NL East Preview: Will Bryce Harper, Nationals Live Up To Crazy Hype?

Could the same division feature both the best team and the worst team in Major League Baseball this season?

The National League East certainly seems capable of producing such, as the difference between the overwhelming favorite and the biggest underdog is about as drastic as it gets.

The Washington Nationals have led the NL in wins in two of the last three seasons. It hasn’t spelled playoff success in the nation’s capital, though, so this year marks a make-or-break campaign for the Nats.

Let’s dive into the NL East to assess Washington’s competition.

Washington Nationals
Strengths: This team is stacked.

The Nationals already had a very deep and talented rotation featuring the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. So what did they do? They went out and signed the best free-agent pitcher available in Max Scherzer.

It’s going to be difficult to score runs against Washington in 2015, which is a major problem for opposing teams because the Nationals’ offense isn’t too shabby, either.

Don’t be surprised if Bryce Harper, who amazingly is entering his fourth season at age 22, jumps into the NL MVP discussion this season.

Weaknesses: The Nationals have all of the talent in the world, but staying healthy has been an issue. Is it simply bad luck? Maybe. But it’s problematic, nonetheless.

Washington’s bullpen should be fine, particularly with Drew Storen holding down the ninth inning, but trading reliable late-inning reliever Tyler Clippard was iffy.

There’s also that playoff futility hump the Nats have to get over come October.

Projected finish: 103-59, first place

Miami Marlins
Strengths: The Marlins are on the rise. This should be a fun team to watch.

Miami’s lineup features an excellent combination of power (Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Morse), speed (Dee Gordon) and on-base ability (Christian Yelich).

Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna have the potential to be baseball’s most dynamic outfield trio.

Weaknesses: Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Mat Latos are young and talented, but the rotation looks 1,000 times better with Jose Fernandez penciled in at the top.

Fernandez, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery, could return in late June or early July. That’s a heck of a midseason addition if the Marlins’ rotation treads water until then.

Projected finish: 90-72, second place

New York Mets
Strengths: The Mets already lost Zack Wheeler to MLB’s Tommy John pandemic, but their rotational depth should allow them to weather the storm, to some extent.

Matt Harvey, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, is absolutely sick. Jacob deGrom, the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2014, isn’t too bad, either. Toss in the ever-mystifying, 100-year-old Bartolo Colon and a reliable veteran in Jonathan Niese, and New York’s pitching staff could be pretty good in 2015.

Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see prospect Noah Syndergaard debut sooner rather than later.

Weaknesses: The Mets’ bullpen situation could get a little messy. So, too, could their infield defense.

New York’s offense should be OK, but don’t expect anything spectacular, especially if 32-year-old David Wright can’t stay healthy and produce at an All-Star level.

Projected finish: 80-82, third place

Atlanta Braves
Strengths: The Braves will win some games this season because of their rotation.

Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller have two things in common: Each is 24 years old and each has plenty of upside.

Teheran could build on an ace-like season, Wood could benefit from the stability of being strictly a starter and Miller could showcase his electric stuff in his new duds.

The Braves also have the league’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel and a couple of setup men (Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson) with significant closing experience who could shut down opponents late in games.

Weaknesses: Kimbrel and Co. might not have too many opportunities to shut the door because the Braves will have a hard time grabbing leads.

Freddie Freeman is an on-base machine, but there isn’t much else to like about Atlanta’s offense now that Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis have been sent packing as part of the club’s pseudo-rebuilding process.

Projected finish: 74-88, fourth place

Philadelphia Phillies
Strengths: Their uniforms?

Seriously, there isn’t much to like about this year’s Phillies team. They’re obviously rebuilding, which means any of the team’s veterans could be traded at any time, and some dark days lie ahead for 2015.

The biggest strength will come from whether general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is able to parlay the pieces that could be of value to contenders into some decent long-term assets.

Weaknesses: Look across the board.

Ryan Howard’s unmovable contract and Cliff Lee’s injury (perhaps retirement) paint a perfect picture of the current times in the City of Brotherly Love.

Here’s to hoping Cole Hamels finds his way out soon.

Projected finish: 60-102, fifth place

Overall thoughts
The Nationals will run away with the NL East for the second consecutive season.

No team across MLB matches Washington’s overall talent, and the Nats should be able to beat up on the division’s rebuilding teams quite frequently, leading to an impressive win total.

The Marlins look poised to contend for a playoff spot this season. They won’t knock off the Nationals atop the division, but don’t be surprised if the Fish grab a wild card spot.

Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images

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