PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — For years, the NL East has been soft as a bunt single.Not anymore.Even before Bryce Harper decided to stay inside the division, four of the five teams spent this offseason swinging for the fences. In addition to defending champion Atlanta, the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals all have enough firepower to potentially contend for the playoffs.“This is probably going to be the stiffest competition in a division race in my career,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer said at spring training.It’s certainly a noticeable transformation.In the past eight seasons, the NL East has won a grand total of two playoff series and produced one pennant winner — with the 2015 Mets responsible for the entirety of that October success.Two years ago, Washington finished a whopping 20 games in front, and no other team in the division was better than 77-85.Last season, Atlanta rolled to a surprise title at 90-72, the fewest wins of any postseason participant. No other NL East squad did better than two games above .500.Miami has endured nine straight losing seasons. Philadelphia hasn’t been a winner since 2011. New York’s last 10 years, two winning records.FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 file photo, New York Mets infielder Robinson Cano throws to first during spring training baseball practice in Port St. Lucie, Fla. For years, the NL East has been soft as a bunt single. Not anymore. In addition to defending champion Atlanta, the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals all have enough firepower to potentially contend for the playoffs. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)But now, an influx of talent and a cavalcade of new faces have the division shaping up as a force for years to come.By the looks of it, the NL least is suddenly a beast.“I don’t think there’s another division harder right now. Every team is pretty much loaded,” Phillies outfielder Nick Williams said.This winter alone:Atlanta signed third baseman Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP.New York acquired five recent All-Stars in Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos.Washington spent $140 million to plug Patrick Corbin into an imposing rotation that already featured Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.And the Phillies plucked away two big stars from division rivals, trading with Miami for catcher J.T. Realmuto and luring Harper from the Nationals with a record $330 million contract.“It’s almost like the AL East — great pitching, great lineups 1 through 9. But that’s what you live for. You want to face the best,” Braves All-Star pitcher Mike Foltynewicz said.“People took us a little lightly last year and now we’re the ones kind of getting chased. But no panic button or anything. We made great moves before everyone started going haywire,” he added. “It’s kind of cool to see that we might have stirred it up for these guys.”Even the less-heralded moves showed all four organizations were serious about winning right away.Atlanta brought back veteran catcher Brian McCann and re-signed All-Star outfielder Nick Markakis.The busy Mets added reliever Justin Wilson and outfielder Keon Broxton, among others, significantly improving their bullpen, bench and overall depth under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.Washington boosted its relief corps with Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal, secured a pair of first-string catchers in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, and addressed issues on the right side of the infield with Brian Dozier and Matt Adams. Anibal Sanchez was signed away from Atlanta for the back of the rotation.FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 file photo, Washington Nationals’ Patrick Corbin (46) pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves in a spring baseball exhibition game in Kissimmee, Fla. In addition to defending champion Atlanta, the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals all have enough firepower to potentially contend for the playoffs. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)Philadelphia paid $50 million for 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, another $23 million for late-inning reliever David Robertson, and traded for two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura.“It seemed like every other week the Mets, the Phillies, the Nationals were signing someone or trading for someone,” Braves slugger Freddie Freeman said.With only the young Marlins, in the early stages of their massive rebuild, expected to struggle (again) this season, the NL East appears to pack uncommon depth.As more and more clubs strip down and reboot with unproven prospects, the division is the only one in the majors with four teams forecast to have winning records in the PECOTA projections on Baseball Prospectus. Philadelphia and Washington are pegged for 89 wins, with the Mets at 87 and Braves 84. The prediction for Miami is 67.“It’s definitely beefed up,” Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler said. “Everybody’s gotten better.”“I think there’s a lot of teams in our division ready to win. I hate saying that because everybody should be ready to win. But you know, once one team adds somebody, if you’re the other teams you’ve sort of got to top that,” he explained. “When they add a bullpen guy you’ve got to add a bullpen guy to get better, stay ahead.”It’s not as if the NL East was starved for talent before.Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young Award last season, beating out three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer and Phillies ace Aaron Nola.Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and Washington counterpart Juan Soto ran 1-2 in Rookie of the Year voting.And every team has touted minor leaguers now in play, including Pete Alonso (Mets), Victor Robles (Nationals) and Mike Soroka (Braves).FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 file photo, Atlanta Braves newly acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson smiles while watching the ball leave the park during batting practice at the team’s spring training baseball facility in Kissimmee, Fla. In addition to defending champion Atlanta, the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals all have enough firepower to potentially contend for the playoffs. