As we transition to the National League, the East Division is pretty much should be all but wrapped up by the Washington Nationals, considering this division is the weakest in the NL. Let’s take a look at what the NL East division teams’ strengths are and whether they can compete for a playoff spot this season.
- Washington Nationals
I think the Nationals and their fans should be very proud where they finished last season in the playoffs, despite losing in the National League Division Series (NLDS). They were a game away from advancing to the championship series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Majority of that roster is returning for another season of Nationals baseball but will have a big boost with outfielder Adam Eaton returning to the fold healthy after sitting out last season with a knee injury. Eaton is the perfect catalyst to get their offense going. He can get on base consistently, loves to run and steal, and when giving the opportunity, he can rack up the runs batted in (RBI). With that being said, the Nationals have a deep lineup, which makes them the favorites to win their division. After Eaton, pitchers will have to worry about shortstop Trea Turner, who can do the same things that Eaton can but with more home run power. After Turner, facing superstar Bryce Harper is a nightmare. He should be stronger now after that leg scare when slipped on first base last season in a game against the San Francisco Giants. Third baseman Anthony Rendon, second baseman Daniel Murphy (he will start the season on the disabled list while rehabbing from right knee surgery) and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman to follow after Harper. Zimmerman had a rejuvenated season last year hitting 38 home runs and have a .303 batting average that made him an all-star. The Nationals are hoping he continues the momentum carrying into the new season. Don’t even get me started on their starting rotation. They have a three-headed monster in 2017 Cy Young winner and ace Max Scherzer, a dominant Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who enjoyed a fine 2017. On top of that rotation, they have a strong closer in Sean Doolittle. This team is led by new manager Dave Martinez, who replaced Dusty Baker. While I am glad they got a coach who has learned under Joe Maddon during their days together with the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs, Baker didn’t deserve to get fired. It’s a new leaf turned over and I expect Martinez to be a key piece in holding this team together and possibly advancing to the NLCS.
2. New York Mets
I can see the Mets and Phillies going back and forth between second and third place this season despite the rivals being in different areas of where they are at as a team. I picked the Mets to be in second place because not only are they a veteran club, they have a better overall pitching staff than the Phillies do. Noah “Thor” Syndergaard returns fresh after sitting out the majority of the season last year with partially torn lat muscle and will lead the rotation that also consists still promising stars in Jacob DeGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Provided that they can be healthy, they have the potential to be a top 10 starting rotation, maybe even top five, around the MLB. They also have two former all-stars in the set-up man and closer, A.J. Ramos and Jeurys Familia. Familia has a strong heater that can leave batters in the dust. Moving to the offense, the lineup is full of veterans that know how to play the game right. Outfielder and slugger, Yoenis Cespedes, returns to the lineup after dealing with multiple injuries during a tough 2017. Expect Cespedes to be back to crushing the ball like he normally does. Joining Cespedes in the line up are veterans, outfielder Jay Bruce, third baseman Todd Frazier and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. That’s some quality veterans to have in the clubhouse. Bruce returns after spending the rest of last season with Cleveland Indians. There is also some young talent that will be learning a lot from the veterans surrounding them in outfielder Brandon Nimmo and shortstop Ahmed Rosario. The key to the Mets being in second place depends on their pitching staff’s ability to stay healthy and produce consistent numbers and. This Mets team has potential to compete for a wildcard spot.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
Led by new manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies have a chance to compete for a playoff spot through the wild card. It is important to note that the Phillies are an extremely young team and have been picking up experiences as quickly as they can to understand how to win again these past few years. With Kapler guiding the ship, he was able to bring on veterans in star ace Jake Arrieta and first baseman Carlos Santana on board. While these two additions are huge, it will still not be enough to compete with the Nationals for first place. Before, Santana and Arrieta joined, second baseman Cesar Hernandez was basically the veteran on the team since he played with Philly since 2013 and is 27 years old. Hernandez has been one of the most consistent players with the bat and glove, hitting for a high average and will continue to do so again this season. This Phillies team has a good core of their offense with the likes of outfielders Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and shortstop J.P. Crawford. If these young offensive core can piece it together, they will be fun to watch. As for the pitching staff, I see it as a weak point, considering after Aaron Nola and Arrieta, the rest of the pitching staff could be better. Having Pat Neshek as a set-up man helps the bullpen, but Hector Neris is a middle reliever, maybe set-up man, at best. Kapler and his coaching staff will have to figure out how to use his bullpen creatively if they want to pitch in close games and give the other NL East teams a challenge for their money. If they want to be ahead of the Mets relies on their young offense figuring it out together.
4. Atlanta Braves
It is a toss-up between the Braves and the Miami Marlins for fourth or fifth place, but ultimately I picked the Braves to be fourth. The Marlins are a mess, but I will get to that after talking Braves. The Braves have a better pitching rotation and a better-balanced offense than the Marlins. The pitching staff led by Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz will keep help the team win a decent amount of ballgames. First baseman Freddie Freeman and second baseman Ozzie Albies will be the go-to guys for the offense support but don’t count out outfielders Ender Inciarte, who was an all-star last year, and longtime veteran Nick Markakis to contribute. We are still waiting for the breakout of shortstop Dansby Swanson. Swanson has all the talent, but he needs to stop trying so hard, slow everything down, and let the game come to him. If the Braves want to have a good start to their season, Swanson needs to see the ball and read how it comes to him. Their fate depends on the offense and pitching staff bringing their ‘A’ game for 162 games.
5. Miami Marlins
Is it okay to already pencil in the Marlins for the cellar of the NL East division? That may be harsh, but that is what the reality of the situation looks like. New owner and CEO Derek Jeter traded the best outfield around the MLB, sending Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees, Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers, and Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals. All just to be cleared of their money. They received a big prospect overhaul in return for the three trades respectively. The Marlins still have star catcher J.T. Realmuto returning after the fire sale was over. It is still possible that Realmuto might ask again for trade once he experiences another long losing season, but Realmuto should still deliver his consistent offensive numbers to have big value to receive another two or three prospects in the deal at the trade deadline. First baseman Justin Bour and newcomer, second baseman Starlin Castro, will be the other veterans in this young offense that will help teach the young guys how to carry themselves as professional ballplayers. The pitching staff is young, very young with the exceptions of starting pitcher Dan Straily and closer Brad Ziegler. Expect Straily and Ziegler to become trade bait for a contending playoff team looking to improve their pitching staffs, provided they can prove they can pitch well. The Marlins and their fans will be in for a very long and player development season, but their future will look very bright down the road.
The next division prediction up is the NL Central so be sure to be on the lookout for it at The Utility Man!
What are your predictions to win the NL East division? Be sure let us know @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!