The National League Least has the Marlins, Braves and Phillies to thank for the Least moniker, as none of those teams were able to win 72 games last year. The Braves and Phillies are in rebuild mode. What’s your excuse Marlins? At least, they have an awesome sculpture in the outfield. Why? Thank goodness, for the fanatical few on the East Coast that actually read this, least means smallest and not bereft of everything. The Metropolitans and Nationals are juggernauts and represent the division well. Speaking of representing… RIP Phife Dawg. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Chicks dig the long-ball, so it’s a good thing that some of the preeminent boppers reside in this division. Pitching wins championships, though, and some of the most exciting and young arms are on display. With that said, there are plenty of spots open for the taking. I will discuss the major ones below for each team.
- Closer: This situation is like the upcoming presidential transition. Obama is out of the White House on January 20, 2017. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about that, unless he goes all Vladimir Putin and becomes the new despot. Jason Grilli will be out of Atlanta by July 31, 2016. He is signed through 2016 with a team option for 2017. If someone thinks that the Braves will re-sign a 39-year-old closer for $4 million/year, then…then…then…I could go with the cliche of selling you a bridge to nowhere, but I’ll just go back to my tried and true. The Braves will want Grilli to pitch in order to boost his trade value and then get some assets in return for him. Unfortunately, Grilli is returning from rupturing his Achilles’ tendon. If healthy, it’s Grilli’s gig. Once he gets traded, he will probably be a set-up man for another team. After that, then Arodys Vizcaino will be the man. Vizcaino should thrive once he gets the role, as he collected nine saves with a 1.60 ERA, 1.188 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 33 innings last year. Oh, he also throws a HIGH-90’s fastball. If you are worried about the terrible Braves team, they were actually fifth in all of baseball with 70 save opportunities.=
- Starting rotation: Julio Teheran, Bud Norris and Matt Wisler are locked into the top three spots. The remaining two spots will probably be filled by Jhoulys Chacin, Michael Foltynewicz, Williams Perez or John Gant. Foltynewicz had surgery in September for blood cots in his arm, so the Braves may want to give him some time to build back up. Chacin just got lit up by the Nationals for 10 hits and five runs (two earned) in five innings Sunday. Perez has struck out seven in seven innings, while allowing one earned run and walking three. Gant is the dark horse. The righty has impressed this spring allowing one earned run, walking one and striking out five in 8 1/3 innings. Gant throws a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, with a change-up/splitter that’s been labeled as a “vulcan.” As of now, which will be later when you read this, Perez and Foltynewicz seem like the front runners.
- Starting rotation: Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Fernandez and Tom Koehler are locked into three of the starting rotation spots. While nothing official has been announced, it seems that Jarred Cosart and Adam Conley will get the final two spots. Cosart has not allowed an earned run this spring, while striking out nine but walking five in 9 2/3 innings. In his brief three-year career, Cosart has a 3.54 ERA, 1.365 WHIP and a 5.7 K/9 rate. Yipeee…. Conley is a lefty that throws a low-90’s fastball, with a slider and changeup. He is actually more effective against righties than lefties. Edwin Jackson, who was signed to a major league deal, is no threat and will be in the bullpen. Why? He sucks.
For a team that won 71 games last year, there are few position battles. There is a ton of talent on this squad. Oh, you need pitching to win? Can Donny Baseball work his magic? Dodger fans chant in unison: Donny Baseball has the capacity for magic? Maybe there should be battles for the ownership and outfield sculpture.
New York Mets
Any wonder why the Metropolitans…I get hungry typing, thinking or speaking that name…Is this why? As I was saying, before my stomach and brain rudely interrupted me, any wonder why the Mets made it to the World Series last year? They do not have any relevant position battles. Their rotation and bullpen are set. The position players are locked in. I guess the one potential question could be in left field, where Michael Conforto could be platooned. Oh, another one could be David Wright’s battle with himself. Can he stay healthy enough to play? Anyways, the point is that these are not true battles at all. They are more like Oprah Winfrey’s battle against weight gain, as she pockets tens of millions dollars in the Weight Watchers stock she bought prior to revealing her “struggle.” Go ask Tehol what he would do for $1 and ask him how much of a struggle it would be.
- Closer: This seems to be a battle between David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa and Andrew Bailey. Hernandez had soreness in his elbow at the beginning of Spring Training, so he’s still getting up to speed. He’s allowed one earned run while striking out three in three innings pitched. With that said, the Phillies did sign him to a one-year, $3.9 million deal in the offseason. Bailey was a popular name a few weeks ago, but he’s struggled a bit lately and there have been concerns about his velocity and control. Hinojosa, the 30-year-old Cuban, has been great this spring, striking out seven and allowing two earned runs in six innings pitched. His arsenal consists of a low-90’s fastball, slider and change. If healthy, I think Hernandez is the guy. C.R.E.A.M. Plus, he has experience saving games. While Bailey has racked up more saves than Hernandez over his career, he hasn’t been good since 2010. Hinojosa is right behind Hernandez and I would think he’s the cuff. Bear in mind that the Phillies were second-to-last in generating save opportunities last year with 51.
- Starting rotation: Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Jerad Eickhoff will be in the starting rotation. The fifth spot is a battle between Vincent Velasquez and Adam Morgan. The Phillies have been contemplating a six-man rotation. Me: Where would you like to go for dinner? Wife: I don’t know. I love that Mexican restaurant, but I also love that sushi place. We haven’t been to that Vietnamese place in a long time, but the kids like pizza. That new fusion has been getting good reviews. Me: Make a decision! All kidding aside, Velasquez does have a checkered injury history and only threw 88 innings for the Astros last year, so the Phillies won’t want to subject him to a full workload. With that said, Velasquez possesses an explosive arsenal: mid-90’s fastball, with a curveball, slider and changeup. Morgan has an 89 mph fastball with a change and slider. The upside and fantasy relevance is skewed toward Velasquez.
- Shortstop: The young buck (Trea Turner) vs. the new guy (Stephen Drew) vs. the wily veteran (Danny Espinosa). Everyone is excited about the young buck, as he’s stolen seven bases and clubbed one home run in 34 at-bats this spring. Unfortunately, his slash line is .235/.325/.353. The new guy has had a good spring, slashing .346/.433/.577 in 26 at-bats. The wily veteran has been terrible, batting .120/.185/.240, but he’s the best defensive player out of the three. We all know that Dusty Baker hates playing young kids, so Turner will probably be sent down to the minors to get regular at-bats. Drew is slated to be the utility infielder with Espinosa the starting shortstop. I’m sure that Grey would agree that Espinosa is the best man for the job after looking at this.
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