As spring training opens, the Nationals are the closest team to having a perfect roster. Over the winter, the Nationals added Doug Fister to the rotation, lefty Jerry Blevins to the bullpen and Nate McLouth to the bench. Today, they acquired backup catcher Jose Lobaton from the Rays. Their rotation is deep. Their lineup is set. The bullpen is strong.
Even though the Nationals finished 10 games behind the Braves last season, they’re going to be the favored team in the National League East this season.
Here’s how the rest of the division stacks up:
* ATLANTA - Catcher Evan Gattis, who hit 21 home runs last season and proved himself defensively, replaces Brian McCann (Yankees) behind the plate, and the Braves are counting on an improving rotation to replace Tim Hudson, who went to the Giants. ... The Braves rotation is young and talented with Kris Medlen and Mike Minor the candidates to take over as the No. 1 guy. Long-term, Julio Teheran might be the guy. ... The Braves bullpen is the deepest in the NL and is loaded with pitchers setting up All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. ... The nucleus of Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons is strong. ... If the Braves are going to live up to their run-scoring potential, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla have to rebound from miserable seasons when they hit below .200. ... Another question is whether Chris Johnson can repeat hitting .300.
* MIAMI - Could the Marlins, who lost 100 games last season, be the team that becomes a surprise contender this season? ... The Marlins rotation, whose ERA was virtually the same as the Nationals’ last season, is led by NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, Nick Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, a threesome with potential. Jacob Turner could be No. 4 and also has promise. ... The team added Casey McGehee, Rafael Furcal, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones in hopes of improving the worst run production in the NL. ... Giancarlo Stanton, the team’s best player, says he’s willing to sign with the Marlins long-term if management can show roster stability. ... Stanton plays right field and the rest of the outfield has blue-chip potential in Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
* NEW YORK - The Mets developed pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler into rotation staples, and the next big-time prospect expected to be ready this season is Noah Syndergaard, acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays. Snydergaard, Harvey (when healed from elbow surgery) and Wheeler will give the Mets an excellent threesome at the top of the rotation. ... The Mets improved their outfield by adding Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. Young has 20-homer potential, assuming health. Granderson, a left-handed batter and the Mets’ biggest free agent splash, won’t challenge 40 home runs as he did in Yankee Stadium, but he’s a force with the bat, a good defensive player and team leader. Defensive whiz Juan Lagares will play center. ... Ex-Nat John Lannan will compete for a rotation spot. ... How effective can 40-year-old Bartolo Colon be in the rotation? ... David Wright is still the team’s biggest star, and the first base job will go to either Lucas Duda or Ike Davis.
* PHILADELPHIA - The Phillies are banking on the health of their core players to make another run at the postseason. If not, chances are the dismantling will begin. ... The Phillies need bounce-back seasons from Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon and Carlos Ruiz. That’s asking plenty of an aging roster. ... The bad news is that lefty Cole Hamels (shoulder) starts the season on the disabled list, but the Phillies signed A.J. Burnett and he, along with lefty Cliff Lee, will anchor a questionable rotation. The Phillies need Hamels and a bounce-back from Kyle Kendrick, who slumped in August and September last season. ... The Phillies signed another old guy, Marlon Byrd, to play right. ... Their two best players are in the other outfield spots. Ben Revere is a strong leadoff batter with potential for lots of steals and Dominic Brown, the left fielder, is coming off a breakout season where he hit 27 home runs.