On paper, the Nationals look like a worse team than last year. Starter Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit), shortstop Ian Desmond (Texas), starter Doug Fister (Houston) and closer Drew Storen (Toronto) are elsewhere, and the Nats, World Series favorites a year ago, don’t look like a powerhouse anymore. New manager Dusty Baker is the answer to D.C.’s woes and can bring the team back into the top spot in the NL East. Baker is experienced, unlike previous manager Matt Williams, and has managed in the playoffs. He has a lot to work with, especially NL MVP Bryce Harper (.330 AVG, 9.9 wins above replacement) in the lineup. Washington’s rotation is also talented, with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (2.79 ERA) in front and Stephen Strasburg, a former top draft pick, behind. If closer Jonathan Papelbon can build back the trust he lost during the choking fiasco in September, the pitching staff is deadly. The Nats have a pitching staff that rivals the Mets, an offense that is superior to New York’s, and a manager who knows his stuff.
- New York Mets
We knew that the best rotation in baseball would be in the NL East. We didn’t know it would be in New York. The Mets took off in 2015 and the number one reason was the rotation. Jacob DeGrom (2.54 ERA) became an ace, and Matt Harvey, who often is more Two-Face than his nickname, the Dark Knight, won Comeback Player of the Year and returned to top form. For the Mets to defend their NL pennant, and the division crown, the offense needs to step up. OF Yoenis Cespedes (6.3 wins above replacement), added at last year’s trade deadline, was a huge part of the offensive resurgence late last year and will again carry the load at the plate. The pitching staff is phenomenal, but another sluggish offensive start could down the Mets.
- Miami Marlins
In a division with two proven playoff contenders and two definite rebuilding teams, the Marlins are right in the middle. 2015 was a shipwreck, but the hiring of new manager Don Mattingly points the Marlins in the right direction. If OF Giancarlo Stanton (27 homers) stays healthy, he’ll top 50 home runs and earn NL MVP considerations, while the lone bright spot of last season, Dee Gordon, challenges for the stolen bases lead and a Gold Glove. Outfielders Christian Yelich (.300 AVG) and Marcell Ozuna are on the verge of breakout campaigns, so the offense could be the division’s best by the end of the year. While Stanton gets a fair amount of attention, hype surrounds pitcher Jose Fernandez, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2014. Fernandez missed most of last year with injury, but he returned and was 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA. Miami probably won’t win the division, but their star power makes them an interesting watch.
- Philadelphia Phillies
Now to the tankers, er… rebuilding teams. Philadelphia has been horrendous recently and this year won’t look much different. Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Chase Utley were traded, signaling the start of a new era for the Phillies. This era will be headed by promising talents in 3rd baseman Maikel Franco and pitcher Aaron Nola. The front office and managerial staffs received makeovers and the aim is to build for the future. That means a lot of losing in the present.
- Atlanta Braves
The Braves will be really, really good, but not for a while. The future is not now in Atlanta, as the roster receives a total makeover and the farm system is bolstered. First baseman Freddie Freeman (3.4 wins above replacement) and pitcher Julio Teheran give the Braves some intrigue, but as trading pieces. There are some talented players, but none that will make Atlanta a contender immediately.