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The Marlins' Good, the Bad, and the Utility: NL East preview

Jesse Smith takes a look into the National League East and how the 2015 Miami Marlins will stack up against the competition. What strengths do they have? What are their weaknesses? And as always, the Fish Stripes Community Question of the Week!

Stanton and his powerful crew look to make some noise
Stanton and his powerful crew look to make some noise
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Last week on "The Good, the Bad, and the Utility" we gave an overview of the Marlins offseason and how they look heading into spring.  This time around we are going to take a step into enemy lines and talk about what the Fish have to do to stay in the division race.  This is the 23rd season since the MLB Gods gave birth to the Miami Marlins and placed them in the National League East.  Since then, they have not been able to wear the crown of division champions.  The ultimate question: what does this team have to do to be kings of the East?

Lets go team by team starting with the boys in the capital.

Washington Nationals: (96-66, Won NL East by 17 games)

Last Season: 2014 was kind to the Nationals as the Braves sputtered faster than my ‘99 Buick Century and they captured the NL East Crown.  They finished with the best record in the National League and had the top seed in the playoffs.  The Nats, however, did not deliver in a disappointing 1-3 series loss at the hands of the eventual World Series champions in the Giants.

The Good: Unless you reside under a boulder, you know they made some noise this winter break with their acquisitions. The starting rotation is what will keep me up at night.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister will command the hill for DC this year.  The only question there: who starts Opening Day? A powerful lineup backs them given Bryce Harper can stay on the field.

The Bad: Yunel Escobar, who is slated to play second base, looks to return to his form while with the Toronto Blue Jays rather than his tenure with the Rays.  He is really the only uncertainty heading into 2015.

Bottom Line: This was an offense ranked in the top five last season in home runs, hits, runs scored, and batting average last year and the rotation can go toe-to-toe with any team in the Majors.  The Nationals are the favorites and rightfully so.

Atlanta Braves: (79-83, T-Second in NL East)

Last Season: Surprisingly, this team was in the playoff hunt for much of the season (52-43 at the All-Star Break).  They made a head-scratching trade with the Saint Louis Cardinals, sending their former prized possession Jason Heyward away along with productive bullpen master Jordan Walden.

The Good: They did, however acquire Nick Markakis and Alberto Callaspo to round out some holes in the lineup.  Freddie Freeman is an underrated run producer and is growing as a hitter at the age of 25.  The rotation added the likes of Shelby Miller from the Heyward/Walden trade.  Many scouts around the game think he was not utilized enough with the Cardinals and has a lot of untapped potential.

The Bad: The one hole the Braves did not address was the void left by Justin Upton.  This is an offense that slipped into the bottom five in terms of home runs and runs scored and they do not have enough pitching, in my opinion, to keep up with the Nationals.  Freeman could be their only legitimate .300 candidate.  A lack of consistency could do this team in.

Bottom Line: This could very well be a rough year in Atlanta if they continue the trends from the second half of 2014. They lose a large percentage in their offense from Upton and Heyward, 29.3% of the team’s RBI to be exact.  An offense that already struggle will most likely struggle again without two of their main run producers.

New York Mets: (79-83, T-Second in NL East)

Last Season: The Mets are an interesting crew.  A lot of people thought they may have over-performed at the end of the season and there might be some truth to that. They finished 15-10 in September, while posting a respectable +24 run differential.  They played well enough to catch Atlanta for second in the East, their best division finish since 2008.

The Good: The team’s youth lies within its starting rotation.  Matt Harvey, who before Tommy John surgery, was widely considered one of the top up and coming arms in the MLB.  He was 9-5 with an astounding 2.27 ERA in 2013 before his injury.  It will take some time for him to break back into facing live hitters due to him sitting out the entire 2014 season. Jacob deGrom is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and there is no reason to think he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.  First baseman Lucas Duda also tapped into the power supply and hit 30 dingers in 2014.  The Mets also added former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to the same position.

The Bad: Looking at their starting lineup, complete with Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer, and David Wright I am ecstatic...if this is the 2011 season.  The Mets do have a mixed crew in age.  Granderson is likely not the 30-20 player he was with the Yankees and Cuddyer is a huge question mark after an injury plagued 2015.  Will leaving Coors Field and Father Time keep him from returning to his .330 Batting Champion average?

Bottom Line: They will require some attention and have the opportunity to make some noise.  I still feel like there is something missing from this squad.  The biggest crutch they will have is their bullpen and that will be the difference maker.  They finished last season with a 3.14 ERA, but a horrendous 22-28 Win-Loss ratio and -1.6 Wins Above Replacement rating.  This team will go as far as their back-end guys will allow them.

Philadelphia Phillies: (73-89, Last in NL East)

Last Season: The land of Philly Steak and Cheese had a rough 2014 campaign.  They were at the bottom of the division for much of the season.  An aging and aching rotation combined with a subpar .242 team batting average, their playoff hopes were dashed early on.

The Good: For the first time in awhile, they are healthy and have everyone ready for the start of Spring Training.  Ben Revere is one of the more fun guys in the league to watch play.

The Bad: This team is turning into the San Antonio Spurs...minus the championships.  They had an average age of 30.5 for their starting lineup last season, the highest in the National League.  Jimmy Rollins is gone, Ryan Howard is struggling to stand, and Cole Hamels has eyes on greener pastures.

Bottom Line: Father Time has not been kind to the Phillies and they will be reentering the rebuilding stage shortly.  The core of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Werth, and Hamels have either moved locations or are reaching the end of their careers.  I would not expect them to be much of a factor for the 2015 NL East race.

What does this mean for the Marlins?

The Fish finished only a couple games behind Atlanta and New York for second in the division.  The Marlins had the second youngest team in the Majors last year with a 27.3 average. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy, Marcell Ozuna is learning, and the rotation is forming.  All the pieces are there for Miami to make a run out of this. They made moves to fill significant holes and already look better than last season.  While saying they are going to take the East is outside the realistic realm, the days of cellar dwelling are certainly in the rearview mirror.  They know how to win close games (35 wins in one-run games, six more than anyone else in East).  This team made some significant strides in the East this offseason and I can say with confidence I believe they are the second best team in this division.

Bottom Line: Washington should have no problem taking the division this season, but that doesn’t mean the Marlins should be discounted.  The Boys of South Beach summer can make some noise in the Wild Card chase and I fully expect them to do so

Question of the Week:

As always, here is the question of the week.  Please feel free to respond to both the question and the article.  I loved the feedback we had last week and thank you Fish Stripes community for making me feel welcomed!

Who is the bigger threat to Miami: Atlanta or New York?

See you guys next week!