Thursday, June 23, 2016

NL East 2016 Season Preview

Baseball is well underway  I’m taking a quick look at each division and making some predictions before the season really takes off.  For my overall thoughts about the league and playoff predictions, check out this post HERE.  Or for my AL West thoughts, check out THIS POST.  Lastly, you can get my thoughts on the NL West HERE.

But now I’ll move to the NL East.  The Mets made it to the World Series last year and are hoping to improve on that showing.  However, they had the benefit of a hot second half and a weak division.  Can they count on those things again?  The Washington Nationals look like the best team on paper.  But they looked that way last year and were a major disappointment.  Will a new manager be enough of a change?  The Braves and Phillies are clearly re-building.  Neither will be a factor this year, but the focus on them is about the talent coming down the pipe.  And nobody is sure what to make of the Marlins.  Are they in baseball purgatory?  Enough good players to win games, but maybe not enough to make the playoffs?  Is that enough for this ownership group?  At this point in the season, we are seeing pretty much what we expected with the Mets and Nationals playing well and the Braves struggling (albeit far worse than was expected).  However the surprises are the Phillies playing well initially and the Marlins playing even better.  We’ll see how long this continues this season.  I’ll keep my predictions the same as they were in the preseason despite the season being underway. 


Atlanta Braves-                    Did anyone think they would be this bad?

Miami Marlins-                    Could this hot start put them in wildcard contention?

New York Mets-                   If they can hit, can they be beaten?

Philadelphia Phillies-         If they play like this now, will this be a quick re-build?

Washington Nationals-      Was Dusty Baker really the missing piece for this team?


Washington Nationals-                  98-64

New York Mets-                               85-77

Miami Marlins-                                81-81

Atlanta Braves-                                72-90

Philadelphia Phillies-                     68-94

Washington Nationals

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Ben Revere
3B                               Anthony Rendon
RF                                Bryce Harper
1B                               Ryan Zimmerman
2B                               Daniel Murphy
LF                                Jayson Werth
C                                  Wilson Ramos
SS                                Danny Espinosa

RHP                             Max Scherzer
RHP                             Stephen Strasburg
LHP                             Gio Gonzalez
RHP                             Tanner Roark
RHP                             Joe Ross
CLOSER                      Jonathan Papelbon

The Nationals were supposed to be great last year.  They were supposed to run away with the division and compete for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  That didn’t happen.  Despite having what clearly looked to be the best team on paper, the Nationals struggled early on and fell well short of the playoffs, instead seeing the Mets run away with the division and make it to the World Series.  So Matt Williams was ousted as manager and replaced with the player-friendly Dusty Baker.  They also upgraded second base with Daniel Murphy and shifted Danny Espinosa to short to make up for the loss of Ian Desmond.  They didn’t have an answer for the loss of Jordan Zimmerman to the Tigers, but hope that adding the offensive playoff hero from their division rival to go with a new manager will be enough.  With their talented roster, they have to feel like they can win it all this year.

