In seasons past, there’s never been much of a doubt who the Nationals’ biggest rival in the NL East was. No matter how much success they had, the Atlanta Braves always seemed to have their number. Even in 2014, when the Nationals were running away with the division, they were still a measly 8-11 against the Braves. Against the Marlins, Mets and Phillies, on the other hand, the Nationals managed to go 13-6, 15-4 and 9-10, respectively.
Will that trend continue in 2015? Will the Braves continue to be athorn in the Nats side, or will a new contender step forward to become a new nemesis? Let’s look at each team and see what they bring to the table to challenge the Nationals.
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Atlanta: From Washington’s perspective, it’s hard to look at the Braves and see anything but a threat. They’ve constantly bullied their rivals from the District, crushing them even when the Nats were on a roll. This season looks like it very well could be different, though. Atlanta’s spent the offseason conducting a fire sale, trading off players like Jason Heyward and Justin Upton.
For all intents and purposes, it’s hard to think that they see 2015 as anything other than a rebuilding effort. Though it wouldn’t surprise to see them give the Nationals trouble in head-to-head matchups, it’s hard to see them contending for a divisional title.
Miami: The Marlins are an intriguing team, particularly because of their outfield. They easily boast three of the best players in the league, with Giancarlo Stanton as the centerpiece. On the infield, they’ve managed to add key players like Dee Gordon and Michael Morse, while also adding pitchers Mat Latos and Dan Haren in trades.
Miami is most likely the team that could give the Nationals the biggest trouble. They’ve made moves in the offseason to make the team better, and their lineup is formidable enough that the Nats will need every bit of their premiere rotation to shut them down.
New York: There’s reason to believe that the Mets will come out swinging on April 6 for the season opener. Even without Matt Harvey, there’s been plenty of trash talk between the teams. How much of a fight will the Mets put up beyond that? That’s a different story.
Matt Harvey will be back from his injury, which will definitely be a plus, and they still have Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. The addition of Michael Cuddyer will bolster a lineup that ranked in the middle of the pack in the National League last year. Whether it will be enough to move them up to the top of the standings seems unlikely.
Though the Mets will likely be better this season than they were last year, it’s hard to see them be a true rival for the division title.
Philadelphia: The Phillies, after all of their success in the first decade of the 2000s, have come crashing back down to earth hard over the last few seasons. They finished dead last in the division last year, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be any better this year. They traded Rollins to the Dodgers, but they still have the aging Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on their roster. They complement those players with the likes of Domonic Brown and Ben Revere.
It’s pretty astounding that the Nats finished under .500 against Philadelphia last year, and it’d be even more surprising to see them do that again. In all likelihood, the Phillies won’t be much of a threat for the division crown in 2015.
Looking at all of the teams, it appears the Nationals will have their work cut out for them. The Braves will likely still manage to give the Nationals problems even while in a rebuilding year, and the Mets look much improved from 2014. The Phillies may not be much of a contender for more than 70 wins, but they’ve been problematic for the Nats before; it could happen again, however unlikely it seems.
The real battle that the Nationals will face looks like it will come out of Miami. The Marlins already had a formidable outfield, and they’ve added some big pieces to the infield and the pitching staff that could give Washington a run for their money.