The Mets are well-positioned to make a franchise-record third straight playoff appearance — with one caveat. Staying healthy always has been an issue in Flushing. Last season, the rotation slowly disintegrated, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz gradually bowing out to injury. Matz starts the season on the DL with his troublesome elbow, and Harvey is dealing with a dip in velocity. But the Mets do have excellent insurance with Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. Zack Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, replaces Matz in the rotation for now.
Beyond that, Sandy Alderson did what he had to do in re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, who looks bigger, stronger and more intimidating at the plate. Rather than settle for the $110-million contract, Cespedes now sounds motivated to win a World Series, and Alderson has assembled the deepest and most versatile roster since he took over after the 2010 season. As a result, the Mets should be fine waiting on whatever happens with David Wright’s comeback bid, as well as Jeurys Familia’s expected suspension for domestic violence charges. Plus Alderson insists money will be left for trade-deadline improvements.
Last season ended in another first-round playoff loss for the Nationals — they’re up to three now — and the franchise hasn’t been to an NLCS since it was called the Montreal Expos, back in 1981. What makes this year any different? Well, the Nats sent the once-untouchable Lucas Giolito to the White Sox for leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, an excellent defensive outfielder who moves Trea Turner back to the infield. It’s also probably safe to assume Bryce Harper will be more like the ’15 MVP version than the one who served as Daniel Murphy’s caddy a year ago. If Max Scherzer’s offseason finger-fracture is as bad as it gets injury-wise, the Nats will be the serious threat they should be.
Jose Fernandez’s tragic death in last September’s boating accident still haunts these Marlins, who will wear his No. 16 on their uniforms this season, and there’s no telling what kind of lasting emotional impact it will have on the franchise. On the field, replacing the brilliant Fernandez is out of the question, with Wei-Yin Chen now atop a shaky rotation. Miami will have to lean on a lineup highlighted by Christian Yelich, a rising star who had a career-high 21 homers and .859 OPS, and the fearsome Giancarlo Stanton, who has 40-homer potential — but can never stay healthy enough to get there.
The Braves now have Bartolo Colon. What else do you need, really? Leave it to Atlanta to troll the Mets by signing the ageless (well, actually he turns 44 in May) wonder to prop up its rotation, along with another Flushing fav, the 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. While it seems the Braves are turning their entire season into six months of Old Timers Days, they do have Dansby Swanson, an aspiring Jeter-type, at shortstop with more prospects on the way. And of course, Fredddie Freeman, who finished sixth in the MVP voting last year. As an additional bonus, Turner Field is history with the Braves moving into new Sun Trust Park.
So the Phillies finally have shed the last of their bloated contracts — bye, bye Ryan Howard — and most of the beloved ghosts from the ’08 title are elsewhere now (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels). What’s left? Second-year GM Matt Klentak has been stockpiling young pitchers in his last series of trades (sound familiar, Mets fans?) as he heads into his second season at the helm. And with the slashed payroll, the Phillies can save up to make a run at the epic 2018-19 free agent class. Until then, enjoy the Crab Fries and Yeungling at Citizens Bank Park because it won’t be much fun otherwise in watching this team lose 90-plus games.