For the past five seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies have won the NL East. While the Phils are still the most experienced and talented team in the division, don't be surprised if the boys from PA are dethroned in 2012. Seemingly overnight, the NL East has become one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and with the addition of a second Wildcard team into the playoff system, the East could potentially send three teams to the post-season this year.
Not bad for a division that has only sent two teams to the playoffs in the same season twice in the past ten years.
Here's what to expect from each club this season:
In the eyes of many baseball fans, the Braves suffered one of the worst late-season collapses in major league history last season. Atlanta entered the last month of the regular season with an 8.5 game lead in the Wildcard race but dropped 18 of their final 27 games to finish on the outside looking in.
Despite the end of last season, the Braves look to 2012 with great optimism. They have serious young talent in outfielder Jason Heyward, catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Jair Jurrjens. With the announcement that this will be long-time Brave Chipper Jones's final season, you can expect to see this club play with passion and determination throughout the season.
Win-Loss Prediction: 97-65
With a new name, new stadium, new manager and new uniforms, the Marlins look to 2012 for a fresh start. The club finished in last place in the division last season, but a few key off-season additions should make this year's Marlins team much more competitive. Former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen will provide a spark in the clubhouse. In his tenure as a big league manager, Guillen has developed the reputation as a firecracker due to his boisterous personality. More importantly, Guillen brings a track record of success to Miami. His White Sox team captured the World Series title back in 2005.
The on-field addition of Jose Reyes provides a great deal of offense and defense to this squad. Reyes, a former Met, takes over at shortstop and shifts All-Star Hanley Ramirez over to third. A bolstered infield isn't all that the Marlins acquired this winter.
The team added some serious depth to its pitching staff with the signings of Carlos Zambrano (Cubs), Mark Buehrle (White Sox) and closer Heath Bell (Padres). Although they will be much improved in 2012, don't expect Miami to be firing on all cylinders just yet.
Win-Loss Prediction: 84-78
Some fans would call the upcoming 2012 season a "rebuilding year" for the Mets. To put it bluntly, this squad is going to struggle throughout the year. The loss of Jose Reyes to the Marlins is a big blow to New York, and with no big name additions, the Mets are surely the doormat of the NL East right now.
On the bright side, Johan Santana is healthy and looks to pitch a full season after missing all of 2011. Watch out for third-baseman David Wright to have a big statistical year as he and veteran Jason Bay lead the Mets' offense.
Mets fans should also get a glimpse of some of the club's up-and-comers, as you can expect to see a good number of minor-league players get a chance to play at Citi Field this season. Stay strong Met faithfuls. Good days will come.
Win-Loss Prediction: 65-97
Its hard to find anything wrong with a club like Philadelphia. The Phillies posted an MLB-best 102 wins last season, and with very few subtractions from last year's roster, the Phils hope to run the tables again in 2012. The squad lost starting pitcher Roy Oswalt and closer Brad Lidge but picked up Jonathan Papelbon from the Red Sox.
Papelbon joins one of the most outrageously talent pitching staffs ever compiled in league history. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee all return to the Phillies rotation this season.
Offensively and defensively, the Phillies are as stacked as ever. Veteran Jim Thome joins a lineup that already includes Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Hunter Pence and Chase Utley. Unfortunately for the Phils, Utley won't be active when the season begins.
With the sheer amount of talent on their roster, the Phillies are probably the favorite to win the division for a sixth straight time. However, the competition have certainly circled each series they have with Philadelphia this season, and you can bet the Phillies will get each team's best effort.
Win-Loss Prediction: 96-66
After years in the NL East cellar, the Nats wrapped up 2011 with a third place finish in the division. Washington has also been one of the most talked about teams this off-season. Everything seems to be coming together in DC these days.
While they didn't land big name free agents Prince Fielder or CJ Wilson, the Nationals did make some key acquisitions. Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Brad Lidge were added to a blossoming pitching staff that already flaunts young-guns Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg, coming off a few late season appearances in 2011, is expected to pitch through 2012 with an innings restriction as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos are expected to lead the charge for the Nats on offense. Look out for Jayson Werth to have a bounce-back season in 2012 after a disappointing offensive year in 2011. Washington fans will also be anticipating the arrival of highly-touted prospect Bryce Harper at some point in the early going of the season. Don't be surprised if this team is in the mix for a Wildcard spot or even the division crown in September.
Win-Loss Prediction: 90-72
1) Altanta Braves 97-65*
2) Philadelphia Phillies 96-66*
3) Washington Nationals 90-72
4) Miami Marlins 81-81
5) New York Mets 65-97
The Braves are poised to knock off the defending NL East champs and take the retiring Chipper Jones into the playoffs for once last hurrah.
The Phillies will certainly make the playoffs in 2012, and with the experience on their roster, you could definitely see this team playing for its second World Series title in five years.
While the Nationals notch their first winning season since the club's move to Washington, expect to see an NL West team snag that second Wildcard.