Previewing the NL East
Editor's note: ESPN.com has teamed with ESPN The Magazine and the SweetSpot Blog Network to produce this year's preview capsules. Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian examined the American League and the National League, respectively. They ordered the teams based on how they think they'll finish, while also breaking down each team's best- and worst-case scenarios.
The SweetSpot bloggers provided the projected lineups, pitching rotations and bullpens, which are mostly approximations based on the latest information. In most cases, they don't include players who will open the season on the disabled list. The lineups reflect the most likely batting order against a right-handed starter and are subject to change.
Click on the links below to go directly to a capsule for each National League East team:
New York Mets | Washington Nationals
- Best-case scenario: Ryan Howard returns May 1 fully recovered from Achilles surgery, and Chase Utley is back soon after. Pence's first full season in Philly is as good as his two-month debut. The big three win 60 games, Hamels signs a long-term deal and Papelbon saves the NLCS clincher.
- Worst-case scenario: Howard returns June 1 and still can't hit lefties, Utley's three-year offensive slide continues and the improvement of the Nationals and Marlins prevents the Phillies from winning their sixth straight division title, despite the best efforts of Hamels, Halladay and Lee.
2nd Place (wild card)
- Best-case scenario: Josh Johnson wins the Cy Young, Carlos Zambrano has 12 more wins than meltdowns, Hanley Ramirez is the NL's most productive third baseman, Jose Reyes steals 70 bases and Ozzie Guillen leads the Marlins to their first NL East title in club history.
- Worst-case scenario: Johnson and Reyes get hurt again, Ramirez hates playing third, Zambrano gets mad, Guillen gets madder, the fans stop coming to the new ballpark and Showtime's cameras chronicle it all, making the 2012 Marlins the most spectacularly entertaining .500 team ever.
3rd Place (wild card)
- Best-case scenario: Heyward adjusts to the ball in and jacks 35 homers, Jones caps off his Hall of Fame career, Bourn swipes 60 bags and the rotation gives Kimbrel and Venters enough leads to get the Braves into the playoffs as a wild card.
- Worst-case scenario: Injuries to starters Tim Hudson and Hanson lead to an overworked bullpen, Heyward can't find his swing, Jones realizes he stayed one year too long and the Braves collapse in September again because they can't score without hitting homers.
- Best-case scenario: The Nationals contend on the strength of an underrated rotation led by Strasburg, who dominates in his team-imposed limit of 160 innings. Bryce Harper shows he's ready for the bigs at age 19, and Michael Morse proves that last season was no fluke.
- Worst-case scenario: Harper doesn't join the big league club until July, Morse is a fluke and the Nationals' offense labors the way it did in 2011. Strasburg doesn't reach his 160 innings, and the rest of the rotation and bullpen show that the Nats are still a year away from being contenders.
- Best-case scenario: Ownership survives the Bernie Madoff ruling, cash starts to flow and Wright signs a long-term contract. Citi Field's new, smaller dimensions lead to increased production from Wright, Bay and Davis. Santana wins 10, and the Mets don't lose 90.
- Worst-case scenario: Despite a favorable Madoff ruling in March, the club's debt forces the Wilpons to trade Wright. Meanwhile, shoulder problems limit Santana to 50 innings, and fan interest bottoms out as the team approaches 100 losses.
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2012 MLB PREVIEW: NATIONAL LEAGUE
FRIDAY, MARCH 30
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