#1- Washington Nationals – 96-66; 1st in the National League East
Just typing that rotation isn’t fair. But those are the Nationals for you. The odds-on-favorite to get out of the division has more than enough firepower to get the job done. Even with all the injuries that they incurred last season, the weakness of the rest of the division gave them more than enough of a cushion to win. Now with a couple of up-and-coming teams trying to fight for position in Washington’s rear-view mirror, the window might be closing on the division dominance for the Nationals It just won’t be this season.
How it can go right: Those five starters do what they’re expected to do, so that kind of takes some of the luster out of this topic. They led the league in ERA last season, and now they’ve added Scherzer. Yikes! So it’s really about what more they can do. If everyone can stay relatively healthy, 100 wins isn’t that big of a stretch.
Harper is as hyped a player as here has been in recent memory, but he’s kind of underwhelmed in living up to those expectations. He is only 22 years old, so there’s plenty of time for him to take the next step in his progression. He looks to be in tremendous shape coming into this season, but here’s hoping his new physique will help him stay healthy. If he starts to blossom into the player he was expected to be, then it’s game over in the NL East.
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How it can go wrong: Werth, Rendon, and Span are already looking like they’ll start the season on the DL, so the Nationals are already off to a rough start, health-wise. The injuries didn’t hold Washington back last season, but now the Marlins and Mets are looking to make things a little tougher for them. If health remains an issue, and the offense gets off to a slow start, it might give the underdogs enough of a push to keep the Nats close.
First month (or so) of games: Mets (3), @Phillies (3), @Red Sox (3), Phillies (4), Cardinals (3), @Miami (3), @Atlanta (3), @Mets (4)
A lot of division games to kick things off, with 13 of them on the road, so they’ll get to put their rivals to the test. They could start the season 5-1 before that trip to Boston, before fattening up on the Phillies, again, at home. The Nats can put some early season pressure on the Marlins and Mets.
Win/Loss Prediction: 97-65. A year after winning 96 games, the Nationals only got better. A one-game improvement takes into account that they’ll battle injuries at some point, so we can’t get too crazy on their win total. But 100 wins isn’t out of the question. This team is kind of good.