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Major League Baseball National League preview

Major League Baseball begins its 162 regular season game slog towards the post-season and the World Series. In part one of TSJ’s MLB preview, Michael Harrington breaks down the National League teams. Can the San Francisco Giants take it all again, or is it the Washington Nationals time to shine? Check out Michael’s picks below.

NL East

Phillies fans will be hoping their side can improve on an average 2012. Credit: Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies fans will be hoping their side can improve on an average 2012. Credit: Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies

Last season: Third with 81-81 record

Not much went right in Philadelphia last season with injuries to key personnel, namely ace hurler Roy Halladay, slugger Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley.

The Phillies, who began the season as one of the obvious contenders for the NL East, gave up their five year hold on NL East title to the Washington Nationals.

Heading into the 2013 season the Phillies look a lot healthier and are expecting a big improvement on their .500 record last season.

A healthy Halladay along with strong seasons from Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee would re-stamp the Phillies starting rotation as one that should be feared.

Prediction: Third


New York Mets

Last season: Fourth with 74-88 record

It was a case of Jekyll and Hyde for the New York Mets in 2012.

The Mets, who were largely tipped to finish last in the division, surprised many with a spirited first half of the season, but the wheels fell off dramatically in the second half. But, there were some major positives to come out of the season with the emergence of young talent in the form of Ruben Tajeda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin, while the successful debut of highly rated pitcher Matt Harvey gave Mets fans some hope of a brighter future.

Heading into 2013 the Mets are still very much in re-build mode and this was highlighted by the decision to trade away Cy Young winner R.A Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for exciting prospect Travis d’Arnaud and veteran catcher John Buck.

The plan for the Mets is to simply develop this season – they’re slowly building an exciting array of talent but it will take time for them to all flourish.

Expect a similar showing to 2012.

Prediction: Fourth


Washington Nationals

Last season: First with 98-64 record

For the Washington Nationals the time is now.

Slowly but surely they have been building and it came to fruition last season when they took out the NL East.

The Nat’s went into the playoffs a real chance to make it all the way to the World Series only to bow out in disappointing fashion to the St Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series.

Sometimes for a team that hasn’t been a contender for a long time, it needs that taste of the post season, the weight of expectation and the feeling of disappointment in order for it to take that next step.

Washington look like there is nothing that is going to stand in the way of them taking that next step.

The pitching rotation could well be the most potent in baseball with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman supported by arguably the best relief pitching going around, with the addition of closer Rafael Soriano as the icing on a bullpen which is already formidable.

The Nat’s are not short of run support either with the likes of Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond supported by outfield phenomenon Bryce Harper. Anything but another NL East title with be considered a fail; without doubt the target is a spot in the World Series.

Prediction: First


Atlanta Braves

Last season: Second with 94-68 record

The Braves are the team best placed to challenge the Nationals.

They will take on an unfamiliar form this season with the retirement of 19 year veteran third baseman Chipper Jones, but despite the loss, offense shouldn’t be a problem.

Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla return, with B.J. Upton and his brother Jason additions to the club.

If everything clicks together the Braves could prove a real handful for opposition pitching.

The Braves rotation could prove to be unsteady – Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm are proven but Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have question marks against their names.

But, the bullpen however is particularly strong with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty being supported by closer Craig Kimbrel.

Prediction: Second


Miami Marlins

Last season: Fifth with 69-93 record

This time last year the Marlins looked equipped to be a major player in NL East on the back of a big spending spree, things didn’t go to plan. Miami started slowly and would remain slow for the rest of the season before eventually trading out much of the talent which had only just been bought in to help them compete.

The 2013 Marlins look as safe a bet to finish the NL East last and perhaps even compete with a couple of other contenders throughout the MLB for the title of the leagues worst record.

There isn’t much to get excited about on the Marlins this season – pitcher Ricky Nolasco is the pick of the teams pitching rotation while Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison provide some pop in offense. All in all the 2013 Miami Marlins look to be dreadfully weak and anything but a fifth place finish would seem to be a mere pipe dream.

Prediction: Fifth


NL Central


The Reds are a huge chance to take the pennant again in 2013. Credit: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are a huge chance to take the pennant again in 2013. Credit: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

Last season: First with 97-65 record

The Reds come into 2013 off the back of a dominant 97 win year, and the off season has seen Cincinnati respond like a team that believes it is a legitimate shot at a pennant and possibly a championship.

They’ve added outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to an already potent offense and boosted their starting rotation with the fireball left arm of young pitcher Aroldis Chapman.

The Reds boast some serious power in their batting line up with the likes of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, meaning runs will not be a problem for this ball club.

They will start favorites for the NL Central this season, and if their key personnel can stay healthy they should fulfill that favorites tag and go deep into the post season.

This team looks the real deal.

Prediction: First.


St Louis Cardinals

Last season: Second with 88-74 record

Season 2013 will be an interesting proposition for the Cardinals – if things go right they will give the pennant a solid shake.

