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Hobbled Braves Have Work to Do

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) kisses his bat as he prepares to bat during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) kisses his bat as he prepares to bat during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Each day this week, the VALLEY NEWS will run season previews of every major league team, division by division. Today, we continue with the National League East, with teams listed in order of finish last year:

Atlanta Braves

2013: 96-66, first place (lost to Dodgers in division series).

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (fourth season).

He’s Here: RHP Gavin Floyd, C Ryan Doumit, RHP Aaron Harang, 1B Mat Gamel, 2B Tyler Greene, RHP Ervin Santana.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Tim Hudson, C Brian McCann, LHP Paul Maholm, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, RHP Freddy Garcia, SS Paul Janish, 2B Elliot Johnson, RHP Cristhian Martinez, LHP Sean Gilmartin.

Hot Spots: After Hudson and Maholm departed as free agents, the Braves lost two more starting pitchers — projected opening day starter Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy

— to season-ending elbow injuries in spring training. Braves general manager Frank Wren quickly signed Santana, but the rotation remains thin, especially early in the season. Minor, who had a sore shoulder early in the spring, is expected to be ready in mid-April. Gavin Floyd, recovering from surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament and a torn flexor muscle in his right elbow, could join the rotation in May. Atlanta cut Garcia late in spring training and signed Harang after he was released from a minor league contract by Cleveland.

Outlook: The Braves had the majors’ best ERA in 2013, when they won the division even as 2B Dan Uggla and CF B.J. Upton hit below .200 and lost their starting jobs. The team expected to again lean on its pitching before losing Medlen and Beachy. LH Alex Wood has impressed in spring training and could help replenish the rotation. The club invested in its future when it gave multiyear contracts to top young stars RH Craig Kimbrel, 1B Freddie Freeman, RF Jason Heyward and SS Andrelton Simmons this spring. Only Heyward’s two-year deal is for fewer than four years. C Evan Gattis showed impressive power as a rookie and now replaces McCann as the starting catcher.

Washington Nationals

2013: 86-76, second place.

Manager: Matt Williams (first season).

He’s Here: RHP Doug Fister, LHP Jerry Blevins, OF Nate McLouth, C Jose Lobaton.

He’s Outta Here: Manager Davey Johnson, RHP Dan Haren, INF Chad Tracy, INF-OF Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Fernando Abad.

Hot Spots: Fister was bothered by right elbow inflammation after his first spring start and missed about three weeks of Grapefruit League action. The fifth spot in the rotation also will be worth watching because LH Ross Detwiler, who came to the Nationals as the No. 6 overall pick in the amateur draft and has a lot more experience in the majors than LH Ross Roark or RH Taylor Jordan, competed with that duo for the job before being relegated to the bullpen to begin the season. Will Washington stick to the stance that Detwiler is better suited for relief than starting?

Outlook: The Nationals went from the best record in the majors in 2012 to missing the playoffs in 2013 — and for 2014, a lot could depend on the shift from the lame-duck Johnson to Williams, who gained a reputation as a fiery guy during his playing days. Williams promised to add an emphasis on defensive positioning, and when he was hired by Washington after being Arizona’s third base coach, he even brought along an extra coach to oversee that part of the game. Two big keys for the Nationals will be young stars LF Bryce Harper and RH Stephen Strasburg, a pair of No. 1 draft picks who had offseason surgery. The lineup is expected to be mostly the same as last season, other than some tinkering with the batting order. GM Mike Rizzo upgraded an already strong rotation by trading for Fister, who joins Strasburg, LH Gio Gonzalez and RH Jordan Zimmermann.

New York Mets

2013: 74-88, third place.

Manager: Terry Collins (fourth season).

He’s Here: OF Curtis Granderson, RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Chris Young, RHP Jose Valverde, LHP John Lannan, 1B Brandon Allen, C Taylor Teagarden, RHP Ryan Reid, 1B Matt Clark.

He’s Outta Here: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Johan Santana, INF Justin Turner, RHP Aaron Harang, OF Mike Baxter, RHP Frank Francisco, RHP David Aardsma, RHP Scott Atchison, OF-2B Jordany Valdespin, LHP Robert Carson, LHP Pedro Feliciano, LHP Tim Byrdak.

