2017 MLB Preview: NL East

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The National League East is one of those divisions that just seems to warrant heartbreak for every team.

There are great teams in this division and there have been some great runs from this division in the past but the last few years have only seemed to see promise give way to disappointment.

That is the nature of fandom in any sport as every team looks to make themselves better but not every team has the chance to do that.

Sometimes teams can spend the money and sign big players but not everyone has that chance to buy those players, though.

Some teams need to take a slower route to success and that route can be painful for the fans that want to see their teams compete at the top of the league.

Taking the slow route can sometimes provide false hope as players seem like they might pay off and they never do.

They can build up a great young talent only to see him freeze up in the postseason or sign some key pieces that never seem to make the difference they were hoping for.

Eventually, every team comes out of that pit but the journey out is not always a steady climb and the teams in the NL East have figured that out.

In the past few years, they have entered the MLB season with high hopes for at least a few teams but none have been able to take a World Series title.

Chief among those teams have been the Washington Nationals who certainly took a long road to success.

They had a little luck along the way when they finished in last place two years straight only to see the two greatest prospects in MLB history.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were the most hyped prospects ever and the Nationals got the chance to take both.

What should have been the cornerstone of a World Series team though has turned out to be two bright spots on an otherwise average team.

They have put together great seasons and have had good players but they have never had the players that allow them to truly make a run at the World Series.

Despite every year being favourites, they have yet to take home a title as they cannot seem to perform in the postseason.baseball-sidebar

The New York Mets took up the mantle after a surprising run in 2015 when they made it to the World Series.

They were never the team that was supposed to make it there and the Kansas City Royals showed that when they beat them in five games.

The Mets still have a team led by a young rotation but that promise they showed in 2015 is now in question thanks to other parts of their team.

The Atlanta Braves have been used to being great but have fallen far off and are just at the beginning of their long road back.

In Philadelphia dominance was expected but like the Braves they are just starting their long climb back to being contenders.

For Miami, the expectations were far less about the talent, although they have always had some of the best players, and all about the promises made by the team.

The Marlins moved into a brand new stadium paid for by the city with promises that they would commit to building a competitive team and bringing in fans.

That has yet to happen and every year the Marlins fans wonder when they will finally get their chance to compete with the best.

There have been plenty of promises made throughout the NL East and plenty of promises broken especially in the last few years.

This division went from producing at least one very good team on a consistent basis to producing teams that include multiple questions.

The biggest question now will be whether or not they can break that pattern and if someone can finally take a World Series title back to the East.

It isn’t going to be easy but in this division, the battle might be somewhat simpler leaving only a couple of teams to compete.

There will be other teams looking to surprise everyone but at first look the preseason favourites see this division battle going pretty predictably.

Beyond that is where the questions really take hold as even if the teams that will compete are great are they great enough to win a World Series.

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The Braves are not used to this extended period of time sitting at the bottom of the division but they have been there the last few years. In the 1990s they were the team to beat and nobody could do it as they dominated the east. Those players are long gone though and the Braves began to get old without replacing anyone leaving them sitting at the bottom. The last few years have been about taking the steps towards becoming a contender again. The problem is that the path back is not a quickly one and while they wait for those plans to pay off they are forced to make a patchwork of their lineup to try and at least gain some momentum. The glaring spot where this is happening is in the rotation where the Braves will look to some questionable veterans to lead them while they await some promising arms. This off-season they signed Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to help lead their rotation. Both have been great pitchers but the both are ageing and nobody knows how much time they have left. They will need to turn back the clock to help out Julio Teheran who has been one of the few bright spots for this team. In the bullpen, it is some of the same thing as Jim Johnson was a great closer and turned things back last year but does he have it in him for next year. The offence is a lot more of the same story as the Braves have young talent like Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. They also have Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis on the other end of their careers looking to be the leaders of the team. For the Braves this causes some hope as well as plenty of questions as they are stuck in between. The veterans could be able to help them if they can turn back the clock and the rookies could be a big part of the offence if they meet their expectations. That is the same all around the team as they could surprise if their veterans can avoid father time for another season while their young players can meet expectations ahead of what is expected. If this doesn’t happen things can go pretty bad and can spoil the opening of a brand new stadium in Atlanta. Although a surprise would be fun to watch there are simply too many questions to think that this team is going to do anything special as they will likely struggle to stay out of the bottom of the division.

