Last season, the National League East was by far the worst division in baseball. As a division, they “boasted” a .462 winning percentage and three of its five teams lost 90+ games. The Nationals won 83 games and finished second, so they very nearly had only one team with a winning record. Even though the Mets won the pennant and put it together when it counted, top to bottom, New York was arguably the worst playoff team in the National League.
Therefore, it’s not unfair to project that the division is up for grabs again this year. Gone are the years of the ’90s and early 2000s Braves and late 2000s Phillies where teams were playing for second place. The Braves and Phillies don’t look like they have much a chance of winning the division, but the Mets, Nationals, and Marlins all look like contenders for the crown. Wait, the Marlins?
Before we take a peek at the Marlins, lets review the rest of the division and ascertain which, if any, team took the division by the horns due to their activity this offseason. The Mets are likely going to be the favorites heading into the season if only because of their pitching. They didn’t lose that much in the winter except for October hero Daniel Murphy, whose Postseason exploits were outweighed by a career of mediocrity. Murphy was replaced by Neil Walker, a similar player to Murphy who will come on a shorter term deal.
They added Antonio Bastardo to the bullpen and added depth to their bench in Alejandro de Aza. The return of Yoenis Cespedes is also a huge help, but in general the Mets haven’t done much to incite awe from their opponents. Then again, they didn’t need to following their NL pennant run in October.
The Nationals added Murphy and Ben Revere, but they lost Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span in free agency. So while their offense still has potential and their pitching isn’t anything to sneeze at, no one will be shocked if the Nats partake in their usual late-season swoon and miss the playoffs.
The Braves added several pieces and made out like bandits in the Shelby Miller trade, but Atlanta is a young team with plenty of questions in the rotation. 2016 isn’t the year for them, and the Braves could be battling the Phillies for the bottom spot in the standings this year.
Speaking of the Phillies, the boys in red pinstripes certainly are not your Charlie Manuel’s Phillies. The team is based around youth top to bottom with a couple exceptions. So yes it’s refreshing for Phillies fans to see the front office has a plan and is cutting the cord with yester-year, but this team is not ready to contend.
That brings us to the Marlins. A team that several years ago was on the cover of Sports Illustrated being touted as the team to beat, but in the tradition of the late 80s Cleveland Indians, they were woefully disappointing. The Marlins are one of the worst run franchises in sports, and instinct would determine that they have no right to even consider themselves as legitimate contenders this season. However, as laid out above, the Marlins are not that far behind their division rivals and if things fall into place for them in 2016, they could shock some people.
The 2015 edition of the Marlins played poorly for 80% of the season, but posted a 16-10 record in September and clinched a third place finish in the division. The team battled injuries throughout the season and its two best players (Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez) each missed substantial time during the season.
There were bright spots among the carnage for the Marlins though: Dee Gordon won the NL batting title, second year player Justin Bour slugged 23 homers, and Christian Yelich showed occasional signs of stardom. The team finished fourth in the league in batting average. However, at the end of the day, the Marlins’ pitching was disappointing and the team lost 91 games.
With a new year comes new hope, and the Marlins have hope that they will be better than last year, if not much better. To provide a solid second starter behind Fernandeaz, they signed free agent and former Oriole Wei-Yin Chen, who showed that he belongs in the big leagues (career 3.72 ERA and 110 ERA+) after coming over from Japan following the 2011 season. Edwin Jackson was brought on board to provide more pitching depth (though he’s still Edwin Jackson, so his potential contributions are debatable) and with a healthy Fernandez to go along with Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler, the Marlins’ rotation should provide some a bit more stability than in recent seasons for the team.
Offensively, the team didn’t do much this offseason. Chris Johnson was brought in to provide some infield depth, but that’s the extent of the offensive acquisitions. Stanton hit 27 homers in 74 games (!) last year and if he’s healthy in 2016, he will be certainly determined to remind people that his name belongs with Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant as one of the National League’s best young talent. The Marlins as a whole are young (only three of their position players are older than 30), and a lot of time with youth comes naivety which lends itself to unexpected success. In this age of baseball it doesn’t take many good bounces and bad bounces for your opposition to propel you to heights you weren’t expecting at the beginning of the year.
Should you go to Vegas and bet a couple grand on the Marlins to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy? No. However, in a world where the Kansas City Royals are World Champs, you probably shouldn’t bet against them either.