This season in the NL East is going to be exciting for everyone, except for the New York Mets. The Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, and Philadelphia Phillies all made significant moves this offseason to improve their teams chances of making the post-season. Today, we're going to judge the teams offseasons and count down the roster standings to give you an idea where the teams should end up in this year's race for the NL East pennant.
5. New York Mets - The only significant move the Mets made this offseason was losing their star player, Jose Reyes. David Wright's health is questionable going forward, and despite the number of injuries the team had last season, it's hard to imagine any improvements from last season. I think it's safe to assume the Mets will come in under 77 wins (their total from last season) and be the cellar dwellers of the NL East in 2012.
4. Miami Marlins - With all the talk of the Marlins improvements this offseason and their new ballpark, it's easy to just assume they'd make huge strides coming into this season. They acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell in free agency and traded for the volatile Carlos Zambrano. Assuming Hanley Ramirez is with the team at third base on Opening Day, and their star pitcher Josh Johnson is healthy, the Marlins could make significant improvements from their 72-win, last place finish from 2011. But those are big ifs. Now, after looking at the WAR (wins above replacement) that each of those players would bring to the Marlins, it's not outrageous to think the Fish could make it all the way up to 84 wins or so this year, which would be a remarkable 12 game improvement. But it doesn't make them even close to contenders for the NL East pennant, and it's hard to see how it gets them above 4th place in the division.
3. Washington Nationals - It was tempting to move the Nationals into the #2 spot in the NL East for a whole lot of reasons. They picked up Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will be a factor for most of the season. On paper, those two alone should add somewhere between 6-10 wins to the Nats in their first season with Strasburg pitching on an innings limit. Include a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and his 5+ WAR, and you have one hell of a baseball team. The Nationals bested their 2010 record by 11 games in 2011, and they improved their 2009 record by 10 games in 2010. Improving their record by 10 or more wins for a third season in a row would be incredible, but not impossible.
If every person on the Nationals roster met their expectations, if Jayson Werth went back to the 2010 version of himself, if Ryan Zimmerman played 150 games, if Gio Gonzalez had another All-Star season, the Nationals would, and could, end up above the Braves. Unfortunately, those things don't tend to happen. Someone will get hurt; someone will underperform in a big way. I am confident that the Nationals will not end the season 9 games out of second place like they did last year, and I am even more confident that the team will be part of the Wild Card talk as the calendar flips to September. I just can't in good conscience put the Nationals above the Braves… this year.
2. Atlanta Braves - The Braves did absolutely nothing this offseason. Seriously. And yet, it's hard to imagine them slipping out of second place. They could, in theory, have a hangover from their historic collapse at the end of last season, but I don't think so. It's easy to forget, since they've been so stagnant this offseason, but the Braves consistently put out one of the best teams in baseball. Their young talent in Freddie Freeman, Jayson Hayward, and Craig Kimbrel rivals the best young teams in baseball. Their pitching rotation, if it can stay healthy, features some of the best young pitchers in the game, and they're supported by Brian McCann, who might be the most underrated catcher in baseball. Their bullpen, with Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Cristhian Martinez, and Kimbrel is among the best in the NL, too. The Braves won 89 games last year, and I'd expect them to be around there, if not just a bit higher with a healthy Jair Jurrjens and Jason Heyward.
1. Philadelphia Phillies - Despite gradual increase of their team's average age, the Philadelphia Phillies are still the model NL baseball team, whether Nats fans like it or not. They have the best rotation in all of baseball. Ryan Howard will likely miss the first half of the season with that torn Achilles tendon that he got on the last play of their season, but GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has done a remarkable job making up for his loss. He was able to pick up Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix to make up for some of the pop. He replaced Brad Lidge/Ryan Madson with Jonathan Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen, and added Dontrelle Willis as an extremely talented lefty specialist out of the bullpen. It's hard to see the Phillies anywhere but hovering around 100 wins again this year.
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