Offense is a noted strength with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Yadir Molina, Rafael Furcal and Matt Holiday all returning, but pitching may be a weakness for the team, particularly in the wake of starting pitcher Kyle Lohse making the switch to divisional rivals the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cards do have depth and regardless of Lohse’s departure the rotation will still remain competitive.

Prediction: Third


Milwaukee Brewers

Last season: Third, with 83-79 record

After coming agonizingly close to playing off in the World Series in 2011, the Brewers endured a disappointing season in 2012.

Despite the slide last season, the Brewers will head into this season with a cause for optimism; they possess serious power, boasting names like Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathon Lucroy, Carlos Gomez and Corey Hart and were the number one team in the NL for home runs and slugging percentage last season.

With so much power potential at the plate and a polished and solid pitching staff the Brewers are going to be a tough team to play this season.

Prediction: Second


Pittsburgh Pirates

Last season: Fourth with 79-83 record

The Pirates currently lay claim to the longest losing streak in American professional sports history, going 20 seasons without a winning record.

This season, Pittsburgh could be in a position where a winning season may actually happen.

One thing in their favour is a consistent spread of competitors who are not superstars, but still capable of playing good baseball.

The Pirates also have an ace up their sleeve in the form of superstar centre fielder Andrew McCutchen – while he is in the line up the Pirates will always be a chance.

Prediction: Fourth (with their first winning season since 1992)


Chicago Cubs

Last season: Fifth with a 61-101 record

The good news for the Cubs in 2012 was that despite only managing 61 wins for the season they were still not the worst performing team in the division – that honor went to the Houston Astros (who could only manage 55 wins).

The bad news for the Cubs is that the Astros moved over to the American League during the off season so it appears that the Cubs are resigned to the bottom of the NL Central for 2013.

While 2012 was ugly for the Cubs, there are signs that things are headed in the right direction.

Chicago has some decent prospects in their farm system, while the likes of first baseman Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Jeff Samadzija are showing that there is a bright future on the horizon.

The Cubs will no doubt get the usual good service out of the likes of Starlin Castro and ace starter Matt Garza but the focus isn’t going to be on 2013 – they’re in rebuild mode and will be aiming for success a couple of seasons down the line.

Prediction: Fifth


NL West


Will San Fran be toasting another World Series Victory? Credit: San Francisco Giants

Will San Fran be toasting another World Series Victory? Credit: San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants

Last season: First with 94-68 record

Last year saw the Giants win their second World Series title in three seasons.

2013 sees the Giants with enough talent to go deep into the post season yet again. With a lineup that boasts Buster Posey, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence the Giants shouldn’t have too much trouble putting up scores.

San Fran isn’t exactly weak in the pitching department either with a likely starting rotation of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Linecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong.

The Giants can expect a much stiffer opposition in the division this year in the form of the free spending Dodgers but are capable of winning around the same amount of games in 2013.

Prediction: Second

Los Angeles Dodgers

Last season: Second with 86-76 record

The Dodgers missed the post season in 2012 despite a late flurry that saw them win eight of their last 10 games.

Fast forward to 2013 and the scenario appears as though it will be much different.

The Dodgers have already committed a staggering $200 million to their payroll for the coming season bringing in the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Hanley Ramirez to add to an already solid cast consisting of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw.

On paper, the strength of this ball club suggests they can make a charge towards the pennant and maybe even a first World Series title since 1988.

Prediction: First


Arizona Diamondbacks

Last season: Third with 81-81 record

Only three players remain from the 2011 version of the Diamondbacks that won 94 games and clinched the NL West crown, while the seemingly crazy decision to trade away Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer and Chris Young, three young players with plenty of potential, will surely place even more pressure on the organization to improve on their average 2012.

Arizona doesn’t appear to have the tools handy to compete with the Dodgers or the Giants – there isn’t anything in the lineup to suggest better then another 80 odd win season.

Prediction: Third


San Diego Padres

Last season: Fourth with 76-86 record

The Padres always seem to be there about, putting up modest results without ever really showing signs there will be a huge improvement nor decline.

An interesting decision by the franchise to move the fences in at Petco Park will make the their home ball park a little more offense-friendly that may well benefit the Padres, but will obviously bear the same fruit for visiting teams.

While the lineup lacks power it boasts some real base stealing potential in the form of Everth Cabrera – 2012 saw the Padres finish with 155 stolen bases, second in the NL. They will be without promising young catcher Yasmani Grandal for the first 50 games of the regular season due to a doping ban, having Grandal back in the lineup will help give the team some extra pop with the bat.

Expect much the same as we got last season, around the .500 mark.

Prediction: Fourth


Colorado Rockies

Last season: Fifth with 64-98 record

Colorado endured a rough 2012 to say the least, which included an injury to star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki coupled with some disappointing showings from some of their off season acquisitions – namely Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro.

The team will be hoping for a fit and firing Tulowitzki and an improvement from their starting pitchers.

There is considerable strength coming from the bullpen in the form of Wilton Lopez and closer Rafael Betancourt, but they are only real use if the team is still in games past the seventh inning.

Prediction: Fifth



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