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Friday, March 29, 2013

MLB Preview: Predicting who will win the National League East

Last season, the Washington Nationals emerged and made the playoffs one year earlier than most pundits and experts had originally anticipated. Buoyed by phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals made the playoffs, but feel to the St. Louis Cardinals in a heart-breaking Game 5 loss in the NLDS.

Now, in the year many believed the Nationals will arrive, they are looking to push further and make even more noise. Unfortunately, doing so in the National League East division won't be easy with the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies lurking.

Here are our predictions on how they will finish and who will win the National League East division in 2013.

1. Washington Nationals - 98-64; first place finish in 2012

Rationale: While Strasburg and Harper receiver all of the headlines, the Nationals are stacked with several very good players. Gio Gonzalez was a Cy Young Award candidate last season and Ian Desmond is one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. The starting rotation is deep and the bullpen is incredibly deep after the off-season acquisition of Rafael Soriano to be the team's closer.

Player to watch: Harper

Harper is the most exciting player in the game and is somehow finding a way to exceed the very lofty expectations set for him.

Biggest concern: Ryan Zimmerman's health

Zimmerman is a key cog in the lineup, but has sufferred from a balky shoulder in the past and will need to be healthy for this team fulfill its unlimited potential.

2. Atlanta Braves - 94-68; second place finish in 2012

Rationale: The Braves made noise this off-season by acquiring both B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. The brothers, combined with Jason Heyward, give the Braves the best outfield in baseball. The rotation is anchored by veteran Tim Hudson and includes several exciting young pitchers, including Kris Medlan, who was super impressive in 2012.

Player to watch: Andrelton Simmons

At just 23 years of age, Simmons has already shown that he can play defense at the Major League level and now will look to become a force offensively as well.

Biggest concern: Brian McCann

McCann will start the season on the DL and could be out until May. The Braves will need McCann sooner rather later in order to compete with the Nationals for the NL East title.

3. Philadelphia Phillies - 81-81; third place finish in 2012

Rationale: The Phillies are getting really old, but they still can play and are certainly a threat to compete to win the division and make the playoffs. And if the Phillies make the playoffs, there are as dangerous as anyone thanks to their star pitching staff led now by Cole Hamels. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are still around too, but both are not quite as good as years past and Halladay has struggled this spring. The offense is still led by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and all look to be healthy to start the season.

Player to watch: Howard

Just a few years ago, Howard hit 58 home runs in a single season and now looks to be fully 100 percent healthy after returning from a torn Achilles tendon injury suffered during the playoffs in 2011. Howard was absolutely scorching hot all spring.

Biggest concern: Health

This team is old and injury-prone and if any of the Phillies' stars have to miss time, they will have a hard time keeping up with the Nationals and Braves.

4. New York Mets - 74-88; fourth place finish in 2012

Rationale: The Mets found out on Friday that ace Johan Santana would miss all of 2013, which is not good news just days before the season is set to begin. This is definitely David Wright's team and third baseman will look to duplicate the tremendous success he had in 2012.

Player to watch: Matt Harvey

Harvery is a phenom who is expected to be a huge addition to the Mets rotation this season. It should be fun to watch whether Harvey can live up to the hype

Biggest concern: Offense

Besides Wright, the Mets really do not have any other impact bats.

5. Miami Marlins - 69-93; last place finish in 2012

Rationale: The Marlins sold all of their big-time name players off during the off-season to the Toronto Blue Jays and are once again, rebuilding. The lone player left standing after the fire-sale is Giancarlo Stanton, who is now surrounded by a bunch of youngsters with very little experience. 

Player to watch: Stanton

Stanton is a beast and a great player. But who else are you really going to watch on this team?

Biggest concern: Everything

Everything about this roster, except for Stanton, should be a concern.

This MLB preview has been compiled as part of the March project for the United Cardinal Bloggers. You can check out the links for the rest of the previews from other members of the group here