Offensively, they are led by NL MVP Bryce Harper.  He was ridiculously good last season hitting 330 with 43 HR, 99 RBI and 118 R.  He got on base at a silly 460 clip and played good defense in right.  The only thing he can’t do is steal bases, which is why many still only consider him the second best player in the game, behind Mike Trout (who is also a better defender at a harder position…not to mention he has a longer track record of success, even if it’s not much longer).  But that’s nitpicky.  Bryce Harper is likely the best player in the NL (just ahead of Paul Goldschmidt). He hits for power, average, drives in runners and gets on base to score runs.  I like him for another 300+ season (the constant pitching around will make him reach a bit dropping his average from the 330 it was last year) with 40 HR, 100+ RBI and 100+ R.  If he can steal double-digit bases (he was 6 for 10 last year) he could really help the Nationals out and make teams pay for all the intentional walks.  After Harper, there are no stars.  But there are plenty of good bats.  Ben Revere is a speedster.  He’s not a great defender and has a weak arm, but he covers ground like a gazelle.  He’s a career 291 hitter with a 325 OBP.  It’s not great for a leadoff hitter, but the OBP is sufficient, due to his high batting averages.  He hit over 300 in back to back seasons for the Phillies before hitting 298 in 96 games for them last year and then 319 in 56 games for the Blue Jays.  He stole 31 bags last year and scored 84 runs.  He’s never scored 100 runs and likely won’t unless he can learn to take a walk.  But he hits for a high enough average and steals enough bases to keep his job and should be good for another season around 300 with 30+ SB and 80+ R.   But an injury (he is injury prone) may eat into those totals. The key for this team may be the hitters on either side of Harper:  Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman.  Rendon has had issues staying on the field playing only 80 games last year.  He hit 287 with 21 HR, 83 RBI and 17 SB in 2014, his only healthy season.  I don’ know if he can return to that, but if he can hit north of 270 with double digit homers and speed, it would help the team a lot, specifically Harper with RBI opportunities.  The more important guy is the man hitting behind Harper, Ryan Zimmerman.  But he has to prove that he is healthy.  He hit 249 in 95 games last year, but with a strong 16 HR showing.  The 2009 Zimmerman is likely gone forever, but if he can hit 270 with 15+ HR, then likely things will be looking up for Washington.  To this point, he has struggled being dropped to 5th in the order.  But he’s playing better.  The big surprise so far is Daniel Murphy.  Murphy has always been a good player.  He’s got some pop and some speed and hits for a good average with a solid OBP.  Last year was more of the same….281 with 14 HR and 73 RBI.  He only went 2 for 4 on the bags, which broke a streak of 3 straight seasons of at least 10 SB.  But that’s just a bonus with him.  He can be a 280-290 player with perhaps 12 HR, 10 SB and 70+ RBI.  But he’s on pace for far more than that, hitting behind Harper this year.  He is off to his best start, currently hitting 347 as of this posting.  Werth is not what he used to be, but can pop a few over the fence and play good defense.  Wilson Ramos is in the same boat.  And Michael Taylor and Stephen Drew are quality backups.  This team has a star in Harper and enough supporting pieces around him to be one of the top offenses in the National League.

The pitching staff is similar.  It consists of one sure star, one possible star and some strong arms around them.  Max Scherzer is the star.  The former Cy Young winner was at his best in his first season in the NL going 14-12 with career highs 228 IP and 276 Ks.  He pitched to a career low 2.79 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.  He had multiple no hitters and has already tied the major league record with a 20 strikeout performance in this season.  He should threaten for 20 wins, if his team can support him, which I think they can do.  Think an ERA around 3 with 220+ IP and 250+ Ks.  He is an ace.  After him, the Nats have Stephen Strasburg, who they just signed to a 7 year $175 million dollar deal, with both third and fourth year opt outs.  Basically it will make Strasburg rich quickly, but still allow him to test free agency if he wants to after his third and fourth year.  It’s the best of both worlds, so nice work by Scott Boras.  But the Nats are happy too, because they got Strasburg for a friendly amount of money (not too friendly but they may well have been outbid) and now he’s theirs for at least 3 more years.  Some think Strasburg has been a disappointment, but I think that’s unfair.  He’s been injured a lot, but when he’s played he’s been pretty good, the beginning of last year not withstanding.  But he rebounded to end the season with 23 starts and a 3.46 ERA.  He still struck out well over a batter per inning and won 11 games.  The year before that he made a full slate of starts with 14 Wins, a 3.46 ERA and 215 IP (with 242 Ks).  If he can stay healthy (admittedly a decently sized “if”), then I like him for 12-15 Wins and over 200 Ks and IP.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see that ERA fall closer to 3.25 or even approach 3.  The rest of the starting rotation is made up of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.  Gonzalez is the most decorated amongst them, but has not been the pitcher he initially was in his last year in Oakland and first year in D.C.  But while he may not be an All Star any more, he is a dependable number 3, with the upside of a low-end number 2.  And who knows, he has greatness in his past.  At worst he’s an innings eater, but he’s off to a good start this year.  Roark is a better than average fourth starter who has really taken hold of his starting opportunity.  Both of those guys could break 200 IP with sub 4 ERAs and double digit wins.  The bullpen has some good arms, including an experienced closer in Jonathan Papelbon and a shut down lefty in former starter Oliver Perez.  This pitching staff as a whole looks strong and is supported by a strong defensive group in the field.

