A.J. Burnett Makes Philadelphia Phillies the Favorites to Win NL East

A.J. Burnett Philadelphia Phillies

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For most of the current offseason it seemed a near lock that A.J. Burnett would either sign with the Pittburgh Pirates or retire, with the veteran pitcher even saying so himself.  Well, apparently he had a change of heart, as the Philadelphia Phillies and the pitcher have come to an agreement on a 1 year, $16 million deal that makes the club early favorites for the National League East division title.

The Phillies will be getting a bit of an enigmatic character in Burnett, who at times can go off into his own little world and forget how to throw the baseball, as he did for two seasons with the New York Yankees.  Over the last two years, he has had a bit of a renaissance in Pittsburgh though, becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League, guiding the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 20 years, and it appears he has finally grown up a bit at the age of 37.

In 2013, the results of this maturation were magnificent, as the right handed pitcher compiled a 10-11 record,  209 strikeouts, a 1.21 WHIP, and a .231 BAA.  While the record isn’t spectacular, this can largely be chalked up to going against number one starters for much of the season, an issue that he will not face in Philadelphia with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels on board. Furthermore, he still has a dominant arsenal of pitches, which includes a fastball that sits between 92-94 mph., one of the best curveballs in baseball and a change-up that serves as a change of pace.  This helped to earn a 9.85 K/9 rate and only a 24.2% flyball rate, which bodes well at spacious First Citizens Bank Park.

Teaming up a guy that could easily be a number one starter on many teams in MLB behind an already established 1A/1B combo in Lee and Hamels looks destined to end in domination. When you add onto this the intriguing presence of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Kyle Kendrick you have a group of five that has four potential number ones, and an overall starting staff that should rank in the top five in MLB. Over a prolonged 162 game schedule you need starting pitchers that are going to give you a chance to win on a nightly basis, and granted good health, these five will do just that.

Of course you have to score runs to win games in the major leagues, and a lineup core that consists of Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley should be able to.  This group will easily be able to hit enough to see the Phillies rank in the top half of MLB in runs scored, and if the latter three stay healthy they could very well rank in the top five.

While there is no doubting that the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves will feel confident in their squads heading into the 2014 MLB season, they certainly need to look out for Philadelphia.  With the addition of Burnett the Phillies have the best starting rotation in the division, and a lineup that will score plenty of runs, which in the end should equate to a NL East title.

Tyler Leli is a Washington Capitals writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or join his network on Google.

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  • Adam

    Are you serious? Their lineup isn’t that good. Last year they were 27th in the league in runs scored. While you may argue that some of their big players were injured, I’d say they will be again. They aren’t getting any younger and I could even see D. Brown coming back down to earth. The farm system doesn’t show much promise and the best thing they can hope for is that their “stars” can do well enough to be trade bait come the deadline. This is an old, injury prone team that will have to rely on pitching in a hitters ballpark.

    • Tyler Leli

      The primary reason that I believe the Phillies will finish at the top of the NL East is starting pitching. As long as Hamels gets back on the mound the team has three guys who could and should win at least 15 games, and will genuinely keep the team competitive whenever on the mound. When you combine this with a Miguel Alfredo Gonzalezer ariable but should become at least a viable middle of the rotation type and a stable Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia has a well above average rotation.
      Yes, the teams lineup didn’t do well last year, but much of that can be chalked up to the injuries of Howard and Ruiz. Both of these guys are still above average players at the plate, as are Byrd, Utley and Rollins. If they all play 130-140 games the team has a team that easily scores in the top half of MLB in runs.
      Health is certainly a big equation in the puzzle, but I see the Phillies as a playoff team if they maintain health.

      • Dilip Sridhar

        nats mets and braves have better rotattions

        • Adam

          lee, cole and burnett are solid. I don’t know why you think Kendrick is anything special: 4.70 era and 1.40 whip in 182 innings… oh and only 110 k’s.
          Byrd had one good season at the age of 35 last year. Rollins, now 35, is losing both power and speed. Utley, also 35, hasn’t been at full strength since 2009. Howard (34) is losing his only weapon, power. His walks are going down and K’s continue to be horrible. Ruiz (35) is nothing more than a defensive stud. CHOOOOCH!! And like I said, I just think Brown comes back down to earth.

          I’m with ya that if Byrd can repeat, and if the rest can stay healthy, and if they can even get close to what they used to be, there is a shot. But that is a lot of ifs in a young and talented NL east. I predict a few of their stars stay healthy, and perform, so they have something to trade away when they are 15 games out at the deadline. They need to start dumping some of these high priced contracts and start thinking about the future.

          • Tyler Leli

            I am not saying that Kendrick is great, but he is at the very least an average number five pitcher. His ability to compile at least a 1.0 WAR each of the last three seasons shows that he is an above average pitcher(if just barely). If Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is a 3.8-4 ERA guy and can slot in the 4 hole you have a rotation that will win games no matter who is in the lineup.

            When it does come to the lineup, I agree that Rollins has seen his best days, but I also think he will see a bit of a bump from the six home runs he compiled last year. If he can hit .260 with 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases, you have a guy that is slightly above average, which is crucial at a premium position. When it comes to Utley and Howard, there is no doubting health is a big risk, but if healthy they are at least +4 WAR players.

            Personally, I think your being a bit pessimistic when it comes to Brown. The guy is only 26 years old, has long been a heralded prospect, and actually was relatively consistent from month to month in 2013. At the very least he is a 25 homer, 75 RBI guy going forward.

            Of course when betting on the Phillies you have to gamble on health, but there are certainly flaws with the Nats and Braves.

            The Nationals do have talent, but as one saw last year they underperformed greatly, and outside of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmermann and Bryce Harper their lineup is nothing special. They ranked 15th in the NL in runs scored last year, which a healthy Phils team will at least match. IMO opinion the pitching staffs are essentially a wash, as the Phils top three is better but their bottom two are weaker than Washington’s.

            Overall, I think that Philadelphia has another run in them, and that 2014 will be the last shot to make it happen. They will need good health to make things happen, but I see them as a genuine candidate to win the NL East if their bodies all stay on the field.

          • Adam

            Well, I think Desmond and laroche are also valuable players to a strong nats lineup. As a Philly fan, I’m over Kendrick.

            I hope you’re right, but I’m just not seeing it. I also see they need to prepare for the future. With old high priced players, I think they need to make some moves.