How the NL East is shaping up

As of this moment, FanGraphs has the Mets pegged for 85 wins and the NL East looking like this:

Nationals 92-70
Mets 85-77
Braves 82-80
Phillies 79-83
Marlins 67-95

Given that hot stove rumors attach all of the top remaining free agents to our division, thing could tighten up in a hurry. In fact, depending how the dust settles, MattyMets may need to revisit this topic in a few weeks. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at each team, starting from the bottom up.

The Marlins
Despite their big bold addition of Neil Walker, the rebuilding Marlins figure to occupy the basement again in 2019 and probably 2020 as well. The organization is starting to build up a talent base on the farm but the big league club is really bereft of stars. Other than catcher J.T. Realmuto, who will likely be wearing a different uniform on opening day, the biggest name player on this team is Starlin Castro. They have some live arms in the bullpen. Brian Anderson is a solid player. If you squint, you could see the beginnings of a good rotation with Sandy Alcantara developing to join Jose Urena and Dan Straily, though the latter could be trade bait. This team is still in transition with raw kids mixed with older, injury prone veterans – not a formula for success any time soon.

The Phillies
Surely Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will be playing at Citizens Bank in 2019. If not, their fans might riot in the streets The team fizzled out after a strong start last year but clearly has some talent on their roster Rhys Hoskins looks like an emerging star, the rotation has a great 1-2 punch and with the addition of David Robertson, the bullpen is now formidable. Defense was a big problem last year, but adding Jean Segura at shortstop and moving Hoskins back where he belongs at first base should help. Segura will give the Phillies a more reliable table setter than Odubel Herrera or Cesar Hernandez, who both regressed last season. The addition of Andrew McCutcheon will give them some needed leadership and a solid bat, but he’s not the feared hitter he once was. Jorge Alfaro makes for a good backstop. Adding Machado or Harper could take the lineup from mediocre to pretty good, but this team desperately needs another strong starter to put behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta because after those two come a trio of unremarkable hurlers in Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin. If the Phillies can add Harper or Machado and say, Gio Gonzalez, they could push ahead of the Braves and compete with the Mets and Nationals for the division

The Braves
The Braves had a surprising run in 2018, fueled by a couple of kids blossoming early and winning 90 games. Unless they make some more big moves before opening day, they seem primed for a regression. Rookie of the year Ronald Acuna, Jr., second baseman Ozzie Albies and utility infielder Jorge Camargo won’t fool anyone this coming year. With pitchers learning how to attack them, you can bet at least one of them will have a sophomore slump (though Camargo will technically be a “junior”). The Braves one upped the Mets with bucking the youth trend and signing 30-something free agents. They brought back right fielder Nick Markakis who defied logic and reason to enjoy the best season of his career at age 34. He’s now 35, the same age catcher Brian McCann will be in early June. The Braves decided to re-up with their favorite former backstop as well as take a big roll of the dice on third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 33-year-old is coming off a year when he missed most of the season due to an achilles injury. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016, but for a four-year stretch, he was among the best players in the game. If healthy, he and Freddie Freeman will form an imposing 3-4 in a lineup that includes those young spark plugs at the top. Pitching wise, the Braves bullpen is solid, but their rotation is top heavy like the Phillies. They also could really benefit from the addition of another proven starter. Another warning sign for a regression year for the Braves is that their top two starting pitchers, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, are both coming off significant career highs in innings pitched. If you believe in the merits of the Verducci effect, one of these two is bound to run into an elbow or shoulder injury. And after them and Mets killer Julio Teheran, there’s the promising but still developing Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint.  FanGraphs’ 82-win projection for this team sounds about right but injuries could easily derail this team.

