Nationals Picked To Win NL East And Maybe More

The Washington Nationals might be the best team in baseball.

Now there is a sentence I never thought I would type.

The Nats enter the 2013 MLB season as one of the top teams in the National League and one of the frontrunners to win the World Series. However, they will get stiff competition in the East from both the stocked Atlanta Braves and the veteran Philadelphia Phillies. The National League East is always one of the most competitive and hard fought of all division races, and with three powerhouse teams vying for the crown, this promises to be a wild summer race.

Here is Doc’s Sports 2013 NL East picks with predicted order of finish and betting odds:

Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 98-64 (+2420)

2013 Wins Over/Under: 92.5

Odds To Win 2013 NL East: 8-to-1

Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: 15-to-1

2013 Washington Nationals Odds To Win World Series: 30-to-1

Outlook: The Nasty Nats are ready to follow up the most successful season in their franchise’s young history with a bona fide title run. All the pieces are in place, and if this team can avoid crippling injuries – or the threat thereof – then they should be a force in the East.

Stephen Strasburg will return after his controversial "shut down" during last year’s stretch run. The stud ace of this rotation is as good as any hurler in baseball and anchors a staff that, one through five, can stack up with the best in the game. Underrated Gio Gonzalez is the top lefty, and fireballer Jordan Zimmerman is a viable option in the No. 3 slot. Keep an eye on Dan Haren this year. I still think he has the stuff to win 15 games. And at the back end of the rotation he might find himself in some very favorable matchups against much weaker opposing No. 5 starters.

Washington still has problems generating consistent offense. They win with phenomenal pitching and defense, and their team is constructed for the well-timed hit to occur more often than the monster home run. Bryce Harper gave the team a jolt with his call-up last year, and he will look to build on an electrifying rookie campaign. Ryan Zimmerman, the hard-hitting third baseman, is still the key. Injury and ineffectiveness have limited him the last two years. But, if the Nats are going to reach the heights they aspire to, they will need an MVP season from their best hitter. Guys like Ian Desmond, Dan Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki are clutch veterans that do the dirty work. And Jason Werth gives the Nats another experienced performer that can carry the load.

Even without their ace for the latter part of the season, Washington still managed to win the East and make a solid playoff showing. They are hoping to follow the example of teams like the Phillies, Reds and Brewers lately, who have dipped into the postseason one year and then used that experience for either a league pennant or at least a slot in the NLCS.

Atlanta Braves

2012 Record: 94-68 (+1750)

2013 Wins Over/Under: 88.5

Odds To Win 2013 NL East: 6-to-1

Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: 9-to-1

2013 Atlanta Braves Odds To Win World Series: 22-to-1

Outlook: The Braves have been the model of consistency in baseball for the past two decades, and this year’s roster could be the most talented in a decade. Atlanta did not use 94 wins in 2012 as an excuse to rest on their laurels, making several significant offseason maneuvers in order to increase their chances of catching Washington.

The Braves brought in the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, to shore up the major outfield weakness that has plagued this team for years. Those two supremely-talented, but incredibly-streaky, outfielders raise the talent level of the Braves OF to heights it hasn’t seen since guys like Ron Gant and David Justice patrolled the green. The rest of the lineup is equally streaky and equally talented. Guys like Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman are all-or-nothing guys that are capable of carrying, or crippling, a lineup for weeks with their hot or cold spells.

The Braves pitching staff has been tweaked this season as well. Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen are a powerful 1-2 punch, especially if Medlen picks up where he left off after his spectacular 2012 second half. However, the Braves cut ties with several other starters that had given them good innings over the past few years and are now pinning their hopes on lefties Mike Minor and Paul Maholm to get the job done. I am not convinced they can, and I think the Braves starting rotation is a bit of a weak spot entering the year.

The bullpen, however, is a major strength and one of the best in the Majors. Craig Kimberly, Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters have all made a substantial number of appearances over the past two seasons. But, as long as they are healthy, that may be the best trio at the back end in the sport.

Transition has been rampant in Atlanta over the last several years. From Bobby Cox’s retirement to Chipper Jones’ retirement to the influx of new talent, the Braves just keep on keeping on. I do worry about their starting staff and their lineup is boom or bust. But this franchise just knows how to win 90 games, and I don’t see any reason they don’t reach that milestone again this season.

Philadelphia Phillies

2012 Record: 81-81 (-1600)

2013 Wins Over/Under: 84.5

Odds To Win 2013 NL East: 1-to-2

Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: 2-to-1

2013 Philadelphia Phillies Odds To Win World Series: 6-to-1

Outlook: After five straight division titles, the Phillies had a disappointing third-place finish last year. Of course, the Phils still finished .500 despite a season marred by all manner of injury. Seemingly every key player on the team missed significant time, and Philadelphia was unable to climb out of a massive early-season hole to compete with Atlanta and Washington.

If Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are all healthy and in form, then the Phillies have one of the best rotations in baseball. The problem is that each one of them have had their moments of malady over the past two years, and they are each past the point where you can pencil them in for 30-plus starts each year. Fortunately the bullpen is still solid, although Jon Papelbon is now a mid-tier closer at best and a potential weak link.

Ryan Howard appears healthy after losing most of last year to an Achilles injury. Chase Utley has had a quiet spring. But no news is good news with him after three consecutive injury-riddled seasons. The Phils added Michael Young at third base, and I think he will be an exceptional addition to the lineup. However, Philadelphia’s outfield – although athletic – is extremely erratic. This team is going to miss Shane Victorino a lot. But they have some guys with big upside in the outfield, and the production they get from those slots will be a bellwether for this team’s season.

I might be one of the only people in the country that is still somewhat high on the Phillies. I think it is easy to forget where they were last year at this time and how banged up they were. This team is aged. But it is still supremely talented. If Dominic Brown, John Mayberry, or Dominic Young can blossom, then the young talents in the outfield can supplement their Hall of Fame infield. Beyond that, the Phils have to keep their starters healthy. If everything that went wrong last year goes right for them this season, then this team will be in the mix late into September.

New York Mets

2012 Record: 74-88 (-1220)

2013 Wins Over/Under: 75.5

Odds To Win 2013 NL East: 50-to-1

Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: 40-to-1

2013 New York Mets Odds To Win World Series: 80-to-1

Outlook: Oh Mets, the idiot cousin of Major League Baseball. The Mets are still overhauling their roster and dealing with fallout from their ownership group’s shady financial investments. (And no, I’m not talking about Jason Bay.) New York has been an afterthought the past two seasons. And, even though they have a few bright spots on the roster, they aren’t anywhere close to being ready to compete in one of the tougher divisions in baseball.

The Mets entire staff is being built around the potential return of Johan Santana. But what no one in the organization seems prepared to acknowledge is that Santana, even if he were 100 percent, is aged and the shell of his former self. Oh, and he’s not 100 percent and will likely start the season on the disabled list. Jonathan Niese is a mediocre lefty, and Shawn Marcum has some nice stuff. But beyond that the Mets are one injury away from having to call Jose Lima (again) to fill in. The bullpen was a disaster last year despite several marquee offseason additions. Things don’t look all that much more promising heading into this year.

The Mets lineup is young, which would make you think there is promise there. But no one can seem to stay healthy. David Wright is overrated. Daniel Murphy can hit but is a liability in the field. Ruben Tejada has shown signs, but he isn’t there yet. Ike Davis is terrible. And those guys make up the "veteran core" of this team. That’s how bad things are.

The best thing that could be said about the Mets is that the clubhouse is probably as calm and controversy-free as it has been in 20 years. New York lacks talent. But their young players are scrappy and will be capable of playing some good baseball for short stretches. The Mets will have their moments as a value-priced underdog. But on the whole they will simply be fodder for the top teams in the East.

Miami Marlins

2012 Record: 69-93 (-2470)

2013 Wins Over/Under: 63.5

Odds To Win 2013 NL East: 6-to-1

Odds To Win 2013 NL Pennant: 9-to-1

2013 Miami Marlins Odds To Win World Series: 20-to-1

Outlook: The 2012 Marlins were the biggest fraud in history. After notorious sociopath and scumbag Jeffrey Lauria bilked Miami taxpayers out of millions of dollars for the Marlins monstrosity of a stadium, the Marlins front office went out and overspent on overhyped "talent" and put together a team that nearly lost 100 games. What did the Marlins do for an encore? They traded away all of those players for peanuts and are now fielding one of the worst teams in the Majors, and Lauria is raking in tens of millions of dollars thanks to revenue sharing and stadium revenue.

Marlins fans are among the worst in baseball. But even they don’t deserve this.

Miami is a joke. Their pitching staff is one of the worst in baseball, with glorified No. 5 starter Ricky Nolasco set to take the hill on Opening Day. The bullpen is nondescript. But even if it was loaded with talent, the pen would get burnt out by June because of all the innings it will have to log.

The lineup is even worse. Giancarlo Stanton can mash. Other than it is a host of overhyped prospects and past-their-prime veterans like Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco that are just happy to have steady paychecks.

Truly, I have nothing good to say about this team or its organization. This team isn’t really rebuilding and it will not be competitive in any way in this division. They lost 93 games last year, and the roster is considerably worse this season. I think that anything better than 100 losses would have to be considered a moral victory.

2013 National League East Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Philadelphia Phillies

4. New York Mets

5. Miami Marlins

By Robert Ferringo

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