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2015 MLB preview: the NL East

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With the regular season not even two weeks away, let’s take a look around the rest of MLB, today we head to the NL East.

Is Max Scherzer the final missing piece to bring the Nationals franchise their first ever title?
Is Max Scherzer the final missing piece to bring the Nationals franchise their first ever title?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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The Washington Nationals won this division going away last year, finishing 17 games up. But it was still a race until early August when finished on a 38-18 kick to finally distance themselves from the pack. And the distance they established was one of the largest gaps in recent memory. The rest of the division all finished below 0.500.

Philadelphia Phillies (73-89, 5th)

Key Losses: Kyle Kendrick (SP), A.J. Burnett (SP), Tony Gwynn (OF), Antonio Bastardo (RP), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Marlon Byrd (RF), John Mayberry (OF)

Key Adds: Kevin Slowey (SP), Aaron Harang (SP), Jordan Danks (OF)

Injuries: Cliff Lee (SP), Chad Billingsley (SP)

Projected Position Players: Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Freddy Galvis, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Ben Revere, Domonic Brown

Projected Rotation: Cole Hamels, Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Miguel Gonzalez, Slowey

Projected Fire Squad: Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Jake Dierkman, Justin De Fratus

The Phillies enjoyed one of the most dominant stretches when it won five straight division titles from 2007 to 2011, including back to back losses in the World Series. But as GM Ruben Amaro continued adding salary to try and get over that last hurdle, he left his system bereft of talent and full of bloated contracts to fill in during injuries and ineffectiveness.

Last season they finished with the same record as in 2013, but this time finished in the basement. So obviously Amaro would try to shave off some of those albatrosses and begin anew? No, he instead sort of stood pat. Yeah, he got the Rollins contract off the books, but Howard, Hamels, Lee, Utley and Papelbon are still around. And now with Lee hurt, that is one less chip to deal this year. I don't foresee any quick turnaround for Phillies fans and the next couple of seasons should be very painful. I'm calling for a 60-102 record this year. ZIPS agrees with me, but not as badly, 71-91.

Miami Marlins (77-85, 4th)

Key Losses: Reed Johnson (OF), Brad Penny (SP), Chris Hatcher (RP), Anthony DeSclafani (SP), Nathan Eovaldi (SP), Casey McGehee (3B)

Key Adds: Aaron Crow (RP), Dee Gordon (2B), Dan Haren (SP), Mat Latos (SP), Mike Morse (1B), David Phelps (SP), Martin Prado (3B), Ichiro Suzuki (OF)

Injuries: Jose Fernandez (SP)

Projected Position Players: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Morse, Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, Prado, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton

Projected Rotation: Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Latos, Jarred Cosart, Haren, Phelps

Projected Fire Squad: Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Crow

After signing Stanton to that megadeal last year, GM Mike Hill was tasked to fill in the roster around him so Stanton might have a reason to not opt out in a few years. Obviously the injury to Fernandez put a big crimp in their plans. Hill has added some talent to the lineup in Morse, Gordon and Prado, so the offense should be a tick better than last year. I am pretty high on Yelich as well.

The moves to add Latos and Haren should be upgrades as well, although losing Eovaldi was a necessary loss in fixing the lineup.  If Fernandez comes back early from TJ surgery this team could make a playoff run. But likely they are still a year away. I'll put a smidge over 0.500 at 82-20. ZIPS is tad more optimistic, 85-77.

New York Mets (79-83, 3rd)

Key Losses: John Lannan (SP), Bobby Abreu (OF), Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP)

Key Adds: Michael Cuddyer (LF), John Mayberry (OF)

Injuries: Vic Black (RP), Josh Edgin (RP), Daniel Murphy (2B), Bobby Parnell (RP), Zach Wheeler (SP)

Projected Position Players: Travis d'Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Wilmer Flores, David Wright, Cuddyer, Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson

Projected Rotation: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee

Projected Fire Squad: Jenrry Mejia, Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, Carlos Torres

This is another team that appeared to stand pat, but it is not clear why. Their payroll ironically is right around the Tribe's but have most of the cash tied to Wright, Granderson, Colon and Murphy. The addition of Cuddyer doesn't seem to fit the current philosophy of GM Sandy Alderson. It appeared he was trying to get younger, until that signing.

