NL East Preview: Nats stay on top, Fish lose 100

This year, just like last year, there figures to be one team standing head shoulders above the rest of the National League East: the Nationals.

Washington finished 20 games ahead of the second place Miami Marlins in last season’s division race, or lack thereof. While the gap may not be quite as large as last season, there still figures to be dominance on the part of the Nationals in 2018.

Though the division is full of rebuilding teams, the lone challenger and eventual postseason qualifier is a very real World Series contender. Here’s how this division looks to shake out in 2018.

Washington Nationals (97-65 record last season)

Key Additions: 1B Matt Adams, RP Joaquin Benoit

Key Losses: RP Matt Albers

Washington is the team to beat in the NL East, perhaps the whole of the NL, and has been for three of the last four seasons. 2018 will be no different.

The Nationals’ best offensive player, 2015 NL Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper, is in the last year of his contract — which has inspired many a career seasons. With rumors running amok for the last two years or so about where Harper will land when he finally hits free agency, nothing short of a World Series title will suffice for the Nationals this season.

The addition of Adams will add some hitting prowess and power to the already talented lineup, but may not be enough to put the Nationals over the top in a National League full of talented teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. Each of these teams has taken a turn knocking the Nats out of the playoffs the last two times around, and they will need all hands on deck to get over the hump in the last year of Harper’s contract.

Projected Record/Playoff Finish: (98-64, Lose in NLCS)

New York Mets (70-92)

Key Additions: 3B Todd Frazier, OF Jay Bruce, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Jason Vargas, RP Anthony Swarzak

Key Losses: RP Josh Smoker

The Mets are just two seasons removed from a World Series appearance to finish the 2015 season, but that most recent successful campaign feels like a lifetime ago.

Injuries have plagued the franchise since, particularly in the rotation. The addition of Vargas should help with this, particularly if another starter or two is to miss significant time again in 2018, though he does not appear likely to be available for Opening Day suffering from a non-displaced fracture in hamate bone of his right (non-throwing) hand.

In addition, the lineup has certainly been improved from a season ago. The signings of Frazier, Bruce and Gonzalez are sure to bolster an offense that was already hitting for power, but struggled at times to simply put men on base last season. Though this Mets team should certainly be an improvement over last year’s squad, they still look to be on the outside of the playoff field this season.

Projected Record/Playoff Finish: (82-80)

Philadelphia Phillies (66-96)

Key Additions: SP Jake Arrieta, 1B Carlos Santana, RP Tommy Hunter, RP Pat Neshek

Key Losses: SP Clay Buchholz

For the rebuilding Phillies, there is nowhere to go but up following a miserable 66-win campaign in 2017.

Philadelphia is primed to do just that as well after making some savvy moves this offseason. Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young winner and 2016 All-Star, will look to anchor the rotation while Santana (25 home runs per 162 games played) will bring some much-needed offense to a team that ranking twelfth in the National League in both scoring and home runs last season.

That being said, Arrieta has been on something of a decline, particularly as far as ERA is concerned, in each of the last two seasons — 1.77 in 2015, 3.10 in 2016 and 3.53 in 2017. This Phillies are clearly still rebuilding, but should be much more entertaining to watch at the least this season.

Projected Record/Playoff Finish: (78-84)

Atlanta Braves (72-90)

Key Additions: RP Brandon McCarthy, C Chris Stewart, LP Scott Kazmir

Key Losses: OF Matt Kemp, 1B Matt Adams

The Braves are yet another NL East team in the midst of a long rebuilding process. They figure to be in this position for another couple of years before returning to the playoffs, with their last appearance coming in 2013.

They made minor, perhaps questionable, moves this offseason, but bolstered their starting rotation with the additions of pitchers Kazmir and McCarthy. Health has been an issue for both throughout their careers.

Atlanta is not playing for much this year, so will not be drastically harmed by injuries. This is another year to let the farm system develop and young players improve.

Projected Record/Playoff Finish: (74-88)

Miami Marlins (77-85)

Key Additions: 2B Starlin Castro, OF Cameron Maybin

Key Losses: OF Giancarlo Stanton, OF Christian Yelich, OF Marcell Ozuna, 2B Dee Gordon, OF Ichiro Suzuki

Under new management, that of Derek Jeter, the Marlins followed up their best season (as far as divisional standings — second) since 2009 with a fire sale, jettisoning four All-Stars.

Miami was mediocre at best throughout the Giancarlo Stanton era. They did not once make the playoffs, even with the best teams that they put around Stanton. It was certainly time to start the process.

The outfield will be a completely new look, and Gordon will be replaced by Castro. He is a solid pickup and will fill a few seats in Marlins Park, but he was the best player received in return for Stanton. The next few years for the Marlins will be focused on building up the farm system through the draft and additional trades with little excitement for the Miami crowd aside from the fish living in the wall behind home plate.

Projected Record/Playoff Finish: (62-100)