Here is a breakdown of the NL East as it stands today:
#1 Washington Nationals
It’s kind of hard to pick against the Washington Nationals with the roster they have assembled. However, I am not as high on them as most people.
Strengths: Balance. The roster the Nationals have assembled, on paper, is about as balanced, as you will ever see. The rotation is young and extremely talented (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman, etc), the lineup is also young with some veterans mixed in, and the bullpen will be plenty good as well. Obviously their biggest strength should be their starting pitching though, especially getting a full season from Stephen Strasburg.
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Looking at the Nats on paper, it really is hard to find any weaknesses. However, with as many young players as the Nats have, plate discipline could continue to be a factor. In 2012 the Nationals ranked 17th in the MLB in walks and had the 4th most strikeouts as well. Also, the Nats played like a team that is very young for the last few weeks of the season last year.
This team is stacked. If the MLB was run by a computer system that just looked at teams on paper and decided who would win based on numbers, this team would probably be my World Series pick for the NL. However, I am not quite sold on this team’s depth and they seemed to run out of gas last year while closing the season 10-10 and collapsing against the Cardinals in the playoffs. I think the Nats will be better than last year, but so will the Braves, so it should be a dogfight for the division. Nats should win it though.
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#2 Atlanta Braves
Strengths: Potential and bullpen. Potential is the word that best describes the Braves in so many ways this season. After acquiring the Upton brothers to patrol the outfield with Jason Heyward, the Braves could potentially have the most versatile and dangerous outfield in the MLB. Add in a young Freddie Freeman, a still powerful Dan Uggla, and a much healthier Brian McCann and this offense could be very dangerous.
The Braves also boast what should be the best bullpen in the league this year. Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty—known as “Oventbrel”—are possibly the best trio in baseball and are healthy after a lesser workload last season.
Feast or famine. The Braves projected 2-7 hitters, last year, combined for 134 HR and 815 strikeouts. Which leads to an average of 22 HR each and 135 strikeouts each. The Braves are well aware of this glaring weakness, but they are also aware that 3 of those players are under the age of 26 and still have plenty of time for improvement.
One more possible weakness will be replacing Chipper Jones. Not just as a third baseman and middle of the order presence, but in the locker room as well.
The Braves are going to surprise some people. Last year, after losing the NL’s best pitcher for the first half of the season (Brandon Beachy), the Braves went on to boast the best rotation ERA in the NL in the second half of the season. That, combined with a dominant bullpen and a suddenly potent lineup (power-wise), means the Braves should give the Nationals all they can handle and just may pull it out. Actually, I am going to let my heart sway my prediction. The Braves will win the division.
#3 Philadelphia Phillies
This is about as simple as it gets. The Phillies will go as far as their pitching takes them. People forget, because of the Phillies struggles last year, that the Phillies still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Jonathan Papelbon on their roster. If all of those components can stay healthy and Mike Adams can continue his good work in the bullpen, this team could have some very good pitching numbers.
Lineup. After being the team’s biggest strength for so long, this offense has lost its swagger and it’s numbers. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are all coming off down years that included injuries as well (minus Rollins). The Phillies lineup was mediocre or worse in practically every offensive category last year. Both of the Young’s are solid additions, but in order for the Phillies lineup to produce again, the big 3 will need to have bounce back seasons.
My prediction for this team really depends on what happens with Roy Halladay. I am not sure how healthy and productive he will be able to be. If—and that is a big ‘if’—Halladay regains his 2010 form and someone in the middle of the lineup gets going, this team is very very capable of making a run. Bottom line: could see them winning 90 games or losing 90 games.
#4 New York Mets
It’s future rotation. The Mets rotation will likely take a step back after losing R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays, but they may end up taking two steps forward after that. Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, and Dillon Gee are all young, plus the Mets have a couple very promising arms in their system.
The outfield. When your 2 highest paid outfielders aren’t on your team and one of them hasn’t played a game since 2001, you know you have issues. While Jason Bay and Bobby Bonilla won’t be of any help to the Mets this year, it appears as if their current OF will struggle to be of much help either. Nieuwenhuis, Baxter, and Duda have all shown average power with not much of an average to go along with.
I do like the Mets infield, but they will need more help from the OF offensively, and I don’t think they are going to get it.
R.A. Dickey will be extremely missed by the rotation and the bullpen. The Mets will have some good streaks, but lack of offense and suspect bullpen will hurt them in the end. Mets fans, you’re rebuilding, be happy with a .500 season.
#5 Florida Marlins
Let’s just skip to the weaknesses.
Their lineup, rotation, bench, and bullpen, are all valid “weaknesses”. However, the Marlins biggest weakness is their owner. It is just not fair what Jeffrey Loria continues to do to this organization. I feel especially bad for Giancarlo Stanton. I hope he can stay focused and positive, because he is a special player.
Now that the Astros are gone from the NL, the Marlins front office is doing their best to bring the “worst team in the NL” label to Miami. So far, so good.
Follow Cole Stevenson on twitter: @Cole_Stevenson