Beltway Report: Will the Washington Nationals make a mockery of the National League East?

nationals_logoColumn by Scott German

The Washington Nationals ran away from the pack in the National League Eastern Division in 2014 with an astonishing 17-game bulge over their closest challenger, the Atlanta Braves. So with the addition of starter Max Scherzer and his nasty-looking 12-6 curve and another year of seasoning from phenom Bryce Harper, the experts are predicting a landslide divisional championship for the Washingtonians.

In hearing of the signing of Scherzer (via free-agency from Detroit), Harper was quoted as saying, “Are you kidding me, where’s my ring?” Oh, from the mouths of babes!

So what’s being afforded the opportunity of being a columnist without making a far-fetched, if not downright outrageous prediction, or in this case predictions?

Here we go. The Nationals will not run away from the rest of the division, fact is they will not win the division. The New York Mets will. Matt Harvey is coming back from Tommy John surgery. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Jacob deGrom, and despite an unexpected season-ending injury (torn elbow ligament) to starter Zach Wheeler, they have an excellent core of starting pitching. Wheeler’s misfortune also opens the door for Dillion Gee, who has been flying under the radar the past two seasons, amassing the fourth lowest ERA in baseball from mid-season 2013 to mid-season 2014.

The Metropolitans won’t be lacking in power with the addition of Michael Cuddyer over the winter, teaming with Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson and perennial all-star David Wright (Virginia Beach) providing plenty of offensive attack.

While the Nats appear to the have the best starting rotation, Stephen Strasburg has yet to emerge as the pitcher he was hyped to be. And starter Gio Gonzalez is just one bad break from going into meltdown mode. Adding Scherzer will definitely provide a potential lethal 1-2-3 punch, but looming on the horizon for Washington’s front office is as potentially lethal a question in how burdening will Scherzer’s whopping $210 million seven-year salary cost in the long run?

The Nationals have some key players ready to cash in on the open market, and unless the front-office brass runs the club as their neighboring politicians run the country, there simply may not be enough cash-flow to ante up to the table. Thus at least a semi-mass exodus of key personnel may be looming. So if Harper’s grand prediction of a “ring” is to take place, and it could happen, it will have to do so from a wild-card slot.

Sorry, but I just don’t have a great feeling about Miami. Down a key starting pitcher in Jose Fernandez until at least June, the Marlins simply lack enough bite from their starters to make a serious run at the division title. While they do have two capable starters in Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos at the top of the rotation, they need a healthy and effective Fernandez from the get-go to be a serious contender. Giancario Stanton gives the Marlins a marquee name as a legitimate star. Miami, however, will have to wait another year for a title.

Atlanta made it quite clear they have no intentions of competing until the opening of its new ballpark in 2017. The Braves traded away Jason Heyward and Justin Upton after the club’s complete meltdown of 2014. Atlanta finished under .500 for just the third time in 24 years. The Braves did add 31-year-old right fielder Nick Markakis from Baltimore.  The Orioles made no serious bid to retain Markakis, who experienced his third consecutive season of declining offensive production. Markakis, from the Atlanta area, also had neck fusion surgery in December and may not ever be the all-star caliber player he once was.

Philadelphia, wow, just wow! Four years ago the Phillies won their fifth straight division title, and was arguably the best team and organization in the National League. But here in 2015 they have as bleak of future as any team in the game. What happened? Simple, their players got old before the front office realized and now have no viable way to move the aging, extremely overpriced veterans. The best starting pitcher, Cole Hamels, will soon be gone and most of the Philly infield will be moved before the season ends in a grand fire sale like no others in recent memory.  The “City of Brotherly Love” will be anything but loving this summer. 100 plus loss season-guaranteed.

 

German’s Glimpses

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH-NL EAST

  • New York Mets
  • Washington Nationals
  • Miami Marlins
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Philadelphia Phillies

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