Dan's Dugout: Rich get richer in NL East • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Rich get richer in NL East

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After winning the National League pennant and leading in all five World Series games last year, the New York Mets are virtually certain to contend again.

But the Washington Nationals won’t give up without a fight — and it could be a good one.

Both clubs spent the winter filling weak spots and seem poised to fight fiercely throughout the 2016 campaign.

Even the Miami Marlins figure to be considerably tougher.

Noah Syndergaard showed the poise of a veteran in the Fall Classic

Noah Syndergaard showed the poise of a veteran in the Fall Classic

With spring training three weeks away, the Mets have mustered a rotation without par. Behind ace Matt Harvey, and 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both entering the first full seasons. Although Zack Wheeler’s return from Tommy John surgery may be delayed a few months, rotund veteran Bartolo Colon is an innings-eater eager to hold down the fort at an advanced athletic age.

Closer Jeurys Familia has a better supporting cast now that Jenry Mejia, the erstwhile late man, is back from a drug suspension. Addison Reed and lefty Jeremy Blevins provide ample set-up help.

Manager Terry Collins, secure in the knowledge that his pitchers won’t give up too many runs, won’t have to worry about his offense holding up its end of the deal.

Keeping Yoenis Cespedes in the fold helps — despite the dreadful slumps he suffers on occasion, he’s a fine clean-up man whose opt-out clause gives him motivation to manufacture a 40-homer season.

Curtis Granderson provides power from the leadoff slot, Michael Conforto is a coming star, and Lucas Duda adds a third lefthanded bat to challenge rival pitchers. When nobody’s looking, Travis d’Arnaud can be expected to poke a few over the wall too. He’s one of the better-hitting catchers in the league.

Even though playoffs hero Daniel Murphy has defected to Washington, the Mets have a better

Daniel Murphy now plays for Washington

Daniel Murphy now plays for Washington

infield, with newcomer Neil Walker set for second and free agent signee Asdrubal Cabrera succeeding Wilmer Flores at short. Both are defensive upgrades with surprising pop as a bonus.

Nobody knows how long David Wright’s back will last but Flores serves as a strong insurance policy in the absence of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, who left as free agents.

Defensively, the Mets are weaker — Cespedes is far better in left field than center and Duda won’t win a Gold Glove at first — but they will score more than enough times to compensate for any lapses in the field. Too bad Juan Lagares, their best fielder, will spend most of his time on the bench.

Washington, which has never won a National League pennant, hopes new manager Dusty Baker will end that trend. Baker, successful with three other clubs, replaces Matt Williams, who lost the clubhouse last summer after a series of questionable decisions.

NL MVP Bryce Harper powers the Nationals

NL MVP Bryce Harper powers the Nationals

The Nationals are stronger at the top of their lineup with Ben Revere, acquired from Toronto, and the returning Anthony Rendon, a fine No. 2 hitter. Then come thumpers Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth. The Nats still must decide whether to bat Murphy, a contact hitter whose power production escalated late last summer, second or sixth. It’s a problem many managers would like to have.

Holdover Danny Espinosa moves from second to short but must stave off a challenge from top-rated rookie Trea Turner. No more worries about the porous defense of Ian Desmond, a free agent who still remains unsigned. If anyone gets hurt, Stephen Drew can play several spots and provide power in a pinch.

Wilson Ramos, a good glove with a surprising bat, returns as the regular catcher.

He’ll handle a pitching staff headed by Max Scherzer, who threw two no-hitters last year, and Stephen Strasburg. The Nats will miss departed free agents Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit) and Doug Fister (Houston) but still have veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez and the righthanded holdeoer Tanner Roark, and promising rookie Joe Ross.

Baker needs a better bullpen but hopes Jonathan Papelbon bounces back from a bad season that included a dugout fight with Harper. Choking the National League MVP and home run king is never a good idea but especially for a teammate.

In Miami, the Marlins are moving in the fences in the hope their hitters will clear them more often

The Marlins must keep Giancarlo Stanton sound

The Marlins must keep Giancarlo Stanton sound

than their opponents. Having perennial MVP contender Giancarlo Stanton helps.

The Fish hope to fry opponents by getting batting champion Dee Gordon on base and letting him advance into scoring position ahead of Martin Prado, Stanton, and lefthanded slugger Justin Bour.

Nobody else from last year’s team hit more than 10 homers but that is about to change. Christian Yelich, among others, should vault over that plateau without much difficulty.

This should also be the year that Ichiro reaches 3,000 hits, making himself a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame. The ancient outfielder, at 42, is rounding out his career in Marlins teal.

Improved pitching will help the Fish improve on last year’s 71-91 record. Former NL strikeout king and Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez could easily triple his win total (6) and regain his stature as the league’s best pitcher. After No. 2 starter Tom Koehler, however, the Marlins must figure out a more reliable rotation than last year, when they used 13 different starters.

Don Mattingly won't have two aces in Miami

Don Mattingly won’t have two aces in Miami

New manager Don Mattingly, returning to the East Coast after a sojourn in Los Angeles, won’t have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to count on anymore.

Elsewhere in baseball:

The Yankees were the only one of the 30 clubs that failed to sign a free agent . . .

Still on the list of unsigned veterans are Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Harang, Dexter Fowler, Bronson Arroyo, and Desmond . . .

Minnesota hopes Korean slugger Byung-ho Park, their new designated hitter, helps the club as much as Jung Ho Kang helped Pittsburgh last summer . . .

Before Detroit gave him a lucrative, six-year deal, Justin Upton mulled a lower offer from his former team, the Atlanta Braves . . .

Both the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals made five-year proposals to Cespedes before the Mets landed him with a three-year deal that included an opt-out clause after one season.

 

 

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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