A few days ago, I told you what to expect from the A.L. East this season. Well, it’s time to take a look at what 2015 holds for the clubhouses on the other side of the tracks… A place where the DH is but a legend—and where being a pinch hitter or runner can earn you hero status.
I’m talking about the National League, of course.
And to begin, I’m breaking down what you can look forward to—or dread—this season from the N.L. East. I don’t have to tell you that it’s a long season full of ups and downs, tears and sprains, shoestring catches and steroid scandals… Anything can happen. That’s the beauty of the game.
But here’s what my money’s on:
National League East
1. Washington Nationals
2. New York Mets
3. Miami Marlins
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Atlanta Braves
Oh, how the times have changed.
For more than two decades, the Atlanta Braves were a powerhouse. Not only in this division…in all of baseball. Despite a strong run from the Phillies late last decade, the Braves were always a threat in this division.
But those days have officially come to an end.
Capitalizing on the weak free agent market (and waving that white flag against the Nationals’ beefed up roster), the Braves traded away nearly every valuable member of their major league roster.
They dealt away outfielders Justin Upton, his brother Melvin (though you may remember him as BJ) Upton, and Jason Heyward. That’s on top of catcher and outfielder Evan Gattis, set-up men David Carpenter and Jordan Walden, and the best closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel.
Leading with the Braves here in this preview is more a nod to their rapid fall from grace. This franchise expected to contend deep into October last season. But they failed to make the playoffs. They never quite put together the offensive onslaught you expect from a team with that much power.
To be blunt, things are looking bleak for Atlanta. They have good starting pitching—but nothing else to speak of. With a new ballpark set to open in 2017, this franchise is seemingly doomed to crawl into their new digs. They can only hope their fan base holds on until then.
Don’t shoot the messenger…but 100 losses is a near guarantee for the Bravos in 2015.
The demise of the Braves allows for the junior juggernauts, the Washington Nationals, to step up in the east. Their offseason actually involves more losses on paper than additions.
They allowed first base slugger Adam LaRoche to sign with the Chicago White Sox. With the corner across the diamond open, Ryan Zimmerman moved from third base to first. The Nats also let go of relievers Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano, bumping Drew Storen to the closer’s role.
The back end of the bullpen is still talented. But their key move in the offseason was a big splash. They signed Max Scherzer to a 7-year, $210 million deal. This adds one of the best pitchers in baseball to the front of what was already considered to be the strongest staff in the game.
Case in point… The rotation is so talented that it sent right-hander Tanner Roark to the bullpen despite winning 15 games in 31 starts. This is a guy who went 198⅓ innings with an ERA of 2.85. These are numbers most teams would love to see from their ace every season, let alone from a spare reliever.
Such is life now for the incredibly talented Nationals. They can still pound the baseball with lineup staples Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Ian Desmond leading the offense. On paper, this is the team you put money on to win the World Series.
For now, they’re the favorite in the East by far.
The Mets were quiet again this offseason. It’s a consequence of their tight budget and unwillingness to overpay for pieces that didn’t quite fit. Their biggest need was a bat in the lineup, a hole they thought they filled with the signing of Michael Cuddyer in left field. An injury risk throughout his career, he seems to only get better with the bat. Remember, he’s just two years removed from winning a batting title with the Colorado Rockies.
With the emergence of Lucas Duda at first base and Jacob deGrom winning the Rookie of the Year award in the rotation, the Mets finally saw their draft efforts pay off on the field. They found just the right fit with their offense—and their clubhouse leadership in Cuddyer.
Having already secured Curtis Granderson under contract and with their ace, Matt Harvey, back from Tommy John surgery… The time has finally come for Mets fans to get excited again.
Their offensive depth looks very impressive with the lack of power throughout baseball. And with their pop and patient approach, they’re primed for a big season. But they’re likely still a year away from being one of the elite teams in baseball.
Their younger players could improve with further seasoning…but this is the year they can begin to contend. And with the lack of talent on the back end in this division, they’re in a prime spot this year to win 90 games.
Look for the Mets to capture one of those Wild Card berths this season… Though it will be a tight race.
The Miami Marlins are a franchise trending upward as well. With Giancarlo Stanton inking his mega deal, the 13-year, $325 million contract this offseason…his career belongs to the franchise.
It’s a big risk for the low-budget team to make. But it’s one that really sets the tone for the organization. They must focus on being competitive after getting a new ballpark and trading away all of their free agent signings a few years ago.
They’re also awaiting the return of their own Tommy John surgery victim, Jose Fernandez. So they aren’t at full strength either.
The talent is there. But 2016 is more likely to be competitive for them. A .500 record isn’t out of the question, but in this division, 90 games are.
The Phillies’ fall mirrors that of the New York Yankees in the AL East. Aging veterans are all around. Injuries and lackluster performances are crippling this once-promising team.
Ryan Howard has not been the same player since his devastating ankle injury in the 2012 playoffs. And with a large contract still being owed to him, he only presents a financial obstacle for the franchise to work around.
Chase Utley has aged as well. And while his performance is serviceable, his days of dominance in the game have long since passed.
Jimmy Rollins was traded away to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason, freeing up some payroll for the club. But GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was unable to find a trade partner for ace starting pitcher Cole Hamels. It’s a situation that has earned him a great deal of criticism.
Hamels is under contract at a reasonable rate for the next few seasons, and Amaro was said to have had a sky-high price, which nixed most trade talks. Phillies fans love Hamels. But Amaro’s refusal to trade him for anything less than the world has given the Phillies a vibe that they’re a dying team on their last leg.
The fans want to see a rebuilding process. Instead, they’re witnessing the remnants of their contending years being wasted on the roster during years they’re not going to contend as a team. Pile that on top of Cliff Lee’s career-threatening elbow injury and Jonathan Papelbon’s trash talking of his own fan base and organization… This Phillies team is going nowhere in 2015.
A losing record is a guarantee here.
That’s the story you can expect from the N.L. East this season. Don’t believe me? Tell me why in the comments below, or drop us a line on Facebook. But do keep it civil, gents. We can coexist if we try.
Don’t forget to check back in the next few days as we continue our look at the state of baseball in 2015… And what you can expect from the rest of the league.
Next time I’ll be digging in to the A.L. Central. And you won’t believe who I’ve got taking the division this year…
On second thought, maybe you will.