Washington Nationals leading the hunt for NL East championship

Max Scherzer

Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer delivers a pitch during an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 25.

(John Bazemore / Associated Press)


Washington Nationals

2014: 96-66, first place. Last year in playoffs: 2014.

The Nationals had the best record in the NL last year and won the division for the second time in three years, but they still have not won a postseason series since 1924. And nothing says urgency like an 89-year-old owner who spent $215 million on Max Scherzer when the team did not need starting pitching. This lineup will look good when injured regulars Anthony Rendon, Denard Span and Jayson Werth return, even better if the Nationals can coax 550 at-bats from Bryce Harper.


CF D. Span*

3B A. Rendon*

RF B. Harper

1B R. Zimmerman


SS I. Desmond

LF J. Werth*

C W. Ramos

2B Y. Escobar


RH M. Scherzer

RH J. Zimmermann

RH S. Strasburg


LH G. Gonzalez

LH D. Fister


RH D. Storen

2. Miami Marlins

2014: 77-85, fourth place. Last year in playoffs: 2003.

The Marlins hit the fewest home runs in the division last season, even with Giancarlo Stanton, who led the NL in homers. The Marlins pledged $325 million to Stanton — the richest contract in North American sports history — then imported Dee Gordon, Mike Morse, Martin Prado, Mat Latos and a reluctant Dan Haren. The best young outfield in the game — Stanton is 25, Marcell Ozuna 24 and Christian Yelich 23 — could blossom. And, as teams clamor for pitching come summer, the Marlins can welcome back Jose Fernandez, who beat Yasiel Puig for rookie of the year in 2013.

2B D. Gordon


LF C. Yelich

RF G. Stanton

1B M. Morse

3B M. Prado

CF M. Ozuna

C J. Saltalamacchia

SS A. Hechavarria


RH H. Alvarez

RH M. Latos

RH T. Koehler

RH D. Haren

RH J. Cosart


RH S. Cishek

3. New York Mets

2014: 79-83, second place. Last year in playoffs: 2006.

The Mets have muddled along for years, operating like a mid-market team and losing one-third of their attendance, all the while pointing to the young guns that would lead them to victory this year. Matt Harvey and rookie of the year Jacob deGrom look terrific, but Zack Wheeler is out for the year, and the Mets put Noah Syndergaard in the minors rather than in New York. The lineup has a patchwork feel — more than one guy in his prime would help — and the team has a .500 feel.

CF J. Lagares

RF C. Granderson

3B D. Wright

1B L. Duda

LF M. Cuddyer

2B D. Murphy*

SS W. Flores

C T. d’Arnaud


RH B. Colon

RH J. deGrom

RH M. Harvey

RH D. Gee

LH J. Niese


RH J. Mejia

4. Atlanta Braves

2014: 79-83, second place. Last year in playoffs: 2013.

The Braves have baseball’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel, but they will have little use for him. They scored the fewest runs in the division last year, then traded away half their home runs in Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. This is an honest rebuilding — trading veterans from a team that could not win anyway for prospects who might help when the Braves open their new ballpark in 2017. If General Manager John Hart executes that strategy as well as he did in Cleveland, the pains of 2015 will be the gains of 2017.

CF E. Young

2B J. Peterson

RF N. Markakis

1B F. Freeman

3B C. Johnson

LF J. Gomes

SS A. Simmons

C C. Bethancourt


RH J. Teheran

RH A. Wood

RH S. Miller

RH T. Cahill

LH W. Rodriguez


LH C. Kimbrel

5. Philadelphia Phillies

2014: 73-89, fifth place. Last year in playoffs: 2011.

This is not an honest rebuilding. The general manager said the Phillies would be better off trading Ryan Howard, then could not trade him. The Phillies could jump-start their rebuilding by trading ace Cole Hamels, but they could not move him either. They have an in-house replacement for closer Jonathan Papelbon, but they could not trade Papelbon. They spent $12 million on a Cuban pitcher, then sent him to the minors. The new center fielder was a second baseman last year — at double A.

LF B. Revere

SS F. Galvis

2B C. Utley

1B R. Howard

C C. Ruiz

3B C. Asche

RF G. Sizemore

CF O. Herrera


LH C. Hamels

RH A. Harang

RH D. Buchanan

RH J. Williams

RH S. O’Sullivan


RH J. Papelbon