2015 MLB Preview: NL East

nl-east.fw

The National League East is a strange division in the MLB as the competition is nowhere near the level of other divisions and yet they produce strong teams every year.

For a very long time the Atlanta Braves ruled this division. For an entire decade the Braves were the team to beat in the East as they won every division title from 1995 until 2005.

The rest of the teams took a backseat and often were forgotten as they struggled to get anything going.

The Braves were the model franchise in the division but they extended far beyond the division as they became the model franchise throughout the league. They were the picture of consistency as the most dominant divisional team in the league and took that to plenty of great postseason showings.

That dominance could not last forever though as other teams began to rebuild and make some noise in the division.

The Philadelphia Phillies began to take over the division and winning every division title from 2007 to 2011.

Then the pattern changed again as the Washington Nationals began to take over winning the division in 2012 and again last year, the Braves took home the 2013 title.

As these three teams traded off different dominant periods the Florida/Miami Marlins and the New York Mets were stuck in the basement. Both have had their times where they seemed to be ready to take on the dominant role they have fallen short time and time again.

The Mets continued to try to rebuild they have yet to find the right combination of players to bring them out of the basement.

Meanwhile the Marlins never truly committed to a rebuild before 2012 when they traded their core players in a very busy off-season.

The Nationals seem to be ready to take over as the new dominant team in the NL East as their young guns have started to show their promise while the Braves and the Phillies deal with aging issues.

The face of the division could be changing but the pattern of the division continues to reign true as the dominance has continued for over two decades and despite the fact that no team will likely have a run as successful as the Braves, dominance is still the name of the game in the East.

The question will be if it can truly continue or if a battle truly comes to the NL East that involves more than two teams and can actually produce more than one postseason team.

Last year the Nats took home the title after a long battle with the Braves but the Braves could not keep up in the end and found themselves out of the postseason.

The Nationals seem set to take over the division as the Mets and Marlins continue their rebuild while the Braves and Phillies are at the start of their own rebuilds.

That leaves a massive opening for the Nationals as their young guns are now mature and ready to take the torch in a division that makes a habit of creating dominant team after dominant team.

Then again there are always the surprising teams in every MLB season and in the East there are a number of teams that could be that surprise.

Any team could take this division and although one seems like they are set for their second division title in as many years it would be tough for them to think that they can walk to the division title as anything can happen in 2015.

atl_braves.fw

The Atlanta Braves are not used to losing as they have been one of the most consistent teams over the last two decades. If they didn’t make the postseason they came very close and fought until the end to get there. 2014 was not what they were used to as a tight battle in the East gave way to a last month collapse and a year without the postseason. The failure to return to the top of the division was enough for the Braves to retool and begin a rebuild for the first time in a long time. They started by firing GM Frank Wren and replacing him with the duo of John Hart, Director of Baseball Operations, and John Coppolella, assistant GM. The Braves have not named an official GM so the duo was left with the task of rebuilding the team together. They unloaded a lot of salary in the off-season after trading both Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis for a host of cheaper players and prospects that have a lot of promise for the future. The Braves also let Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachey walk away from the rotation more so for the four Tommy John Surgeries between them than their hits to the payroll. In terms of replacing the losses the Braves didn’t do a whole lot bringing in the prospects from their trades along with signings of an aging Nick Markakis, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jonny Gomes. None present a huge boost but they do provide some veteran presence on the team and in the field. The rotation now stands without two of their top pitchers, although both had been band aids in the last two years, as they now rely on some young, potentially good, pitchers. Leading the way is Julio Teheran who had a breakout year in 2014 and is set to become the ace of the squad this year. Along with Teheran the majority of other potential starters are under 30 and will have to develop throughout the season. This year the Braves began a three-year plan to bring them back to greatness but it is the start of that plan and although they are better than many rebuilding teams they are not going to be a part of the division battle this year.

atl_braves

mia_marlins.fw

The Miami Marlins are a team that has yet to figure things out as their habits before the logo and name change continue to haunt the team. In 2012 the Marlins were set to begin their second year in a new home with a new city to represent and a colour scheme to match. Then the team sold any hope of being competitive. They let their top pitchers and position players go to Toronto in exchange for a number of prospects. That trade has yet to work well for them though as they remained at the bottom of the division. Despite a small positive period during the 2014 season it as another losing year and another year out of the postseason race before it began. This off-season it was a different story though as the Marlins were the most active team in the off-season and could match the Cubs and White Sox for the best moves. The Marlins are building a new team around their two superstar athletes in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. With Stanton, one of the rising superstars in the MLB, locked up to a long-term deal the Marlins went about trying to build a team around him. They signed free agent Michael Morse while they also traded to bring in speedster second baseman Dee Gordon, who the Dodgers will be paying for, and Martin Prado to man the hot corner. The moves have almost completely changed the infield with Jarod Saltalamacchia and Adeiny Hechavarria the only holdovers. Meanwhile the pitching staff will see some new faces as well with trades for Dan Haren and Matt Latos bringing in two likely starters, if Haren does not retire like he threatened to do before he was traded, to a rotation that is fairly young. With Fernandez hurt and set to open 2015 on the DL the rest of the rotation, including the new veterans, will need to hold steady before their young fireballer returns. The additions of Preston Claiborne, Aaron Crow, and David Phelps gave the bullpen an immediate upgrade as well. The Marlins have upgraded and although they might not be the biggest names they are better than last year but the players they added may not be good enough to push them into the postseason.

