NL East Preview
March 21, 2016
By Matt Zylbert
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Editor's Note: Matt Zylbert is coming off another fantastic year with MLB Win Totals, as he was 18-11-1 in last year's baseball preview. In 2014, he was even better, going 21-9 with MLB Win Totals, while astoundingly predicting the exact records within three games or less for literally half the league (15 of 30 major league teams), which led the entire country for that season. In two of his three seasons on VegasInsider.com, he has finished in first-place in the company in baseball over/unders. Furthermore, he was the only analyst in the country to successfully tab the Mets, Cubs and Blue Jays to make the playoffs. Don't miss out on his winners this season. Click here!
New York Mets - Predicted Record: 93-69
What a year it was for the Mets in 2015. From their unlikely run in outlasting the Nationals for the NL East title, to owning October on their way to the franchise's first World Series berth in 15 years, it was the definition of a special campaign. No one has quite had a beat as strong on the Mets as yours' truly, having now predicted New York's final exact record within three games or less in three straight years, including projecting them for last season's improbable playoff run. And there's still more progress on the way as it pertains to the Metropolitans.
First and foremost, the clear-cut main reason the Mets rapidly took off had to do with their remarkable starting pitching. Up and down the staff, this club is built for many years to come, and it's scary to think that this group actually may be even better collectively in '16. Of course, everyone already knew about Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, two of the brightest young right-handers in the game today who should continue coasting along while in their prime. After an outstanding rookie season, everyone is now aware of Noah Syndergaard and the potential greatness he brings to the table. Steven Matz also flashed that same fantastic potential, albeit in a much shorter sample size due to injury, but the fact remains he's got an extremely promising future. Meanwhile, veteran Bartolo Colon resides at the bottom of the rotation, serving as a placeholder until ultra-underrated right-hander Zack Wheeler is ready to return from Tommy John in a few months. The bullpen is also in desirable shape, with Jeurys Familia established as the overpowering closer, and Addison Reed and newcomer Antonio Bastardo setting him up.
While it was the pitching rotation that paced the Mets to a wildly successful showing last season, it was the arrival of one slugger in particular that really carried the franchise towards solidifying that National League pennant. That, of course, would be in reference to the trade deadline deal for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who single-handedly rejuvenated a formerly lifeless offense that was previously scuffling mightily. Cespedes is the unquestioned star in this lineup, and there are some other good pieces here, too. Curtis Granderson, Travis d'Arnaud, Lucas Duda and longtime captain David Wright each play pivotal roles in helping manufacture runs, and the same should hold true in the new year. Furthermore, Michael Conforto flashed some promise last season as a rookie, while the Mets also added the serviceable Neil Walker to replace the departed Daniel Murphy. All in all, the Mets have everything needed to sustain their success and keep it going.
Washington Nationals - Predicted Record: 90-72
The Nationals entered 2015 with legitimate World Series aspirations, and were even tabbed with the highest win total in baseball by the linesmakers, but instead, the club fell well short of their expectations, even embarrassingly missing out on the postseason. It was a performance that led to the firing of Matt Williams, but with Dusty Baker now in charge, things are shaping up for the franchise to at least win their first postseason series in the post-Montreal era.
There may not be a more dangerous bat in the game today than Bryce Harper, who took another step forward in establishing his excellence with his first career NL MVP award last season. As long as he stays healthy, another monster campaign should be in his immediate future. The fate of the club just won't rest on his shoulders, as the Nats will need notable contributions from their other position players if they want to accomplish big things. For instance, Anthony Rendon must rebound from an injury-plagued campaign and record something more in line with his standout 2014 season. Jayson Werth also endured a forgettable year and it's important he gets back on track. Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, meanwhile, are two veteran Nationals hitters still capable of making their mark. The team is also expecting an upgrade at second base, where they interestingly installed former rival Daniel Murphy through free agency.
Pitching should be this club's strong suit, boasting perhaps the most dominant 1-2 punch in the league, if not all of baseball. Max Scherzer had a terrific showing in his first year with the Nats, even starting the All-Star game for the National League. Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, had some injury problems through the first half, but when he returned, the former No. 1 overall draft pick was normal again and absolutely unhittable. His continued progress will be a big factor in where Washington ends up this season. With Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and young Joe Ross following him on the staff, it's a real quality group, and also be on the lookout for top prospect Lucas Giolito. If there's one concern in D.C., it would be concerning the bullpen, which could be an issue at times last year. Veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon is still here, but getting the ball to him isn't a sure thing, with names like Shawn Kelley, Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen setting him up. Even so, the Nationals should contend once again and will most likely duke it out with the Mets in one of the sport's best growing rivalries.
Miami Marlins - Predicted Record: 85-77
Things got so messy in South Beach last season that the general manager was deployed to manage the team from the dugout, despite having zero prior experience in that area. Thus, the end result of a very disappointing season came as no surprise when factored in with notable injuries, but there is considerable hope that the Marlins can get back on track in '16 with new manager Don Mattingly leading the way.
When it comes to Miami, it all starts with arguably the game's best slugger in Giancarlo Stanton, who is looking to stay healthy after an injury-ravaged campaign a year ago. If he can accomplish that and churn out his usual monstrous home run output, the Marlins will be right in the hunt. They have some other pieces on offense that are worth raving over, too, such as blooming young outfielder Christian Yelich. Also, let's not forget Dee Gordon is coming off a completely unexpected batting title, and is part of one of the niftier middle infield combos in the league alongside Adeiny Hechavarria. Additionally, Justin Bour and JT Realmuto stood out as rookies, and if they can build on those freshman showings, the Marlins will be in really good shape, especially if talented outfielder Marcel Ozuna can return to old form.
