Breakout Team: Many pundits seem to be writing off the New York Mets because pitcher Matt Harvey will be out all year due to his Tommy John surgery last year, but I wouldn’t be so quick to disregard them. Zack Wheeler seems poised to step into the ace role for the season while Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese seem worthy to flank him. If highly touted prospect Noah Syndergaard is able to seamlessly slide into the rotation as a midseason call up, the Mets could have a very solid starting rotation. Players like Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Chris Young are due for bounce back seasons, and look for free agent acquisition Curtis Granderson to fill in nicely as the clean up hitter. The biggest issue for the Mets seems to be that they play in the same division as the Nationals and the Braves, but they should have a better season than last year, even without Harvey.
Disappointing Team: The Atlanta Braves will have a rough 2014 through no fault of their own. Atlanta has taken a big hit this spring from the injuries of star pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who have both gone down with injuries that will necessitate Tommy John surgery. Add to that the shoulder pain that has prevented Mike Minor from pitching this spring, and the Braves have a deep hole in their rotation. Despite a deep lineup including Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers, nothing can really make up for the loss of the Braves’ top three pitchers.
Player to Watch: Tim Lincecum has been an enigma for the San Francisco Giants for the last few years. After a tremendous start to his career and two Cy Young Awards, Lincecum pitched disastrously in 2012, posting an earned run average of 5.18. He was able to bounce back to a semi-respectable 4.38 E.R.A. last year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue his resurgence because the Giants certainly believe that he can. Unfortunately, Lincecum hasn’t shown any signs of improvement this spring, posting an ERA above six this spring through 19.1 innings.
Biggest Acquisition: Matt Garza signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason in what could become the biggest move of the winter in the National League. Garza has turned in solid and consistent numbers the last five years, putting up an E.R.A. below four each year. He has been disappointing this spring as he has pitched to an E.R.A. above 10, but we’ll see if he can regain his form from last year. The Brewers will be depending on him.
Best Prospect: Zack Wheeler was called up in the middle of the season by the Mets last summer and impressed the country with his performance. He put up a 3.42 E.R.A.and won seven games. Wheeler possesses a fastball in the upper 90s and a devastating breaking ball. Despite control issues, Wheeler seems destined to be a star in this league, and he should take a big step towards that this season as he is called upon to lead the Mets rotation in the absence of Matt Harvey.
Predictions: I expect the Washington Nationals to win the National League East. They have too much talent to not bounce back. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez lead a talented 25-man roster. Look for the Cardinals to win the Central behind the acquisition of Jhonny Peralta. He will add to what should be a potent offense. Finally, I believe that the Dodgers will win the N.L. West. There are just too many stars on Los Angeles team for them not to win. With Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers will have a stellar year. For the two Wild Card spots in the National League, the Mets and the Giants will bounce back from bad seasons last year to make the playoffs. Finally, when it is all said and done, the Dodgers will be representing the National League in the World Series.
Contact David Josselsohn