2016 NL East: Mets, Nats, not much else
The 2015 NL East produced two memorable plot lines: the NLCS champion New York Mets, and a whole lot of mediocrity.
The statistically-weakest division in the NL may not be primed for an overnight fix in 2016, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be worthwhile stories to follow.
The Mets (90-72, 1st NL East) had a fantastic 2015 season, which culminated in the NL East title, the pennant and an ultimately unsuccessful World Series against the Royals. More success in Queens seems all but guaranteed.
The Mets boast a rotation full of star pitchers who possess not only talent, but longevity. New York’s trio of aces — Matt Harvey (27), Noah Syndergaard (23)and Jacob deGrom (27) — are all in or entering the primes of their careers. Fourth starter Steven Matz (24) offered a glimpse of his awesome potential, which, if given a full healthy season, might easily result in a fourth star in the rotation.
The Washington Nationals (83-79, 2nd NL East) tumbled to a disastrous 2015 campaign after being highly touted to win the division.
The Nationals were a team with the offensive and pitching tools of a contender. If they could only stay healthy. Ace Stephen Strasburg, rising star Anthony Rendon and former all-stars Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman highlighted an onslaught of injuries the Nationals suffered in 2015.
But with National League MVP Bryce Harper (.330, 42 HR, 99 RBI) in the mix, any level of success is obtainable.
New manager Dusty Baker will look to capitalize on a talented roster, avoid injuries and perhaps to look to young prospect shortstop Trea Turner and mega-prospect pitcher Lucas Giolito in a 2016 season where Washington may stand the only chance of overtaking the Mets.
The Mets and Nats are both quality teams. It’s the rest of the division that falls off in performance. Miami (71-91, 3rd NL East), Atlanta (67-95, 4th NL East) and Philadelphia (63-99, 5th NL East) comprise the worst-performing back end of any division in MLB.
The Miami Marlins are not a team without talent. Of 2015’s bottom feeders, they would be the most likely to record a successful campaign. With superstar names like Giancarlo Stanton, who has recorded 20+ home runs every season of his six-year career, and Jose Fernandez, whose only obstacle en route to being a perennial Cy Young challenger has been injuries, it’s hard to believe the team languished through a season of sub-.500 ball.
2016 could be a big one for the Marlins under new yet experienced manager Don Mattingly. Mattingly has a superior winning history to that of previous skipper Dan Jennings. Acquisitions Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Johnson are both arguable upgrades over losses Henderson Alvarez and Casey McGehee.
The Atlanta Braves are primed to be a great team — two or three years down the road. After an abysmal 2015 and a less than stellar 2014, the Braves needed to face a fact: Their roster was not built to win.
The biggest move Atlanta made this offseason saw one rising star vanish to Arizona in favor of the Diamondbacks two biggest prospects, Aaron Blair and 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick, Dansby Swanson. These newcomers add to what was already a strong farm system, meaning that Atlanta may be happy to stall until their real team is ready to compete around 2019.
Last and surely least, comes the Philadelphia Phillies. They fell one loss short of the dreaded 100 mark in 2015, and 2016 does not bode much better for the franchise in flux.
Projected for another fifth-place finish, the Phillies are another team set in rebuilding mode. The past few seasons have been spent cleaning up the remnants of those Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay Phillies teams. Out of the wreckage has come some promising youngsters, with pitcher Aaron Nola and shortstop J.P. Crawford both on the verge of becoming major-league ready.