Baseball preview: National League East

Posted Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Washington Nationals

Last year: 86-76 (second, NL East)

New faces: RHP Doug Fister (Tigers), OF Nate McLouth (Orioles), LHP Jerry Blevins (Athletics), INF Jamey Carroll (Royals)

Former faces: LHP Fernando Abad (Athletics), RHP Dan Haren (Dodgers), LHP Ian Krol (Tigers), INF Steve Lombardozzi (Tigers)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: New manager Matt Williams inherits arguably the best rotation in the game after the Nats added Doug Fister to go along with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. A solid bullpen completes the pitching staff. Offensively, Bryce Harper is a dynamic player, Jayson Werth is coming off a 25-homer, 82-RBI season and Ryan Zimmerman is among the top third basemen in the game. Washington struggled at times last season, but it is positioned to shorten any potential droughts this year.

Atlanta Braves

Last year: 96-66 (first, NL East)

New faces: RHP Ervin Santana (Royals), RHP Gavin Floyd (White Sox), C/OF Ryan Doumit (Twins), RHP Aaron Harang (Mets)

Former faces: C Brian McCann (Yankees), LHP Paul Maholm (Dodgers), OF Reed Johnson (Marlins), RHP Tim Hudson (Giants), LHP Scott Downs (White Sox)

Better, worse or same: Worse

Why: They lost their longtime catcher, Brian McCann, and one of their rotation pieces, Tim Hudson, to free agency. Then spring injuries took away 40 percent of their projected starting rotation with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who each required Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. Those are significant losses to a pitching staff that allowed the fewest runs (548) last season although they signed Ervin Santana and have a lockdown closer in Craig Kimbrel. Offensively, they are banking on Freddie Freeman staying at an elite level, handing him the largest contract (eight years, $135 million) in franchise history. But they also need more production from the Upton brothers, particularly B.J., who hit .184 last season. Atlanta will be a contender as always, but it’s hard to see it winning 96 games again.

Philadelphia Phillies

Last year: 73-89 (fourth, NL East)

New faces: OF Marlon Byrd (Pirates), RHP Roberto Hernandez (Rays), RHP Alfredo Gonzalez (Cuba), C Wil Nieves (Diamondbacks), RHP Brad Lincoln (Blue Jays), RHP A.J. Burnett (Pirates)

Former faces: RHP Roy Halladay (retired)

Better, worse or same? Same

Why: The Phillies haven’t been to the postseason since 2011 and didn’t undergo too much of a makeover this off-season outside of signing veteran righty A.J. Burnett. They are counting on internal veteran players such as Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins to rebound and carry the team back to the postseason. The big question mark is what kind of impact Cuban right-hander Alfredo Gonzalez will have on the club. Philly has talent to compete, but it’s in one of the tougher divisions in the game.

New York Mets

Last year: 74-88 (third, NL East)

New faces: RHP Bartolo Colon (Athletics), OF Curtis Granderson (Yankees), OF Chris Young (Athletics), RHP Kyle Farnsworth (Pirates)

Former faces: RHP LaTroy Hawkins (Rockies)

Better, worse or same? Worse

Why: They were active in the off-season by signing veterans Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson, but don’t expect the Mets to become contenders until 2015 once Matt Harvey has recovered from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. The most intriguing local storyline is when/if Mansfield Legacy product Noah Syndergaard will make his big-league debut. The hard-throwing righty is among the top prospects in the game and could reach the majors before his 22nd birthday on Aug. 29.

Miami Marlins

Last year: 62-100 (fifth, NL East)

New faces: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox), SS Rafael Furcal (Cardinals), 1B Garrett Jones (Pirates), RHP Carlos Marmol (Dodgers), OF Brian Bogusevic (Cubs), 3B Casey McGehee (Japan), RHP Carter Capps (Mariners), INF/OF Jeff Baker (Rangers)

Former faces: 1B Logan Morrison (Mariners), OF Justin Ruggiano (Cubs), RHP Chad Qualls (Astros), OF Juan Pierre (unsigned), 3B Placido Polanco (unsigned)

Better, worse or same? Better

Why: Arguably the most dysfunctional franchise in the game. They went all-in a couple years ago, flopped and went on a fire sale before 2013. And 2013 proved to be just as much of a bust. But they do have star power with reigning Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez and slugger Giancarlo Stanton. They also attempted to get back on track this off-season with additions such as catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and shortstop Rafael Furcal to help the worst offense in the game. But it’s not enough to get them out of the cellar.

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