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National League East forecast 2014

Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, center, celebrates his

Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, center, celebrates his solo home run in the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon


Manager: Matt Williams, first season (replaces Davey Johnson)

GM: Mike Rizzo, sixth season

2013: 86-76, Second place, 10 games back

A year later, the Nationals are back where they started the 2013 season -- as prohibitive favorites to win the division and advance deep into October. They'd like to avoid a repeat, however, of how that campaign turned out, falling short of even a wild-card berth.

Once again, it's mostly about the starting rotation, an already elite group fortified by the December acquisition of Doug Fister from the Tigers. Fister had a 3.53 ERA pitching the past five seasons in the American League, so expect that to drop considerably with no DH, and he'll fit right in with a front five that includes Gio Gonzalzez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and presumably Ross Detwiler.

Combine that stingy rotation with a well-balanced offense, and the anticipation that Bryce Harper is due for an MVP-caliber season, there is a feeling that first-year manager Matt Williams has plenty of weapons to rely on. Jayson Werth is coming off his best season (.318/.398/.532) since signing the $126-million contract that many people -- Sandy Alderson included -- scoffed at three years ago.

In front of Werth, the Nats have a speedy leadoff man in Denard Span, who led the NL with 11 triples, along with Ryan Zimmerman (career .829 OPS) and Harper. Ian Desmond also gives them some power from the shortstop position, slugging 20 homers last season with 80 RBIs.

Can Williams succeed where '86 Mets icon Davey Johnson could not? Well, it certainly didn't hurt that the Braves already have lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season due to Tommy John surgery, a destabilizing blow to the Nats' biggest threat in the NL East. The rest of the division doesn't appear to be much of a threat.

If healthy, Washington has no excuses this season.


Manager: Fredi Gonzalez, fourth season (279-207, .574)

GM: Frank Wren, seventh season

2013: 96-66, First place, 10 games ahead

Outlook: What a spring for Atlanta. After spending $280 million in contract extensions to lock up their talented young core, the heart of the rotation -- Medlen and Beachy -- is torn out by elbow injuries. Got lucky that Ervin Santana was still around.


Manager: Terry Collins, fourth season (225-261, .463 )

GM: Sandy Alderson, fourth season

2013: 74-88, Third place, 22 games back

Outlook: When the biggest story of spring training is where Matt Harvey wants to do his Tommy John rehab, that's a problem. But the Mets added some badly needed pop in Curtis Granderson, and Noah Syndergaard is waiting for June. Forget 90 wins, but they could make the jump to 80.


Manager: Mike Redmond, second season (62-100, .383)

GM: Michael Hill, seventh season

2013: 62-100, Fifth place, 34 games back

Outlook: Owner Jeffrey Loria deserved the abuse when he dumped most of his 2012 salary on the Blue Jays after Miami's epic flop in its new domed stadium. But the cheaper rebuilding effort is moving quickly, and the Marlins have one of the game's best young pitchers in Jose Fernandez.


Manager: Ryne Sandberg, first season (went 20-22, .476, after replacing Charlie Manuel)

GM: Ruben Amaro, Jr. sisth season

2013: 73-89, Fourth place, 23 games back

Outlook: Doesn't it seem like yesterday Jimmy Rollins was calling these guys "the team to beat?'' But that was five years ago, and the Phillies are showing their age. Charlie Manuel should consider himself fortunate he won't be at the helm for the awkward decline of his 2009 title winners.


Best everday lineup: Nationals

Best player: Bryce Harper

Best power hitter: Giancarlo Stanton

Best overall Hitter: Freddie Freeman

Best in the clutch: Freddie Freeman

Best baserunner: Eric Young Jr.

Best infielder: Andrelton Simmons

Best outfielder: Juan Lagares

Best catcher: Evan Gattis

Best starting pitcher: Jose Fernandez

Best reliever: Jordan Walden

Best closer: Craig Kimbrel

Best pitch: Craig Kimbrel's fastball

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez

General manager: Frank Wren

Stadium: Citizens Bank Park

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