A different franchise has won the National League East in each of the past three seasons. Can that trend continue in 2014 for MLB picks? Unlikely, considering that the two clubs who haven't won it in that span are the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, and they are likely to be well below .500 again this season.
The Nationals were the National League pennant favorites entering last spring after they led all of baseball with 98 victories in 2012 in winning the franchise's first division title since the move from Montreal. Maybe it was the hangover of blowing Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS or just the weight of heavy expectations, but the Nats vastly underachieved with 86 wins in 2013. Sure, injuries didn't help with Bryce Harper being limited to 118 games and Jayson Werth to 129, but injuries are a part of baseball. Werth would have been in the MVP conversation had he been able to play 160 games as he hit .318 with 25 home runs and 82 RBIs in his 129 played. However, he was the only regular to hit better than .300. The lineup will look pretty much the same in 2014. The front three in the pitching staff of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez was very good, but the Nats struggled when their No. 4 or No. 5 pitched. Half of that problem appears to have been solved with the heist of pitcher Doug Fister from Detroit this offseason. The only other major addition was manager Matt Williams. Washington is +400 on BetOnline's baseball odds to win the NL pennant.
Every other division will have two teams under this heading, but not the NL East. In reality the Atlanta Braves are probably the only team that can compete with Washington for the title. Atlanta won 96 games last year in taking its first division title since 2005 but lost in four games to the Dodgers in the NLDS. Atlanta won with its excellent pitching staff that led the majors with a 3.18 ERA. It should be good again despite the departure of Tim Hudson as long as Brandon Beachy is all the way back from major surgery. The bullpen is led by the majors' best closer, Craig Kimbrel. Offensively, the Braves lost one of the majors' best-hitting catchers in Brian McCann, but the lineup should be fine if guys like B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla can rebound from terrible seasons. The first two seem likely to do. The Braves are +900 at sportsbooks to win the NL pennant.
The Mets finished third in the division last season with a 74-88 record and third is probably the best the team can hope for in 2014, although a .500 record isn't out of the question. It might have been likely if young ace Matt Harvey wasn't lost for the season following offseason Tommy John surgery. Harvey looks like a future Cy Young winner -- he is hoping to return in September but will be handled with kid gloves. New York did add free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Bartolo Colon. Ownership appears out of its financial troubles and is likely targeting next season, when Harvey is fully healthy, to make a serious push to win the division. New York is +4500 for sports bettors to win the pennant.
The Phillies' wins total has declined every season since winning the 2011 NL East title, and they won only 73 games last season, the franchise's fewest since 2000. It's a very veteran group for new full-time manager Ryne Sandberg, but therein lies the problem: Nearly every player in the Phillies lineup is past his prime other than outfielders Domonic Brown and Ben Revere and third baseman Cody Asche. Should the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd all have one last big season, contention is possible -- that's asking a lot. The rotation has a great front two of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Philadelphia is +2000 on baseball odds to win the pennant.
Miami led the National League with 100 losses in 2013 and probably will again this season as the franchise goes through its latest rebuild. The Marlins won't be down for too much longer as they have an excellent farm system and two franchise building-blocks in slugger Giancarlo Stanton (if he's not traded) and 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. He had one of the best first seasons ever by a pitcher and is downright filthy. The Fish are +6000 long shots on baseball odds to win the pennant.
MLB Free Picks Projected Finish: Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, NY Mets, Miami.