Harper said at Nationals camp about the reigning champion New York Mets: “We’re definitely looking forward to the challenge. The team to beat are the Mets. That’s what it is right now. They kicked the crap out of our division last year, and hopefully we’re going to come in this year and do what we can to knock them off, or anybody else off in all of baseball.”
The Nationals were heavy favorites in the division last season, but stumbled. That emboldened Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to be aggressive at the trade deadline, including acquiring Yoenis Cespedes on July 31.
The Mets went on to produce a 90-72 record, seven games ahead of the Nats.
Of course, "team to beat" is a well-known expression around these parts.
Despite the Mets winning the NL East in 2006, Rollins arrived at Philadelphia Phillies camp the following season and declared his squad the "team to beat" in the division. That led to some early derision. But Rollins had the last laugh when the Mets squandered a seven-game lead with 17 games to play and Philadelphia finished in first place.
Harper last year was so energized by the Nats' offseason activity, he proclaimed upon arriving at spring training: "Where's my ring?"