Except for Washington Nationals, it is clear to every MLB baseball handicapper and sportsbook the NL East is going through a transition. For some teams that is good, for the others not so much.
After years of ruling or being contenders, Atlanta and Philadelphia are in rebuilding mode, while Miami and the Mets seem to be on the rise and are expected to supplant the Braves and Phillies near the top of the division.
Here is breakdown of the division and the up to the minute MLB odds on how the NL East is supposed to shakedown for this upcoming season.
Washington Nationals (-475 odds)
According to the betting odds, Washington is the biggest favorite to move on to the postseason. The Nationals enter this season with two thoughts in mind, they won 98 games in 2012 and 96 a season ago and bad luck or misfortune has quickly ended their year in the playoffs.
Washington understands they had three one-loss defeats against eventual champion San Francisco in the postseason (one in 18 innings) and suffered a bullpen meltdown two years ago against St. Louis, which cut short their season.
The Nationals will not enter the season at full strength with Dennard Span out until sometime in April and likely the same for Jayson Werth. However, manager Matt Williams is comfortable with his team’s outfield depth to cover the situation and having the best starting five in baseball will put any manager somewhat at ease.
In looking for a weakness, after years of having one of the best bullpens from the seventh inning on, the departure of Raphael Soriano and Tyler Clippard depletes the overall talent and Williams will have to build the bridge to closer Drew Storen and hope he does not break down mentally.
Miami Marlins (+600)
With Giancarlo Stanton contractually locked in for the rest of the first quarter of this century, Miami started adding pieces around him and have the making of an improving club in 2015. The rapidly improving outfield has Marcello Zuna and Christian Yelich also and keep in mind Stanton is the elder statesman at 25.
Bringing in Martin Prado, Dee Gordon and possibly Michael Morse improves the offense and likely the Marlins defense in the infield. Miami has several good young starting pitchers and adding a seasoned veteran like Mat Latos should help them grow as a staff. The return of Jose Fernandez can only be a positive and if manager Mike Redmond can properly assemble the bullpen again for MLB picks, you start to like Miami today and for the future as long the ownership does not screw it up.
New York Mets (+700)
The Mets have endured six straight losing seasons and are primed to finish in the black and be a wild card contender. At least that is New York’s belief. Their behind the scenes patience in developing young players began to pay off with the emergence of CF Juan Lagares and SS Wilmer Flores. Blend those types of players with proven vets like David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, to go along with terrific group of starters and a bullpen that came into its own last year after early season struggles and it might be fun to be a Mets fan again.
Skipper Terry Collins crew was still among the worst offensive teams in baseball and we are not sure everything has been solved, thus we will withholding judgment on moving the Metropolitans ahead of Miami because of this at this juncture for sports picks.
Atlanta Braves (+3330)
After jettisoning GM Frank Wren, the new guy on the job John Hart said he expected the Braves to be “very competitive” in 2015. Nobody really took him seriously because just hours before his statement, he had traded away one of two key offensive assets in Justin Upton. While Upton is not always a consistent force, he has 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs on a team which averaged 3.5 runs per game, which was ahead of only San Diego, where Upton will now play.
This leaves Freddie Freeman, new outfielder Nick Markakis and a bunch of impatient batters who lack discipline at the dish to generate an offense. The starting pitching has above average talent led by Julio Teheran, but if the offense does not put up more runs, not sure this contingent will hold up. Factor in outside of close Craig Kimbrel, the rest of bullpen has serious questions which may or may not work out.
Philadelphia Phillies (+9000)
A few of the names are familiar like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, but their prime years are like MySpace, well in the rearview mirror. After losing 89 games each of the past two years, the depleted Philadelphia farm system has to start rebuilding and the former power trio along with outfielders like Ben Revere and Dominic Brown are just bit players.
The starting pitching at some point will be in shambles and 36-year old Cliff Lee might retire instead of have elbow surgery and Cole Hamels has to be traded at some point for prospects.
That leaves Jonathan Papelbon, and his contract and prickly personality is only going to work for a few teams that need a closer and are a contending team, with enough clubhouse presence to overshadow the right-hander’s existence. Barring a miracle, the Phils finish last in the division and do not sniff 70 wins.