So now we move to the National East, where three teams figure to be fighting it out for the top spot, while the Mets and Marlins do their rebuilding things.  We’ll talk about the Mets later today, but all that needs to be said about the Marlins is they former Mets Kevin Slowey and John Maine fighting for a rotation spot, which I don’t exactly consider a good thing for them.  Lets start with my Standings Prediction:

Washington Nationals  96-69

Atlanta Braves                94-72

Philadelphia Phillies    84-78

New York Mets              76-86

Miami Marlins              70-92

Let’s start with the Phillies, a team that I feel is too closely resemblent of the Yankees, which the only real except being that the Phillies aren’t dealing with as many injuries at the moment.  Ryan Howard (age 33), Chase Utley (34), Jimmy Rollins (34), and Michael Young (36) have all seen better days, Utley hasn’t played a full season in more than 3 years, Rollins has actually had a really good last couple seasons, but hasn’t hit over .268 in his last four years.  I do think Young could be the most productive of the bunch, and Howard probably isn’t done yet, but he’s no longer a top 10 first baseman in my eyes, and the rest of the lineup doesn’t really look much better.  Youngsters Ben Revere and Dominic Brown could both have breakout years, but I think Delmon Young is a headcase who is going to clash with Charlie Manuel before April is over, and it really wouldn’t surprise me if he does something to make the Phillies suspend or just get rid of him by mid- July.  Plus, I just don’t trust this pitching staff anymore outside of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  Roy Halladay had his worst season since 2004 last year, has been plagued by injuries all spring training, is losing velocity on his pitches, and oh yea, he is barely going to be ready to start the season after I’ve heard reports all March that he might start the year on the DL.

Bottom line here is the Phillies no longer have the legs to run with the Young Studs of the Division, and that would be the Nationals and Braves.  The Braves let Michael Bourn walk this offseason and saw Chipper Jones retire……..then they went out and added the Upton Bros, BJ with a five year $75 million deal, and Justin by trading Martin Prado and prospects to Arizona, adding them to a lineup that already includes stalwart Dan Uggla and up-and-comers Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman (and while I belive Anthony Rizzo or Ike Davis has a better shot than Freeman of leading the league in homers, all 3 are going to be looked at as top 10 first baseman by seasons end, book it).  Brian McCann starts the year on the DL, and the platoon of Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco at third are probably the only things holding this lineup back at the moment.

But in the end, while Atlanta’s pitching is rock solid like always, its going to take monster breakout years from Mike Minor and Julio Teheran (who finally needs to break through the prospect wall) and a strong second half from Brandon Beachy (who will be returning from Tommy John surgery) in order to match what the Nationals are bringing, as the Nationals lineup can easily be just as good on any given day, even though I think Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth could bottom out at any moment, Werth had a strong return from injury last year, and LaRoche can still hit 30+ long balls and 100 RBIs.  Plus, with edition of Denard Span, Bryce Harper no longer has to hit leadoff, which is scary to me, and I expect a big year out of him and Ryan Zimmerman.   And at this particular moment, I think the Nationals have the best rotation in the league, as Steven Strasberg probably wins 20 games this year, while Jordan Zimmerman is poised to finally have his breakout year in his age 26- season, after career lows in ERA and WHIP last year.

The guy to watch on this team though is Dan Haren, who I Washington stole this offseason, coming off a terrible year with the Angels last year.  I expect a big bounce back season now that he’s in the National League, and the Nationals ballpark should help him out, as its known to be slightly more friendly to the pitchers. Plus, I have to give the Nationals a slight bullpen edge, with no knock on Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, I just think when you add a 30-save guy (Rafael Soriano) to two guys capable of closing 30 games each (Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard), you give yourself something that is extremely rare and hard to match, and I just don’t think Jordan Walden rebounds enough to even that out.

When its all done, both teams make the playoffs, and we might even see them fight it out in the NLCS, but I believe last year won’t be the high pointt or the Nationals, and I think this year they actually go to the World Series, though Atlanta probably will make it interesting.  One day soon, maybe the Mets will make the Division race more interesting as well.

See you on the show folks!!!

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