By Brad Kallet
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Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, and although there will still be trades and signings in the coming weeks — Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista and Jason Hammel still need to find teams — for all intents and purposes the offseason is largely over.
These two teams are expected to battle it out for the division title all season long. The Mets and Nationals have far more talent than the Marlins, Braves and Phillies, so the NL East figures to be a two-team race.
I’d argue that Washington is the better club right now, but a case could certainly be made for Terry Collins’ bunch. Using their current depth charts — again, they may change a bit before the season gets underway — let’s take a look, position by position, which team has the advantage going into 2017.
Travis d’Arnaud (Mets) vs. Derek Norris (Nats): This is the weakest position on the diamond for both clubs. Wilson Ramos’ departure from Washington hurts, and while Norris has some pop (14 homers in 2016), he’s just not a very good hitter (.186 batting average in 2016). I’ve really soured on d’Arnaud, who’s been a disappointment both behind the plate and next to it. Still, the potential is there, and I’m not quite ready to call him a bust.
Lucas Duda (Mets) vs. Ryan Zimmerman (Nats): Duda hit just .229 with seven homers in 47 games last season, but he should still be a 30-home run guy if he stays on the field. Zimmerman, on the other hand, is on his last legs and is a shell of his former self. It’s sad to watch — kind of.
Neil Walker (Mets) vs. Daniel Murphy (Nats): Walker did a terrific job in his first season in Queens, but this one’s a no-brainer. You have to go with Murphy after the ridiculous year he put up in 2016. I think he’ll come back to earth a bit in 2017, and I expect their stat lines to more or less mirror each other. I miss Murphy’s bat, but I don’t miss his baserunning and fielding.
Asdrubal Cabrera (Mets) vs. Trea Turner (Nats): This is a difficult one. Cabrera exceeded all expectations in 2017 and delivered a fantastic season on both sides of the ball. But Turner, 23, is a future superstar — he might be one already. This kid is going to kill the Mets for years to come.
David Wright (Mets) vs. Anthony Rendon (Nats): Who knows what the captain will be capable of in 2017? It’s tough to bet on him playing more than 50 games in 2017 — 100 would be a small miracle — and Rendon is a fine player.
Yoenis Cespedes (Mets) vs. Jayson Werth (Nats): Do I really need to explain this one?
Curtis Granderson (Mets) vs. Adam Eaton (Nats): There’s no doubt that the Nationals gave up way too much to get Eaton. There’s also no doubt that the 28-year-old makes Dusty Baker’s team far better. Granderson still has terrific power and gets on base, but he strikes out too much and is inconsistent. Eaton is the more well-rounded player.
Jay Bruce (Mets) vs. Bryce Harper (Nats): If Bruce is traded, then Michael Conforto would take over as the starting right fielder. For the purposes of this discussion, it’s a moot point. Harper had a down year, but he’s a once-in-a-generation talent and the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. I expect him to rebound in a big way.
Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman (Mets) vs. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross (Nats): Scherzer is sensational, and Strasburg is often unhittable when healthy. But from top to bottom, this Mets rotation has the clear edge. If Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz and Harvey make 25 starts apiece, New York could win 100 games.
Jeurys Familia, Addison Reed, Hansel Robles (Mets) vs. Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Koda Glover (Nats): The likely Familia suspension hangs over the Mets like a dark cloud, and the bullpen desperately needs another arm. That said, Glover-Treinen-Kelley is not exactly Nelson-Stanton-Rivera.
Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares (Mets) vs. Clint Robinson, Wilmer Difo, Chris Heisey, Michael Taylor (Nats): Reyes and Conforto could definitely start elsewhere, and Flores and Lagares probably could, too. This bench is deep, and it offers speed, power and outstanding defense.
Terry Collins (Mets) vs. Dusty Baker (Nationals): Collins made some pretty big blunders in 2016, and although I like his demeanor and the fact that his players put it all on the line for him, his in-game management leaves a lot to be desired. As for Baker, there’s a reason he’s been a major-league manager for nearly 20 years.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet