2016: 95-67, first place, lost to Dodgers in NLDS.
Manager: Dusty Baker (second season).
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He’s Here: CF Adam Eaton, C Matt Wieters, 1B-LF Adam Lind, RHP Joe Blanton, LHP Enny Romero.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Mark Melancon, C Wilson Ramos, INF Danny Espinosa, CF Ben Revere, LHP Marc Rzepczynski.
Projected Lineup: SS Trea Turner (.342, 13 HRs, 40 RBIs, 33 SBs in 73 games), 3B Anthony Rendon (.270, 20, 85, 38 2Bs), 2B Daniel Murphy (.347, 25, 104, 47 2Bs), RF Bryce Harper (.243, 24, 86), LF Jayson Werth (.244, 21, 69), CF Adam Eaton (.284, 14, 59 with White Sox), 1B Ryan Zimmerman (.218, 15, 46), C Matt Wieters (.243, 17, 66 with Orioles).
Rotation: RH Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284 Ks, 228 1/3 IP, NL Cy Young Award), RH Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.60), RH Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83), LH Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57), RH Joe Ross (7-5, 3.43).
Key Relievers: RH Blake Treinen (4-1, 2.28, 1 save, team-high 73 appearances), RH Shawn Kelley (3-2, 2.64, 7 saves), RH Koda Glover (2-0, 5.03), RH Joe Blanton (7-2, 2.48, 75 appearances with Dodgers), LH Oliver Perez (2-3, 4.95), LH Sammy Solis (2-4, 2.41).
Hot Spot: Bullpen. With Melancon gone to the San Francisco Giants as a free agent, and a failed bid to sign Kenley Jansen away from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals are opening the season without an established, experienced closer. Instead, it will be Treinen, he of the 98 mph, groundball-inducing sinker – and one career save. Washington has had back-end-of-the-bullpen issues in past Octobers, so if things don’t work out with Treinen, perhaps GM Mike Rizzo will look to make yet another deal for a ninth-inning man around the trade deadline.
Outlook: The lineup is probably as good as it’s ever been, especially if Harper and Zimmerman bounce back from down years and Turner comes even close to replicating what he did as runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year while learning a new position, center field. Turner will be back at his natural spot, shortstop, and the team hopes Eaton will provide stability in CF. Wieters offers pop from both sides as the new catcher. If Scherzer and Strasburg are healthy, the rotation should be quite good again, maybe even strong enough to prevent bullpen questions from having much of a negative effect. Washington has been toggling back and forth between NL East champion and no-postseason disappointment in recent years; with Baker steering the way, the Nationals hope to make a second consecutive playoff trip for the first time – and finally win a series, too.
New York Mets
2016: 87-75, second place, lost to San Francisco in wild-card game.
Manager: Terry Collins (seventh season).
He’s Here: LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP Adam Wilk, 3B coach Glenn Sherlock.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Bartolo Colon, 1B James Loney, OF Alejandro De Aza, RHP Jim Henderson, LHP Jonathon Niese, INF-OF Kelly Johnson, RHP Logan Verrett, RHP Gabriel Ynoa, CF Justin Ruggiano, 3B coach Tim Teufel.
Projected Lineup: 3B Jose Reyes (.267, 8 HRs, 24 RBIs, 9 SBs in 60 games), SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.280, 23, 62), LF Yoenis Cespedes (.280, 31, 86), CF Curtis Granderson (.237, 30, 59), 2B Neil Walker (.282, 23, 55 in 113 games before season-ending back surgery), RF Jay Bruce (.250, 33, 99 with Reds and Mets; .219, 8, 19 in 50 games with Mets), 1B Lucas Duda (.229, 7, 23, limited to 47 games due to back injury) or Wilmer Flores (.267, 16, 49 in 103 games; .340, 11 HRs, .710 slugging in 100 ABs vs. LHP), C Travis d'Arnaud (.247, 4, 15, .629 OPS in 75 games).
Rotation: RH Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA, 218 Ks in 183 2/3 IP, All-Star), RH Jacob deGrom (7-8, 3.04 in 24 starts), LH Steven Matz (9-8, 3.40 in 22 starts), RH Matt Harvey (4-10, 4.86 in 17 starts), RH Robert Gsellman (4-2, 2.42 in 8 games, 7 starts) or RH Seth Lugo (5-2, 2.67 in 17 games, 8 starts) or RH Zack Wheeler (missed last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery; 11-11, 3.54 in 2014).
Key Relievers: RH Jeurys Familia (3-4, 2.55, MLB-high 51/56 saves in 78 games), RH Addison Reed (4-2, 1.97, 1 save, 91 Ks, 13 BBs in 80 games), RH Fernando Salas (3-7, 3.91, 6 saves in 75 games with Angels and Mets; 0-1, 2.08, 19 Ks, no walks in 17 games with Mets), LH Jerry Blevins (4-2, 2.79, 2 saves, 42 IP in 73 games), RH Hansel Robles (6-4, 3.48, 1 save), LH Josh Smoker (3-0, 4.70, 25 Ks, 4 BBs, 15 1/3 IP in 20 games).
Hot Spots: Catcher and Outfield. This could be a make-or-break season for the oft-injured d'Arnaud, once a top prospect who was productive at the plate when healthy from 2014-15. He struggled badly last season and lost playing time to veteran Rene Rivera, a defensive standout who was brought back as insurance. The team isn’t ready to give up on the 28-year-old d'Arnaud, but defense is not his calling card so he needs to hit to keep his job. A glut of dangerous hitters is the issue in a crowded outfield, pressuring Collins to press the right buttons. General manager Sandy Alderson still might pursue trading Bruce to clear room for youngster Michael Conforto. Center fielder Juan Lagares, a Gold Glove winner in 2014, figures to get at-bats against lefties.
Outlook: Seeking a third consecutive playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history, the Mets have enough talent and depth to make another October run. But a long list of critical injuries derailed the 2015 NL champs last year, so better health is crucial. Every experienced regular besides Granderson spent time on the disabled list last season, in addition to Flores and Lagares. Yet the primary concern is the overall fitness of a young, gifted, fragile rotation led by Syndergaard – the only established starter who made it through the full 2016 season. Harvey, deGrom, Matz and Wheeler are all coming off surgery. Harvey and Wheeler appear to be the biggest question marks right now. Gsellman and Lugo, the surprising rookies who rescued a depleted staff down the stretch, could again play important roles. New York quickly re-signed Cespedes last fall for $110 million over four years and barely touched the big league roster. Still, challenges lie ahead. Familia will miss the first 15 games after accepting a suspension under MLB’s domestic violence policy. Reed, with 106 career saves, is likely fill in as closer, but that could stress the entire bullpen. The delicate status of captain David Wright remains a looming issue. The longtime third baseman with spinal stenosis is having trouble throwing after neck surgery last year. He’s sidelined with his latest ailment, a shoulder injury, but sounds determined to return. If most of the Mets can stay on the field and off the DL, they'll go after NL East champion Washington with this number on their side: a 106-74 record with Cespedes in the lineup since August 2015.
2016: 79-82, third place.
Manager: Don Mattingly (second season).
He’s Here: RHP Dan Straily, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Brad Ziegler, RHP Junichi Tazawa, LHP Jeff Locke, C A.J. Ellis.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Mike Dunn, 1B-3B Chris Johnson, C Jeff Mathis, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Fernando Rodney, OF Jeff Francoeur.
Projected Lineup: 2B Dee Gordon (.268, 1 HR, 14 RBIs, 30 SBs in 79 games), 3B Martin Prado (.305, 8, 75, 37 doubles), CF Christian Yelich (.298, 21, 98, 38 doubles, .859 OPS), RF Giancarlo Stanton (.240, 27, 74 in 119 games), 1B Justin Bour (.264, 15, 51 in 90 games), LF Marcell Ozuna (.266, 23, 76), C J.T. Realmuto (.303, 11, 48), SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.236, 3, 38, .594 OPS).
Rotation: RH Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.37 ERA, AL-high 113 ER with Kansas City), RH Dan Straily (14-8, 3.76, NL-high 31 HR with Cincinnati), LH Adam Conley (8-6, 3.85 in 25 games), RH Tom Koehler (9-13, 4.33), LH Wei-Yin Chen (5-5, 4.96 in 22 games).
Key Relievers: RH A.J. Ramos (1-4, 2.81, 40/43 saves), RH Brad Ziegler (4-7, 2.25, 22/28 saves with Arizona and Boston), RH Kyle Barraclough (6-3, 2.85, 14Ks/9IP), RH Junichi Tazawa (3-2, 4.17 with Boston), RH David Phelps (7-6, 2.28, 4 saves), LH Jeff Locke (9-8, 5.44 with Pittsburgh), RH Dustin McGowan (1-3, 2.82, 1 save).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The shocking death of right-hander Jose Fernandez in a boating accident late last season left the Marlins without an ace. They acquired Straily and Volquez to fill two starting spots and hope to compensate for a wobbly rotation with a strong, deep bullpen. But it’s questionable how often their starters can get to the sixth or seventh inning. Volquez is 33 and had a 6.12 ERA in the second half last season with the Royals. Chen was hampered by injuries in the first season of his $80 million, five-year deal. Straily more than doubled his career win total last year and must show he can sustain success. Koehler has a career record of 35-48. Conley, coming off a breakout season at 26, could be the best pitcher on the staff this year.
Outlook: Frugal owner Jeffrey Loria is trying to sell the Marlins, and he approved increasing payroll by one-third to about $100 million, perhaps to make the team more appealing to prospective buyers. But depth remains a problem, and the minor league system is thin, meaning injuries could sink the season. The Marlins already face a challenge at third base, where Prado will miss opening day because of a strained right hamstring and could be sidelined for the first several weeks. Gordon, Bour and $325 million slugger Stanton all missed significant playing time last season, dooming Miami’s bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The daily lineup remains the same for the third year in a row – when healthy – and the group will get one last chance to end the longest postseason drought in the NL.
2016: 71-91, fourth place.
Manager: Pete Mackanin (third season).
He’s Here: LF Howie Kendrick, RF Michael Saunders, RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Pat Neshek, OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett, SHP Pat Venditte.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Ryan Howard, OF-3B Cody Asche, OF Peter Bourjos, 1B-OF Darin Ruf, RHP Charlie Morton, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Alec Asher.
Projected Lineup: 2B Cesar Hernandez (.294, 6 HRs, 39 RBIs, 11 3Bs, 17 SBs), LF Howie Kendrick (.255, 8, 40 with Dodgers), CF Odubel Herrera (.286, 15, 49, 25 SBs), 3B Maikel Franco (.255, 25, 88), RF Michael Saunders (.253, 24, 57 with Toronto), 1B Tommy Joseph (.257, 21, 47), SS Freddy Galvis (.241, 20, 67, 17 SBs, 25 BBs, .274 OBP), C Cameron Rupp (.252, 16, 54).
Rotation: RH Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 3.71 ERA), RH Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.65), RH Clay Buchholz (8-10, 4.78 with Boston), RH Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.12), RH Aaron Nola (6-9, 4.78).
Key Relievers: RH Jeanmar Gomez (3-5, 4.85, 37/43 saves), RH Pat Neshek (2-2, 3.06 with Houston), RH Hector Neris (4-4, 2.58, 2 saves), RH Edubray Ramos (1-3, 3.83), RH Joaquin Benoit (3-1, 2.81, 1 save with Seattle and Toronto).
Hot Spot: Offense. The Phillies finished last in the majors in runs, second-to-last in batting average, second-to-last in on-base percentage and seventh-worst in homers. They added veterans Kendrick and Saunders to improve the lineup and are looking for more production from Franco in the middle of the order. Joseph gets a full season to prove himself as a slugger, Galvis hopes to improve his OBP while maintaining his power numbers, and Hernandez and Herrera look to take another step forward. Several of the organization’s top prospects are waiting in the wings to step into the starting lineup if anyone falters.
Outlook: After four straight losing seasons, the Phillies have modest expectations. They’re still rebuilding and probably a year away from thinking postseason contention, but Mackanin has set an 81-win goal and players believe they can win now. The team added three veterans in Kendrick, Saunders and Buchholz who have postseason experience and should help Philadelphia win games while holding down a few spots until some of the youngsters are ready. The starting rotation is pretty deep, though it lacks a true ace, and the organization has several pitching prospects close to being ready for the majors. A bunch of young hitters are also knocking on the door and could get the call to the big leagues this summer, including shortstop J.P. Crawford, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielders Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens.
2016: 68-93, fifth place.
Manager: Brian Snitker (second season).
He’s Here: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP R.A. Dickey, LHP Jaime Garcia, 2B Brandon Phillips, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Emilio Bonifacio, RHP David Hernandez, LHP Kevin Chapman.
He’s Outta Here: OF Mallex Smith, C A.J. Pierzynski, RHP Shae Simmons, RHP Tyrell Jenkins, RHP Williams Perez, RHP Chris Withrow, RHP John Gant, RHP Ryan Weber, RHP Rob Whalen, LHP Andrew McKirahan.
Projected Lineup: CF Ender Inciarte (.291, 3 HRs, 29 RBIs, 16 SBs, Gold Glove), SS Dansby Swanson (.302, 3, 17 in 38 games), 1B Freddie Freeman (.302, 34, 91, 30-game hitting streak), LF Matt Kemp (.268, 35, 108 with Dodgers and Braves), RF Nick Markakis (.269, 13, 89), 2B Brandon Phillips (.291, 11, 64, 14 SBs with Reds), 3B Adonis Garcia (.273, 14, 65), C Tyler Flowers (.270, 8, 41).
Rotation: RH Julio Teheran (7-10, 3.21 ERA, selected to second All-Star Game), RH Bartolo Colon (15-8, 3.43 with Mets, selected to fourth All-Star Game), LH Jaime Garcia (10-13, 4.67 with Cardinals), RH R.A. Dickey (10-15, 4.46 with Blue Jays), RH Mike Foltynewicz (9-5, 4.31).
Key Relievers: RH Jim Johnson (2-6, 3.06, 20/23 saves), RH Arodys Vizcaino (1-4, 4.42, 10/14 saves, 50 Ks in 38 2/3 IP), LH Ian Krol (2-0, 3.18, 56 Ks in 51 IP), RH Mauricio Cabrera (5-1, 2.82, 6/7 saves, fastball clocked at 103 mph), RH Jose Ramirez (2-2, 3.58).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. After a season in which 16 pitchers made starts and no one reached 10 victories, the Braves are gambling that the 43-year-old Colon and 42-year-old Dickey are still capable of winning games, burning up innings and providing stability. Atlanta will be the first team since the 1990 Texas Rangers to feature two 40-year-old starters. The injury-plagued Garcia was acquired from St. Louis to further bolster the shaky rotation, which will feature only two holdovers from 2016. Teheran is a two-time All-Star who pitched much better than his record indicated, while the hard-throwing Foltynewicz finished strong and finally began living up to his enormous potential.
Outlook: After two straight seasons with 90-plus losses, the Braves are talking boldly about contending for a playoff spot in the NL East. That might be a bit of a stretch, but the team has clearly improved over the past year. General manager John Coppolella deserves credit for speeding up the rebuilding job by making several one-sided trades, including a deal with Arizona that landed Swanson and Inciarte. Coppolella also acquired Kemp from San Diego for nothing more than taking on his massive contract. The team seemed much more at ease after rookie manager Snitker took over for Fredi Gonzalez early in the season, sparking a 50-47 run over the final 97 games. Snitker, at 61, is one of the oldest first-time managers in baseball history but seems well-suited for the job. The lineup packs some punch with Kemp sandwiched between Freeman and Markakis, especially with Phillips coming over in a trade that brings him back to the city where he grew up. Pitching holds the key to how well the Braves fare this season, especially the geriatric rotation. The Braves should also get a boost from moving into their new suburban stadium, SunTrust Park, which replaces Turner Field.