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NL East

The Phillies are old and tired – and I don’t mean merely as a story. I mean, as human beings. They had the oldest team in the NL in 2012, and have gotten younger only in those instances where a warm body has replaced a decrepit corpse. I am tempted to pick against them here, except for two things: They won 102 games last year, and even if they come back to the pack, they won’t come all the way back. And they’re still going to run Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels out to the mound somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 times.

If anyone is going to unseat the five-time defending NL East champs this year, it will be the Marlins, who have a new name, new uniforms, a new stadium and a new manager. Yeah, there are questions about Ozzie Guillen’s fun bunch but the additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell give them as much collective talent as anyone in the league.

The ETA for the Nationals as a true contender remains 2013, but they have the pieces to make 2012 very interesting. The biggest things holding them back? A lack of position-player depth that threatens to get exposed if the string of March injuries doesn’t subside, the questionable ability of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to produce at the top of the lineup, and the sheer depth of the NL East.

The Braves had a strange response to last September’s gruesome collapse: Do nothing. While that shows extraordinary faith in their own personnel, the feeling here is the Braves will pay for their offseason inertia – especially with veterans Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones ailing, and with questions remaining about the readiness of their cadre of young pitchers.

Nothing speaks to the plight of the Mets more than this: On the heels of a 77-win season, during which the team lost some $70 million, they let their best player, Jose Reyes, sign with a division rival (the Marlins) without even making a serious offer. It’s hard to be irrelevant when you play in New York and count Johan Santana and David Wright among your stars, but somehow the Mets have done it.

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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