Chipper Jones would love one last division title before he retires.
While the Atlanta Braves have one of the most talented teams in all of baseball, they happen to play in arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The NL East might have even surpassed the AL East this season with Boston being down and the Rays not having a great lineup.
This article takes a look at how serious the competition within the NL East is team by team. This is a division where any of the five teams have a chance to finish at the top in the end, though some teams have a better chance than others.
The Mets need Johan Santana's surgically-repaired shoulder to hold up for the whole season.
The New York Mets are one of this season's biggest surprises. They are currently 31-23 and tied for first place heading into play on June 5th. Even though the Mets don't stack up with the rest of the division talent wise, they are sticking right in and have been strong of late, winning seven of their last 10 including a no-hitter by Johan Santana against the Cardinals.
The Mets offense has been led by David Wright and a bunch of no-names that have been playing very well. Guys like David Murphy, Josh Thole, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Scott Hairston have all been huge parts of the offense, with each doing significantly better than what was projected of them in the spring.
The rotation has seen Santana look like an ace again with RA Dickey pitching like a top of the rotation pitcher as well. Throw in the rest of the rotation doing an adequate job and the bullpen pitching fairly well, and the Mets are doing just enough to win games.
Chance to win NL East-20%
The Mets may be tied for first but have a lot to prove. They need to show that this collection of players can keep playing above their heads for the remainder of the season and that Santana's shoulder can handle a full workload. I believe they have a chance, but would bet on them fading in August.
Roy Halladay will miss 6-8 weeks with a lat injury.
When I wrote my last article on the competition within the NL East I gave the Phillies a 50% chance to make the playoffs. However since that article was written in late-April things have changed for the worse in Philadelphia.
Ace Roy Halladay suffered an injury and is expected to be out between six to eight weeks. Cleanup hitter Ryan Howard and star second baseman Chase Utley were originally expected to re-join the team in June, but now will not be back until at least July.
The Phillies have been playing better ball since April, but losing Halladay isn't going to help their chances. Their offense still doesn't look great, and their pitching has gone from great to just good as they now will need to rely on guys like Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.
Chance to win NL East- 25%
I believe the Phillies have a better chance than this to win one of the two wild card spots, but they just don't have the lineup to beat out the Nationals, Marlins and of course the Braves with Halladay missing an extended period of time.
Giancarlo Stanton has a monster month of May at the plate.
A month ago the Miami Marlins were looking like they spent a whole bunch of cash for nothing this past winter. The team was struggling and newcomers like Jose Reyes and Heath Bell were not playing up to their fat new contracts.
In the last month the Marlins got hot and are now in a tie for first place in the division. Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton and Hanley Ramirez have all rebounded from a cold April to start producing the way that everyone had expected. Throw in Omar Infante looking like the guy who was an All-Star in 2010 with Atlanta, and the Marlins have a pretty solid offense, and their lineup will get another boost when Emilio Bonifacio returns.
The pitching staff has seen ace Josh Johnson pitch much better in May. Having Johnson pitching well to go with Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and a re-energized Carlos Zambrano gives the Marlins a very strong rotation. The bullpen has been strong as well with Randy Choate and Steve Cishek looking great and Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb doing a solid job. Even Heath Bell has been a little better of late, and the bullpen will get a boost when Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly closer Leo Nunez, returns from his suspension.
Chance of winning NL East-50%
The Marlins have everything needed to win the NL East. They have five starters that are all strong pitchers, a very good bullpen, and a lineup with the power and speed to create runs when needed.
That said there are some issues that could keep the Marlins from winning the division. Johnson has not pitched like a top starter. Bell has not been looking very strong as a closer. Then the lineup is getting limited production out of the catcher, first base and left field positions.
Slugger Mike Morse just returned to the Washington lineup this weekend.
The Washington Nationals were one of the early surprises of the 2012 season as they jumped out to a quick lead in the NL East in the first couple of weeks of the season. Little has changed since then, as the team is still tied for first in the NL East.
The Nationals pitching staff has been great, led by young ace Stephen Strasburg and followed by Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmerman they have been the best staff in baseball. The Nationals biggest issue with their rotation is finding the right way to use Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler and John Lannan as the final starter.
The bullpen has been very strong with Sean Burnett, Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus pitching very well this year. However the spring injury to closer Drew Storen has the Nationals trying to find a replacement, which they have not been having much success with yet.
The lineup has done enough to get the job done with Mike Morse missing all of the first two months of the year and Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos suffering season-ending injuries. That's because guys like Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond have stepped up and young Bryce Harper has been great so far.
Chance of winning NL East-50%
The Nationals have the same chance to win as the Marlins. That is because the Nationals lineup lacks something right now, Stephen Strasburg is likely to be shut down when he hits 160 innings pitched and it isn't known exactly when Storen will return to solve the closer puzzle.
Still the Nationals have the best rotation in the division right now and a very strong bullpen, other than closer. If Ryan Zimmerman can turn it up, Mike Morse plays like the guy we watched in 2011 and Bryce Harper doesn't hit the rookie wall, the Nationals have a good shot at winning the NL East.
The Braves need the old Jonny Venters back.
The Braves have a shot equal to that of the Nationals and Marlins, and better than the Phillies and Mets. The way they stack up against the rest of the division is actually something that could give them an edge, assuming they can firm up the back of the rotation.
The Braves have a better lineup than the Nationals, Phillies and Mets and though they have less game-changing talents than the Marlins they have fewer holes.
Their rotation is not as strong as the Nationals, Marlins and potentially the Phillies, but is better than the Mets. Firming up the rotation would allow them to surpass the Phillies rotation minus Roy Halladay, and if Stephen Strasburg gets shut down after reaching an innings cap, it would be about equal to the Nationals.
The Braves bullpen when Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are on are better than or equal to anyone in the game. The fact that the Braves have a lights-out option for the ninth inning, while the Marlins, Mets and Nationals don't is also huge.
In the end it's really tough to say who is the true favorite, but it looks like it will come down to which team best answers the questions surrounding them.