Last season, the Washington Nationals were supposed to run away with the NL East. Many picked the Nationals to make a run all the way to the World Series, and it made a lot of sense in theory. They added ace Max Scherzer, and a healthy Bryce Harper, to a 96-win team from 2014.
Baseball has a way of making the “obvious” option not the correct one, as the Nationals fell behind late to the New York Mets, and missed the playoffs completely. This season, the division should be another battle between the Nationals and the Mets, as the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Miami Marlins project to be some of baseball’s worst.
In what looks to be more of a rebuilding season, the Braves are focusing on the future, trying to get their young prospects ready for the big leagues as soon as possible. As we see in Kevaghn Hinckley’s article on the Braves, there are not a lot of real players in Atlanta ready to contend for the playoffs in 2016.
As long as 1B Freddie Freeman can stay on the field, the Braves will have an All-Star bat, as Freeman has established himself as one of the best first baseman in the National League. Unfortunately, the Braves don’t have much to help Freeman, although new additon OF Ender Inciarte may spark the offense in front of Freeman.
Julio Teheran is the team ace, under contract through 2019, and is a piece to build around. But coming off a down year, Teheran isn’t going to be enough to help the Braves back to the playoffs.
With 67 wins as the benchmark from last season, the Braves look likely to fall below that number. These next few seasons may be tough for the Braves, but the future ahead looks much brighter. 2016 will be a year to forget for Braves fans, that much is clear.
After signing superstar RF Giancarlo Stanton to a monster contract, 13years, $325 million, the Marlins failed to make the playoffs once again. Though Stanton is perhaps the league’s best slugger when healthy, mashing 34+ HRs in 2011, 2012, and 2014, he couldn’t stay on the field in 2015. Stanton only played 74 games last season, but still found a way to hit 27 HRs.
Along with Stanton, the Marlins have some nice pieces on offense, notably 2B Dee Gordon and LF Christian Yelich. Gordon, a former Los Angeles Dodger, won the batting title in his first season in Miami, batting a clean .333 AVG. Yelich also dealt with injuries, but when healthy he’s a quality bat in the 2-hole.
Electric pitcher Jose Fernandez returned from Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2015, and had some obvious growing pains. Still though, Fernandez is one of the division’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, and the Marlins expect Fernandez to start on Opening Day.
The Marlins might be a sneaky team, contending for the Wild Card, but overall they don’t have the depth necessary to make a playoff push. That being said, with a healthy Stanton and Fernandez, this team has a brighter future than most. 2016 may not see the Marlins in the playoffs, but 2017 and beyond, the Marlins may find a way.
New York Mets
Surprising the baseball world during the 2015 trade deadline, the Mets added stud OF Yoenis Cespedes. Though Cespedes hit free agency, the Mets re-signed the slugger and solidified the middle of their batting order.
The Mets made a run to the World Series, thanks in large part to dynamic pitching from their young core. Ace Matt Harvey came back from Tommy John surgery, and joined studs Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. The Mets will also return Zack Wheeler from Tommy John surgery this season, and lefty-prospect Steven Matz rounds out the Mets’ dynamite rotation.
2B Daniel Murphy was not re-signed, instead choosing the rival Nationals. This will hurt the Mets, since Murphy has been their most reliable bat the past two seasons. New York will rely on younger players, namely C Travis d’Arnaud and LF Michael Conforto, to pick up some of the slack.
This incarnation of the Mets is stronger than last season’s, and the Mets should be the favorites in the NL East. The pitching staff alone makes the Mets strong enough to beat anyone, and if Cespedes can repeat his performance from 2015, this coming season should see the Mets return to the postseason.
Once again, the Phillies continue their rebuild. Since the 2008-2010 period of success, the Phillies have fallen to the basement of the NL East. Gone are familiar faces like 2B Chase Utley, LHP Cole Hamels, and fan-favorite SS Jimmy Rollins.
As Hinckley wrote in his piece on the Phillies, there is hope in Philadelphia. There are tons of prospects coming through the ranks that will help the Phillies in the future, but 2016 will not be their year. Instead, it will be a season of analysis for the Phillies GM and coaching staff, to try and decide what players will be a part of their future.
Standing atop the mountain of minor-league maybes and overpaid veterans, is 3B Maikel Franco. Franco burst on the scene in 2015, giving Phillies fans an exciting infielder to watch. Franco hit .280, with 14 HRs and 50 RBIs in about a half-season of PAs as he will look to build on a nice rookie season.
The Phillies won’t be contending in 2016, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. In the past season and a half, the Phillies front office has replenished the team’s farm system and given the rebuild a proper direction. 2016 will be ugly, but within 2-3 seasons the Phillies may be contending once again.
One of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2015, the Nationals have made a number of changes to try to take the team in the right direction. Manager Matt Williams was fired, after struggling to control the clubhouse, and Williams was replaced by former Reds manager Dusty Baker, an accomplished (and interesting) manager.
Former Mets 2B Daniel Murphy is the Nationals’ biggest free agency addition, but the Nationals also expect some major additions from within. 3B Anthony Rendon, an MVP-contender in 2014, is back and healthy. LF Jayson Werth and 1B Ryan Zimmerman are getting older, but are still productive bats when on the field.
The Nationals also return everyone but Jordan Zimmermann to a quality pitching staff. Former AL Cy Young-winner Max Scherzer shined in Washington last season, and finished in the top-5 in the Cy Young voting in his first season in D.C. Stephen Strasburg, now healthy, is expected to return to his ace-like form.
But if the Nationals expect to contend, it will be on the shoulders of MVP Bryce Harper once again. Lauded as the best player in baseball, Harper turned in a ridiculous season in 2015. Harper ran away with the NL MVP award, winning unanimously. Expect a healthy Nationals team to fight for a playoff spot.
The NL East is a two-team race, with the Nationals and the Mets likely to battle down to the wire for the crown. Both teams are imperfect, but both also offer a lot of promising signs. The Mets have a slight advantage in the pitching rotation, but the Nationals lineup is much more complete.
In the end though, pitching wins out. The Mets are the favorites, rightfully so, and they should be viewed as such until the Nationals prove that they can overtake them. Still though, to make it some fun, I decided that this division will be decided by 1 game, as the teams are too close to say that either is an overwhelming favorite.
Statistics provided by: ESPN.com, MLB.com, and FanGraphs.com
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