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MLB Division Preview: 10 things about the NL East

It's the Nats world and we're all just living in it.

The regular season is fast approaching. In an attempt to take stock of the rest of the league, we'll give you a rapid-fire tour of the rest of baseball. Kicking things off is a look at the National League East and its new overlords, the Nationals.

1) It's Washington's world

Don't be surprised if the Nats win 100 games this season. Heck, don't be surprised if they make a run at 110.

The reason isn't that they're clearly the best team in the National League. They are neck-and-neck with the Dodgers for that crown, and I wouldn't put it past the Pirates or Cardinals to say something about that this summer, either.

No, the reason that the Nats could win oodles of games is that the rest of the National League East stinks.

Judging by FanGraphs' Base Runs projection method, the Nats are the only team who will finish above .500 in the division. Only the Marlins and Mets are projected to finish at .500 while the Braves and the Phillies will flirt with 90 or more losses.

If either the Marlins or the Mets take a step back? All your wins are belong to the Nats.

The projection systems don't tend to go out on limbs for teams with big win totals. Yet, Base Runs has the Nats winning 94. All those in-division games should help that number creep up.

No team has won 100 or more games in a season since the 2011 Phillies. No team in the history of the Montreal/Washington franchise has won more than 100 games in a season. The franchise record was 94 wins in 1993.

That '94 team could have won 100, had the strike not shut down baseball. That team had a rotation of Ken Hill, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero, Butch Henry and Kirk Rueter. This year's Nats rotation may be better.

2) Dat Nats rotation

Mmhmmm. Yeah. I like it

Stephen Strasburg

Max Scherzer

Jordan Zimmerman

Doug Fister

Gio Gonzalez

The Nats' rotation is so deep.

How deep is it?

It's so deep that a very good, young pitcher named Tanner Roark won't be in it after throwing 198 innings last season with an ERA of 2.85.

Injuries could crash this thing down before we get to see it in action. Fister and Zimmerman are also free agents after this season, so it pays for the Nationals not to trade anyone away.

But, dang.


3) The emergence of the Phish

If you want a sneaky contender to knock the Nationals off their perch atop the division, it's the Miami Marlins. Led by young starts like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez, the Fish could surprise.

For them to do that, Miami needs a number of young players to take steps forward. They need Marcel Ozuna to continue his power-hitting in the outfield and for the infield acquisitions of Martin Prado, Mike Morse and Dee Gordon to work out.

Oh, and for Dan Haren to not miss the West Coast so much that he can pitch in Miami. Adding Mat Latos gives the Marlins some much needed depth in the rotation and lets Jarred Cosart continue to develop at the back end of the rotation.

But, let's be honest. If Jose Fernandez doesn't go back to pitching like an ace or if Stanton has an off-season, the Marlins won't contend.

They sure have some interesting pieces, though.

4) Yelich's big deal

After locking up Giancarlo Stanton to a huge offseason deal, the Marlins paid for another homegrown star when it signed outfielder Christian Yelich to a seven-year, $50 million deal.

Yelich, 23, hit .284/.362/.402 last season with nine home runs and 21 stolen bases. He hit nearly the same in 273 plate appearances during his debut season in 2013.

It locks up two of the Marlins' young outfielders for a long time, as Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal over the winter.

Yelich hit .311/.386/.497 in five seasons in the minors, so he may have a little room for growth and should play in front of Stanton for a long time.

5) Matt Harvey's return

Call it a comeback and mark down Matt Harvey as the Comeback Player of the Year in the NL East, if such a thing existed.

The precocious pitcher returns from elbow surgery in 2015 and has shown no signs of slowing down in spring training.

In his first full season in the big leagues, the 25-year-old struck out 191 in 178 innings in 2013 with a 2.27 ERA. He missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

This spring, he's been touching 99 mph with his fastball, though, and appears to be completely recovered. If so, he gives the Mets a true ace at the top of the rotation to pair with 2014 breakout Jacob deGrom. Unfortunately, another Mets hurler, Zach Wheeler, also went down with an elbow injury this spring.

Look for Harvey to dominate again and for his starts to be Must See TV this summer.

6) ATL's not-so-stealthy rebuild

The Braves finished second to the Nationals last season, but only won 79 games and finished 17 games out of first place.

That got GM Frank Wren fired. John Hart took over and has started a sort-of rebuild of the Braves, trying to be competitive in 2017, when Atlanta will have a new ballpark.

So, he traded away three of the Braves' top four offensive players last season in outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward and catcher/left fielder/designated hitter Evan Gattis.

In return, Hart stocked up on power arms. From Max Fried to Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves can throw the heat. Whether they can miss bats has yet to be determined.

Still, the biggest acquisition could lead to the quickest results. Atlanta got young Texas native Shelby Miller from the Cardinals in the Heyward deal. Miller immediately jumps to the front of the Atlanta rotation and could break out this season. Too bad his team will be lucky to win 79 games again this season.

7) Don't call me B.J.

Call this the LVP category. Do you know who was the worst qualified everyday player in the NL East last season?

It was Domonic Brown of the Phillies (tied with Matty D, btw. Love you, Luis Valbuena!).

Do you know who the second-worst was?

Ryan Howard, also of the Phillies.

Okay, but who was the worst player in the NL East who also changed his name?

That'd be Melvin Upton, Jr., formerly B.J. Upton, currently making $15 million per season in the third year of a five-year deal.

Upton at least has defensive value and has been at least average for the Braves in the outfield over the past two seasons. But, he hasn't hit nearly well enough to justify his contract, failing to hit over .210 in either of his Atlanta seasons.

While Howard and Brown are still around in Philly, count on Melvin to be the worst player in the NL East this season.

8) LOLPhils

Imagine the Astros were run by Tim Purpura for more than just a few years. Imagine he was in charge of a rebuild, of trading away the best players on the roster. Imagine signing Carlos Lee to an incredibly onerous contract after his offensive skills deteriorated.

That should put you in the shoes of all those Phillie phans this year. Philadelphia, stuck with an old roster and without many impact prospects, is the only team in baseball projected by Base Runs to finish with less than 70 wins. By all the projection systems, the poor Phanatic will watch the worst team in baseball this year.

Over the winter, Philly jettisoned longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins. They still have Jonathan Papelbon as closer, but it's unclear how long that will last. They'd give up Ryan Howard for a song, if anyone would pay even half of the money still owed him. Cliff Lee will miss time with another elbow injury that probably requires Tommy John surgery, though Lee will not get the surgery done. Jerome Williams is listed as the third starter. Oh, and Grady Sizemore could play a prominent role for them.

Things are bad.

The biggest highlight for Philadelphia this summer could be the inevitable Cole Hamels trade.

9) Prospect to watch

Maikel Franco, a third baseman for the Phillies, is probably the most interesting one. He's probably going to play the majority of Philly's games there.

The 22-year-old hit .178/.190/.214 in 58 plate appearances last season with Philly, but had a career line of .274/.325/.450 in the minors and hit .257/.299/.428 last season at Triple-A while he was six years younger than the league average.

Baseball America rated Franco as the No. 56 prospect this season, dropping him from No. 17 in 2014.

10) Predictions

1. Washington

2. Miami

3. NY Mets

4. Atlanta

5. Philadelphia