The Mets
An eight-win improvement is nothing to sneeze at, but I think FanGraphs is selling this team short. If we look at it in a WAR context, the Mets figure to see improvement (either through upgrades, health or improvements) at almost every position. The additions of Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, J.D. Davis, Keon Broxton and, eventually, Peter Alonso fortify the offense and deepen the roster. Unlike the Nationals, the Mets didn’t lose any stars to free agency. Our new additions are replacing guys like Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Plawecki, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Austin Jackson. We’ll have a full year of Jeff McNeil, a healthy Michael Conforto, Todd Frazier and maybe even Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud. One of baseball’s best rotations returns intact and could actually be better with a healthy Noah Syndergaard and fourth and fifth starters who pick up where they left off with stronger 2018 second halfs. The bulpen, the teams biggest weakness in 2018 has been overhauled and should now be the best in the division. A few things have to go right for the Mets – rotation and catcher health, Alonso coming strong out of the gate, maybe a boost from Yoenis Cespedes returning over the summer – but to this optimist, the division favorite wears blue and orange.

The Nationals
Despite losing their two best hitters of the past three years, FanGraphs has the Nationals pegged for 92 wins and nearly every sports radio host and national baseball writer refers to these guys as the division favorite. This team won 82 games last season so a projected 10-win improvement implies that they’ve had a great off-season. Yes, they signed Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez who are both coming off very good years. But the guys they are replacing – Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark – were actually better if you look at an aggregate of the past three seasons. Brian Dozier was a nice pickup and will certainly provide better defense at the keystone than Daniel Murphy, but who’s the better hitter? Matt Adams was re-signed to again platoon with Ryan Zimmerman at first base and Trevor Rosenthal was a solid pickup for the bullpen. The Nationals also replaced the deteriorating Matt Wieters with a hodgepodge platoon of journeyman catchers. And, as of now, Bryce Harper is not on the roster. If he was, you could make the argument for this being a playoff bound team. They’ve still got a terrific one-two rotation punch and the bullpen, while is deep and solid. Juan Soto, who had a promising rookie year and Victor Robles, who has a world of potential, form a nice young nucleus together with Trea Turner. Turner and veteran outfielder Adam Eaton will set the table for Anthony Rendon, who’s really blossomed into a star at third base. Michael Taylor and Howie Kendrick lead a solid bench. This is a talented team, no question, but not a contender. Zimmerman looks washed up. Robles is unproven. The rotation includes two injury prone starters and a big question mark at the five spot. Unless Soto and Robles are this year’s version of Albies and Acuna, the Nationals are not taking this division.

20 comments for “How the NL East is shaping up

  1. Artie
    February 1, 2019 at 9:02 am

    Don’t forget the Nats are losing Harper (maybe) that’s a big loss.

  2. February 1, 2019 at 9:27 am

    I’m glad to see that you’re not counting the Braves as a dynasty. I think a lot of things went right for them and it’ll be curious to see if that trend continues this year. And it will also be interesting to see how the trio of veterans they brought in will fare. I could get behind any of the three but not all three.

    Also, I’m not ready to put Arrieta in the ace category after the 2nd half he had last year. After the break, opponents had a .793 OPS against him – and in the league where pitchers bat. For a point of comparison, Steven Matz had a .730 OPS against in the first half and a .731 mark in the second half and no one’s calling him an ace. Maybe Arrieta gets the HR under control and the other numbers fall into line. That’s a potential outcome but you could say the same thing about Matz.

  3. Name
    February 1, 2019 at 9:41 am

    I believe last year Fangraphs forecasted a repeat playoff appearance for 9 of 10 teams last year, while the historical average was usually 5 or 6. It ended up being 7 repeat playoff teams, due to the uncompetitiveness in the AL last year.

    Right now, Fangraphs projections only have 7 repeat playoff teams, which is something refreshing to see. This will probably change as many FAs haven’t signed. Interesting that it doesn’t see the Brewers or A’s continuing their 2018 success. Not often do i see such a huge swing in projected vs. last year actual.

    • MattyMets
      February 1, 2019 at 10:48 am

      Name – I agree with Fangraphs about the Brewers and A’s. If it takes everything to go right to make the playoffs and you don’t do a a lot in the offseason, the odds are against a return. The Brewers made a lot of moves to beef up the lineup last year and they have a top notch bullpen but, surprisingly, for the second year in a row, they’ve passed on upgrading a mediocre rotation. Similarly, the A’s have a nice offense and bullpen, but with Manea expected to miss half the season or more, they really could use another starter or two.

      The other AL playoff teams from last year are all loaded and head and shoulders above the rest. The only fight will be for the second wild.

      In the NL, there’s a lot more competition with only a few cellar dwellers.

  4. Chris F
    February 1, 2019 at 10:48 am

    The Braves were ahead of schedule last year, so yes surprising. I think they are better than the Mets at every infield position. I dont get the Markakis deal, but it does seem Harper is out. The biggest hole seems to be pitching, although they are stocked. I think the Mets and Braves will be fighting things out this season for second and third place. The phillies are a wild card as you say. I would not be shocked if they signed *both* Harper and Machado – I also wouldnt be surprised of they missed on both. I have them finishing 2nd to 4th in my mind as of today. Like it or not, the Nats remain the favorite by a good distance. The pitching is easily as good or better than the Mets. They have juggernaut offense and are unafraid of any team in the East. Murphy is yesterday’s news. They can succeed without him. Rendon is a threat to society he’s so good…and he loves Met pitching. I think Fangraphs, a pretty objective outift, is spot on with the break down. I cant see more than 85 Ws for the Mets this year. For all the bluster, the BVW era is banking on an import ancient vets to remain anomalously good and prop up an anemic offense. The starting rotation is dangerously thin, to the point its hard to imagine even a consistent 5 deep group, let alone the 8 a team will need. One the first bout of tendonitis or a lat pull shows up, then its a 5 alarm fire. Heaven forbid if Noah has another blister issue or Jake gets slammed by a come-backer. The world changes big time then.

    • February 1, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      And you can say the same thing about the Nats’ rotation.

      Last year they had 12 different starters and no one after their first 5 guys had an ERA under 5 and one of those guys – Joe Ross – is now their 5th starter. They also have 35-year-old Anibal Sanchez as their fourth starter, a guy who had his first good year since 2014 because he out-pitched his peripherals by a fair amount – something which he simply hasn’t done throughout his career. Scherzer gets slammed by a comebacker or Strasburg comes down with another shoulder injury and the world changes big time.

      As for their juggernaut offense – they’re counting on a rookie and a guy who came up last year as part of the meat of their order and if the Mets did that – you’d crucify them for it. Their other OF has played 118 games combined the past two seasons. Ryan Zimmerman dropped over 100 points of OPS and will turn 35 in September. Their replacement for Murphy at 2B had a .696 OPS last year and it was 46 points lower than that once he joined the Dodgers. Trea Turner has a .771 OPS over the last two seasons, compared to the .937 mark he put up in 2016.

      There’s a fair amount of talent on Washington and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. But it seems that you think all of the Mets’ question mark guys are going to fall on their face while the question mark guys for the other teams are going to excel. The Nats won 82 games last year and are going to subtract a guy with an .889 OPS and have to replace 416 IP from the starting rotation. That doesn’t seem like a guaranteed recipe for 95 wins and a division title to me.

      • Remember1969
        February 1, 2019 at 5:56 pm

        I tend to agree with Brian about Washington. I do not seem them as the favorite by a wide margin. They do not have the depth to cover even two key injuries – thinking Rendon and one of Soto/Robles (not to mention one of the top three SP). The other part of the Soto/Robles discussion is while they are both very talented outfielders, they are both young . . can they carry the team? They are relied on pretty heavily.

      • February 1, 2019 at 7:06 pm

        Tbf, Dozier was slowed by a knee injury and was a top second baseman from 2014-2017. Agree on Eaton though he has put up a 123 wRC+ when he’s played for the Nats. Zimmerman is a top exit velo guy but if he’s hurt or ineffective they have Adams, who is a real good hitter. Soto looks like he could be a top ten hitter and Robles could be a beast too. Sanchez struggled mightily from 14-17 but he changed his pitch mix and gave up a high soft contact rate in 2018 and low exit velo and hard hit rate, time will tell on him. I view them as a top flight team and a big fav if they keep Harper.

