The Philadelphia Phillies have been dethroned. Once thought to be perennial lock-ins for the NL East crown, things have changed over the past couple seasons. Roy Halladay is gone. The Phillies are getting old. GM Ruben Amaro keeps handing out bloated contracts to players who are past their prime. Other teams in the division have made strides to step up and shine after lurking in the shadow of the Phillies for years. Heading into 2014 the East looks wide open, and maybe even a darkhorse could be in position to sneak into the race.
The sexy pick to claim the NL East the past couple years has been the Washington Nationals. Led by their excellent pitching staff anchored by Stephen Strasburg, the young Nats have turned a losing culture into a consistent threat. After clinching their first division crown in 2012 – and first playoff appearance since the 1930′s – the team regressed in 2013, missing the playoffs completely. Bryce Harper is the next big thing but needs to stay healthy for the Nationals to reach their lofty potential. Jayson Werth signed a long-term deal a couple of years back and joins Harper and Denard Span in that dangerous outfield. The additions of right-handed workhorse Doug Fister and reserve outfielder Nate McLouth put Washington in a position to recreate the magic of their 2012 run, only this time it’s World Series or bust in D.C.
Change has been a constant for the Atlanta Braves recently. They will be moving into a new ballpark in 2017. To set the team up nicely in their future home the Braves locked down what seemed like every one of their players to long-term deals this offseason. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel each signed contracts worth four years or more. Jason Heyward also signed a two-year extension. If they could just do something about the cancer that is Dan Uggla, the team could be scary now and for many years to come.
Remember when the New York Mets were the team to beat in the NL East? It’s been a few years, sure, and they seem to get bit by the injury bug every year. Johan Santana and Jason Bay have come and gone. Matt Harvey had Tommy John and will miss 2014. It sounds like the same old song for the Amazin’s. They did sign Curtis Granderson, a flashy name that might sell some tickets. Highly-touted catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud should be on the Opening Day roster. The rest of the lineup, save Captain America, is far from a sure thing. If Granderson can regain his Tigers/early-Yankee-career form, the Mets might raise some eyebrows in 2014. But the young pitching staff will have to pick up Harvey’s workload — a tall order. I see them trading blows with the Phillies all year en route to a 3rd or 4th place finish.
Then there’s the Miami Marlins. Jose Fernandez will be fun to watch and Giancarlo Stanton will hit some balls about 500 feet. Buster Olney thinks the Marlins can win some games. I think quite a few stars will have to align for that to happen. The young rotation has the potential, but behind reigning Rookie of the Year Fernandez, there are too many question marks. A young lineup will have to develop ahead of schedule. Veterans Rafael Furcal and Casey McGehee hope to have bounce back stints after time away from MLB. The cavernous Marlins Park will suppress home runs – yes, even Stanton’s power – and the team will struggle to score runs again. Which leads me to predict another back of the pack finish for the Fish in 2014.
The NL East in 2014 will probably be a two-horse race. The Braves locked up their young stars and seem best poised to contend for the next several years. The Nationals will recover from their 2013 slump and make things interesting. Neither team will have an outstanding season but should have plenty of breathing room between them and the other three. The top-heavy division will see the Phillies, Mets and Marlins duke it out for the middle ground and personal bragging rights.
The torch has been passed in the National League East. The Braves and Nationals run the show now. The Phillies dominance of the mid-aughts is over and the team may soon find itself in full rebuild mode.