Although baseball season officially began yesterday with the unceremonious thwomping of the Rangers at the hands of Houston, for those of us in the NL East, the season begins today. The general consensus is that the Nationals are the team to beat, with some pressure coming from Atlanta. The Phillies, whose season hit the skids in 2012, may also return with a stronger line-up. Then, there’s the Mets, who always serve as a reminder of what a middling-to-average team looks like. I won’t even discuss Miami.

Each week, I’ll attempt to break down the NL East in a way that makes it easy for the casual fan, while keeping my own personal biases out of the mix. So with that in mind, let’s begin.

Atlanta Braves:
Current: 0-0
Projected: 4-2

I really like what this team has to offer in terms of the number of Upton brother fielding and that its opening day starter is a pitcher in his mid-30s. This team made some great moves in the off-season, and should be a strong contender for the NL East crown. But, besides that, their schedule isn’t particularly difficult.

The Braves begin at home with a three game set against the Philadelphia Phillies, with Hudson, Medlan and Maholm taking the mound. Look for Hudson and Medlan to throw strong games, but for Maholm to struggle against a strong Phillies core. My guess is they’ll take the series 2-1.

Next, it’s a three game home set against the Chicago Cubs. I don’t see much trouble for Minor, but I have my reservations with Teheran. Then, it’s back to the top of the order with Hudson. The Cubs don’t provide much of an offensive pop, but something tells me they’ll take at least one game from the series. Braves also come out on top in this series, 2.1.

Chris Trotman, Getty Images

Miami Marlins:
Current: 0-0
Projected: 1-5

Wow, that was quite the off-season. I guess it goes to show that spending your way to the top doesn’t work. Of course, trading your entire team to another country in hopes of spurning what fan base you have left also doesn’t really work either. I expect the pitching, led by none other than Ricky Nolasco, is looking for some way out of this trap. Sadly, they’ve hit the Twilight Zone of baseball with no hopes of getting out.

The Marlins are looking at a six game road trip, first to Washington and then to the Big Apple. Don’t look too hard into the Marlins starting rotation, since the only names readily recognizable to the average fan are Nolasco and Kevin Slowey. Injuries kept Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi from the rotation, prompting the team to promote Alex Sanabia and 20-year-old Jose Fernandez. I don’t see much going on here, so I’ll make it brief. The Nats bats will prove too much for Nolasco, LeBlanc and Slowey, and they will be swept. The Mets will continue the pounding, though I think there may some slight opportunity for Giancarlo Stanton to pick up some slack with help from Juan Pierre, forcing the team to actually win a game. This week, the Marlins will go 1-5.

New York Mets:
Current: 0-0
Projected: 4-2

I’ll give the Mets a little pat on the back here. The loss of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays and the incredibly early exit of Johan Santana could have really hurt New York’s second team, but what’s left isn’t too bad. I like Jonathan Niese, and Dillon Gee rounds out the rotation well, and I’ll even bite on the idea that Matt Harvey could have a breakout year. All in all, the team looks better than it did last year and with the exit of one Jason Bay, the team can breathe a little easier.

A six game homestand is in the works this week for the Mets as they take on the San Diego Padres and the Miami Marlins. The top of the rotation has Niese, Shaun Marcum and Matt Harvey hurling, and against a weak San Diego corps, I expect them to take two of three with Niese showing a little trouble. For the Miami series, this should be cake, though Hefner might have the most trouble in the series. Gee will come out strong, and Niese will see a good comeback in his second start. Solid week and still near .500.

Elsa, Getty Images

Philadelphia Phillies:
Current: 0-0
Projected: 3-3

Nothing to see here. The Phillies are hoping to put 2012 behind them with their same esteemed rotation, leading off with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to start the season. I really like their pitching and I think it shows in the top of their order. Kyle Kendrick is also quite good, given some time and the right conditions. The wild card here is Nationals castoff, John Lannan. Lannan was the highest paid minor-leaguer last year, but saw only a handful of games in the Big Leagues after the hooking of Stephen Strasburg. He should be hungry this year to take it to his old team eventually.

A three game road trip to Atlanta will leave Hamels and Halladay upset, but Cliff Lee should be able to find a chink in the armor of Atlanta’s offense. The Phillies follow that up with a three game homestand against the Kansas City Royals. Yes, fans, this is the beginning of year-round interleague play, due to realignment. I was preparing to write something along the lines of a nice sweep to start the season, but the Royals did quite well in Spring Training and could put together a surprising season. I’m being cautious when I say they take two of three and end up at .500.

Washington Nationals:
Current: 0-0
Projected: 5-1

“World Series or bust.” Those are the kind of words Nats fans have been waiting for since those woeful days a half-decade ago. With a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and new addition, Dan Haren, the team is strong. The question is if they can repeat what they did last year. If this group of guys works well, the hitting combinations Davey Johnson has put together should be able to lighten the workload for the team’s pitching early on. Still, it’s a tight division.

Miami should be a cakewalk for Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann, especially with only one real power hitter available to the Marlins. Stanton might tag Strasburg for a homer, but he won’t get away with it against Gonzalez. Washington will sweep their first series of the season, though I think at least a single run will decide a couple games.

The Nats hit the road in their second series, against a hot Cincinatti team. Detwiler will probably lose his game, though it will be close, then Haren and Strasburg will pick up the slack. Cincinnati will still put up runs, especially off the bats of Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips. My guess is that fans will see three very close games, with at least one decided by a single run. Still, they’ll walk away with two of three.

So there you have it. Hopefully, this long-winded preview will get you through your day and maybe help you look at the NL East a little differently. As time wears on, I’ll get a little more technical and less theoretical, but for now this is what you get.

NL East Standings (4/1-4/7):
Washington Nationals: 5-1
Atlanta Braves: 4-2
New York Mets: 4-2
Philadelphia Phillies: 3-3
Miami Marlins: 1-5