For four straight years the National League East division has been a two-team race. It has been the Nationals - who won the division in 2012 and 2014 - and either the Braves or Mets who have been right there until the very end.
Will that change this season, or will it once again be the Nationals duking it out with one other main counterpart, in this case the reigning NL champion Mets?
Here is a look at each of the Nats' division rivals as we inch closer to Opening Day:
NEW YORK METS
The Mets figure to be back as playoff contenders with what many consider to be the best starting rotation in baseball. They essentially have three aces between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. And beyond them they have promising young lefty Steven Matz and former top prospect Zack Wheeler, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. It's a rotation that could conceivably be even better than it was in 2015 with so many young pitchers trending upward. The question for New York will be what they can get from their lineup, which was a juggernaut in the second half of the season after they acquired Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is back, but Daniel Murphy is gone and David Wright can only be counted on for so much. As long as they can be an average offensive team, however, that pitching staff can carry them to the playoffs.
The Marlins are the biggest wild card for the NL East in 2016, the one team that could realistically turn this into a three-team race. They have Jose Fernandez, who is as good as any pitcher in the division and arguably as good as anyone in baseball. But he struggled with injuries last season even after coming back from Tommy John surgery and the Marlins will have to continue to monitor his innings. They also have Wei-Yin Chen, whom they signed away from the Orioles this offseason, but beyond him their pitching staff lacks depth. Their lineup also has star power with Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich. But, as with their pitching staff, depth is an issue. The Marlins could post an above .500 record this year, but their success is even more contingent on health than it is for the Nats.
This will be an interesting year for the Braves, who continue to rebuild for 2017 when they open their new ballpark in Cobb County. Are they ready to start showing some progress, or will that step come next year? Atlanta did some things this winter to accelerate their rebuild, most notably their trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring in Ender Inciarte. He's an instant impact guy. They also got first overall pick Dansby Swanson, who should help them moving forward. But, this offseason the Braves also traded Andrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller, and they also cut Nick Swisher. The Braves went younger and cheaper and because of that, it would be quite surprising if they had anything to say about the NL East race this season.
Owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Phillies are even further behind in their own rebuild than the Braves are. They did very little to further that process this winter in free agency or trades and seem content for another year of battling for the worst record in baseball. Exactly when the Phillies could become contenders again is hard to predict because they are so far away. And whether they can climb out of last place even next season is a real question. Right now a safe projection may have the Phillies back as a relevant team in 2018. This year it will be all about the progress of their young players like Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola and Odubel Herrera. They also have one of baseball's best prospects in J.P. Crawford, who could debut this season.