The X-Factors of the National League


Credit: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

NL East:

Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg has been in the spotlight since leaving San Diego State. He – and his blazing fastball – were labeled the next great thing. Yet, many are still waiting for Strasburg to reach greatness. He has shown flashes of dominance, but has struggled with consistency – mostly due to injuries. With the departure of Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals badly need Strasburg to take the next step and become a true ace alongside Max Scherzer. The Nationals had a disappointing 2015 season and their fans hope that was just a blip on the radar. Whether it was or not will be dependent on if Strasburg can be the superstar he was expected to be when the Nationals selected him first overall.

Mets: Jeurys Familia

The Mets made a surprising run to the World Series last season thanks to a dominant young pitching staff that has their fans dreaming big. Their starters are still young and have not consistently pitched the amount of innings the Mets will need out of them this season. And while they might leave the game with the lead, the Mets are going to need someone to hold it. That’s where Familia enters the picture. He had a breakout 2015 campaign and was one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball.

I am not expecting a huge regression, but it will be difficult for Familia to repeat his brilliant 2015 season. With Jenrry Mejia banned from baseball and Tyler Clippard gone, the quality of the Mets bullpen is a major question entering the 2016 season. The Mets need Familia because if he were to go down the leads their starters hand to their bullpen could quickly vanish. The lack of depth in the bullpen is why Familia is such a crucial piece to the puzzle for the Mets.

Braves: Julio Teheran

The Braves have gone into full rebuild mode. The have stocked their farm system and have turned what was a disaster into a decently bright future. Whether Julio Teheran is part of that future remains to be seen. He was a prized prospect and had previous success in the majors, but he took a major step back last season. The Braves and Teheran both have to hope that last season was an aberration and that he will return to form in 2016. If he can, maybe he will still be part of what is a bright future for the Braves.

Phillies: Maikel Franco

The Phillies are also in rebuild mode and are not expecting to compete. But that does not mean that this is a worthless season. When rebuilding, clubs are looking to give their young guys opportunities and hope that they can thrive in their role. Franco is a key piece to the Phillies future and showed glimpses of his potential when he was called up last season. Franco is having a tremendous spring and has an entire season in the majors to look forward to. If he can take the next step in his development not all will be lost in Philadelphia this season.

Marlins: Jose Fernandez

This guy is great. I mean, historically great when he has been on the mound. Yet, he has – by some – already been tagged with the dreaded injury-prone label. He missed parts of the 2014 and 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and then missed more time upon returning in 2015 due to another injury. I am not ready to label Fernandez injury-prone. This is the year he needs to prove himself and show that he can stay healthy for an entire season. And the Marlins desperately need him to. If he can stay on the mound, a Fernandez/Stanton duo could have the Marlins selling out games. Okay, maybe not.

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