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NL East Preview: Mets, Nationals evenly matched atop division

Will the Mets be able to stay healthy enough to repeat and fend off feisty Washington?
We think both the Mets and Nationals can make the playoffs in 2016.Sports editor

The Mets have never won back-to-back NL East titles. And in their near 50-year history they've only won two division titles in the same decade once, in 1986 and 1988.

The defending National League champs have a stud staff of pitchers returning but one that has some injury concerns. Can the Mets repeat as division champs? Here's a look at how we predict the division will look at the end of September.

1. Nationals (90-72)

The Nationals have chiseled veteran manager Dusty Baker to look over this deep and rawly talented team. Their pitching staff is a little more well-seasoned than New York's and their lineup, from 1-8 is the best in the division. It's not unlikely that Stephen Strasburg bounces back for a Cy Young award while Bryce Harper continues to develop and takes home NL MVP.


2. Mets (87-75)

New York has a lot of questions despite returning slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the fold. Their stud pitchers have not been put through the vigors of a six-month, 162 game schedule and Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and company will really need to stay healthy (and 43-year old Bartolo Colon stay ageless)to give the Mets the same pitching performances the team got last season. Even still, this could be a legit Wild Card contender.

3. Marlins (77-85)

The dropoff happens quick in this division, with the Marlins improving but still failing to break the .500 mark despite the prime of Giancarlo Stanton's career. With the slugger Stanton able to bop 40 homers and drive in 140 runs, Miami also gets a solid season from the fourth season of ace Jose Fernandez. The future is not quite bright though, with an ailing form system forcing the Marlins to sell hard at the deadline.

4. Braves (69-93)

The Braves will be pretty bad, but their upside is huge as they boast one of the top farm systems in baseball. They also still have the services of first baseman FreddieFreeman who will carry much of the load offensively while Atlanta fans wait for prospects to emerge at Turner Field, like Cuban outfielder Hector Olivera. Right-handed hurlerAaron Blair will also be an exciting name to watch if he makes The Show in 2016.

5. Phillies (66-96)

Philly is not as far from contention as they were at this time last year, after shedding nearly all their veterans for prospects. And while Phils fans eagerly await the arrival of baseball's fourth best prospect J.P. Crawford, slugging outfielder Nick Williams and an impressive Triple-A rotation of pitching talent they will have to deal with an outfield comprised of Odubel Herrera, Will Venable and Typer Goeddel(among others). The growing pains will last at least one more season longer but bright spots should periodically emerge for the Fightin' faithful.

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