2016 MLB Preview: NL East

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The National League East was one of the most boring divisions for over a decade with dominant teams easily taking titles year after year.

It has been a division that has been ruled by one team or another regularly for years.

The Atlanta Braves ruled the division for an entire decade winning every division title from 1995 until 2005.

After them, the Philadelphia Phillies took home five straight titles from 2007 until 2011.

It was not a division that many people cared too much about as there was rarely much competition.

Every now and then a team would come up and challenge the dominant team but every time there was no different end to the year.

The competition was not great but some things have changed recently as the competition has become much better throughout the NL East.

It used to be rare that a new team was going to take the title and it was an upset if anyone else took the title.

It seemed like the Phillies were going to give way to the Washington Nationals in 2012 when the young team took their first division title.

They had been sitting at the bottom of the division for so long but did that at the perfect time receiving first overall picks when two generational players were available.

Those draft picks carried them to the top of the division and the NL East seemed to be there for the Nats to take.

They haven’t ruled the division like many thought as the pattern of one dominant team has given way to a much more open division.baseball-sidebar

Washington has been the most successful in that time winning two division titles but nobody has won back to back divisional titles since the Phillies.

The Nationals and Braves have taken titles in the time of transition for the division and last year it was the New York Mets who took the East.

It has been a division full of surprises over the last few years and it may only be continuing as this season is still a bit of a mystery.

There are the champions from a year ago in the Mets who took their division crown all the way to the World Series.

Then there is the Nationals who have always had a pretty good team on paper but have also made a habit of falling short on those good looking teams.

There is always the Atlanta Braves who have not fallen too far off the pace and might be able to challenge.

The Miami Marlins could pull a Mets and surprise everyone with a great performance while the Phillies try to recapture what they once owned for five years.

One way or the other the NL East is an interesting division in the MLB with plenty of possibilities and there always seems to be something surprising every year.

This year might be no different as the Mets will try to establish themselves as the dominant team while everyone else looks to take away their title.

It’s going to be a good race between a lot of teams that will look to put their names among the winners of the east and will try to follow in the footsteps of the Mets.

One of two things will happen to the team that takes the division title they will either be worn out from the fight or battle tested.

Any team that takes the title home is going to have to go through a tough fight as this division could be one of the best races in the league.

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The Braves were once unbeatable in the East standing on top of the division for an entire decade but the golden era in Atlanta is over. It has been for a while and the Braves have realized that in the last few years as they rebuild their team from the farm system, one of the top ranked in baseball, to the majors. The problem is that the talent in the minors isn’t going to come up and help them compete as they have a lot of holes this year. One of the biggest is the fact that they struggle to put up runs with a severe lack of power. Their only real power hitter is Freddie Freeman but he struggles to stay healthy throughout a season. If he can there should be some relief from their power woes but he is not enough to heal them entirely. There is not much power beyond him though as Nick Markakis and A.J. Pierzynski are not the same batters they used to be although they can provide some runs. Their new additions won’t provide much in the way of power but Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar do provide at least a little speed upgrade. Overall though there is not a lot to write home about in this offence as they will struggle to score runs. The pitching staff is sure to miss Shelby Miller but the package of young players they received back was good for the future. Julio Teheran is their top pitcher but not really a true ace while the rest of the rotation is full of young arms looking to make an impression. Matt Wisler might have the best chance as he gets his first full season and although he won’t turn out to be an ace he has the potential to be a solid starter. The rest of the rotation is full of injury issues and questions about how young pitchers can do in the season. It will put pressure on their bullpen but or the Braves that is the one spot that has a bright side. Jason Grilli is still one of the best closers is in the game despite his age while Arodys Vizcaino and Chris Withrow can make life difficult for batters. Still the bullpen is not enough to get these guys any closer to the division title as the focus is clearly on preparing for the future. Don’t expect many great surprises from this time as they continue to struggle through a rebuild with an eye on the future which looks bright.

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The Miami Marlins have been sitting in a cycle of wasted talent for years as they have put together teams with talent but little consistency. Whether it’s injuries or manager changes the Marlins have rarely had a season without at least some drama. It has been a waste of talent in South Florida largely due to ownership impatience but this year they are hoping to find some stability. Don Mattingly is in charge now after guiding the Dodgers to some great seasons in Los Angeles and he will hope that the same can be done despite a smaller payroll. All eyes in Miami will be on two players and those two players are going to be the difference for the team. On offence, that player is Giancarlo Stanton who is hoping to stay on the field this year and meet that MVP potential. He has all the tools necessary to be the best player in baseball but injuries have shortened most of his seasons. Beyond him, there are good players that can hit home runs, get on base, and steal bases but they aren’t an offensive powerhouse. Dee Gordon has the ability to get on base while Justin Bour and Marcell Ozuna can both put the ball out of the park but aren’t players that most pitchers fear. They can definitely put up runs in multiple ways but they are not an offensive powerhouse. Jose Fernandez is the other closely watched player as the leader and now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery he might return to being one of the best starters in the league. If he can do that he will truly be an ace that makes it difficult for opposing hitters every five days. The addition of Wei-Yin Chen gives them another good pitcher that adds depth but after that, there are some mysteries about how effective the other pitchers will be especially with a lack of experience from many. If the bullpen is needed there will be plenty of questions as well with a group that is among the hardest throwing in the league. Yet despite their velocity, they have little experience and have been inconsistent when in the league. It could be their Achilles heel this year as the offence might need to step up more than usual if the Marlins want to win. They are a team with enough talent to make the postseason but they are also a team that whose only consistency comes at disappointing. They could be better and they might fight for the division but will fall short against deeper teams in the AL missing the postseason again.

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Nobody expected the Mets to be the defending National League champions in 2016 but here they are as the team that went farther than any other NL team in 2015. They had a potentially devastating rotation but the offence was questionable and for many it was enough to write them off as a developing team. It wasn’t the case and although they fell just short they set the tempo for what they hope is years to come. The reason for the great year was simply the rotation which is full of young, live arms that could be the best group in baseball. Of course, there is always a chance of any pitcher being hurt or taking a step back in development but the rotation is so deep it might not matter. Led by Matt Harvey, who hopes to be off of an innings limit, this rotation is extremely hard to hit again. Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz make up an impressive group that could be around for a while. The only weak point in the rotation might be Bartolo Colon who is inconsistent as the elder statesman on the rotation. Zack Wheeler could replace him when he returns from surgery but overall this rotation is scary and will be the reason for any success. The bullpen is not necessarily important as it stands with the Mets allowing their pitchers to go deep into games. That puts more pressure on Jeurys Familia who was great as the closer last year and will get plenty of opportunities to close. The problem is that closers are known for being up and down so Familia will need to break that cycle. On offence, the Mets are still not a powerhouse with a lot of questions that include the health of some of their older players. Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda can provide the power but are not the most consistent power hitters. David Wright and Curtis Granderson have both been good all-around hitters but are getting older and Wright has already suffered injury setbacks. The offence is not the worst in the league but it also isn’t the best as the Mets can score just enough to let their great pitching win games. That is the only issue for the Mets as a few bad years from their pitchers could mean disaster. Then again this year the pitchers are all off of their pitch limits or in their second season which could make the Mets better than last year as they will win the division and make another run.

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The light bulb is on in Philadelphia and although it is not good for fans it is good for the organization. For too long the Phillies were dependent on a roster full of veterans and they continued to add veterans as the years went on. They didn’t look to a new generation to help them compete as they continued to try to recapture the magic that kept them on top for five straight years. That strategy stopped working years ago though and they continued to struggle for it as they sunk to the bottom of the league. Finally though, they are on the rebuilding path as they look to a younger group to begin leading them out of the basement. Like any rebuild, it isn’t going to happen overnight and they will struggle through the rebuild but they are headed in the right direction. As for 2016, it doesn’t look great as the line-up itself is in transition with plenty of platoons and a few call-ups expected. On offence the best player they have is Ryan Howard who can still hit with power but he is not as durable as he once was. He will likely play in a platoon with Darin Ruf and that will likely be a theme throughout the line-up. Beyond Howard, there is no power and many of the starters won’t be getting on base a lot. Mostly the Phillies will wait for their young players to rise through the farm system chief among them J.P. Crawford who is their best prospect but will likely start in Triple-A. The pitching staff is better than expected though as the addition of Jeremy Hellickson gives them a veteran presence alongside Charlie Morton who will be stable. Meanwhile, they will watch Aaron Nolan, Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velasquez who all seem like the basis of the rotation going forward with Nola seemingly the future ace of the team. The bullpen is going to be a bright spot either as the closer role has fallen to David Hernandez with Ken Giles leaving in the off-season and the rest of the bullpen is full of forgotten pitchers. At any point, one of them can spring up but the likelihood of that is slim as the Phillies remain a team with a lack of talent in the MLB. The Phillies should have been doing this a few years ago when they had the pieces to trade for young talent but it is better late than never. They will be good in a few years but this year there is not going to be a postseason run from a team that used to run the division.

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It is becoming a broken record in Washington, “If everyone stayed healthy they would have won the World Series.” It might not be that matter of fact but the Nationals have had one of the most well-rounded teams over the last few years. It is also true that they have consistently dealt with injury issues that take away some important players from the line-up. Once again the Nationals have plenty of talent but questions about what they can do with that talent. The constant pressure to succeed in Washington started with two players that were the biggest names to ever enter the draft but they have had some mixed reviews. Bryce Harper was the greatest batter to come into the MLB possibly ever but it took a while for him to truly catch up. In 2015, it seemed like he finally reached his potential winning the NL MVP and leading a pretty balanced offence. He will be back as the fiery leader and might have some more runners to bat in with the addition of Ben Revere who will likely increase his stealing numbers on a team that will let him take risks. Ryan Zimmerman and new addition Daniel Murphy can provide some pop behind Harper although they need to stay in the line-up to do that. The offence has guys that can do everything but like every year if they get hurt there is not much behind them to help out. In the rotation, the addition of Max Scherzer last year was a big one as he came as advertised and led the rotation. Stephen Strasburg was the other young superstar but has struggled to pitch a full season which is bad because at his best he is a nightmare for batters. If he can stay at his best all season the one-two punch alongside Scherzer could be a great one. The loss of Jordan Zimmerman hurts their depth but Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark have proven to be a good middle of the rotation starters while Joe Ross has some upside. In the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon takes over the closer full-time while Drew Storen serves as a good set-up man. The rest of the bullpen could be changing a lot as a number of pitchers could see time depending on performance. The Nationals are once again a strong team but for another year, the question is whether they can take their talent into the postseason and actually make an impact. They will fight for the division but might come up just short although the postseason is still a good possibility.

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Prediction:
The Mets and the Nationals will have a great battle throughout the entire season as they try to get that postseason spot. The Mets will take it but it won’t be an easy battle as the Nationals will be right behind them. They might not take the division but they will take a wild card spot in another tight battle throughout the National League. The Marlins are a slightly better team and they will stay in the hunt longer than the last few seasons. They don’t have the overall talent to win the division or a wild card spot though as they will sit outside the postseason for another year. The Braves and the Phillies are experiencing much the same situation as they try to rebuild into the powerhouses they used to be. That might happen but it won’t happen this year as they will fight each other to get out of the basement of the division with the postseason far away.

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