Fresh off their first World Series appearance since 2000 and just their fifth in franchise history, the New York Mets are looking to make the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaigns and the stars seem to be aligned for them to accomplish it. But after a very disappointing season a year ago, the Washington Nationals will be nipping at their heels as they changed a number of things including the manager. The Miami Marlins always seem to be preseason darlings, but never seem to finish what they start. Could this be their year with a new manager and philosophy? At least they won’t finish in the cellar because the Braves and Phillies are in full rebuild mode.
Here is how the East shapes up for 2015 with the season openers just a few days away.
The Mets are not only defending division champions, they went on to represent the NL in the World Series before falling to the Kansas City Royals. With a starting rotation that can throw fear into the hearts of the opposition with such superhero nicknames as The Dark Knight (Matt Harvey), The deGrominator (Jacob deGrom) and Thor (Noah Syndergaard), they may have the best starting trio in baseball.
But it doesn’t end there because they have a phenom in southpaw Steven Matz, who is undefeated in his brief MLB career and sure to be honored with some sort of crusader tag, and Big Sexy, aka Bartolo Colón, who seems to be a placeholder until Zack Wheeler finishes rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow. Colon won 14 games last year so he is no easy target for other teams as the fifth starter and becomes arguably the best long man in baseball when Wheeler takes his spot.
The Amazins also added some offense in the offseason with Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, who will team up as the double play duo, and re-signing late season savior Yoenis Céspedes. Getting 120-plus games from David Wright and consistency from Lucas Duda on the corners put the New Yorkers in an enviable position. With a solid bullpen, the Mets are hoping they don’t repeat last year when they got off to a slow start.
The Nationals, on paper, are the only team that could chase down the Mets. They also have a formidable trio in the rotation with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasberg, Gio González, however, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross will have to step up if they want to equal Matz and Colón/Wheeler as Nos. 4-5. The bullpen is solid with Jonathan Papelbon as the closer and you won’t see him getting into any more dustups like he did with Bryce Harper last year. New manager Dusty Baker will make sure of that.
The offense is a powerhouse with defending MVP Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman leading the way. The addition of Daniel Murphy could be a great addition if, and that is a big if, he can duplicate his 2015 postseason heroics through 162 games. Jayson Werth has never lived up to the fat contract the Nats handed him to bolt the Phillies so for this team to compete they need a solid year from their left-fielder. Michael Taylor is a wild card in the outfield. Can Baker find enough playing time for the burgeoning power hitter? Ben Revere was acquired from the Blue Jays for former closer Drew Storen and appears to have center all to himself leaving Taylor as the fourth outfielder even after swatting 14 round-trippers last year and adding four more this spring.
The Marlins have a new skipper in Don Mattgingly who immediately instituted a no facial hair policy as if he was still with the Yankees. Not likely to add anything to the win column with this stance, The Fish are in a better place than a year ago. The rotation is led by one of the best young arms in 23-year old Jose Fernandez who now has a very capable sidekick in free agent addition Wei-Yin Chen, a 30-year old lefty who has a career mark of 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in four years with the Orioles following a career in Japan. Unfortunately, there is little after this duo as there are more questions than answers.
On offense, Miami could scare a lot of pitchers with Giancarlo Stanton as one of the premier bats in the game. The 26-year old already has 181 career home runs to his credit and if he gets any kind of protection in the lineup he will be launching a number of his prodigious homers into the seats. The fences were moved in at Marlins Park and he could have a season for the ages.
Justin Bour, at first, is coming into his own proving he belongs in the majors with a .262 average with 23 HR and 73 RBI in 2015. Veteran Martin Prado at third is as solid a player on the Marlins roster so the corners of the infield are set. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna give this team a near everyday outfield with Stanton in right with a very capable fourth in Ichiro Suzuki who is 65 hits away from 3,000 in the majors. Sadly, it could be the only thing being celebrated by this team this year.
PREDICTION: With health and consistency being major factors in a team’s success, the Mets are hands above nearly everyone in the National League, let alone the NL East. They will not only win the division, they should not have to worry about reaching the World Series until the Championship Series. The Nationals should be a shoe-in for one of the Wild Card slots as manager Dusty Baker brings some much needed leadership to the Nation’s Capital City. The Marlins will beat up on Division also-rans Atlanta and Philadelphia, but will struggle against New York and Washington leaving them missing the postseason “by a hair.”
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