For the last two seasons, the Washington Nationals were expected to win the N.L. East. Last year they were expected to win the division in a walk and go on to take the National League pennant. But, the Nats are without so much as a division crown. This year, the defending National League Champion New York Mets are supposed to win the East. The Nationals are predicted to be a distant second.
That could be good news for Washington. Reduced expectations are a conduit to lower pressure and, maybe, a better result.
The best rivalry in the National League East has been the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins. But, it should be New York and Philadelphia. Think about the other sports. The Giants and Eagles make no bones about their distaste for one another. The Rangers and Flyers are a hockey brawl waiting to break out. The Knicks badly wanted to beat the 76ers when the Sixers were any good, which is also the hindrance to the Mets and Phillies engaging in a rivalry. The Mets are contenders. The Phillies are pretenders.
The top storylines in the National League East are as follows:
- The Mets rode the young gun arms of Jacob DeGrom and Nate Syndergaard into the 2015 World Series. This year, erstwhile ace Matt Harvey should be completely recovered from arm surgery. So, what could go wrong? Why not hand the Mets the title right now? Actually, the Mets appear to be the N.L. East team with the fewest holes. But, they remember how powerful the Nats were last year…until they weren’t.
- Washington looks at New York’s top two starting pitchers and smirks. The Nationals have two of the most skilled starters in baseball in Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg at the top of their rotation. The pitching questions for Washington are at the end of the line. Can Tanner Roark and Joe Ross carry the mail when called to the mound?
- In terms of expectations, Miami comes in third behind New York and Washington. But, they are a distant third, and little is expected of South Florida’s fourth or fifth favorite spectator activity. It’s a shame so few people come to watch the Marlins play because Giancarlo Stanton is worth the price of admission. Stanton’s moon shots strike fear into the hearts of National League pitchers. But, he has little support from the rest of the lineup. Miami’s pitching staff is a question. How much of a question? Miami’s official depth chart lists seven starting pitchers.
- The Atlanta Braves were once the toast of the National League. For almost a dozen years, they won every Eastern Division title. But, the Braves have fallen on hard times. Last season was scuttled by July 1. This year the fan base is tantalized with “Wait until 2017 when we open our new stadium.” Nothing inspires a fan base like being told to wait.
- The Philadelphia Phillies are an 80/1 long shot to win the National League pennant. Those are the longest odds in baseball. Is there any reason for hope in The City of Brotherly Love? The Phillies were 15-10 in Spring Training. So there’s that. Philadelphia’s ace pitcher is journeyman Jeremy Hellickson. None of their starting outfielders have been regulars at any time in their career. One dollar to win eight seems like a fool’s wager.