Number 17

Congrats to the local nine on their 17th division championship.

Jayson Werth was asked if considered the Braves or Philadelphia Phillies a bigger threat. Werth, the former Phillie, did not hesitate.

“Phillies,” he said. “I think everybody is writing them off. They played good in September, when they were healthy. They’re not going to roll over, that’s for sure.”

And about the Braves? “Yeah, the Braves got the Upton brothers,” Werth said. “But they lost [Martin] Prado and Chipper.”

Rolling to October

Assuming the Braves don’t blow a 9-run lead, they will lead the Nats by 11 games with 54 remaining. If the local nine plays .500 ball the rest of the way Washington would have to go 38-16 just to force a tie.

I’m not ready to celebrate quite yet, with the 2011 collapse still fresh in my mind, but odds are tremendous that the Bravos will have their first division title in 8 years and 17th since relocating to Atlanta 47 years ago.

According to Cool Standings, those odds now stand at 98.5 percent.

 

Poll du jour

The Nationals are a beast

Let’s not kid ourselves: The Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East. The Braves are worthy contenders, with few flaws. But as far as I can tell the Nationals have no weaknesses.

On offense, they’ve added Denard Span to bat lead-off and return talented backstop Wilson Ramos, who will compete with Kurt Suzuki — 25 RBI in 43 games w/ Washington — for playing time. Rochey, a lock for 25 HR and 90 RBI, is also back., Jayson Werth rebounded in 2012 and Ryan Zimmerman, who had a .945 OPS after the break, appears primed for a monster season.

Ian Desmond is coming off a monster year and may be the best SS in baseball. The line-up’s weakest link, 2B Danny Espinosa, hit 37 doubles, 17 HR and stole 20 bases.

And, of course, there’s Bryce Harper, who hit .330 with 7 HR and a 1.043 OPS in September.

The Braves line-up has the potential to be better, but not much.

As for the reserves, Washington wins in a landslide. Their bench features Ramos/Suzuki, Tyler Moore (10 HR in part-time duty), Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy. Ours: Reed Johnson, Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco and three guys (Janish/Pena, Laird, Constanza/Schafer) who offer the occasional single, if you’re lucky.

The Nats have the edge defensively, as well. Andrelton is easily the best fielder on either team, but the Nats are better at 3B, 2B and C while 1B is probably a wash. Both teams boast athletic outfields.

The Braves rotation is good, but Washington’s is better. If Medlen and Minor pitch like they did in the second half they can hang with Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, but that’s a tall order. Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren compare favorably to Huddy, Maholm and Teheran. Gonzalez may end up with a 50-game suspension, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Yes, the Braves have a superior bullpen, but with Soriano joining Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard the Nats are no slouch. Watch out for Christian Garcia, who was tough down the stretch and regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun. He’s also been mentioned as a candidate for the rotation if an opening arises. If pressed to name a flaw I’d point to their lack of  reliable late-innings southpaw — Sean Burnett signed with the Angels, leaving only discarded Pirate starter Zach Duke.

The Braves may well be the second best team in the NL, but the Nats are clearly the best team in either league. I’d put their over/under at 98 wins.

Are the Phils a threat?

I like Ben Revere, acquired by the Phils from Minnesota, but otherwise their offseason has been a bust. They got older, acquiring Michael Young, who’s coming off a dreadful season with the Rangers. And the 36-year-old third sacker will only make a bad fielding team worse.

Today they signed clubhouse cancer Delmon Young, another poor fielder who had a .296 OBP and .411 slugging percentage last year in Detroit. His career numbers aren’t much better.

Yes, they still have Hamels, Lee and Halladay.  Lee was better than his record in 2012 but will be 34 on Opening Day. Halladay, 36 in May, wasn’t very good last season and with nearly 2,700 innings pitched you’ve got to wonder how much he’s got left. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan complete a rotation with little depth.

Looks like a .500 team to me.

Best winter in NL East? Could be the Mets

Sit on it, Philly!

Mets fans should be thrilled by the proposed R.A. Dickey to Toronto trade. New York will reportedly receive two former first round draft picks: catcher Travis d’Arnaud (.286 BA and .816 OPS in the minors) and pitcher Noah Snydergaard (13-8, 2.35 ERA, 1.085 WHIP)  – an impressive haul for a 38-year-old pitcher.

New York also kept its franchise player, David Wright, for $138 million over 8 years. It’s a risky deal, as Wright will be 37 when his contract expires, but considering some of the deals handed out this winter it’s not unreasonable.

They still have a LONG way to go, as evidenced by their projected Opening Day outfield of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and Lucas Duda.

The Nats imported Denard Span and Dan Haren, discarding Edwin Jackson and either Rochey or Michael Morse. Call it even.

The Bravos hope to draw even before the season starts but as of now they’re on the wrong end of the Chipper and Bourn for B.J. Upton swap.

Philly is the NL version of the Yanks, aging and fading. They were able to snag a player the Braves wanted, Ben Revere, but he didn’t come cheap. Their new third baseman, Michael Young, is a middle class man’s Placido Polanco, which is another way of saying I’ll take my chances on Juan Francisco. They’re reportedly hot for Cody Ross, which is sort of like being hot for Marion Ross.

Then there’s Miami. Unfortunately for the 38 remaining Marlins fans, Jeffrey Loria did not trade himself. They have Giancarlo Stanton — for now, but don’t be surprised if Texas rescues him from south Florida.