Why the NL East is the division to watch this season
With Spring Training beginning, memories of sunshine and hot dogs on a summer day at the park are flooding back. Baseball fever is setting in and it’s hard not to speculate about what this season will bring. The MLB experienced an unusually active offseason, which saw huge names like Mookie Betts and Gerrit Cole, be signed or traded. Now that the dust has mostly settled we can begin to analyze where every team stands heading into Opening Day. One division that frequently gets overlooked is the NL East. This is a division that is coming off a World Series Championship and one of the biggest offseasons. Four of these teams have a genuine chance to make a run for the division. So let’s break it down:
The Braves have had to move some pieces around following the loss of Josh Donaldson to free agency. Atlanta picked up where they left off at the trade deadline last year and brought in Will Smith to bolster their bullpen. The additions of Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin last year should make their bullpen a formidable force. The Braves also added depth to their rotation with the signing of Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. The biggest move made by the Braves was the signing on Marcell Ozuna who gives them one of the best outfields in baseball. The Braves also got Travis dArnaud to replace McCann. Their lineup is loaded and the sky is the ceiling for this team. If their young talent continues to prove themselves this could be the year the braves go deep in the postseason.
While no-one is predicting a division championship for Miami they are showing significant signs of improvement. Improvement is always relevant when talking about a team that lost 105 games last year, but there is genuine progress being made. This offseason they went out and signed a bevy of veteran players that make them immediately better. These include the likes of Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Matt Kemp. Last season, the Marlins were able to quietly build an emerging young rotation with their oldest piece being only 28. Not to mention their exciting young prospect Jazz Chisholm who should make his debut this year. If the pitching is able to continue to improve they could sneak up on some teams this year.
New York Mets
The amount of talent in the Mets rotation is astounding. The dynamic trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman should keep this team in practically every game. For good measure, they added even more depth with Steven Matz and new signings Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. The exciting young talent of Pete Alonso is something Mets fans haven’t seen since David Wright and is something to watch all in itself. The Mets added another talent as well in Jake Marisnick and Dellin Betancis. This pitching staff is unbelievable and it’s clear that’s what they are banking on to bring them success. The Mets are going to live and die by pitching and if their top three can stay healthy we could see Mets playing Postseason baseball once again.
Last year was supposed to be the Phillie’s first trip back to the playoffs since 2011. Those hopes were quickly silenced with a rotation and bullpen who were woefully underwhelming in a talented NL East field last year. The team ERA sat just above a 4.5 and the offense was 14th in the MLB statistically last year, totally average. With big names like Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins getting older the Phillie’s clock is ticking. Didi Gregorious and Zack Wheeler look to make a big difference and if Jake Arrieta can return to form they might be able to pull it off. Harper knows the expectations that are set on him and he also needs to produce in a big way. Philadelphia is definitely on the outside looking in, but there is hope.
Hoping to not repeat the mistakes of the Red Sox in 2019 the Nationals are looking to not falter as reigning World Champs. Despite the loss of Rendon this team has managed to put themselves in a position where they could make another run at it. Resigning Strasburg and adding Will Harris was massive for them. While you can’t ever fully replace a player like Anthony Rendon, the Nationals have the depth to at least cover the loss. For that they will look to Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Difo, Ryan Zimmerman, Eric Thames and Howie Kendrick. I told you they had depth. With the days of Rendon and Harper gone, Juan Soto is now their everyday star. The ceiling is hard to see for the 21-year-old left fielder and with his performance last postseason solidifying that, fans are wondering, what’s next?
This division is loaded and I hope this article made that abundantly clear. In reality, there are three teams truly capable of winning the division and one who is a long shot. It is likely we will see another NL Cy Young going to this division once again. A Cy Young award has been won 7 times by active pitchers in the NL East the last five seasons going to the likes of Scherzer, deGrom, Porcello, Felix Hernandez and Arrieta. This division also features some of the most exciting young players in the game like Soto, Albies, Acuna Jr, Alonso, Ozuna to name a few. With talent bursting at the seams we could easily see two of these teams make the playoffs. For the regular season, I see the division playing out like the following:
Atlanta Braves 93-69
New York Mets 89-73
It’s going to be a fun year in the NL East.