Its finally arrived! The 2012 Major League Baseball season is set to kick off in just a few short days. Unfortunately, the Mets find themselves in what could very well be the most difficult division in baseball. This year more than ever, due to their limited depth in almost every facet of the roster, the Mets results will be dependent upon their health. Ultimately, this is how I see things in the NL East panning out:
1st) Philadelphia Phillies
As a die hard Mets fan it pains me greatly to write this, but until someone beats them the Phillies will remain the class of the NL East. Yes, they are getting old. However, the Phillies rotation still sports two of the top five pitchers in baseball in Cliff Lee and Roy Halliday. Backing them up are Cole Hamels (who is in a contract year) and youngster Vance Worley. Still the best rotation in baseball by most accounts. The addition of Jonathan Papelbon will sure up the closer's spot, after the roller coaster ride that was Brad Lidge. Ultimately, while I don't see the Phils winning 102 games I don't see how they'll regress to the point where anyone else in the NL East can catch them. (Where They Can Finish: 1st).
2nd) Atlanta Braves
The Braves didn't accomplish a whole lot this off-season after their historical collapse to finish out of the postseason last fall. However, they didn't experience any major defections over the off-season either. Much like my guess for the Phillies, while I can see the Braves being a few games worse than last year, have the Nationals improved themselves to the point of making up their 8.5 game deficit from last season? Can the Marlins make up their 17 game gap? I think the NL East is going to eat itself alive and while the teams below them last season have improved, the Braves stand their ground while competing for a Wild Card birth. (Where They Can Finish: 2nd to 4th)
3rd) Miami Marlins
There is no team in baseball that has renovated its roster and its image more than the Marlins. How long it takes for all of it to come together will be the real question. They're major acquisitions, with the exception of Mark Buehrle, are high risk/high reward players. If Jose Reyes misses a significant portion of the year with injuries, if Heath Bell is unable to maintain his performance due to his age and weight, if Ozzie Guillen can't navigate both his ego and that of his players, the Marlins could struggle greatly. There is also the possibility that Hanley Ramirez could struggle due to his unhappiness with playing 3rd base. The Marlins could be great or they could be extremely mediocre. For now, until some of these questions are answered, I'll pencil them in at third in the division and in the thick of the hunt for that second Wild Card position. (Where They Can Finish: 2nd to 5th)
4th) Washington Nationals
The Nationals are a year away from being very formidable in my opinion. I expect Jason Werth to be better this season and also expect their rotation to be only second to the Phillies in the division, however Stephen Strasburg will be fresh off of Tommy John surgery and Bryce Harper will be adjusting to Major League Baseball. They will be exciting to watch due to those two major talents, but I don't foresee them having the results in the standings just yet. Expect the Nats to be in it long enough to be buyers at the deadline, but fade late as their young team gains valuable experience for the years to come. (Where They Can Finish: 3rd to 5th).
5th) New York Mets
As much as it pained me to admit the Phillies are still the best in the division, it pains me more to admit I expect the Mets to finish the year in the basement. The Mets have the talent on paper to be a Wild Card contender, but simply don't have the depth. The Mets will enter the year an injury away from total disaster in the starting pitching department. How quickly that catches up with them remains to be seen. Much of the year's excitement may be a result of the promotion of top prospect's Matt Harvey and Juerys Familia. If that becomes the case it will be a long summer, however by years end Mets fans should be able to rest their heads knowing that better times are on the horizon. (Where They Can They Finish: 3rd to 5th)
And there you have it, at least from my line of thinking. The Phillies remain so heads and tails above the rest of the pack that I expect them to run away with the division yet again. Behind them I see a dog fight for both the primary and newly formed second Wild Card spot as both teams could very well come out of this division. If they remain healthy, the Mets could really find themselves in the thick of that fight. However, thats a really big if. Nonetheless, I'm excited to watch it all play out and should things go poorly for the Metropolitans, I will be excited to see Matt Harvey and Juerys Familia in action later this year.