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Why the NL East Is MLB's Toughest Division

Chris StephensCorrespondent IINovember 6, 2016

Why the NL East Is MLB's Toughest Division

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    Every year, there's a conversation about which division is the best in baseball.

    This year, I think that distinction goes to the National League East, even though the records may say otherwise.

    Currently, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are on top of the division, with the other teams not even being close.

    But don't think it's because there's no talent there. Just chalk it up to some bad luck.

    Here's a look at 10 reasons why the NL East is the toughest division in baseball.

Quality Pitching on Every Team

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    When you look at the starting pitchers for each team, you see four elite pitchers. Just behind those four guys are a lot of really good pitchers.

    The elite pitchers are Washington's Stephen Strasburg and Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Just behind them are the Braves' Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy, the Mets' R.A. Dickey, the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez and the Marlins' Josh Johnson.

    You can go even further and see more quality pitchers throughout each rotation.

    I think it's safe to say that no division in baseball has the quality of starting pitching that the NL East does.

Young Stars

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    Imagine having guys like Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Jason Heyward (Braves) and Bryce Harper (Nationals) competing against each other 18 times a year over the next 10 years.

    Now, I know all of that will depend on contract situations, but the thought of it can wet your appetite.

    The trio is made up of three of the biggest rising stars in MLB, all of whom will be the face of their respective franchise for many years to come.

    Not only are they going to produce on their own, but their star power is going to attract free agents to join their team.

    When you can build a winning tradition within your organization, that's somewhere people want to go. The Braves and Nats are there, while the Marlins still have a little work to do.

No Win Is Guaranteed

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    While no win is ever truly guaranteed, there are some series where you know a team will take at least two of three.

    In the NL East, there is no guarantee of even that, as the teams play each other very well over the course of a series.

    Of course, there will be blowouts here and there. But, for the most part, NL East games are really good. Especially when you get to the latter stages of the game.

    Just look at this last week's Braves-Mets Sunday night game or the Braves-Phillies game on Wednesday.

    The Sunday night game saw the Braves score four runs in the top of the ninth, only to fall just short. The Wednesday game saw the Braves jump out to a big lead only to see the Phillies fight back to tie it before the Braves surged again for the win.

    There are many more examples of this happening, but those two were the ones that came to mind.

Every Division Game Is a Rivalry Game

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    When any NL East team gets together with another, it's a rivalry game.

    No other division can claim that.

    Sure the AL East has the Red Sox and Yankees, but what other two teams have a true rivalry in the division? In the NL West, you have the Giants and Dodgers, but a Dodgers-Diamondbacks contest just doesn't have the same ring to it.

    The same goes for the NL Central with the Cubs and Cardinals, and the AL West with the Angels and Rangers. You have great two-team rivalries, but that's it in the division.

    In the NL East, every divisional game is a rivalry. Whether it's the Nationals-Braves, Mets-Braves, Mets-Phillies, Phillies-Marlins or Marlins-Nationals, every game means something to those fans.

    When Washington was at the bottom of the division, the Braves still struggled to beat the Nats. The same goes for the Phillies and Marlins.

    No one rivalry in the division is greater than any other. Across the board, all of the rivalries make the NL East the best division for rivalry matchups.

Every Team Has Hope to Begin the Season

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    The Nationals believed they could win the division this year, so they made a few moves in the offseason. Their biggest move was trading for Gio Gonzalez, which has shown to be a great move by the team.

    The Braves collapsed in September last year but made some minor moves to improve their team. Their main move was addition by subtraction, as they traded Derek Lowe to Cleveland and cleared room in the rotation for one of the young guns.

    The Marlins made a big splash acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell as they spent big.

    The Phillies re-signed Jimmy Rollins and signed closer Jonathan Papelbon. Those moves, while small, were thought to be enough to keep the Phillies at the top of the division.

    The Mets didn't do as much in the offseason, but they showed a lot of promise to begin the year.

    My point in listing all of these transactions is simply this—every team legitimately had a shot at winning the division when the season began.

    Injuries and poor performances affected some, but no other division could truthfully say that all of its teams had a legitimate shot at the postseason.

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