Update: The Washington Nationals have signed Edwin Jackson to a one year deal to fill out the 4th spot in their rotation. This signing should take their rotation to the next level and even closer to playoff contention. With this acquisition, I expect the Marlins, Nationals and Braves to finish within no more than 3 games within each other.
With about one month until spring training, the Miami Marlins have obviously improved their roster since last season. Following an impressive offseason the Marlins have added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell into the fold to fill several key needs. Pending any major acquisitions within the National League East, I see the Marlins as an 86 to 92 win team. Barring injury and expecting bounceback seasons by Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson this prediction puts the team right on the cusp of earning a spot in the playoffs.
Arguably the National League East may be the best division in all of the Major Leagues. At the very least it gives the American League East a run for its money. The Marlins are obviously much improved. The Washington Nationals, who finished 80-81 last year, added another potential ace in Gio Gonzalez to couple with budding stars Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann whom are both positioned to be healthy . As a result, Washington is going nowhere but up in the standings. The Atlanta Braves finished only 1 game out of the playoffs due to their epic collapse, but maintain the same team as last year. This stability along with another year of maturity for the Braves’ excellent young staff should indicate that Atlanta has much staying power. The Philadelphia Phillies maintain an excellent rotation despite not attempting to bring back injury prone and declining veteran free agent starter Roy Oswalt. This is a non factor as they still have a superb rotation anchored by Halladay, Lee, Hamels and the emerging Vance Worley. Potential decline for Philadelphia is possible due to Ryan Howard being out significant time due to the injury he suffered in game 5 of the NLDS in addition to another year of age for the declining offense. Meanwhile the New York Mets lost shortstop Jose Reyes to the Marlins, but expect to have Johan Santana healthy for the entire season.
Last year, the Marlins prior to the injuries of Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson were 29-19 through 48 games. This positioned the Marlins only one game behind first place Philadelphia at that time. Despite finishing 72 and 90 after falling into their June swoon, having a resurgent Hanley Ramirez and a healthy Josh Johnson vastly improves upon last years squad by reducing pressure on the rest of the lineup. Naturally, the return of an ace like Johnson reduces the workload and demand of use for the remainder of the rotation and bullpen. This coupled with the expected improvements of Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison in addition the free agent additions of Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell immediately places the Marlins into playoff contention.
Justifiably the Marlins should be positioned behind reigning division champion Philadelphia with Atlanta and Washington close behind. The National League East should have 4 teams over .500 and arguably Miami, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are legitimate playoff contenders with Washington being right there with them. Without a doubt the National League East will be extremely competitive in 2012 and for years to come. I look forward to seeing how it will play out.