    • MattyMets
      February 1, 2019 at 1:54 pm

      Ah, Chris F, the yin to my yang. I think if you win the Powerball you’d complain about the taxes. Try an optimistic approach this year. Yeah, it sets you up for disappointment, but it also gives you hope in the dark, cold days of winter. It’s not like we’re the Orioles. Don’t write off our season befor it starts. Yes, things can go wrong, but a lot can go right. Imagine the boost this team gets if Alonso has a 30 HR rookie campaign and Thor makes 30+ starts. Conforto is poised for a big year. The NLEast is ours and no one in the NL scares me.

      • Chris F
        February 1, 2019 at 4:32 pm

        I think its possible to be a fan and live in reality. There is not a single objective prognosticator that sees the Mets as a serious threat to win the NL East. Year after year Mets fans proclaim that ____________ (insert GM name here) did remarkable things and the team is set for 90 or more wins. Well, once in the past decade the Mets won 90 games, and never more than 90. Only twice have they even had a winning record. Meanwhile, down I-95 the Nats have 4 division championships, 7x winning record and 4x > 90 wins. Thats the facts. But every year we hear the exact same drivel about how good the team looks before a pitch is thrown, only to be waylayed by the string of inevitable excuses that drive the team to a <80 win season. I'll spare the gory details, except to say what a treat it was to watch Bobby Abreu and Adrian Gonzalez.

        Las Vegas has them pegged at 30/1 odds to win the WS along side with Oakland and Tampa Bay. I imagine that doesnt sit well with you. Milwaukee is 20/1. The Nats, Braves, and Phillies all coming in at better odds to win the WS. Cesar's Palace has the over-under for the Mets pegged at 83.5 wins. In case you are wondering the Nats are at 88.5. So it may be easy to label me your Debbie Downer, but I seem to see what everyone else does, except for the true believers.

        Are the Mets bad? No. Are the Mets 90+ win Division champs? No.

  5. MattyMets
    February 1, 2019 at 11:01 am

    MLBTR just posted that the Mets are kicking the tires on Gio Gonzalez. BVW would have to really kick up the diplomacy to convince a) Gio to come to a team without a rotation vacancy, b) Vargas to start the season in the bullpen and c) ownership to spend on a 6th starter and move an 8mm man to long relief. If BVW can pull this off it would be a coup, and IMO, the best move he’s made. Teams should plan on 6 or 7 worthy starters for a 5 man rotation. How often will all be healthy? How many games are lost because teams are trotting out middle relievers, retreads and unseasoned minor leaguers to fill in? The Dodgers and Red Sox have been operating this way for a few years now. This would be the epitome of “eliminating if’s.”

  6. Remember1969
    February 1, 2019 at 6:55 pm

    My $0.02 on Feb 1. At this point obviously Machado, Harper, Kimbrell, and Keuchel are all unsigned, but let’s for a moment assume none of them sign with an NL East club and ‘it is what it is’ In order of last year’s finish:

    Atlanta: Probably due for a little regression, but not much. I see the Donaldson signing as being one of the key FA signings of the year. That team plays good defense and just plain good baseball. They were in the race last year and didn’t fade – that will help them in a potentially tighter division race this year.

    Washington: I am not sure they improved as much as some people like to talk about. Trading Roark for Corbin is not that much of a plus, and losing Harper takes away their offensive force. They are relying a lot on the two youngsters, and their depth is not really there. If things break right, they could be very good; I am still perplexed on their lack of hardware over the last 7 years. Without knowing anything about it, something tells me that that clubhouse is a mess and it isn’t and hasn’t been a cohesive unit (is that Harper??). It will be interesting to see how they play without him, assuming he does not re-sign.

    Philadelphia: Really hard to predict. I just don’t see them having the whole
    team. Hoskins back on 1st is probably a strength. Segura? not sure .. Kapler has a full year under his belt (but you could say the same about Calloway and Martinez). Was their first half or their second half of 2018 their real team? At this point, I think the the post-allstar break team is more representative of what we will see.

