Spring training games have started, the calendar has flipped to March, and that means we are another step closer to the start of the 2016 regular season.
With that being said, we are still a month removed from the first pitch of this year’s campaign, which means we still have plenty of time to go through the rest of the divisions and give my predictions.
Last year, the NL East was home to two teams that had high hopes going into the season but failed to live up to expectations.
The Washington Nationals were widely selected as favorites to win it all, and the Miami Marlins were picked by many to be the dark horse of the National League.
Neither happened as both missed the playoffs, and Miami fired its manager just over one month into the season.
The World Series runner up New York Mets return with unfinished business and will attempt to have a Royals-like return to the Winter Classic.
Atlanta Braves, 67-95 last season
The downturn in the post-Chipper Jones era continued for the Atlanta Braves in 2015.
Nick Markakis, who the Braves acquired last winter, played the most games of anyone in an Atlanta uniform, and was one of just six players to play in at least 100 games for the franchise last year. Two of those players – SS Andrelton Simmons and OF Cameron Maybin – are no longer with the organization.
Simmons was traded to the Angels in a package deal that brought Erick Aybar to Atlanta, and Maybin was traded to the Tigers. The most notable trade the team made this offseason, though, involved sending starting pitcher Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Dansby Swanson, the 2015 first-overall pick in the draft.
That’s not all the Braves did, as other moves include signing infielders Kelly Johnson and Gordon Beckham, as well as pitchers Bud Norris and Jim Johnson, all to low-cost one-year contracts.
Atlanta is in rebuilding mode, that’s for sure. But fans are hopeful that, with an increased presence of minor league players at the big league level over the next two years, that the once Kings of the NL East will be trending upward shortly after moving into their new stadium.
Rebuilding does indicate tough sledding once again this season for the Braves. But there is still reason for Braves fans to watch.
Julio Teheran is a viable option to lead the rotation into the future at just 25 years of age, Freddie Freeman is an above-average first baseman, and Aybar’s bat will make up for what he lacks in defense, though he is still a good defensive shortstop.
Prediction: Fourth place
Miami Marlins, 71-91 last season
Only one team from the NL East had as lofty of expectations heading into last season as the Nationals did, and that team was the Miami Marlins.
Miami was looked at as a dark horse, but instead started the season like a dead horse.
Mike Redmond was fired as manager in just the second month of the season, and his replacement – GM Dan Jennings – didn’t do any better in his interim role. As result, the team hired former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to be the 15th manager in team history.
The Marlins didn’t make too many major moves over the offseason other than the Mattingly hire, but the biggest one signing starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year deal. Chen will be second in the rotation behind Jose Fernandez, the 23-year-old sensation who has yet to lose at home during his frequently interrupted three-year career.
Chen and Fernandez will supply a good one-two punch at the top of a pitching staff that is largely average otherwise. Fernandez is a power-pitcher with a good curveball, while Chen is more of a contact-pitcher that is now pitching in one of the more spacious fields in the majors.
Mattingly will be taking over a very athletic team that includes Adeiny Hechavarria, and Marcell Ozuna, power hitter Giancarlo Stanton, and Dee Gordon, who hit for a .333 average last year.
Stanton, who missed the latter part of 2015 with a broken bone in his left hand, has been taking swings at camp and should be fully healthy by the start of the regular season. Through age 25, Stanton has homered more often than any member of the 500-HR Club.
Miami hasn’t really improved through the winter, though that doesn’t mean it got worse. The same will happen with its place in the standings.
Prediction: Third place
New York Mets, 90-72 last season (Lost in World Series)
New York brought back the catalyst to the team’s postseason run with a three-year, $75 million contract that will keep the slugger in the Big Apple through 2019.
Cespedes, however, was the only marquee free agent that the Mets were able to sign. But that doesn’t mean the Mets weren’t spenders in the offseason.
New York signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and pitcher Antonio Bastardo to two-year deals, and they also traded pitcher Jonathan Niese, who seemed to be the odd man out in the rotation, in exchange for second baseman Neil Walker, who will replace NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy.
The combination of Cabrera and Walker up the middle is certainly an improvement defensively over the combo that manned the middle last year.
Possibly the biggest loss was that of Tyler Clippard, who was an important piece to the Mets bullpen success down the last stretch of the season. Bastardio fills in in Clippard’s absence.
New York certainly has the pitching to get back to the playoffs, but Mets fans should hope that the offense becomes more consistent in 2016. Last year the team was tied for the second-worst average in the majors.
I think you’ll see the offense pick up with a full season of Cespedes in the lineup.
Prediction: First place, playoff appearance
Philadelphia Phillies, 63-99 last season
It’s safe to say the Philadelphia Phillies are going through a rough patch in the team’s history. Since winning the AL East for five consecutive seasons Philadelphia has finished no better than third each of the past four seasons, none of which ended with the Phillies having a better than .500 record.
Last season was Ryne Sandberg’s final year in charge of the team and Pete Mackanin takes over.
Cliff Lee is also no longer with the team, retiring last month after spending the last portion of the year on the DL, going 4-5 in his final big-league season.
The Phillies depth chart won’t have a lot of familiar names to the casual baseball fan.
Jeremy Hellickson fronts a starting rotation in his first year with the team after an up-and-down beginning to his career with the Rays and Diamondbacks. Charlie Morton is second on the staff, coming over from the Pirates due to an offseason trade.
Odubel Herrera looks to be a promising talent in the outfield. He hit for a .297 avg in his first season in the big leagues.
Phillies fans will have to stay positive during the rebuilding process, though that’s easier said than done, especially since it looks likely that the Phills will finish in or near the basement of the division once again.
That’s where I have them finishing.
Prediction: Fifth place
Washington Nationals, 83-79 last season
There was a ton of hype surrounding the Washington Nationals heading into the 2015 season. Nats fans saw the team get Max Scherzer in hopes of constructing what most considered to be the pitching staff in all of baseball.
But the team finished well short of expectations, finishing second in the division and missing out on the playoffs entirely.
Bryce Harper’s MVP performance wasn’t enough for the Nats either, as the team’s offense was average at best outside of Harper.
The offseason brought change to nation’s capital.
Dusty Baker is now manager, taking over for Matt Williams. Baker does have a trend to continue, as each of the previous two Washington managers have won an NL Manager of the Year award during their tenure.
Starting pitchers Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann each signed deals with new teams – Fister signed a one-year deal with the Astros, while Zimmermann signed a large five-year contract with the Tigers.
Thus far none of Washington’s free agents have re-signed with the club, but that doesn’t mean the team didn’t spend any money this offseason.
NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy inked a three-year deal to be the Nationals every day second baseman, and receiver Yusmeiro Petit comes to the east coast after spending the past four seasons with the Giants. Petit will take the place of Drew Storen, who was traded in January to the Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.
The addition of Murphy and Revere to the lineup should improve the offense, but the pitching staff certainly didn’t improve, so it’s hard to see those two making a huge difference.
Harper had a great season in 2015, but it’s unlikely he has a repeat performance, simply because his numbers were so impressive. If Harper’s numbers last year couldn’t get this team in the postseason, even a little bit of a drop off won’t improve this team’s chances.
Prediction: Second place
- New York Mets
- Washington Nationals
- Miami Marlins
- Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies