The MLB season is just two away an exciting time for fans and everyone involved with the game! Every team has a reason for optimism when the season starts because there is a clean slate and anything can happen because games aren’t played on paper. I thought it would be interesting to go through each division and give each team’s top story line to begin the year. I’m going to start with my team’s division the NL East.
The National League East is probably going to be a two horse race once again between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. To be honest it’s probably the weakest division around baseball with the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies hitting the reset button and trying to rebuild into a perennial contender once again.
The Washington Nationals : Will they get along?
There’s no question the Washington Nationals have great talent on their roster and play on the field is not really a question its team chemistry because there are a ton of big personalities in the clubhouse and that was their undoing down the stretch of last season.
The turning point of their season is when GM Mike Rizzo decided to trade for hotheaded closer Jonathan Papellbon. It was a head-scratching move at the time because their current closer Drew Storen had an All-Star first half and the Nationals were primed to win the division. However, Papelbon said wherever he was traded he had to be the closer. I believe that threw Storen’s rhythm off and he struggled the rest of the season and it was downhill from there for the entire team.
There’s a saying in sports sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make and I firmly believe if the Nationals wouldn’t have acquired Papelbon their season could’ve had a different ending. Chemistry and camaraderie are huge and sports and especially baseball because it’s such a long season, it’s important to have good relationships with all teammates. When Jonathan Papellbon choked Bryce Harper it was clear the chemistry wasn’t where it needed to be to make a run at the playoffs.
This off-season it was obvious the leadership needed to change in the dugout and the Nationals hired veteran manager Dusty Baker who had been out of baseball since 2011. I think this is the perfect hire because Baker has great experience in dealing with huge personalities that included Barry Bonds. Baker understands how to handle hostility and shaken chemistry in a clubhouse. With that being said, I don’t think he will tolerate Bryce Harper dogging it at times or hostile confrontations in the dugout. He is a very smart baseball man and will put the Washington Nationals in the best position to win every game on and off the field.
Chemistry was the dagger to the Nationals playoff hopes last season, hopefully for their sake a new voice and leadership style will prevent clubhouse tension and just focus on winning baseball games. The fact is they have all the talent in the world to make a long playoff run.
New York Mets: Matt Harvey’s Health
This year and the New York Mets look to build off of the National League Championship and the World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals. It’s no secret how they did it dominant starting pitching led by Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zach Wheeler who is coming off Tommy John surgery.
They live and die with these young studs because their offense has been pretty inconsistent even with the addition of Yoenis Céspedes who can carry a team for a three-week stretch, but also can go ice cold for that same period of time. However, with this starting rotation you don’t really have to score a lot of runs to have a great chance to win games.
Unfortunately, Harvey’s opening-day status is uncertain as he deals with kidney issues. Injuries are something you can’t control, but certainly can derail a career. A quality-starting pitcher like Matt Harvey doesn’t grow on trees so the Mets must be absolutely sure he is 100% healthy. The Mets have had a history of being very cautious with the young guys because young fireball pitchers are like precious jewels and must be put in the best situation for them and the organization to succeed.
For Matt Harvey he is extremely important to the Met’s success this season so if he must miss a few starts in April to get this kidney situation under control that’s much better than a longer-term injury popping up in the heat of a pennant race. Harvey the bell cow of this rotation and if he misses any significant time it will throw the other young starters out of whack because a lot of them haven’t pitched over 200 innings yet in their careers. The Mets success is predicated on the starting rotation health and especially Matt Harvey if they want to battle for a World Series title again.
MiaMi Marlins : Can the Team Stay Healthy ?
The Miami Marlins have an opportunity to be very pesky and annoying to play throughout the 2016 season. The biggest key for them throughout the season will be the overall team health. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton and Ace José Fernandez headline that list. Stanton is one of major league baseball’s most prolific home run hitters hitting absolute moon shots. However, he’s had terrible luck with the injury bug he’s been hit in the face and the wrist that have cost him the bulk of the last two seasons.
As we’ve seen the team has suffered mightily when Stanton is absent because the fear factor is nowhere to be found for pitchers and opponents. If Stanton could stay on the field 150+ games his numbers would be absolutely ridiculous and the Marlins lineup would stay scary all season. Stanton has averaged 30 home runs in his first six seasons and was on a record pace last season with 27 home runs in just 74 games.
The Marlins lineup features Dee Gordon leading off wreaking havoc on the base paths distracting pitchers along with Christian Yelich who can be a hit machine when healthy. The reality is a Stanton can stay on the field everyone on the Marlins gets better and have more opportunities on the offenses side of the ball.
The other player they can’t afford to miss significant time again is ace pitcher José Fernandez. His 2015 season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery, prior to the injury he was 6-1 with 2.92 ERA on his way to a very impressive season. After the injury the starting rotation suffered understandably and Stanton was injured shortly after derailing the rest of the season.
Fernandez has a bubbly personality and has fun doing his job something that irks his opponents, but he is one of the best pitchers in the league so he’s allowed to have some fun. Overall he is an astounding 22-9 with a 2.40 ERA and has yet to lose in his home ballpark at 17-0. Amazing numbers for a guy that is just 23 years of age with a lot of innings left on his arm, assuming the Marlins will be judicious with his innings and preserve him for the long-term. If they’re able to keep the core on the field the team will have a chance to make a playoff push year after year.
Atlanta Braves: The Pitching Staff
The Atlanta Braves are in the middle of a massive rebuilding project that is seen 24 transactions involving 86 players since the start of the 2014 season. It’s probably going to be a very long year, but the future is very bright for this organization. As for the 2016 season the biggest question is who is going to get opponents out. There are just two days before the games count and the Braves still have so many roster questions involving the pitching staff.
The final decisions on the rotation have been made Williams Perez will be in the fourth spot and Jhoulys Chacín will be called up on April 12 once the team needs a fifth starter. A major concern in the bullpen is the fact we are only carrying one left-handed pitcher, but the reality is that there wasn’t anybody pitching well enough to add to the roster.
2016 Starting Rotation
- Julio Teheran
- Bud Norris
- Matt Wisler
- Williams Perez
- Jhoulys Chacín
This rotation is not one that will scare a lot of people off when looking at it on paper, but games aren’t played on paper, we will just have to see how it goes when the games really count. On a positive note, all of these guys had a strong ending to a roller coaster spring for all of them. Williams Perez struggled a little bit against the Astros, but proved that he was healthy and able to give all he’s got while on the mound. I’m not saying I’m not concerned because we went 6-20-6 in the spring and a handful of those games we blew late leads, but let’s just see what happens while we wait for the young guys in our system to develop.
The key phrase I will use while watching the season play out is trust the process and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just remember we are way ahead of the pace last year our farm system was ranked 29th now it is rated top three in baseball some have it ranked number one overall so there is reason for optimism. This season might just be a little difficult to watch, but we all know that so it shouldn’t be a surprise. Hopefully the pitching staff and the team shock the world!
Philadelphia Phillies: Maikel Franco
The Philadelphia Phillies are also involved in a massive rebuilding project, but they have definitely found their third baseman for a long time.23-year-old Maikel Franco has taken Major League Baseball by storm, in just 304 at-bats during his rookie season he hit 14 homers and had 50 runs batted in before his season was cut short due to a wrist injury.
This spring training, he picked up right where you left off hitting an MLB leading nine homers and driving in 23. This kid is going to be special for a long time, especially in that bandbox of a home ballpark.
The Phillies like the Braves might not have a lot to look forward to in 2016, but the Phillies get to watch this guy for an entire season and continue to watch him become a star in the big leagues.
The National League East might not be the powerhouse division in baseball but there certainly a lot of intriguing storylines to watch play out. It’s perceived and probably will be a two-team race between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets