(This is one post in a series of posts where I will be predicting the outcome of each MLB division. The final post will include full 2016 MLB postseason predictions.)
Before the 2015 season started, the Nationals were heavy favorites in the NL East. The experts saw them winning 100 games and representing the NL in the World Series. A lot of people also predicted the Marlins would have a big season after they made a number of offseason moves. These moves included the acquisition of utility infielder Martin Prado, 2B Dee Gordon, and OF Ichiro Suzuki. The Mets were seen as a pitching rich team with more young pitching on the way midseason. But the experts unanimously agreed that the Mets were short an impact bat. The rebuilding Phillies and Braves were expected to be the cellar dwelling duo that actively reinforced the division’s reputation as the NL Least. Well in the end the Marlins were terrible, and they joined the Phillies and Braves at the forefront of MLB’s list of bad teams. The Nationals had tons of injuries, a horrible manager, and by September the Nationals hit rock bottom when their new closer Jonathan Papelbon choked out NL MVP Bryce Harper in the dugout on national television. As expected, the Mets had elite pitching and an absolutely anemic offense through July. However, once they acquired Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline, the offense went from worst to first and launched the Mets to the NL East crown and a World Series appearance. Not much changed this offseason as far as the NL East big picture is concerned. The Braves and Phillies are still rebuilding. The Marlins are still pretending they have a chance to be good. The Mets and Nationals should duke it out for the division crown. Here’s what I see in 2016:
NL East: 1) NY Mets (x) 2) Washington Nationals (wc) 3) Miami Marlins 4) Atlanta Braves 5) Philadelphia Phillies
I see the Mets and Nationals battling for the division all season long. As I wrote in my Mets season preview, I see the Mets winning the World Series for a number of reasons. The main reasons being their unrivaled starting pitching and the fact that they have the postseason experience now. We all saw what the Royals did in the 2015 postseason. They were so composed. So battle tested. I expect the Mets to have that same moxie in 2016. And the Mets get to have a full season of Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz now. Not to mention the eventual return of Zack Wheeler who had arguably the best raw stuff of the entire group of pitchers. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard could all realistically win the Cy Young. I think the Mets have a deep lineup too with the potential to score a lot of runs. Michael Conforto is probably going to breakout. Neil Walker is going to have a big contract year. Yoenis Cespedes is going to make everyone around him better. Bullpen could be a weak spot, but as long as Jeurys Familia is closing, it won’t be that big of a problem. A pen arm can always be added down the stretch.
That being said, the Nationals aren’t going to be a pushover. And I think both the Mets and Nationals will wind up in the playoffs. The Nationals stumbled due to injuries last season and appalling managing by Matt Williams. Plain and simple. Sure the Mets came up big against them when they had to. Sure Yoenis Cespedes ended the Nationals career of Drew Storen with that September home run off of him that led to a sweep and ultimately locked up the division. But the Nationals ultimately stumbled more than the Mets truly beat them. The Nats still have a stacked rotation and lineup. I doubt Ryan Zimmerman will stay healthy in the same way I doubt David Wright will stay healthy for the Mets. Jayson Werth will probably rebound after his injury plagued 2015 which included a 5 day stint in jail for reckless driving. I think by season’s end, they will have the MVP (Bryce Harper) and the NL Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer). Stupid Daniel Murphy will probably provide a tremendous boost to their offense while simultaneously committing blunder after blunder in the field. Same story as his stint with the Mets. They revamped their bullpen, but I don’t really like any of their new pieces. They added former Met castoff Oliver Perez and Met farmhand Yusmeiro Petit. Woop-de-freakin-doo. They also have a Syndergaard-esque prospect due to come up in Lucas Giolito. He could really change the game down the stretch. I think the Nats will win a wild card after beating up on our weak division.
The Marlins hired Don Mattingly to manage and Barry Bonds to be their hitting coach. Just to be clear, these two guys are coaching. They are not joining the actual 2016 Marlins roster, in their playing prime, as a result of some tear in the space time fabric. The Marlins were 71-91 last season. They were awful. You can blame their former manager Mike Redmond and their GM Dan Jennings all you want. But I think this team stinks. Sure they have potential MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton. But he gets hurt every season. He’s already battling knee pain again this spring. Dee Gordon won the batting title last season at 2B for the Marlins, and they still only won 71 games. He’s going to regress in 2016. Jose Fernandez is back for a full season at the top of their rotation. That is going to have a huge impact because he is so elite. And they did add Wei-Yin Chen as a number 2 starter. But they lost Carter Capps out of the pen this spring to TJ surgery. He was going to challenge for the closer’s job. Maybe the Marlins improve a bit. Maybe they go .500. But I don’t see them being much better than that.
The Phillies and Braves are in rebuild mode. They are both going to be miserable to watch and the Mets and Nationals are going to destroy them every other week when they play. The Braves made great offseason trades to continue to bolster their already stocked farm system. They robbed the D-Backs in that Shelby Miller deal. Dansby Swanson seems to be an elite future SS, and they also netted top pitching prospect Aaron Blair. The trade of their existing SS Andrelton Simmons netted them pitcher Sean Newcomb. They are stocking up on young pitching. Everyone’s trying to find a way to beat the Mets at their own game.
The Phillies waited way too long to start their rebuild, but they finally did start. They dished Cole Hamels last season. They even traded young closer Ken Giles to the Astros in the offseason. They signed some scrub players to fill out the pitching staff namely Jeremy Hellickson for the rotation and David Hernandez for the bullpen. They are excited to see what Maikel Franco does at 3B in his first full season and what Odubel Herrera does in the OF in his second season. But it’s going to be a brutal year in Philly. I’m sure the fans have their batteries primed and ready to pelt the Philly Phanatic.
Other Divisional Predictions: