It is only a few days before Opening Day, and each team is getting ready, setting their final rosters and packing up their spring time shares and heading up to their homes, for roughly 162 days.
If there is one division to keep an eye on this year, it is the National League East. Out of the five teams, at least three of them made big improvements, while some just decided bring back a key piece or two. Based off of the improvements some teams made, and the success of some teams last year, the N.L. East has the potential to have four 85-plus win teams. With this division shaping up to be a barnburner, how will each team shape up?
Let’s get the first team out of the way, the Miami Marlins. This is a team that is going into their second season under the Jeter regime, and the second year of the ultimate rebuild. They added some familiar National League East faces in Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker, as well as Jorge Alfaro, one of the key pieces in the J.T. Realmuto trade. With a young pitching staff and a core of guys that can be in Miami for years to come, the team will look to build off of the development from 2018. Do not expect them to compete in this division, however.
The Atlanta Braves are a team that are looking to build off of their 2018 Division championship. They made a few additions in Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, both guys who bring playoff success and experience to a young team. But it is more about what they did not do this offseason. Although the pitching staff was solid last year, there was no real leader. Their best pitcher last year, Mike Foltynewicz, is starting the year on the Injured List, with no clear cut timetable for return. Their rotation is something that could have been worked on this offseason.
Their bullpen is also something that should have been addressed this offseason as well and it wasn’t. Going into the season, Arodys Vizcaíno is their main piece in the bullpen. Other than that, there are a lot of question marks. We know what Ronald Acuna Jr, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman can do. This is a team that will build off of their success from last year into 2019, this is a team that can and will compete for the division, if everything goes right. Donaldson is a guy who has not been healthy recently, either. Paying a guy $23 Million on a one-year “prove it” deal is something that can come back and bite them.
The Washington Nationals are a very interesting team this year. Obviously they loss Bryce Harper, which came to a shock to almost nobody. But they do have the young stud Juan Soto waiting in the wings ready to take over as the team leader. Offensively, they did not add much. Besides Yan Gomes, the biggest name is Brian Dozier, who batted a low .216 between his time with the Twins and Dodgers. Obviously they still have the consistency of Anthony Rendon and Trae Turner in the line up, other than that, it seems as if the Nationals are going to be relying on veterans who may not produce as well as they may have a few years ago.
On the pitching side of things, the Nationals made plenty of additions. Patrick Corbin signed this offseason on a 6 year/$140 million contract. He will complement Scherzer and Strasburg as one of the best number three pitchers in baseball. Their bullpen was an area they needed to add to, and they did. former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal and Marlins set up man Kyle Barraclough will be great pieces before Sean Doolittle enters for the ninth. It is hard to say the Nationals don’t need Bryce Harper, but the team still has plenty of potential to compete, this is a team that can make noise in the East.
The New York Mets have arguably been the busiest team this offseason under new General Manager Brodie van Wagenen. They went out and added, a lot. Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz made their way from Seattle to New York via a trade, with Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie coming here as free agents. Offensively, there may not be as many holes in the line up as there were in years past. With Jeff McNeil bursting on to the scene last year, the consistency of players like Brandon Nimmo and Cano, and young stars such as Michael Conforto, the team has the chance to have one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
Jacob deGrom is coming off of one of the best individual seasons in baseball history. The 2019 N.L. CY Young award winner will be leading this rotation with Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jason Vargas. Both Syndergaard and Wheeler are coming off of one of their better seasons during their young careers, while Matz and Vargas look to bounce back from very weak seasons in 2018. The Mets added to their bullpen as well. Edwin Diaz, who came over with Cano, will look to build off of a 57-save season in 2018. Jeurys Familia makes his return to Queens as a set up man on a 3-year/$30 million contract this offseason, who potentially can be one of the better 8th inning guys in baseball. Justin Wilson will be the primary left hander out of the pen after coming over on a two-year deal. The Mets are the darkhorse team in the whole National League this year, do not sleep on them.
Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies added Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Andrew McCutchen this past off season. Although they did miss out on Manny Machado, they added shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with the Mariners. The Phils are looking to compete, and compete now. With the addition of Cutch, Rhys Hoskins will be able to move back to first base, which is his natural position. The offense has been beaten to death ever since Harper signed there, if you don’t know the potential of this offense, you live under a rock.
Their pitching on the other hand, has a lot of question marks. Aaron Nola was a finalist for the CY Young award last year, and will be the ace of the staff. He will be followed by Jake Arrieta, who will be a solid number two. Past them however, there are a lot of what-ifs. Nick Pivetta had a 4.77 ERA last year, and although he is young, has very limited success in the bigs. Zach Eflin is a guy who can improve this year, who finished with a 4.36 ERA in 2018. Vince Velasquez will be their fifth starter this season. The bullpen added David Robertson, who will be heading back into a closer role for the first time since his time with the White Sox. But past him and Pat Neshek, there is a lot to be desired for. The Phillies offense should be able to carry them to plenty of wins, but can the bullpen stay sturdy over a 162 game clip?
The National League East is going to be fun to watch this season. With improved teams, there is not one clear cut winner, if there is a division to keep an eye on, keep your eyes plastered on the N.L. East.
Photo:// USA Today