    New York: Better than last year. Probably the deepest bullpen in the division. It will be interesting to see how they manage their infield. I was not real thrilled with the Cano trade, but looking at it with just 2019 in scope, I actually do believe it makes them a better team. For all the talk about Cano’s age and suspension last year, he has not shown any regression yet. Will it come in 2019? Rosario will be better. Catching should be better. 1st base – who knows .. Starting Pitching . . Health is key to the top 4, depth is better than some think. This could be a very good team, or management could lose it if it is not managed well.

    Miami: Not much more to say here. I am hoping they do not trade Realmuto and get stuck with nothing when he leaves or his value goes down so much they get burned.

    Predictions: NY, Atl, and Wash will battle it out for the division:

    NY 88-74
    Atl 87-65
    Wash 85-77
    Phi 75-87
    Mia 60-102

    One big signing could throw all this away. . Kimbrell to the Braves?

    • February 1, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Roark is a back end guy so yeah Corbin’s a big upgrade with Roark’s performance fading after 2016.

      • February 1, 2019 at 10:46 pm

        Corbin was very good last year but the three years before that he was a combined 25-31 with a 4.31 ERA. If we’re supposed to discount Dozier’s 2018 because of what he did the three previous years, shouldn’t we do the same thing with Corbin?

        • Chris F
          February 2, 2019 at 10:13 am

          What about Wheeler? How can we count his second half, but not first? Or first years?

          • February 2, 2019 at 10:28 am

            All I was asking for from David K. was consistency. If he wants to discount current year performance and focus on career ( or previous X years) rate – that’s fine. But he needs to do it both ways.

            As for Wheeler, I think I’ve been very consistent in preferring in-season performance that finished strong after a weak start rather than the other way around. It’s why I’m not leading the charge to replace Vargas.

          • Remember1969
            February 2, 2019 at 10:57 am

            I personally have no delusion that Wheeler will pitch as well for a full year that he did in the 2nd half last year. I do, however expect that he will one of the better ‘3rd starters’ in the league. He always was a top prospect, then had his injury issue. If and that is a big if, he can stay healthy, my guess is somewhere along the lines of 13-7 with a 3.25 ERA. He seemed to have ‘gotten it figured out’ and was (and hopefully is) healthy – he showed what all the promise was he was obtained straight-up for Carlos Beltran.

      • Remember1969
        February 2, 2019 at 7:51 am

        Corbin’s 3.15 ERA last year brought his career mark down to 3.91.
        Roark’s 4.54 ERA last year brought his up to 3.59.

        Corbin’s 4 wins over .500 in 2018 brought his career mark up to 2 wins over (56-54).
        Roark’s 6 games under .500 in 2018 brought his down to 10 wins over (64-54).

        Not seeing huge plus there for those kinds of dollars.

  7. NYM6986
    February 2, 2019 at 10:03 am

    The Mets added offense will put more runs on the board but it’s the health of their starters that will carry this team. With a few more runs a game deGrom, and therefore the team, would have easily had ten more wins. If our starting 4 stay healthy and with the strength of the reworked pen, how can you not like our chances for a playoff spot? Then in a short series our top three starters should dominate. Then Ces comes back and we make a trade deadline pickup and away we go!

    • MattyMets
      February 2, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      My biggest issue is that the forecasts are only looking at what teams added in a vacuum without also factoring in what they lost. I see the Mets as improving considerably because Lowrie replaces Reyes, Ramos replaces Plawecki, Alonso replaces AGon, Broxton and Davis replace Jackson and Bautista, Cano replaces Bruce (in the lineup), while Diaz/Familia/Wilson/Avilan bolster a weak pen.

      The Nats are essentially asking Robles to replace Harper and Dozier to replace Murphy. Meanwhile I don’t see Corbin and Sanchez as an upgrade over Gonzalez and Roark.

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