This team has no clear weaknesses.  Sure, Strasburg could get hurt.  Or maybe it’s Gio Gonzalez.  And sure, teams will pitch around Harper.  Revere and Werth aren’t the healthiest.  And Daniel Murphy isn’t the best defensive second baseman.  But we are really nitpicking to find something wrong with this club.  They can hit it.  They can throw it.  They can catch it.  They have an MVP candidate in Bryce Harper and a Cy Young candidate in Max Scherzer.  And they have gotten off to a great start.  If Ryan Zimmerman starts to hit better to protect Harper, then I really like this team’s chances to win it all.  And, in fact, I like this team to be the home field winner in the NL, with three really good teams beating up on each other in the NL Central and the NL West looking somewhat weak.  They are my pick to win the World Series, and the beginning of the season has not dissuaded me from that.   

New York Mets

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

RF                                Curtis Granderson
3B                               David Wright
LF                                Michael Conforto
CF                                Yoenis Cespedes
1B                               Lucas Duda
2B                               Neil Walker
C                                  Travis d’Arnaud
SS                                Asdrubal Cabrera

RHP                             Matt Harvey
RHP                             Jacob deGrom
RHP                             Noah Syndergaard
RHP                             Bartolo Colon
LHP                             Stephen Matz
CLOSER                      Jeurys Familia

The Mets are hoping to keep the magic from their postseason and second half alive.  They were able to re-sign Cespedes, to what is essentially a one year deal, and they still have that great pitching staff.  Losing Daniel Murphy will hurt, but they hope a full season of Michael Conforto and the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera will make up for that.  They are off to a good start this year, but are struggling to deal with the injuries to Lucas Duda and David Wright.

This offense is tricky.  They were bad for the first half of last season.  Just no way around that.  Then they added Yoenis Cespedes, after they failed to acquire Carlos Gomez.  It ended up working out as Cespedes had his hottest stretch of games ever and pretty much singlehandedly carried the Mets offense into the playoffs.  When they got there, it was mainly Daniel Murphy providing the offense for the Mets and he’s gone now.  However the emergence of Michael Conforto has helped mitigate that loss.  In 56 games last year, he hit 270 with 9 HR and 26 RBI.  He was red hot to start this year.  While he’s cooled recently, he is a dangerous hitter.  Their other star, Cespedes is also having a great year.  He hit 35 HR with 105 RBI between Detroit and Flushing last year.  This year he is hitting 290 with 18 HR and 44 RBI as of this posting.  Those two guys are powering the Mets along.  However, they have other talent on the offense that has really played at its highest level ever to this point.  Lucas Duda is a slugger who hit 27 HR last year.  He had 7 so far this season before a stress fracture in his back sent him to the DL.  The Mets have signed James Loney, but he’s a very different kind of hitter.  Speaking of different kind of hitters, Curtis Granderson continues to serve as a non-traditional leadoff hitter.  Last year he hit 259, which isn’t bad but generally not high enough for a leadoff man.  He’s also got prodigious power, which is generally reserved for the middle of the order to drive in runs.  But his OBP of 364 kept him leading off.  He also still has speed with 11 SB.  He hit 26 HR out of the leadoff hole with 70 RBI and 98 R.  So it has worked for New York in the past, but this year Granderson is greatly struggling.  The big surprise has been Neil Walker.  He’s a 272 career hitter with generally around 15 HR a season.  This year he already has 11 HR.  He has really helped power the Mets to first place in the division.  David Wright was only playing part time, but an injury has knocked him out for a while, leaving Wilmer Flores to man the hot corner and seeing the Mets trade for Kelly Johnson from the Braves for the second straight year.  Also on the bench are Alejandro de Aza and Juan Lagares and multiple catchers to make up for the often injured Travis d’Arnaud, who is once again injured.  The outfield defense will be key on this club.  Cespedes starts at center, but isn’t great in the position.  Conforto starts in left, and is also a defensive liability.  So having de Aza and Lagares able to sub in late in games is key.  The defense in the infield looks solid and will get better with Loney at first. 

