10 Reasons the NL East Is the Most Exciting Division in Baseball

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IApril 16, 2013

10 Reasons the NL East Is the Most Exciting Division in Baseball

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    MLB fans love to debate. Many of us are willing to debate a wide range of baseball topics:

    • Most feared power hitter.
    • Fastest base stealer.
    • Best AL outfielder not named after a fish.

    Well, I have a new topic for the baseball fans out there: most exciting division.

    To get this debate started, here are 10 reasons the NL East is the most exciting division in baseball.

    Note: All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com except where noted otherwise.

10. Too Close for Comfort

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    Familiarity breeds contempt.

    Based on the proximity of the cities in the NL East, there is a lot of contempt among respective fans. Of the six MLB divisions, the NL East ranks third in terms of total distance between the major cities associated with each team (for example: Denver for the Colorado Rockies, Minneapolis for the Minnesota Twins, Dallas for the Texas Rangers). Take a look at these distances traveled for the most direct route between all five cities in one division, courtesy of Google Maps:

    1. 1,029 miles: NL Central
    2. 1,298 miles: AL Central
    3. 1,536 miles: NL East
    4. 1,720 miles: NL West
    5. 1,877 miles: AL East
    6. 2,848 miles: AL West

    But the NL East boasts the shortest distance among any three cities within the division. New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are separated by only 237 miles.

    This fact creates an ease of travel for fans among the cities in the division. In 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies hosted a "New York Mets Day" to accommodate the multitude of Mets fans who live in the surrounding areas. Three years later, the Washington Nationals were forced to "Take Back the Park" from Philadelphia Phillies fans after a 2009 radio appearance by former Nationals' President Stan Kasten went horribly wrong.

    This closeness does not create a bond, but rather a boiling point.

9. Home to a World Series Favorite...

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    ESPN and Sports Illustrated have predicted the Washington Nationals will win the 2013 World Series.

    The Nationals are embracing the expectations.

    Jayson Werth told ESPN.com that he was not bothered by the pressure at all:

    "My reaction is, basically, no (bleep). Not many people would say it. But you've got to be thinking it. And I concur. Of course." 

    And manager Davey Johnson has not shied away either, saying "World Series or bust, that's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that.'' (Jorge L. Ortiz, USAToday)

    Other teams in the NL East—and around MLB—might resent that the Nationals were predicted to win the Fall Classic and not them. Or they might just want to play spoiler and ruin the Nationals' chances to even play for the title. Whatever the reason, the Nationals will have the bull's eye on their back all season, no matter who they're playing.

8. ...And a Darkhorse

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    The Washington Nationals are not the only quality team in the NL East.

    The Atlanta Braves also were included among the eight World Series contenders by ESPN.com. Thanks to the Braves, the NL East is one of only two divisions with two teams as World Series contenders by ESPN.

    But Anthony Witrado of The Sporting News took the prediction one step further. In the publication's 2013 MLB preview, Witrado chose Atlanta as his World Series runner-up, saying "in the National League, something tells me the Braves are going to have enough to emerge. Specifically, it’s their shutdown bullpen and ridiculously talented outfield."

    With two World Series contenders in the same division and all the pressure and expectations that come with it, the NL East will have more excitement than most.

7. Once and Future Kings?

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    The Philadelphia Phillies held the NL East crown for five consecutive seasons, finally losing their grip on the throne in 2012. Last season, the Phillies finished third in the division with a 81-81 record and missed the playoffs.

    The baseball world does not think last season was a fluke for the Phils.

    Among the 18 MLB executives and scouts who made World Series predictions for ESPN.com, "the Phillies...got only one vote." 

    And for the MLB predictions compiled by CBSSports.com, all six panelists projected the NL East would finish in this order: 

    1. Washington Nationals
    2. Atlanta Braves
    3. Philadelphia Phillies
    4. New York Mets
    5. Miami Marlins

    Obviously, there doesn't seem to be much confidence in the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Unless, of course, your name is Jimmy Rollins. In November, the Phillies shortstop told CSNPhilly.com (via NBCSports.com) that the "NL East still runs through Philly":

    "It still runs through Philly. [Washington] had one year to win it. It was just like when the Mets took it from Atlanta, it was still up for grabs. I’m sure Atlanta felt it was still theirs, but fortunately we were able to come in and take it the next five years." 

    Of course, if you are familiar with the recent history of the NL East—which Rollins does not appear to be—then you realize that Rollins' theory does not call for the Phillies to regain control of the division from the Nationals, but rather for a third team to take the NL East crown this season.

    But even if Rollins' declaration does not make perfect sense, it still will follow his Phillies all season as they attempt to prove to baseball they are still the "Beasts of the East."

6. Success Is Futile

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    The NL East might boast two powerhouse teams in the Nationals and Braves, and one team unwilling to surrender the division title to either in the Phillies. But the division also is home to one really bad baseball team.

    The 2013 Miami Marlins could finish with one of the worst records in MLB since 1962. Here are the 15 worst records in a 162-game season (Yahoo! Sports):

    1. 40-120: 1962 New York Mets
    2. 43-119: 2003 Detroit Tigers
    3. 50-112: 1965 New York Mets
    4. 51-111: 1963 New York Mets
    5. 51-111: 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks
    6. 52-110: 1969 Montreal Expos
    7. 52-110: 1969 San Diego Padres
    8. 53-109: 1964 New York Mets
    9. 53-109: 1996 Detroit Tigers
    10. 53-109: 1979 Toronto Blue Jays
    11. 54-106: 1988 Atlanta Braves
    12. 54-107: 1977 Toronto Blue Jays
    13. 54-107: 1988 Baltimore Orioles
    14. 54-108: 1979 Oakland Athletics
    15. 54-108: 1998 Florida Marlins

    Less than three weeks into the season, the Marlins are trying their best to join that ignominious group. After 13 games, the Miami Marlins are 2-11, last in the MLB regular-season standings. The Fish are one of only two teams (San Diego Padres) with a winning percentage below .200.