The Fish don't just have a superstar on offense; they have one in their starting rotation, too. Jose Fernandez, now more than a year separated from Tommy John, is bracing for his first full year since the surgery, and if he can simply continue what he's been doing since arriving in the 2013 season, the Marlins will have a real dominant ace that can toe the rubber against anyone. Wei-Yin Chen was acquired to slide into the No. 2 slot, and could end up being one of the top offseason signings. With fine innings-eaters like Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler behind him, there is a pitching staff in place that is actually pretty sound from top to bottom. That's key because their bullpen is also in good shape, as despite losing the electric Carter Capps for the year, they still have A.J. Ramos closing games, with the formidable trifecta of Bryan Morris, Mike Dunn and Kyle Barraclough serving as setup men. Don't be surprised if the Marlins make a push.
Philadelphia Phillies - Predicted Record: 73-89
It's tough these days to be a Philadelphia sports fan, especially as it concerns the city's baseball franchise, which has finished in the NL East basement in consecutive years now. Fortunately, the dreaded rebuild could be reaching its [...] sooner than anticipated, and while it probably won't happen in the upcoming campaign, there's still enough here to perhaps generate a decent season for Philly faithful.
If there's one man in the Phillies lineup that can single-handedly carry the club and help them avoid the NL East basement for a third straight season, it would be rising third baseman Maikel Franco, who impressed as a rookie and appears to be carrying over that momentum through a dazzling spring training. There's a significant gap, however, between Franco and the outlook of the rest of the offense, which is still saddled with the declining Ryan Howard in it. Carlos Ruiz is still here also, and he's shown some signs of fading as well. Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis are some of the youngsters besides Franco that the Phillies are trying to invest in, but there's not a very high ceiling amongst the three of them. The team will also be without Aaron Altherr due to injury for the majority of the slate.
The pitching staff also does not yield a great amount of hope to contend this season, but there are certainly some intriguing young arms amongst this group. Aaron Nola, for one, has the potential to be an upper echelon starter for years to come, and Jerrad Eickhoff, who came over in the Cole Hamels deal, exhibited some real positive signs last year that indicate he's a part of the future, too. In addition, Philadelphia picked up Vincent Velasquez, another talented youngster who has potential to be a solid strikeout artist. With veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton also amongst this group, though, the Phillies will have a tough time matching up against the brilliant rotations in this division. The same could be said of their bullpen, which no longer has Ken Giles or Jonathan Papelbon, and will instead be leaning on either David Hernandez or Andrew Bailey to finish off ballgames. All things considered, the Phillies might actually be a sleeper team in terms of going over their win total, but that's probably the kindest statement that can be made.
Atlanta Braves - Predicted Record: 66-96
Remember that time the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles? Yeah, it's now been 10 years since that historic run came to an end and in that time, Atlanta has amassed just one more NL East crown. Furthermore, they’ve managed to avoid last-place along the way, but entering this season, are looking at the prospect of their first finish in the division cellar since 1990.
Offensively, Atlanta is built around its talented veteran Freddie Freeman, though the star first baseman is still experiencing wrist issues that plagued him in 2015. That's definitely something to keep an eye on because beyond him, there isn't much additional pop. A.J. Pierzynski and Nick Markakis used to be two dependable veterans, but those days are gone, and now they are two miscast bats on a rebuilding roster. The Braves do have some fine youngsters, as Jace Peterson and Adonis Garcia displayed some noteworthy potential a year ago in their rookie campaigns. However, the lineup significantly pales in comparison to that of their division rivals. Hector Olivera and Ender Inciarte are also two unintimidating key components in the batting order.
It's not surprising that the Braves, who succeeded so well on marvelous starting pitching in their glory days, are now suffering from a severe lack of it. Julio Teheran, the staff ace, was tremendously disappointing last season, and will have to improve greatly if this club wants to stay afloat. Atlanta added Bud Norris over the offseason to be a big contributor, and while this author has always been a huge fan of Bud, the fact remains he's coming off an awful year that even led to his release from the Orioles in-season. He did thrive, though, when he was last a regular starter in the NL, so there is potential for him to be a silver lining. At the end of the day, Atlanta must get accelerated development from the likes of Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Williams Perez and Michael Foltynewicz. The bullpen actually looks like it has enough talent to be a main strength for the club, with promising right-hander Arodys Vizcaino closing, and a talented trio of Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Alexi Ogando setting him up. However, that won't be enough, and the Braves are staring at a very challenging road ahead.
Evaluating NL East Division Bets
There's no question the Marlins offer the best value with their +800 odds to win the division. For gamblers who don't want to make that commitment, but still want to invest in their potential growth, then Over 79 Wins is probably up your alley. More likely than not, they will be unable to supplant both the Nationals and Mets, but they certainly have the potential to pass one of them when the season is all said and done, which would mean they'd easily register 80-plus wins. Even in third they could still go over the total. They're still the best value, though, because the Mets are an undesirable -125, entering the season with a completely different feel compared to last year, as they are now being hunted not just by their division rivals, but by the rest of the league as well. Meanwhile, Washington is +100, which is tempting, but it'd be nice if there was a slightly bigger payout considering the monumental disaster they went through in 2015. It's still a solid bet, though. Gamblers who like longshots shouldn't waste their time with Braves +6000 and Phillies +6600.
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