As it is, this team projected to be on the upswing with a very good young rotation of Harvey, deGrom and Wheeler. But then Wheeler's elbow gave out and the infamous TJ surgery shut him down for this season. The lineup has a bit of pop with Wright and Duda, but Granderson and Cuddyer are not likely to age well and Flores and Lagares are unproven. Don't ask me why, but I have a feeling they shock the talking heads and compete for a wild card, but just fall short, at about 84-78. ZIPS has them at 81-81.

Atlanta Braves (79-83, 2nd)

Key Losses: Emilio Bonifacio (OF), Ryan Doumit (UT), Gavin Floyd (SP), Aaron Harang (SP), Gerald Laird (C), Ervin Santana (SP), Jason Heyward (RF), Jordan Walden (RP), Anthony Varvaro (RP), Justin Upton (LF), Evan Gattis (C)

Key Adds: Arodys Vizcaino (RP), Shelby Miller (SP), Jim Johnson (RP), Nick Markakis (RF), Michael Kohn (RP), Alberto Callaspo (IF), Jason Grilli (RP), Josh Outman (RP), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Wandy Rodriguez (SP), Kelly Johnson (IF), Jonny Gomes (OF), Eric Stults (SP), Jace Peterson (2B), Eric Young (LF), Mike Foltynwicz (SP)

Injuries: Markakis, Mike Minor, Shae Simmons, Melvin (B.J.) Upton

Projected Position Players: Christian Bethancourt, Freddie Freeman, Peterson, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Young, Upton, Markakis

Projected Rotation: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Miller, Minor, Stults, Rodriguez, Foltynwicz

Projected Fire Squad: Craig Kimbrel, Grilli, Johnson, James Russell

Current interim GM (and former Tribe GM) John Hart has been crazy busy this offseason. I think he actually turned over more of the roster than San Diego did, although much of his turnover happens to be on the bench side and back of the rotation. The offense will still be led my Freeman and Simmons. The Markakis signing is still a bit of a head scratcher, but it did allow Hart to trade Heyward for Miller.

Teheran and Wood are very capable front of the rotation guys, so with Miller added, they do have a shot in most series. But the back end will be more of a hope and see what sticks with Stults and Rodriguez. The bullpen has stud Kimbrel and the pickup of Grilli was nice. Not sure why, but I feel the integration of all the new parts will take time and they will finish just a hair under 0.500 at 80-82. ZIPS calls for a 73-89 finish.

Washington Nationals (96-66, 1st)

Key Losses: Asdrubal Cabrera (2B), Scott Hairston (OF), Nate Schierholtz (OF), Adam LaRoche (1B), Rafael Soriano (CL), Pedro Florimon (IF), Ross Detwiler (SP), Steven Souza (OF), Tyler Clippard (RP)

Key Adds: Heath Bell (RP), Dan Uggla (IF), Yunel Escobar (2B), Max Scherzer (SP), Casey Janssen (RP), Tony Gwynn (OF)

Injuries: Erik Davis (RP), Escobar, Nate McLouth (OF), Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Jayson Werth

Projected Position Players: Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Escobar, Ian Desmond, Rendon, Werth, Span, Bryce Harper

Projected Rotation: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Scherzer, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark

Projected Fire Squad: Drew Storen, Janssen, Aaron Barrett, Craig Stammen

Similar to the Dodgers, I think the Nationals waltz to the playoffs, health permitting. GM Mike Rizzo did a bit of tweaking this offseason, but the core is essentially the same. The one huge signing of course is Scherzer, who made a great rotation, even more dominating. Now the back end of that contract will likely haunt them, but this is the team that is going World Series or bust right now. When Gonzalez/Fister is your #4/5, that is saying something. Heck Roark is a likely #3 in most other rotations.

The lineup has maybe just the one hole at second (Escobar), but Ryan Zimmerman. Harper, Werth, Span and Rendon are one of the better lineups in the NL. As this division could be potentially the weakest in baseball, I am going to call for a 101 win season and top seed in the NL playoffs this fall. ZIPS has them as the best team in baseball, but at just 94-68.

Conclusion:

As noted above, I think the Nationals have the inside track to the #1 seed in the NL this season. And although all four other teams finished with losing records last year, I think one or two of them break that barrier this year. Right now I rank them Marlins, Mets, Braves and Phillies. I also expect the Phillies to challenge the Diamondbacks for the worst record this year.

So what say you? Put your rankings below.