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The Marlins start 2017 with a heavy heart as the 2016 season ended with a tragedy that rocked the sports world. That tragedy was the death of young Cuban pitcher Jose Fernandez after a boating accident. Fernandez was a pillar of this team alongside Giancarlo Stanton as both have been two of the best young players in baseball. For the Marlins, Fernandez was a leader both on and off of the field bringing the energy in the dugout and providing solid start after solid start. A recent investigation has determined that Fernandez was the driver and that he was under the influence of alcohol before he crashed into a jetty and boat flipped over. It was a tragic end to a young life and the Marlins had almost no time to process but still put together a respectable season. This year there is no doubt that despite the circumstances of his death the Marlins will be playing for Fernandez and hoping to carry his influence into the playoffs. That inspiration might be needed for this team as the loss of Fernandez hurt everyone personally but it also leaves the Marlins without their ace. They attempted to patch the rotation with the signing of Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily. Volquez has been a great pitcher but is coming off of a tough season while Straily was relatively unknown until putting together a good season last year. Neither can replace Fernandez but if Volquez can return to his good stuff and Straily can continue his upward progression they will at least lessen the blow. What will help is the additions made in the bullpen of Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to a bullpen that already includes a top-flight closer, A.J. Ramos. These pitchers should help make up for the deficiencies in their rotation. On offence, Stanton is the clear leader as one of the best hitters in the game with the power to compete for the home run title every year. Stanton is joined by his outfield partners, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich who are the offensive power of this team if they play like they did in the first half of last season. If they do it could be one of the best outfields in the game and they might need to be if they want to compete. They won’t be entirely out of the picture right from the start but they will still struggle to make the postseason. At most, they will compete for a wild card spot but they will probably fall short of making an appearance.

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The New York Mets have rarely seen a time when they were the team was truly dominant as their last championship came with the Miracle Mets. They almost repeated that miracle in 2015 when they made an unexpected run to the World Series. It wasn’t like they were expected to be the worst team but they certainly weren’t expected to be one of the best in the league that quickly. After that great performance, some thought that the Mets had finally built a consistent contender after making some good decisions. They were still good but not good enough to get any further than the wild card game. What looked to be a team ready to consistently compete became just another team. They hope to end that in 2017 and take that next step to be a team that competes for the championship. The Mets became a team that could compete for the postseason with a rotation first mentality. They put together what was one of the best young rotations in baseball but injuries have set them back. This year they still have one of the best rotations in the league but they will be in trouble if those injuries creep in for another year. Noah Syndergaard leads the way after taking over as the team’s ace when Matt Harvey slowed down and eventually was sidelined. Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz will all hope to avoid the DL and if they can they will join Syndergaard to make one of the scariest rotations in the league. The bullpen backs them up with some good arms as well but they could be without their best as Jeurys Familia may be suspended after a domestic violence case earlier this year. Without him, they are not as good or as deep but they are still good as Addison Reed will take over for however long they need him while they look to others like Fernando Salas and Jerry Blevins take over late inning duties. On offence, the Mets are a good team but a team that relies a little too heavily on one aspect. That aspect is the home run as they heavily rely on the long ball to score their runs all led by Yoenis Cespedes. Others like Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lucas Duda all a good at hitting the ball out of the park but not much else. That could be an issue as relying too much on that one aspect doesn’t necessarily mean they can put up runs consistently. The Mets are a good team that can compete but their rotation needs to stay healthy and their reliance on the home run makes it a tough climb to the World Series.

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The Philadelphia Phillies are one of the few teams that truly ruled this division for a long period of time as they ended the era of the Braves. Then their ageing team began to struggle and they seemed to hang on to the hope that they could still compete for a little too long. They continued to try to put together teams with veteran pieces and yet they continued to fall to the bottom of the division. In 2014 they finally began that painful rebuilding process as they started to get rid of their veteran players in exchange for younger players as they restocked their farm system. It has led to some bad years but the fruits of that labour are beginning to pay off and they hope to see more of that in 2017. The Phillies do have a lot of promising young talent on the team and most of it resides on offence. Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez led the offence last year and both are under 27. Another promising young talent in Tommy Joseph will take over the full-time first base role as Ryan Howard, the last members of the 2008 World Series team to leave. These young players will join some veterans including Howie Kendrick and new addition Michael Saunders to help this offence reach new levels. Like any team that has this type of mix, there are still questions as to how well the veterans can avoid their drop-off and how quickly the youngsters can develop into consistent players. In the pitching staff, the youth movement continues as the Phillies will rely on young arms like Vincent Velasquez and Jared Eickhhoff. These young will have veteran leaders to help them with Jeremy Hellickson and new addition, Clay Buchholz. The bullpen is a little more questionable as Joaquin Benoit could be a good addition but he is not the same dominating closer he used to be. The same could be said for Hector Neris while Jeanmar Gomez is a decent if not great closer. The Phillies are fully committed to a rebuild and it is showing promise but it is not likely enough to make them a contender. Expect another bad season from the Phillies as they won’t be near the postseason this year. There is some sense of hope though as the Phillies are developing talent and although it won’t show yet they are not far off from being a good team again as their young stars need a little bit more time to develop into something special.

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In a division with so many teams learning what a rebuild is like the Nationals are the team to look to as the success story. Of course, they are also a team that got a bit lucky for the time that they were the worst team in the league. In those two years, they were able to pick two of the best prospects ever and certainly the most hyped prospects ever. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper have become the pillars of this team and are the reason why the Nationals are the team to beat in the east. The NL East is familiar with dominant teams and now it seems like the Nats are ready to take the mantle. They have the talent that seems to continue to develop and make an impact but they still lack that extra push to move into the World Series. They hope that will change this year but with few changes to the team, nobody knows just how good they might be. In the rotation, Strasburg is not necessarily the pitcher that he was hyped to be but he was also hyped to be the greatest pitcher ever. Injuries have kept him from becoming that constant Cy Young nominee but when he is on the mound he is an ace. Alongside Max Scherzer, this pitching staff is a good one but both Scherzer and Strasburg are recovering from injuries making things a little difficult as Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross are good but not good enough to lead the team without their top two pitchers. Their bullpen is a little shakier than the rotation as their attempts to sign a top closer failed throughout the off-season. It leaves them with Shawn Kelley who can do the job but isn’t necessarily a shut-down type of pitcher. Their offence is led by their other superstar in Bryce Harper who has met all expectations from his time as the top prospect in the league. He has every tool that a team needs and he continues to lead this team year after year in almost every offensive category. The Nats are hoping that rookie of the year candidate Trea Turner can continue to develop by moving him to his natural position of shortstop. They also hope that Adam Eaton can make a big difference as they gave away some good prospects to bring him to Washington. The Nats are still the best team in this division but their challenge has never been in the division. They will take the division and move into the postseason but without many big changes, they might still be short of the World Series.

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Prediction:
The NL East is a division full of teams trying to become contenders but not all of them will be able to do that in 2017. This division is still one with only a few teams that will compete for the top spot and for the wild card. Those top teams are the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Both are good but the Nationals are a better team with more skill throughout the team. They will take the division while the Mets will come second and could find themselves in a wild card spot. The Miami Marlins could compete for a bit but they won’t stay in the hunt for long enough and won’t be in the postseason this year. Atlanta and Philadelphia are both going through rebuilds and both won’t be anywhere close to the postseason this year. They will fight to stay out of the bottom but the Braves are further along in their rebuild and will take fourth while the Phillies fall to the bottom.

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