Hot Spots: First base, shortstop, catcher. With the Mets unable to upgrade at first base, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda were left to compete for playing time this spring. Then both were sidelined for weeks with leg injuries, making the decision more difficult. The light-hitting Tejada, who broke his leg in September, has regressed the past couple of years, and this might be his last chance to hold down the job. There are questions about his fitness, focus — and now even his fielding, which was supposed to be a strength. SS Ruben Tejada is only 24, but the organization doesn’t seem to have much faith in him anymore. Problem is, there aren’t many viable alternatives. Omar Quintanilla provides veteran insurance but little pop. The Mets are banking on d Travis’Arnaud behind the plate, but the prized prospect didn’t hit much during a late-season call-up last year and then struggled mightily with the bat for most of spring training.

Outlook: After three years of bargain hunting, GM Sandy Alderson spent more than $87 million on a trio of free agents this offseason. Granderson and Chris Young finally give the Mets some depth and potential power in the outfield, without sacrificing speed and defense. The beefy Colon, who turns 41 in May, is coming off an All-Star campaign with Oakland that followed a drug suspension. New York gave him a two-year deal, augmenting a promising rotation. Parnell is coming off neck surgery, the rest of the bullpen is inexperienced, and the flawed lineup is prone to strikeouts.

Philadelphia Phillies

2013: 73-89, fourth place.

Manager: Ryne Sandberg (first full season).

He’s Here: RHP A.J. Burnett, OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Miguel Gonzalez, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Brad Lincoln, C Wil Nieves, OF Bobby Abreu.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Roy Halladay, C Erik Kratz, LHP John Lannan.

Hot Spots: LH Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, is expected to miss the first month and could be out longer with a shoulder problem. Adding Burnett helps fill the void and gives the Phillies a solid 1-2 punch atop the rotation, but they don’t have much depth and haven’t been able to rely on their offense in a few years. 1B Ryan Howard hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and the Phillies are counting on the 2006 NL MVP to be the slugger that plays up to his contract. SS Jimmy Rollins and 2B Chase Utley are also on the decline, and the Phillies gave a lot of money in the offseason to C Carlos Ruiz and Byrd, both in their mid-30s.

Outlook: These aren’t the Phillies who dominated the NL East from 2007-11. They may look like it because half the starting lineup is still here, but those core players are trending downward. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s offseason moves were an indication he’s trying to win now before the window completely closes on this group. Re-signing Utley and Ruiz and adding Byrd and Burnett weren’t rebuilding moves. The Phillies are hoping to make one more run with an old, aging group of veterans and a few young guys who are potential stars such as 3B Cody Asche and 2013 All-Star LF Domonic Brown. Sandberg, who took over for Charlie Manuel last August, has to try to get the most out of the older players while developing the younger ones. If things go right, the Phillies should compete. If not, it’s time to start from the bottom.

Miami Marlins

2013: 62-100, fifth place.

Manager: Mike Redmond (second season).

He’s Here: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B-OF Garrett Jones, 2B Rafael Furcal, 3B Casey McGehee, INF-OF Jeff Baker, RHP Carter Capps, OF Brian Bogusevic.

He’s Outta Here: 1B Logan Morrison, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Juan Pierre, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Chad Qualls, INF-OF Chris Coghlan, OF-1B Austin Kearns.

Hot Spots: Here’s how the Marlins scored in the bottom of the ninth in last year’s final game: single, single, wild pitch, wild pitch. With that, they won RH Henderson Alvarez’s no-hitter, 1-0. So it went all season for an offense that ranked last in the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, hits, doubles and home runs. Larry Beinfest was fired as president of baseball operations, but the payroll remains small, and baseball execs Mike Hill and Dan Jennings could only afford to add veterans with question marks.

Outlook: The young rotation has abundant promise, led by effervescent RH Jose Fernandez, the hard-throwing RH Nathan Eovaldi and Alvarez. None is older than 24, and another youngster, top prospect Andrew Heaney, could join the rotation at some point this season. Holdovers in the daily lineup are youngsters, too, including RF Giancarlo Stanton, who will spend this season fending off questions about how much longer he expects to be in Miami. If the Marlins hit at all they’ll be better than last season, and in a year or two they might actually be a force in the NL East, especially if they sign Stanton to a long-term contract.