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)“It looks like a really tough division. Whoever comes out of that is going to be battle-tested,” Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “I think you just go ahead and look at the starting pitching around this division and you see right away that every single at-bat is going to be a battle. It definitely is something that’s empowering, no doubt, and gives you a lot of confidence that people look at your division and think very highly of it. But again, it just means that every game is going to be a dogfight.”One thing the NL East wasn’t lacking all these years was heated rivalries, which should only grow more intense.And if the Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies knock each other around all season, maybe the division will be decided by which team beats up on the Marlins the most.“Obviously with Bryce going to the Phillies, I think a lot of people lean toward them as being kind of the favorite in our division, but to me the Nationals are really good,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “This division got really good quick, which is good. I think it’s good for us, actually. There’s gonna be some black and blue.”By: Mike Fitzpatrick, AP Baseball WriterTweetPinShare0 Shares
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Mexico Mexico shows no fear in executing Osorio’s game plan and beating Germany Jon Arnold Click here to see more stories from this author In Moscow Last updated 1 year ago 01:03 6/18/18 FacebookTwitterRedditcopy Comments(2) Getty Mexico World Cup Germany v Mexico Germany El Tri didn’t look at all afraid of the reigning champion as it found success on a counter-attack and defended bravely to open group play with a win “You have to play for the love of winning and not the fear of losing.” It’s a phrase Juan Carlos Osorio uttered Saturday at his prematch news conference, though it didn’t exactly come off the top of his head. The same saying can be found on one of the motivational t-shirts he’s taken to wearing on casual days.His Mexico side took it to heart Sunday, going after the reigning champion of the world and coming away with a 1-0 victory at Luzhniki Stadium thanks to a 35th-minute goal from Hirving Lozano.There are teams that come into the World Cup to sit back and defend, and that can work – as Iceland displayed Saturday with its result against Argentina. Osorio said Mexico wouldn’t be one of those teams. Not this time around. Article continues below Editors’ Picks Out of his depth! Emery on borrowed time after another abysmal Arsenal display Diving, tactical fouls & the emerging war of words between Guardiola & Klopp Sorry, Cristiano! Pjanic is Juventus’ most important player right now Arsenal would be selling their soul with Mourinho move “We’re going to try and play and attack against anybody, regardless of how big a team they are, and try to win games by playing without fear,” Osorio told Goal before the tournament started. “In the past [for Mexico in World Cups] I think the idea was to not concede goals and see what happens at the end.”That’s fair, and fine, but this time around we will try to be more offensive-minded and more driven towards winning games rather than just waiting until the end and seeing what happens.”Osorio’s plans have been criticized by many, with the team booed off the field after their 1-0 friendly victory against Scotland in the Estadio Azteca. Osorio has been under relentless criticism, criticism that has reached the ears of the players as well.”The truth is that we’ve taken that all on calmly and serenely, but there’s the result from Prof Osorio for all the people,” Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez said.Osorio can be proud of his plan paying off. Mexico was free on the counterattack over and over, with Carlos Vela connecting the defenders to attackers Chicharito and Lozano. It’s a historic win, but honestly, it should’ve been more for El Tri. There were opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net in the 10th minute to open the scoring and Chicharito and Vela screwed up a breakaway in the 57th inute that would’ve killed off the game and made the final half-hour that less nervewracking for Osorio and Mexico fans.The goal came on a break Mexico nearly wasted but finished off by potential breakout World Cup star Lozano . The move was a picture of perfection. Mexico won the ball back and snapped a pass upfield to Chicharito.With his back to goal, Chicharito knocked the ball to Andres Guardado and took off on a run. The midfielder slipped it back through to Chicharito before Lozano darted into the picture on the left side of attack. Lozano cut back onto his right foot and put his shot past Manuel Neur at the final moment before another defender arrived.It was performance without fear from Mexico, which executed the game plan Osorio set out for them. Missing first-choice defenders Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo made his World Cup debut at left back and hardly looked like the converted winger he is. Edson Alvarez also made his World Cup debut, with the 20-year-old entering as a second-half substitute to help see out the result.”You don’t know all the work that’s behind this. The manager took time analyzing Germany, every change, every little thing was planned,” Alvarez said. “So, you also have to hand it to him and those that deserve it and we’ll just carry out his plan.”Hugo Ayala put in a close approximation of Araujo, with a crucial intervention in the 56th minute the finest moment of a solid night for the Tigres center back. Even Rafa Marquez came in and did his part, in a tournament where he seemed shoehorned into the squad .The victory opens things up for El Tri – a team desperate to break out of its hex and get into the quarterfinals for the first time on foreign soil. With results in the next two games, El Tri could not only advance out of the group but win the whole thing, and likely avoid a round of 16 showdown with one of the tournament’s favorites in Brazil.That’s not a given (nor is Brazil winning its group), but Mexico showed Sunday that it will go into the next two group matches and whatever is to come after them without fear.The victory Sunday had to feel incredible, with so many fans here cheering them on. That will teach Mexico’s players to love the feeling of winning far more than Osorio repeating a mantra ever could.