But the real power on this team is in the pitching staff.  Harvey has been an ace.  deGrom has shown ace ability.  Syndergaard may be the best of the bunch.  Colon is a wily veteran who continues to play at a high level.  Matz is a promising young lefty.  And this staff will get to add Zach Wheeler when he returns halfway through the season from Tommy John.  But the current newsmaker is Matt Harvey, who is really struggling.  Last year he went 13-8 in 29 starts with a 2.71 ERA and 188 Ks in 189 IP.  And he was hot in the playoffs.  But that magic has not carried over.  He started off ice cold with an ERA over 6 moving into June.  He’s gotten better recently dropping that ERA under 5, but its something the Mets have to be concerned with. Not sure what the issue is as he still has dominant innings.  But guys aren’t missing his stuff right now and he is getting hammered.  Luckily for the Mets, his starting brethren have his back.  Noah Syndergaard made 24 starts last year going 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA.  He also struck out 166 in 150 IP.  That’s insane.  He’s even better this year as their most dominant pitcher to this point.  Jacob deGrom is also spinning gems.  He made 30 starts last year with a 14-8 record and 2.54 ERA.  He struck out 205 in 191 IP a year after his Rookie of the Year campaign.  He hasn’t had his strikeout stuff so far this year, but is still playing well, on his way to a strong season.  Bartolo Colon is still playing well in his 19th season.  He’s not an ace like the others, but he is fun.  Last year he won 14 games with a 4.16 ERA.  This year he’s pitching to a sub 4 ERA and his first career home run.  They have a strong closer in Jeurys Familia and a good setup man in Addison Reed bolstering a bullpen made up of other good arms.  The pitching staff is the key to this team’s success and why they will be in the conversation for the playoffs all year.

The Mets are a good team.  They have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.  While I don’t think they are an elite team, they are lucky enough to play in a division with two rebuilding teams and another team they should regularly beat.  While I think the Nationals, Giants, Cubs, Cards and Pirates are all better for sure, the Central teams will beat up on each other.  I thought there were 3 good NL West teams that would beat up on each other too, though that looks unlikely now.  Either way, the Mets should be in the conversation all year long.  But I think they are a flawed offensive team and will fall behind the Nats and end up looking in from the outside of the playoffs as the Central and West take the wildcard spots.

Miami Marlins

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

2B                               Dee Gordon
LF                                Christian Yelich
RF                                Giancarlo Stanton
CF                                Marcell Ozuna
3B                               Martin Prado
1B                               Justin Bour
C                                  J.T. Realmuto
SS                                Adeiny Hechavarria

RHP                             Jose Fernandez
LHP                             Wei Yen Chen
LHP                             Adam Conley
RHP                             Tom Koehler
LHP                             Justin Nicolino
CLOSER                      A.J. Ramos

The Marlins are probably the most loathed franchise in baseball.  Well maybe that’s not fair.  Everyone hates the Yankees except their fans.  But there is no ownership group more despised than that of Jeffrey Loria and David Samson.  And they should be.  They are everything that’s wrong with professional sports, capitalism and probably happiness in this world.  However, this season, their team is playing really good baseball.  They are currently in third place, but only 2 games behind the Mets for second and 4.5 back from Washington.  And they are doing this with Dee Gordon suspended and Giancarlo Stanton struggling.  I don’t think they can keep this up, but the Marlins have some talent on the team that has them looking good for the near future and certainly competitive if not more for this season.

This offense was pretty anemic last year.  But they are pretty much the same crew this year and are fantastic at the plate.  Giancarlo Stanton is their star.  A premier power hitter, Stanton hit 27 HR in only 74 games last year.  But an injury shortened his year.  He’s only made it to 150 games once (right at 150 in 2011) and only surpassed 120 games 3 times.  If he’s healthy, he is a great power hitter who hits a respectable 260+.  He’s also a great defender in right with sneaky speed (13/15 on the bags in 2014).  But he’s off to a bad start this year, despite the good power numbers.  Even a slumping Stanton can hit for great power, but the Marlins need him to be a good overall hitter (260+/35-40 HR/100 RBI/80 R) if they are going to be a playoff team.  He’s not looking like that hitter so far this year.  Their other offensive star is Dee Gordon.  Last season he hit 333 with 58 SB and 88 R.  He’s got no power and also lacks elite OBP.  But if he hits for a high enough AVG, he is a good leadoff hitter.  However a PED suspension has taken him out for 80 games this year.  I like him when he gets back, but will the Marlins still be in contention when he returns in late July?  Christian Yelich is becoming a star as well.  A good season last year (300 in 126 games with 16 SB and a 366 OBP), he is hitting 311 as of this posting.  The Marlins need him to stay hot as well as Martin Prado.  The veteran Prado is playing well at third currently hitting 320.  He’s a career 292 hitter, but lacks power and speed.  He is a good piece, but can’t do it alone.  He’s had help from Marcell Ozuna this year, though.  A 259 player with 10 HR last year, Ozuna was a disappointment.  But he’s blossomed under the hitting tutelage of Barry Bonds and his currently hitting 3123with 15 HR.  He is carrying the team and looks like he has finally fulfilled his potential.  This offense is playing well, but my concern is that some of these hitters are playing above their skills and can’t keep it up.

