In a division where there’s always a World Series hopeful, the Nationals open as a favorite once again and the Mets are coming off a close loss to the Royals. As different teams retool we see three others teams struggling to find an identity. The Braves are yet to make up their minds’ as to whether they would like to be a contender or a league doormat and the Phillies and Marlins will attempt to move ahead with most of what they had last season.
Washington Nationals. A popular pick for this spot is Daniel Murphy. He had a breakthrough season with the Mets last year as their Mr. October and he was the heart and soul of a team that was young and promising. Why he then left for the division rival is a curious move. Perhaps he sees something in the Bryce-led squad (even though Harper contends that he’s not a leader). Murphy might need to be the clubhouse leader if this ballclub doesn’t want to fall flat on their faces’ like they managed to last year. Already 30 years old, Murphy will likely need to mirror is numbers of last year batting .281, 14 HRs, 73 RBIs. But with all that said, Ryan Zimmerman might be the best fit for this superlative assuming he’s half the player he was prior to all of his unfortunate injuries. In only 95 games last year Zimmerman managed 73 RBI
But with all that said, Ryan Zimmerman might be the best fit for this superlative assuming he’s half the player he was prior to all of his unfortunate injuries. In only 95 games last year Zimmerman managed 73 RBI, imagine what he may be able to do with a full slate?!? Zimmerman has been the face of this franchise for years. When the Nats were down on their luck, Ryan Zimmerman was more than just a filler in the All-Star Game. He was a consistent talent with the work ethic to match. At age 31 he won’t be asked to carry the offense. But batting somewhere in the 5-7 range in the order might be necessary to keep this offense going. Proving the PED doubters wrong will also be a top priority on this veteran’s list. Now if only Jayson Werth could prove his.
Philadelphia Phillies. Remember the days when the Phillies were so annoyingly good that you couldn’t ignore it? Well, for the past couple years and into the future they will have been the exact opposite team. Who knows what the decision makers for this team were thinking when they took on Ryan Howard’s monster contract. Luckily, they found someone to take Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins as they both still had some value but were old as dirt.
If the Phillies are going to get any better they must first get younger. And along with that mantra in mind, Maikel Franco is the next in line of future MLB stars. Will he get there? Who knows. But if his first 80 games were any indication, he’s well on his way. Franco had a line of .280, 14 HR, and 50 RBI. Now those are not Barry Bonds numbers, but they aren’t anything to scoff at either. At only 23 years old, he has the opportunity to be a staple in this lineup for years to come. Hopefully guys like Freddy Galvin and Cesar Hernandez will help him along in that regard.
Miami Marlins. When Giancarlo Stanton (who’s not Italian and spells his name wrong) went down with a season-ending injury last year he was leading the majors in homers by a good margin. He was hitting the ball a ridiculous distance every time and yet his batting average was still only .265. Stanton still hasn’t learned to use patience as a premier hitter. Getting on base is just as helpful as rounding the bases and walks are most certainly there for Stanton if he can avoid swinging at bad pitches. He will need some teammates to be on base if he was to keep up his gaudy run-production of last year as well. And he’s going to do that with the help of Dee Gordon. In the prime of his career he led the majors in batting average for a large portion of the season and had 58 steals as well.
The game-changer for this team could be Jose Fernandez. After coming off Tommy John surgery, Fernandez posted great numbers (6-1, 2.92 ERA) and showed the tenacity that made hitters fear him prior to the injury. And at only 23, it appears as though he will be similarly effective for many years to come. With a bit of depth from Jarred Cosart, Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, and either David Phelps or Edwin Jackson, the Marlins might be better than many think. Guys like Martin Prado, Christian Yelich, Justin Bour, and Marcell Ozuna need to continue to bring it. And it would be nice to see Ichiro Suzuki get 3,000 before he’s done.
Atlanta Braves. A few years ago, the Atlanta Braves had a deep core of younger pitching talent that was an embarrassment of riches. The Braves literally had so many talented youngsters that when they had injuries it was almost a blessing to make some room and let these guys get better. Then another injury came. And then another. And soon enough, the Braves had lost track of many of their good, young arms.
As they begin to revamp with the best farm system in the bigs, Atlanta has one younger star and several guys past their prime with limited ability to produce. Freddie Freeman is only 26 and has at least 7 good years left to contribute. You’d like to think the Braves get things together before that time is over. But it will be tough this year with the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Michael Bourn, Nick Markakis, Erick Aybar, and Nick Swisher. All of those guys are 32 or older and declining. Markakis and Aybar might have the best chance of helping out, but that’s pushing it. Give it time Braves fans, they will be back eventually.
New York Mets. After an awesome run to the World Series with a talented group of young pitchers and a mixed bag of hitters, it’s a surprise to begin the season looking up in the division. But that’s likely how this one is going to start.
After plugging some holes with Asdrubal Cabrera (who had a bounce-back season in Tampa), Neil Walker (who has quietly been above average for good Pittsburgh teams), and re-signing star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes; the Mets look primed for another run at a World Series title. And it’s Cespedes that likely will gain most of the attention because of his power hitting after coming over from the Tigers.
But the intrigue will be found in this pitching staff. This is what makes this team go. Zack Wheeler could be a nice story if he puts it together after a year off and Bartolo Colon has been the ageless wonder. Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard will be key to this staff and how it holds up in the playoffs. And the ace could be Matt Harvey. After missing 2014 due to injury, Harvey came back impressively and looks to improve on a win-loss record of 13-8. But every other number should help and hopefully this year he won’t be capped by innings. If he’s at full strength then it might be a long year for NL East division foes.