2012 NL East Preview and Projections

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*This is the first in a series of 7 previews revealing my predictions in 2012 for each division as well as award winners and the postseason.

With Spring training right around the corner, its time to start making some predictions for the upcoming season. The NL East will be a very difficult division in 2012 as they have four legitimate playoff contenders (Braves,Phillies, Nationals, and Marlins). But there are only enough playoff spots for two of them ( 3 if the extra Wild cards are put into play this season), and that’s not even considering the other contenders in the NL West and NL Central. Below is a preview of each NL East team’s 2012, in order of how I feel they will finish. I have also included a few bonus predictions for each team.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (projected Record: 94-68)

The Phillies are an aging team, but they still remain the top contender in the NL east mostly due to their outlandish pitching staff, as well as a league average to slightly above average offense. They don’t Really have any questions on the pitching side, but offense is another story. With Howard likely missing most of the first half of the season, they are forced to rely on a platoon of a 41-year-old Jim Thome and a Ty Wigginton that is very much on the decline. Catcher and outfield appear to be set with Ruiz, Pence, Victorino, and a Mayberry/Nix/Brown platoon in left. Utley and Rollins should hold down 2B and SS, but each comes with significant injury risk. A declining Polanco at 3B is still useful, but at 36, he will likely only put up 1-1.5 WAR. Even with a starting lineup consisting of almost all 30+ year old veterans, they should still be capable of taking the new and improved NL East.

Extra Predictions

  • Hunter pence paces the Phillies with 30 HRs while putting up his best season since 2007.
  • Howard returns mid-season, but continues regressing towards a replacement level power only threat.
  • Cole Hamels posts the best season of the Phillies aces and career year on his way towards free agency.
  • Chad Qualls, and not Jonathan Papelbon, posts the best WAR of any Phillies Reliever.

2. Atlanta Braves (projected Record: 92-70)

Although the Braves made no significant moves this offseason, they return mostly the same team that came within 1 game of winning the wild card last season. The team is younger than the Phillies, but they also have some significant questions. How will the bullpen hold up after being overused last season? Will Tyler Pastornicky be the answer at short? Does Chipper jones have anything left in the tank? Will the Rotation be able to overcome injuries and be the deep, talented staff they should be? Their season could very well hinge on these question marks. But this team also has potential to be even better than last season. They will likely get a full season of Michael Bourn in center. Freeman and Heyward could be poised to break out and anchor the lineup along with Brian McCann. With a full season of Hanson, as well as nice sophomore seasons from Beachy and Minor, they could have a solid Rotation top to bottom. If everything goes right they could overtake the Phillies, but i see them as a strong wild card contender right now.

Extra Predictions

  • Michael Bourn puts up a 70 steal season as well as winning the gold glove.
  • Craig Kimbrel puts up a stellar sophomore season at closer, but after being overworked last season, Jonny Venters fails to come close to his amazing 2011.
  • Heyward, McCann, Freeman, and Uggla all hit 25+ home runs.
  • After an injury in the rotation, Julio Teheran comes up and dominates the NL on his way to a top 3 Rookie of the year finish.

3. Washington Nationals (projected record: 87-75)

If i were a Nationals fan I know I would be pretty excited for the next decade or so. The Nationals have a top-notch pitching staff (bullpen and Rotation), as well as a young and solid offense with the potential to be great. And thats not even including studs in the minors such as Anthony Rendon (a personal favorite) and SP Alex Meyer. There really are no holes in the lineup aside from CF, but that changes if Harper starts the season in Washington. On the pitching side, Storen and Clippard should be stable forces in the bullpen for years. With the signing of Edwin Jackson, the Nationals now have one of the top rotation in the national league. They have three top of the Rotation guys (Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Gonzalez) that should anchor the Rotation for years. Jackson and Lannan form a fantastic 4-5  and Wang fits in as a nice 6th starter. I think 2012 will be the year the nats break out and finally contend. If i were predicting the division winner for 2013, the Nats would definitely be first.

Extra Predictions

  • Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Gonzalez each win 14+ games with 190+ strikeouts.
  • Jayson Werth puts up numbers similar to his 2009 season in which he hit 30 hrs and stole 20 bases
  • Harper mashes 20 hrs in 110 games albeit with a .250 batting average.
  • Morse is able to repeat his breakout 2011 season
  • Wilson Ramos enters the Upper echelon of  NL catchers.

4. Miami Marlins (projected Record: 85-77)

New uniform, new stadium, new name, new logo, and new players. The Miami Marlins are full of hope for 2012. They have their holes (CF, 2B, and catcher), but
they are a legitimate contender nonetheless. If Josh Johnson can come back from injury and Zambrano can put his temper behind him, then they could have a solid Rotation. The Bullpen, led by Heath bell, is actually in decent shape. The addition of Reyes, gives the Marlins a great mix of speed (Reyes, Bonifacio, and Ramirez) and power (Stanton, Sanchez, Morrison, and possibly Hanley). As good as they are, I see them as the odd team out in 2012. They may be able to sneak into the playoffs, but they face some tough competition.

Extra Predictions

  • Mike Stanton leads the Major with 50 home runs.
  • Hanley bounces back to enjoy an all-star type season.
  • Zambrano and Nolasco post dismal seasons, but the emergence of Anibal Sanchez and return of Johnson make up for it.
  • Bonifaco, Reyes, and Hanley all steal 30+ bases.
  • Bell still puts up 30 saves but regresses from his success in San Diego.

5. New York Mets (projected record:73-89)

The Meets really aren’t that bad of a team. They just have the misfortune of financial problems and being in the NL east. The right thing for the mets to do would be to trade some of their aging stars for prospects, even if it means eating salary. For the Mets, the one thing to hope for in 2012 would be that their youngsters, such as Duda, Davis, and Thole, continue to develop.

Extra Predictions

  • Lucas Duda puts up 20-25 homers.
  • One of Bay and Wright is swapped at the deadline.
  • Dillon Gee posts a solid year with 14 wins and a sub 3.50 ERA.
  • Wright and Gee are the only mets to make the All star team.
  • Matt Harvey goes 3-0 with a 2.90 ERA in 5 starts in a September call up

– Justin (@Justinmillar1

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