The pitching staff has talent, but is also probably a year or two away from being elite.  Jose Fernandez is one of the best pitchers in baseball.  They are hoping he’s back to full health now as he is playing well to start this year.  In 14 starts, he’s gone 9-3 with a 2.36 ERA and 125 Ks in only 87 IP.  I like him for 200 IP and maybe 250 Ks with possibly 15 Wins this year.  He’s an ace, but seemingly not overly popular in the clubhouse, this is why he is frequently listed as a possible trade candidate.  Wei Yen Chen, the free agent signee, is a quality lefty with a different skillset than Fernandez.  Jose strikes you out, Chen gets you to get yourself out with weak contact.  He is an average to above average number 2 who might play better out of Baltimore, a great hitting park.  He got better in his seasons in Baltimore with a career low 3.34 ERA last year.  He’s never made it to 200 IP, but has never had fewer than 135 either, generally averaging about 180.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but could win double-digit games on this team with an ERA around 3.75.  He is a quality lefty who should be very good in Miami’s park. The rest of the starting rotation features Tom Koehler, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino.  They have talent and could develop into a good back end of the rotation.  But I don’t think they will be enough to help the Marlins contend this year.  The bullpen has some good arms, including closer A.J. Ramos and setup man Mike Dunn.  But they lack depth and experience.  As with the rest of this team, the Marlins have talent and potential.  They should compete this year, but probably aren’t going to the playoffs for a few years.

The Marlins aren’t a bad team.  They have offensive talent and some good arms in the rotation.  The defense is solid and they have a bright future.  They should be competitive this season and despite their hot start, I think they will end up in third place as the Nats and Mets have also gotten off to a good start.  They have a bright future, perhaps a bright near future, but they aren’t on my list of playoff teams this year.

Atlanta Braves

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

LF                                Ender Inciarte
RF                                Nick Markakis
1B                               Freddie Freeman
3B                               Adonis Garcia
C                                  A.J. Pierzynski
2B                               Jace Peterson
SS                                Eric Aybar
CF                                Mallex Smith

RHP                             Julio Tehran
RHP                             Matt Wisler
RHP                             Mike Foltynewicz
RHP                             Williams Perez
RHP                             Aaron Blair

This is a rough year for Braves fans.  One of MLB’s seminal and most respected franchises have fallen on hard times.  They are in a clear re-build, but even so this team is far worse than anyone expected.  And to fall short of expectations that were so incredibly low is almost an achievement in and of itself.  But, overall, this team is struggling badly this year and while the future looks bright, it is at best 2 years away, meaning this year and likely all of next year will be a waste, the same as last year.

