2012 National League East Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

*Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Atlanta Braves

There’s a misplaced belief that the team that made the most drastic and biggest moves in the off-season is automatically the “best” team.

Because the Braves did nothing to add to the roster that collapsed out of a playoff spot, they’re virtually ignored as a legit contender.

There was addition by subtraction by getting rid of Derek Lowe; they made significant improvements in-season by acquiring Michael Bourn. They’re going to be helped by the gained experience of young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor; the return to form from Martin Prado; a healthy “I wanna get paid” year from Brian McCann; a better start and more consistency from Dan Uggla; and, most importantly, a healthy and “he has to be better because he can’t be worse” year from Jason Heyward.

Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley is hoping to play in spring training games within this week. Obviously his knee tendinitis will forever be an issue, but a great player like Utley doesn’t need the 6 weeks of spring training to be ready. Inside baseball people would never admit this for financial reasons, but spring training is far too long as it is. Pitchers need maybe 3 ½ weeks to be ready to start the season; hitters far less.

The Phillies are old; there are injury questions hovering around Roy Halladay (as much as people think he’s a machine, he’s not a machine.); their lineup is pockmarked and questionable; but with their starting rotation and bullpen addition of Jonathan Papelbon, they’ve got enough left for at least one more run.

Washington Nationals

They’re the next hot thing for many reasons.

They have a load of top-tier draft picks ready to make the move into big league notoriety; they’ve accumulated starting pitching; they have a devastating back-end of the bullpen; a lineup that can mash; and a veteran manager who has a history of winning.

They’re going to look back on Chien-Ming Wang’s injury and that they couldn’t follow through on a rumored trade of the severely underrated John Lannan and breathe a sigh of relief; the concept of bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues at 19 needs to be considered carefully and he should not play center field; Gio Gonzalez is not the guarantee the bounty of prospects and expensive, unnecessary contract he received would indicate; and Stephen Strasburg can’t be considered an “ace” as long as he’s on a pitch/innings limit that Davey Johnson would undoubtedly love to toss into a nearby garbage can.

But they’re very talented and a viable contender.

Miami Marlins

Never mind the ownership, the new ballpark and the investigations swirling around the way said ballpark was approved and paid for. Forget about the monstrosity that will be on display whenever a Marlins’ player hits a home run and is sure to cause seizures among a large segment of unsuspecting fans. (See below.)

Cold, clinical analysis will tell you that this team is either going to be a major success or a testament to rubbernecking to see how quickly the clubhouse, manager’s office and front office degenerates into organizational cannibalism, whisper campaigns and a media feeding frenzy.

This is a powder keg. I don’t like powder kegs.

Ozzie Guillen’s teams with the White Sox consistently underachieved; Jose Reyes’s health is a question; Hanley Ramirez did not want to move to third base and is going to eventually pout about his contract; their defense is awful.

With a good pitching staff and all these questions, they could be good. With all the other issues, they could explode. Fast.

New York Mets

Yes. I’m a Mets fan.

Question my analysis, but don’t question my integrity.

Here are the facts: they’re in an impossible division; they’re short on starting pitching; they didn’t improve the club in the winter; the franchise is engulfed by the lawsuit against the Wilpons stemming from the Bernie Madoff mess; and they’re rebuilding.

They’re not good and they’re starting over with young players.

We won’t know much about the future of the Sandy Alderson-led baseball operations or what they’re going to do with players like David Wright until the trial is completed. They might be sold; the Wilpons might maintain ownership; the team might be slightly better than most projections depending on multiple factors.

It is what it is.

Accept it.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.


Smothering Pineda

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For a pitcher the Yankees are counting on to a be a top of the rotation force and cost them Jesus Montero—who GM Brian Cashman compared to Miguel Cabrera—they’re showing a remarkable level of paranoia when it comes to Michael Pineda.

First it was the repeated reference to minor leaguer Jose Campos as a “key” to the deal; then there were the Cashman statements that if Pineda doesn’t improve his changeup, he (Cashman) supposedly said that he’ll have made a mistake in trading for him; now there’s the velocity and weight stuff.

There’s a troubling scrutiny surrounding every move that Pineda makes that lend credence to the sense that the Yankees are so terrified of Pineda failing that they’re looking for excuses if he does.

Either they wanted him enough to give up a potential top-tier power bat like Montero and a good arm in Hector Noesi to get him or they didn’t.

Today there were multiple reports about Pineda’s velocity with an underlying sense of “whew” when he hit 93 mph. This is after he topped out around 88 in his first spring start.

Never mind that velocity is a tool to determine where a pitcher is now in comparison to where he was before and that it’s spring training and there’s no reason to be thinking about velocity.

None of that matters.

It comes down to this: Why are the Yankees so worried about this pitcher?

Is the velocity something to pay attention to? Absolutely. And for all of 2011, he regularly reached the upper 90s. The big concern with Pineda was his supposedly “worse” second half of the season after an All-Star first half.

In reality, his first half and second half were pretty much statistically identical apart from a worse Batting Average on balls in play. In the first half, his BAbip was .247 and in the second it was .286.

Was he tired in the second half? Probably. Prior to 2011 when he threw 173 innings, he’d thrown a max of 139 in a season in the minors. Will he be better suited to giving the Yankees 185-190 innings in 2012? Probably. This is because he won’t be under the stress of a horrific offense with the Mariners to be perfect in order to win.

They traded for him so, in a similar vein to them buying A.J. Burnett, this is what they wanted and this is what they got.

All of the harping, expectations and demands didn’t help Burnett and they’re not going to help Pineda.

In fact, they could smother him.

And they’re well on the way to doing that and ruining another young pitcher.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwords, BN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.