The great shutdown debate of 2012 may finally be fading away. When the Washington Nationals decided to shut down staff ace Stephen Strasburg, one season removed from regular surgery, fans were angry and confused about the implications on the Nationals playoff run. When that post-season run ended sooner than they had hoped, it seemed like benching their best pitcher was to blame. The 2013 Washington Nationals, however, will have Strasburg for a full season, returning Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, and a deep, talented lineup both in the field and in the bullpen. They are clearly the favorites in the National League East this season. The same cannot be said about the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, two big-market teams in the middle of drastic overhauls of the roster and farm systems. Miami is entering its second season in its new controversial stadium, and only outfielder Giancarlo Stanton offers hope for fans right away. The Mets continue to suffer from poor signings and injuries; they traded away ace R.A. Dickey and just lost veteran star John Santana to injury.
The Nationals’ biggest challenge will come from two perennial NL East powers. The 2013 Atlanta Braves feature homegrown success Jason Heyward in the outfield, and he’s now joined by brothers BJ and Justin Upton, acquired via free agency and a trade, respectively. The rotation will also feature some new faces and powerful arms, so the Braves are keen to build on the success of their 2012 season and get further than their controversial Wild Card round loss. An aging but still talented roster in Philadelphia will likely pose the other big challenge to the champion nationals. The Phillies deep pitching staff is not immune from injury, nor is the often-troubled lineup with former MVPs Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. But they are both starting the 2013 Phillies campaign healthy, as is second baseman Chase Utley. There is plenty of post season experience on both the Atlanta and Philadelphia rosters, so Washington will need to play up its potential to earn a ticket back to the 2013 MLB Playoffs.