The real issue is the offense.  And I don’t mean that the pitching is good but the team can’t hit.  The pitching isn’t good.  But the team REALLY can’t hit.  They are trying to rebuild, though you could argue this level of re-build was not necessary.  No need to re-hash what the Braves decided before the 2015 season (a playoff team selling off Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, B.J (Melvin) Upton, Craig Kimbrel and more), suffice it to say that the past offseason was more of the same (Shelby Miller, Andrelton Simmons).  While the return was vast and sets the team up for the future, it continued to frustrate and alienate the dwindling number of Braves fans who want to follow this team.  This ownership group is new and frankly not that interested in the baseball team.  The Braves are a part of a larger corporation.  Corporations are run by boards of directors that want to make money.  That is good for the corporation overall, but bad for the team as they are treated like numbers on a ledger, rather than a team owned by a single person or family that wants to win and sees the players as friends and employees.  It’s bad for the fans, bad for the team and bad for baseball.  But nothing can be done to change that.  Instead, the Braves will just have to win in their future, in a window that will likely be small as they have to be making money or another re-build will begin, warranted or not.  This team’s offense is led by Freddie Freeman.  He is a 270-280 hitter with 25 HR power.  On a good team that can lead to 100 RBI.  On this team, it’s likely closer to 70.  He’s struggled some this year but is playing well now.  He is a good hitter with plus power and a good glove.  He will likely be the rock of the franchise, unless the Braves get a phenomenal offer for him.  And while that’s unlikely, it’s not off the table.  Nick Markakis was a veteran signing from last offseason.  The signing made no sense.  But he’s a good player, though perhaps on the downturn of his career.  He can still hit for a good AVG (270+), get on base at a high rate and play Gold Glove caliber right field.  But he’s no longer a top 3 defensive right fielder (though still likely top 10) and has lost both speed and power.  The best thing for Atlanta is if he can get hot and they can flip him for prospects, though his contract isn’t overly friendly (but not awful either).  The rest of the team is made up of mainly castoffs and young guys.  Ender Inciarte stands out amongst them, as he has had success with Arizona at the major league level.  While he’s off to a slow start this year, he’s shown some recent signs of life.  He hit 303 in 132 games in the desert last year and 278 in 118 games the year before.  He can play center well and is great in left.  He lacks power (10 career HR in almost 300 games), but has stolen 19 and 21 bases in his two shortened big league seasons.  And while he’s not an on base machine, he hits for a high enough average to make up for some of that.  He can start in center now, and perhaps move to a corner when the Braves contend in the future.  The rest of the offense is not worth mentioning because they have never been great or they haven’t had enough experience to merit discussion.  There is talent in the minors and even on the major league club (Dansby Swanson, Mallex Smith, Ozzie Albies), but it’s not ready and likely won’t be a real threat until late next year at the earliest.

The pitching staff is in a little better shape, but it too is more built for tomorrow rather than today.  The ace of the staff is Julio Tehran and he’s very good.  Last year was rough (4.04 ERA) but the year before he had a 2.89 ERA.  This year’s ERA is 2.66 to this point.  And his WHIP and BAA are currently at career lows.  The win /loss record is not great, but that’s not really his fault.  And while his K-rate isn’t great, it’s not awful.  He’s a good young pitcher who is likely better as a number 2, but may grow into an ace.  The rest of the rotation is largely unproven.  Bud Norris is around as a spot starter and long man.  The rest of the starting staff are youngsters trying to make a name for themselves.  They include Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Mike Folytnewicz.  While they have had a taste of major league experience, all are still growing and learning the game at this level.  Again, bright futures but not much happening in the present.  Growing pains will limit this team’s success at the top level this season and likely next.  The bullpen has some live arms, but again more secondary options that lack excitement.  Arodys Vizcaino could be a solid closer, but he’s not a sure thing either at this point.  The pitching staff looks better than the offense, but all their talent will likely not come together until next season at the earliest.

The Braves are in the middle of a serious re-build.  It has been a long time since they have been in this territory, but based on the moves the new ownership group has made, it’s not surprising.  The thought is that it will be a short rebuild, because the Braves had so much great major league talent that they parted with to really jumpstart the rebuilding process (Heyward, Upton, Simmons, Kimbrel, etc).  That’s all good news.  But the bad news is that they are awful this season, weren’t good last season and don’t look like they’ll be good next season.  What makes things worse is that this is their last year in Turner Field, and they are moving to a new stadium in Cobb County that many locals are upset about and that the ownership group seems excited about for all the wrong reasons (a.k.a….the new shops that will be around the stadium and all that revenue).  It’s hard to be a Braves fan right now.  This team is constantly changing to try and rebuild and they have already set Jason Grilli and Kelly Johnson free this year.  They want to flip more guys, but lack desirable trade targets.  Suffice it to say, while I saw this team as a fourth place finisher coming into the season, it’s clear that they are going to finish last and may be the worst team in baseball, and are certainly the worst in the National League.

Philadelphia Phillies

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Odubell Hererra
SS                                Freddy Galvis
3B                               Maikel Franco
1B                               Ryan Howard
C                                  Carlos Ruiz
LF                                Tyler Goeddel
RF                                Peter Bourjous
2B                               Cesar Hernandez

RHP                             Jeremy Hellickson
RHP                             Aaron Nola
RHP                             Vince Velasquez
RHP                             Jared Eickhoff
RHP                             Charlie Morton
CLOSER                      David Hernandez

The Phillies are the second team in a rebuild in the NL East.  However, while I expected them to be the one in the basement, they started out playing very well.  While they have cooled significantly, the Phillies look like they will avoid the NL East’s bottom spot this year and might be closer to contending than Atlanta, which is not really what many expected coming into this year.

