season, leaving a hole in that lineup.  And, Marco Scutaro.  Am I only the one concerned about him playing second base age at 37?

In the end, I just don’t think the Giants will be able to stop the Dodgers locomotive which is picking up steam as we speak.

3.     Arizona Diamondbacks

In 2012, the Diamondbacks finished 81-81 and 3rd in the division.  I foresee a similar situation this season.

While the D’Backs will remain competitive, this division is just too tough for this team to contend due to their historical inconsistency.  And, evidence is already showing that it will continue.  Key players like Cody Ross and Willie Bloomquist are already on the DL at the start of the season, forcing Arizona to tap early into its reserves.

That said, if this team hits on all cylinders and the Dodgers & Giants do not perform as well as expected, there could be a chance for this team to finish higher in the standings.

They have excellent players new to the team like Martin Prado from Atlanta.  He hit .301, 10 HR and stole 17 bases last year.  He will be followed in the lineup by Aaron Hill, who at 31 years old hit .302, 26 HR and stole 14 bases in 2012.

Also, the pitching staff does have potential and could be solid.  Right hander Ian Kennedy, 28 years old, was 15-12 and 4.02 ERA in 2012.  In 2011, he finished 21-4 and 2.88 ERA.  He will be followed by right-hander Brandon McCarthy( new to the team from Oakland) and Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Patrick Corbin.

What is solid about this club is the bullpen.  Can’t beat having J.J Putz at the ready.  He had 37 saves in 2012.  They also obtained Heath Bell from Miami who had 19 saves in 2012, but averaged 44 saves for the Padres each year from 2009-2011.  He should bounce back in a more positive situation.

Then there’s Matt Reynolds, a 28 year old lefty they obtained from the Rockies, and Brad Ziegler, the 33 year old solid righty who has been excellent for the club last season.

4.     San Diego Padres

The Padres finished the 2012 season right where they will end up in 2013: 4th in the Division with a 76-86 record.

What it comes down to is that San Diego has a middle-of-the-road pitching staff and below average lineup.

For instance, last year, the Padres ranked in the bottom in almost every batting statistic and it’s no wonder.  They don’t hit many home runs, don’t advance the hitters much, strike out too much, and lack for any real power.

The bright spot in the lineup is the potential for speed.  Switch-hitting leadoff batter Everth Cabrera stole 44 bases last year, Will Venerable stole 24 and Cameron Maybin took 26 bases.  They should try to capitalize on this as best they can and work on small ball tactics to advance the runners for lack of any other offense asset.

The starting pitching rotation remains the same and isn’t terrible, but need a real ace to contend.

The upside for the Padres is that this division is not as competitive as others.  The Giants don’t hit a lot of home runs, the Dodgers may not be as good as predicted, looks like the Rockies will continue to have major pitching struggles, and the Diamondbacks lack for speed and strike out too many times.

Still, there’s no real oomph to this team which will be its undoing.

5.     Colorado Rockies

Last season, the Rockies had the following team statistics overall:

TEAM BATTING:

  • 2nd Highest Batting Average in MLB;
  • 3rd Highest OPS in MLB (Only NYY & Texas ahead);
  • 4th Highest Slugging Percentage in MLB;
  • 6th Highest OBP in MLB;
  • 7th Most RBIs in MLB.

TEAM PITCHING:

  • 30th – ERA (Highest in MLB);
  • 30th –Earned Runs (Highest in MLB);
  • 30th – BAA by opposing teams (Highest in MLB);
  • 3rd – Most Walks Given out by Pitchers in MLB.

FIELDING:

  • 30th – Errors (Most in MLB)

Notice the major imbalance?  The Rockies had one of the best offenses last year in MLB, but they also had the worst pitching and fielding of any other team.  This might be the most uneven team in the majors.

On the other hand, with those statistics, one has to wonder if the conditions in Denver at Coors Park may be having an effect on the Rockies bottom line.

For instance, Coors Park is considered one of the most home run and hitter friendly parks in MLB.  It has mile high elevation, dry air and one of the largest outfields in MLB, all of which contribute towards the ball flying higher and farther.  This surely helps the Rockies offense and likely hurts its pitching.

To confirm this, I took a look at the 2012 stats and noticed that Rockies pitchers fared marginally better pitching away rather than at home.  In fact, they saw a jump in ERA by more than an entire run when they pitched at home (5.97 at home vs. 4.41 away).

That said, the Rockies pitching is still subpar and probably won’t stand a chance in this tough division, even if the team finds a way to combat the negative Coors Stadium effect on its pitching.

The team’s “ace” (if you can use that word) is Jhoulys Chacin.  He’s never had a season .500 or above and has been plagued with injuries.  The likely second starter is Jorge de la Rosa who is in his first full season after Tommy John surgery in June 2011.  He’s already struggled mightily in spring training.  The rest of the rotation are young and have struggled as well.  The only hope may be a new acquisition, Jon Garland, 33, sinkerball pitcher who had a good showing in spring training, but he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 due to shoulder surgery.

Whatever the reasons for the pitching staff woes, this current situation can’t work – the Rockies finished with 64-98 record in 2012 and came in last place in the division.  And, the team is largely intact from what it was last year.

Despite the upswing of the Rockies’ bullpen which is good, expect a similar outcome for the club this season.  Namely, last place in the division.

(For more on the effect of the Coors stadium on pitching, read interesting 2012 ESPN article “Pitching Has Dried up in Colorado”.)

CONCLUSION

Depending on your point-of-view about whether or not a club’s overall success will be determined by its pitching or offense, the Tigers and Nationals will be a good case study this season.

As described in my article “2013 AL Predictions”, I outlined just how powerful the Tigers line-up has the potential to be.  In my mind, they will be the most formidable offense in MLB this year.  Their pitching is also excellent, but not their real strength.

Compare that to the Nationals whose pitching is going to be the best in the MLB.  Their offense is really good too, but not as powerful as the Tigers.

So, who will come out on top?  The team with the best pitching or offense?

I, for one, can’t wait to see.

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