    With the introduction of everyday interleague play, fans throughout baseball will not be able to tear their eyes away from this train wreck.

5. Davey's Farewell Tour

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    Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has decided to retire after the 2013 season. Johnson has been a manager for 17 seasons and a player for 13.

    Ten of Johnson's 17 seasons as a manager were spent in the NL East. He was manager of the New York Mets for the first seven of those 17 seasons, and he has managed the Washington Nationals for the last three. As a result, a bulk of his managerial statistics have occurred while managing in this division:

    • 1,268 of 2,294 games
    • 740 of 1,293 wins
    • 528 of 999 losses
    • 3 of 6 playoff appearances
    • 1 World Series title

    That is a lot of memories, good and bad. But not just for Johnson. Don't forget all the former players and current fans of the NL East who can recall with pleasure or disdain the moments when Johnson's clubs lifted their spirits or broke their hearts, respectively.

    Fans of Washington and New York might be sad to see him go while fans in Philadelphia might wish he had retired years ago.

    No matter how you look at it, the final pages of a storied chapter in the history of the NL East are being written this season.

4. Fields of Gold

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    In 2012, the NL East claimed four winners of the NL Gold Glove award:

    • P: Mark Buehrle, Marlins
    • 1B: Adam LaRoche, Nationals
    • SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
    • OF: Jason Heyward, Braves

    The NL East had more Gold Glove winners than any of the three National League divisions. Plus, only one of these four players (Buehrle) left the NL East in the offseason.

    Besides these winners from 2012, the NL East also is home to two third basemen who have won the award. David Wright (pictured) of the New York Mets won the NL Gold Glove for third basemen in 2007 and 2008, and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals won the award in 2009.

    Chicks dig the long ball, but some ladies love leather. For those that do, the NL East is where the action is.

3. Brothers in Arms

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    This offseason, the Atlanta Braves signed BJ and then traded for Justin, thus ensuring the Brothers Upton would play on the same team.

    This feat isn't that rare. BJ Upton and Justin Upton have become the 91st instance of brothers as teammates in MLB history, and the 15th instance this century. In fact, John and Jordan Danks played for the Chicago White Sox last season, and both began this season on the MLB roster.

    But the Uptons are rare in that they will be playing in the outfield at the same time. The most famous brothers to do this were the Alou Brothers, Felipe, Matty and Jesus. All three played the outfield together in 1963 for the San Francisco Giants.

    The Upton Brothers should exceed the statistical outputs of each of the Alou Brothers. In fact, the Uptons have a chance to do something not seen in baseball for close to 100 years.

    Yes, that's right: BJ and Justin Upton can be the modern-day version of Big and Little Poison, otherwise known as Paul and Lloyd Waner. For those of you who think Big Poison and Little Poison are the nicknames for Bret Michaels and CC DeVille, let Tim Kurkjian of ESPN The Magazine set you straight:

    The Waner Brothers, Paul and Lloyd, nicknamed "Big Poison" and "Little Poison," probably were the most famous and the most decorated brother duo. They played in the same outfield for the Pirates from 1927 to '40, and both made it to the Hall of Fame, combining for 5,611 hits.

    The Uptons can achieve similar levels of success.

    Paul and Lloyd collected those 5,611 hits in 4,542 combined games. BJ Upton, 28, has 914 hits and 119 home runs in 976 career games. Justin Upton, 25, has 754 hits and 114 home runs in 742 games and has twice been named an all-star besides finishing fourth in the 2011 NL MVP voting.

    Together, the two could put on a show that the NL East will be proud to call home for years to come.

2. Dynamic Duo

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    The Atlanta Braves have a one-two punch with a unique distinction. But so do the Washington Nationals.

    Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are not brothers, and they cannot claim the outfield as their position of choice. But they were highly touted phenoms.

    On Baseball America's list of All-Time Top 100 Prospects, Harper ranked first in 2011, and Strasburg ranked second in 2010 (behind another NL East resident, Jason Heyward).

    On May 7, 2012, I declared that Strasburg and Harper were the greatest prospect duo baseball has ever seen.

    And 2013 marks the first full season for both players.

    Fans of the NL East will have the distinct pleasure of seeing this powerful pair more often than anyone else around baseball. And this year, Strasburg and Harper will fill the stands from April through October.

1. Better Than Last Season?

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    Some fans of baseball don't watch the sport until September and October when the pennant races heat up.

    Perhaps the most compelling race of 2012, however, lasted all season. The Washington Nationals claimed the lead in the NL East for good on May 14, but could not shake the Atlanta Braves until Oct. 1, when they finally claimed the division title.

    So the Nationals were not able to clinch until Game 160 despite finishing atop the regular-season standings on Oct. 3 with the best record in baseball.

    The Braves, of course, were the cause for the Nationals to have an abnormally stressful season despite such an impressive record. Atlanta finished with a record of 94-68. That equaled the fourth-best record in baseball, tied with two division winners (Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants).

    But by not winning their division, the Braves were relegated to the NL Wild Card round, and the dreaded one-game playoff. They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, thus eliminated before the playoffs really even started.

    The Braves have learned their lesson and will try even harder to avoid repeating history. And they have the team to do it. They proved that to all of baseball on April 12-14, when they swept the Nationals in DC by a combined score of 18-5.

    The NL East pennant race could once again be the best in baseball. The runner-up will be stuck playing in the NL Wild Card round, although that team could  win 100 games during the regular season.

    That's a pretty good record for second place.

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