With Baseball officially kicking off on Sunday, it’s time to take a stab at predicting the success and downfalls of each division in the majors. We look at the NL East, where the New York Mets rode its elite rotation all the way to the World Series, the Washington Nationals look to bounce back and the bottom of the division is somewhere between rebuilding and sleepers.
1. Washington Nationals – There’s two things to keep in mind about the Nationals. 1. Just two years ago, the Nationals won 96 games. 2. They lead the NL East for most of the year until torpedoing in the second half while the Mets caught fire. Keeping these things in mind, Washington was never fully healthy and if not for a Bryce Harper MVP season, may have had even more of a disappointing year. This season, the Nats’ have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez leading the rotation, with the underrated Tanner Roark included. Jonathan Papelbon has been annoying but consistent, Daniel Murphy should fill in nicely and if Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth stay healthy, the offense could be among the better teams in the league. Expect the Nationals to get enough pitching and to form a slightly more well-rounded version of the Mets, enough to recover and win the East.
2. New York Mets – The best pitching staff in the majors will get the Mets back into the playoffs, but the team overachieved down the stretch on offense. Michael Conforto could provide a boost, but it’s possible the Mets downgraded offensively in the middle infield and Yoenis Cespedes is bound to regress back to his career form and not the MVP form he bulked up into in August and September. David Wright‘s health is a concern, as is the middle relief behind Jeurys Familia, but the Mets have bar none the best rotation and a good enough offense to still be World Series contenders.
3. Miami Marlins – A team many are picking as a sleeper does have a lot of talent on the roster. Unfortunately, playing in a top heavy division will likely prevent the Fish from getting over the hump and into playoff contention. Combined with a desire to sell if things go the least bit south, the Marlins won’t be the ones to make a flashy deadline move either. A full year of a healthy Jose Fernandez and the addition of Wei-yin Chen should bring stability to the front of the rotation, perennial MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton staying healthy would go a long way and the bounce back of Marcell Ozuna could bring the team to another level, but everything going right is never realistic.
4. Philadelphia Phillies – For losers of 99 games last season, the Phillies started playing a little better down the stretch. Maikel Franco emerged as a legitimate middle of the order bat, Aaron Nola showed promise in the rotation and the team now has Vincent Velasquez and Jeremy Hellickson under contract as well. With little bullpen to speak of and a rotation still developing as well as more or less unknowns on offense, the Phillies are still developing and the record will reflect the growing pains.
5. Atlanta Braves – Similar to Philadelphia, the Braves are in a rebuild. While the minor league system has gone from near worst to near first over the past two years, Atlanta still leaves a lot to be desired on the major league field. Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran remain from the glory days of playoff contending, but either one could be traded by the trade deadline. Atlanta has the makings of an offense and promising young arms still unproven, but not much else. This team could be a sleeper sooner rather than later, but expect it to sleep throughout the summer and fall.
* Denotes Wildcard Selection