Atlanta’s new acquisitions, by general consensus, installed them as the foremost challenger to defending champion Washington in the National League East. Inside the Nationals’ clubhouse, they are not so sure.
Back in Viera, as he tied his shoes for a morning workout, Jayson Werth was asked if considered the Braves or Philadelphia Phillies a bigger threat. Werth, the former Phillie, did not hesitate.
“Phillies,” he said. “I think everybody is writing them off. They played good in September, when they were healthy. They’re not going to roll over, that’s for sure.”
And about the Braves? “Yeah, the Braves got the Upton brothers,” Werth said. “But they lost [Martin] Prado and Chipper.”
In last October’s wild card play-in game, the Braves may have come within one bizarre outfield fly ruling of keeping the Cardinals’ Pete Kozma anonymous within the greater Washington area. Then they beefed up their lineup and kept intact one of the best bullpens in the majors. Tuesday, both Uptons knocked RBI singles off lefty Ross Detwiler.
But the additions came with subtractions. Michael Bourn left in free agency, Prado — a consistent pest for the Nationals — went to Arizona in the trade for Justin Upton, and Jones retired.
“Atlanta went out and got some people, but I think they also lost some people, too,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Everyone talks about how much better their lineup got. It didn’t get worse. But anytime you lose a guy like Michael Bourn and Martin Prado and Chipper Jones, it’s pretty hard to compensate for those three guys. By no means am I saying their lineup is not good or they won’t have a good team. But I think they almost replaced, which they had to do. They went out and made some noise.”
At this time last year, Philadelphia had won five consecutive NL East titles. It is odd to think of a team like that as a sleeper, but it may be. The Phillies improved with small, crucial additions and renewed health — Chase Utley is playing in spring games and Ryan Howard is no longer running as if trying out for Old Timer’s Day.
The Phillies still have major questions in their outfield, but newly acquired center fielder Ben Revere gives them speed and youth, two attributes they desperately needed. They traded for Michael Young to fill a glaring hole at third base. Their setup relief was a disaster in 2012, and they signed Mike Adams to lock down the eighth inning.