mia_marlins

ny_mets.fw

The New York Mets are much like the Marlins as their fans have been suffering for a long time as they wait to see a competitive team. In 2013 the Mets showed some promise with some young players including a pitcher that took over the league. Matt Harvey was the hope for the Mets and he was supposed to lead the Mets back to greatness. Then the plague of Tommy John hit and he was forced to go under the knife and miss all of the 2014 season. The loss of Harvey was a big hit to the hopes of the Mets in 2014 but despite his inability to join the team the Mets actually had a good season. Not good for most teams but for the Mets putting up 79 wins and tying the Braves for second in the division was the best they have had for a long time. They showed promise in 2014 and with their best player set to return in 2015 they are hoping to see more improvement. The problem is that the Mets had holes heading into the off-season and throughout the off-season the Mets did nothing to fill these holes. They were extremely inactive in the off-season not losing many top players but not bringing in much else. The fact is that aside from a few players there just isn’t a lot there for the Mets to compete. They don’t have much of an infield with David Wright marking their only former All-Star and although the addition of Michael Cuddyer is fairly good the outfield remains unknown. Travis D’Arnaud is the most promising of the infielders as the young catcher had a good year in 2014 and the Mets need him to improve if they want some type of power in the lineup. The pitching staff could receive a boost if Harvey returns to form after his surgery while the rest of the rotation is good but not great as Jon Niese and Dillon Gee struggled throughout the year in 2014. The Mets simply didn’t do enough to compete but the rest of the division hasn’t done too much either and they may end up in the middle again but out of the postseason.

ny_mets

phi_phillies.fw

The Philadelphia Phillies have never seemed to realize what was happening to their team that used to old the power in the division. After dominating for years the Phillies started to fall and the writing was on the wall that they needed to change something and after 2013 that change for many was to blow up the team full of veterans. That was everyone except the Phillies who stayed with the core of players they had when they were winning and for that they finished at the bottom of the division in 2014. Finally the lesson seems to have sunk in for the Phillies management as they finally started to ship out the old guard in favour of young talent. That is not necessarily promising for this season though as the Phillies are finally in a rebuild phase that should have come a few years ago. Gone are Marlon Byrd, Antonio Bastardo, and long-time Phillie Jimmy Rollins. All three were traded away this off-season to bring in young prospects but none of those prospects will see much time in the MLB. Those moves prepared them for the future though as their pitching staff is full of veterans including Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jerome Williams, and a new addition Aaron Harang, all of which are over 30. The staff is good but they are an older group that are at the point where they could have an ageless year but could also see their age catch up to them. With little help in the way of young arms the Phillies are hoping that the vets can hold things together for the time being. Meanwhile in the field the Phillies hung on to a Ryan Howard who had a resurgent year in 2014 while also keeping Chase Utley and re-signing Grady Sizemore. None are who they used to be but they are also good players. With that in mind, all have been widely considered to be trade bait for the rest of the MLB along with Hamels. Philadelphia has made it clear that there are few people who are off-limits and as with any team in their position that does not bode well for this season as they are at the start of a rebuild that will keep them out of the postseason for the near future.

phi_phillies

was_nationals.fw

The Nationals finally have the team they were looking for when they were the worst team in the MLB for two straight years and became the luckiest team in the league. The two years they struggled happened to be the two years where can’t miss prospects were available in the MLB draft, there are almost never can’t miss prospects in the MLB draft. These two young superstars made an impact immediately and have become the cornerstones to the return of baseball in the U.S. capital. Although they have both had their injury woes they have been able to help the Nationals to the top of the division and last year won the division for the second time since moving from Montreal. Behind the offence of Harper, who missed time in 2014 with a thumb injury, and the pitching of Strasburg, who had Tommy John Surgery in 2010, the Nationals continue to rise. Heading into 2015 the goal is clear, it’s time for a serious run at the World Series. Last year they fell in their first postseason series to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants, only winning one game. There wasn’t a lot to be fixed for the Nationals as they had a solid rotation led by Strasburg and a mix of power and contact hitters in their lineup. Still they made some moves in bringing in Yunel Escobar and getting involved in a massive trade with the Rays and Padres where they came out with two top prospects. Then they flipped the free agent market on its head when they shelled out $210 million over the next seven years to Max Scherzer. That move has put together one of the best rotations in baseball with Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez providing little break for opponents. The new rotation is what the Nationals hope will bring them to postseason success. With Harper, Jayson Werth, Denard Span, Ian Desmond, and emerging third basemen Anthony Rendon leading the offence and a new rotation in place the Nationals don’t have a lot to prevent them from winning the division again. The rest of the teams are in rebuild mode and although some may provide some surprises it seems like the Nats are on their way to another division title and possibly a deep postseason run.

was_nationals

Prediction:
The NL East is not as complicated as the rest with some teams getting better while the top teams remains the best. The Washington Nationals remain the best team in the division with an upgraded rotation that looks to keep them at the top for the near future. Meanwhile the Marlins and the Mets are improved teams but neither will have what it takes to earn a postseason spot. Both are finally getting somewhere in the division but their improvements will fall just short. The old power in the division won’t be there to take control this year as their aging team will fall far short of the division race. The Phillies meanwhile will continue to struggle this year and won’t be anywhere near the race throughout the season.

nl-east-standings.fw

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 163 other followers

%d bloggers like this: