NL East preview 2013: A race for second

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper walks back to

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper walks back to the dugout after he flied out in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. (Oct. 11, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

First in war, first in peace, and now, long after the Senators moved away, it looks like Washington is a lock for first place in the National League East. How could the Nationals not be?

Not only has GM Mike Rizzo reaped the benefits of back-to-back No. 1 picks in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, he wrested Gio Gonzalez from the A's, threw boatloads of cash at Jayson Werth ($126 million) and then found even more loot this year to bring back Adam LaRoche ($24 million), add ex-Yankee Rafael Soriano ($28 million) and trade for leadoff man Denard Span.

So who's playing for second? The Braves have to be considered the next best, a position solidified by this winter's Upton family reunion in Atlanta. Pairing Justin and B.J. with Jason Heyward gives the Braves perhaps the most dynamic young outfield in the majors. While they shouldn't have to worry about Craig Kimbrel, it was weird to see the closer stumble in the World Baseball Classic. Could be worth watching early on.

Roy Halladay also will be under the microscope for his first few starts based on his erratic performance in spring training, and whether the Phillies stay in this division race at all could hinge on Halladay's health. They still have plenty of pitching, but the once championship-caliber nucleus of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins is starting to show its age.

There's not much to say about the division's two bottom dwellers. The Mets essentially have one proven star in David Wright, a possible up-and-comer in Ike Davis and two pitchers who won't win as many games as they deserve to in Jon Niese and Matt Harvey. The Marlins gave up on 2013 back in November by gutting their roster, but if Giancarlo Stanton gets anything to hit, he'll be fun to watch at least.

Best of the NL East

BEST MANAGER: Davey Johnson, Nationals

GENERAL MANAGER: Frank Wren, Braves

STADIUM: Citizen's Bank Park, Phillies

EVERYDAY LINEUP: Nationals

OVERALL HITTING: Nationals

OVERALL POWER: Phillies

TEAM SPEED: Nationals

TEAM DEFENSE: Nationals

STRENGTH OF BENCH: Nationals

STARTING ROTATION: Nationals

BULLPEN: Braves

PLAYERS

1. Bryce Harper, Nats

2. David Wright, Mets

3. Gio Gonzalez, Nats

HITTERS

1. David Wright, Mets

2. Ian Desmond, Nats

3. Ryan Zimmerman, Nats

POWER

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

2. Ryan Howard, Phils

3. Ike Davis, Mets

STARTERS

1. Gio Gonzalez, Nats

2. Cliff Lee, Phils

3. Stephen Strasburg, Nats

RELIEVERS

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves

2. Jonathan Papelbon, Phils

3. Steve Cishek, Marlins

NEW FACES

1. Justin Upton, Braves

2. B.J. Upton, OF, Braves

3. Denard Span, OF, Nats

FIVE-YEAR TREND

2012: Washington (98-64)

2011: Philadelphia (102-60)

2010: Philadelphia (97-65)

2009: Philadelphia (93-69)

2008: Philadelphia (92-70)

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

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