The Phillies have some good press around them right now, but are definitely in a rebuild.  The knock against them is that they were the last humans on earth to realize that they should be sellers the last few years.  But after moving on from Ruben Amaro Jr., the new front office group did what should have happened three years ago and started the rebuild.  And they are really coming along ahead of schedule.  There is some intriguing young talent on this team, but most of it is unproven.  Coming into this season, Maikel Franco was the name everyone was keeping an eye on.  Like the rest of the team, his experience is thin.  But last year he played in 80 games hitting 280 with 14 HR and 50 RBI.  He is experiencing growing pains this season, as you might expect, but the power is there with 12 HR already this year in fewer games.  But the AVG has fallen about 40 points.  I like his bat and think he could threaten for 25 HR in that park.  But I’d be surprised if he hit too far north of 250 this year.  If he continues to grow, he could develop into a 280/30/100 hitter for Philly, but I don’t think that will be this year.  The name that has really jumped out this year has been Odubell Herrera.  A rule 5 pick, Herrera has become the primary leadoff man in the city of Brotherly Love.  He got his first MLB action last year and ended up playing 137 games and chasing Ben Revere out of center field, even before he was traded.  He hit 297 last year with 16 SB, a 344 OBP and 8 HR.  This year, he already has 7 HR to go with a 303 AVG, 11 SB and a 398 OBP.  He is one of those finds that you don’t expect to get, but are so key to turning a team into a contender.  I love him as a player and see him as a guy who should hit 285+ with maybe 12 HR, 80+ R and 20 SB.  The rest of the offense features youngsters who are trying to make a name for themselves and veterans who are past their prime or have never really been super successful in the big leagues.  Peter Bourjous is the primary right fielder, but offers little besides speed.  Carlos Ruiz is still catching, but has never been a great hitter (outside of a few seasons which included a PED suspension).  And Ryan Howard is just running the clock out until he is cut.  The Phillies hope he catches fire and they can flip him to a contender at the deadline.  But that seems unlikely, even with the Phillies agreeing to take the majority of his money on.  This offense is not great.  There is some talent, even beyond the names I mentioned.  But this offense won’t really be one to be feared this season.

The pitching staff is in a similar spot, but maybe a little farther ahead.  Aaron Nola is the big name arm that people recognize.  Last year he went 6-2 in 13 starts with a 3.59 ERA.  He was hot to start the year with a 2.65 ERA in his first 12 starts, but has struggled since then with an ERA over 4 at this point.  He has great talent, but needs experience and will have to learn to adapt, as all players do.  If healthy, he may amass 200 IP, but likely with an ERA around 4, possibly in the high 3s.  Jeremy Hellickson is a veteran name, but not one who excites anyone.  He hasn’t had a year with a sub 4.50 ERA since 2012.  He is an innings eater at this point, but those are important for re-building teams.  If he can prove he can hold down innings consistently, he could be perhaps flipped for prospects.  But I don’t know that he will get a good return and the Phillies may opt to keep him in that case, despite the fact that he is likely a 200 IP player with a losing record and an ERA north of 4.50.  The rest of the pitching staff features young arms with talent, but no experience and bullpen arms that are trying to re-invent themselves.  Jeanmar Gomez and David Hernandez are people worth watching, but neither will likely greatly affect the team this year and possibly in the future when they are competitive.  Like most rebuilding teams, the pitching staff will be a bit of a revolving door as many arms come in and the Phillies just make notes about who can help them now and in the future, with more emphasis on the future.

This team is headed in the right direction.  They aren’t very good.  So, they hope the Nationals and Mets will start to move away from their peak when they are ready to contend.  They also hope to beat the Braves out on their path to contention.  Phillies fans are historically impatient, but this team has been worse off than they were acknowledged to be by the front office for so long, that the fans were almost begging for a re-build.  So the Phillies have a rare reprieve from their fans and will hope to take advantage by building up a winner as soon as possible.  However, that won’t be this year, and I doubt it will be next year either.