This is the last of the installments of my divisional previews. I will put out my ultimate predictions later on in the week before the first pitch happens. Anyway, we venture to the NL East, where on paper the Washington Nationals should be the runaway favorites once more. Of course, the knock on the Nats is the fact they have epic fails in postseason (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017) and some wonder with Bryce Harper’s impending free agency after the season if Washington’s window is starting to shrink a little bit. So the Nationals are thinking this is their last GREAT year of a world championship.
The other teams, well, there is hope, but moreso in the future. However, I do believe the Phillies will make strides in 2018 while the Braves will continue to get better with their youth movement, barring any front office/managerial mishaps. The Mets brought in some veterans and are hoping the injury riddled 2017 is past them. And the Marlins……oh boy.
Teams are going by where I pick them to place.
1ST PLACE: WASHINGTON NATIONALS
2017: 97-65, 1st place (Lost to Chicago Cubs in NLDS
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: C-Miguel Montero (FA-Toronto), 1B-Matt Adams (FA-Atlanta), P-Joaquin Benoit (FA-Pittsburgh); SUBTRACTS: C-Jose Lobaton (FA-New York Mets), 1B-Adam Lind (FA-New York Yankees), P-Matt Albers (FA-Milwaukee), P-Oliver Perez (FA-Cincinnati), IF-Stephen Drew (FA), OF-Jayson Werth (FA), P-Joe Blanton (FA)
Outlook: The Nationals on paper without question are the best team in the NL East by a wide margin. While all the focus is on Bryce Harper, you still have a crew of a great lineup with the likes of Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and when healthy Daniel Murphy. It may be only trumped by their starting rotation with Max Scherzer leading the way. Behind him is Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, both of whom could be aces anywhere else. Of course questions will be about if Tanner Roark and AJ Cole can round out the staff which is why they added Jeremy Hellickson to a Minor League contract. The bullpen may not be a major issue as it has been after the Nats made key trades at the deadline of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler while they added Joaquin Benoit as well. Washington should be fine in that category and with the NL East really their playground right now, it is not too hard to think the Nationals could hold the NL’s best record.
MY PROJECTION: 103-59. Barring injuries to key players, the Nationals should hold baseball’s best record in 2018.
2ND PLACE: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
2017: 66-96, 5th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B-Carlos Santana (FA-Cleveland), P-Jake Arrieta (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Tommy Hunter (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Pat Neshek (FA-Colorado), P-Drew Hutchison (FA-Pittsburgh); SUBTRACTS: OF-Daniel Nava (FA-Pittsburgh), P-Clay Buchholz (FA-Kansas City), SS-Freddy Galvis (Trade-San Diego)
Outlook: Yes, I’m pretty high on the Phillies this year. Maybe I’m drinking the Rhys Hoskins Kool-Aid and believe he is the next great Phillie and I loved the signings of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. I also think the youngsters of JP Crawford and Nick Williams will also step up in 2018 to give the Phillies a very strong squad, thus ending their painful rebuild since 2013. The question will be even with Arrieta and Aaron Nola, who are both great starters, do they have enough pitching to compete for the Wild Card? But overall, I like where the Phillies are heading and maybe they are still a year away of being a SERIOUS threat, but baseball in Philadelphia is back.
MY PROJECTION: 82-80. Phillies will be a team nobody wants to see down the stretch.
3RD PLACE: ATLANTA BRAVES
2017: 72-90, 3rd place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Preston Tucker (Trade-Houston), 3B-Charlie Culberson (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Ezequiel Carrera (FA-Toronto), P-Brandon McCarthy (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Peter Moylan (FA-Kansas City), P-Anibal Sanchez (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS: OF-Matt Kemp (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers), 1B-Matt Adams (non-tendered-Washington), P-Jason Motte (P-St. Louis), RA Dickey (Free Agent)
Outlook: The Braves are a wild card team in the sense of, you don’t know where you are going to get from them this year. The farm is stacked and we are seeing the likes of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson (who must get better in 2018), and whenever Ronald Acuna gets called up from Gwinnett (which has become a hot topic in the Atlanta area as Braves fans are upset they sent him down despite a torrid Spring Training), but the pitching rotation is still rough and in the new SunTrust Park (AKA Coors Field East), it is a problem. Atlanta got the likes of Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka, and Koby Allard in the farm as well for arms, but nothing ready to this point. Adding on, the front office was maligned this off-season as the Braves were caught red-handed doing illegal signings and GM John Coppolella and VP John Hart were gone (Coppy was banned from baseball because of it) but also the Braves had a tough time getting their fans back who many feel screwed by the team in numerous ways. The question will be is can the Braves young players can turn it on and make some noise in the NL and the pitching staff improves or will the rookies struggle and the arms still struggle at SunTrust Park? I think there will be signs of growth, but Atlanta is still a year off and probably better off with a new manager besides Brian Snitker.
MY PROJECTION: 76-86. Braves will get growth from Albies, Acuna, and Swanson, but the pitching is still in question.
4TH PLACE: NEW YORK METS
2017: 70-92, 4th Place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Jay Bruce (FA-Cleveland), 3B-Todd Frazier (New York Yankees), 1B-Adrian Gonzalez (FA-Atlanta), P-Anthony Swarzak (FA-Milwaukee), P-Jason Vargas (FA-Kansas City); SUBTRACTS: Nothing major
Outlook: As high as I am on the Phillies, I am equally as low on the Mets. Yes, I think the injuries to the rotation stung notably with Syndergaard and Harvey, but at some point you have to wonder, at least in Harvey’s case and Steven Matz’s case if they can rebound. Harvey hasn’t been healthy for a full season since really his rookie year, and you wonder if he will ever return to the high hopes. And right now the answer is no. And the Mets, with their farm being somewhat sketchy, may have needed to have gone through a small rebuild, but instead they kept their veterans of Jose Reyes, brought back Jay Bruce, signed Todd Frazier (a guy who I think is more beneficial to a bandbox than the spacious ballparks such as Citi Field), and brought in Adrian Gonzalez, who has seen far better days. I think the Mets are just not the same team as they were just two years ago, with the arms, bats and they may have missed the boat to do a rebuild. Does that mean they need to trade somebody like DeGrom or Syndergaard? No, but I don’t see a promising future for New York like I see for their NL East rivals not named Miami.
MY PROJECTION: 69-93. Mets finish the same as last year, but they may be strong sellers at the deadline.
5TH PLACE: MIAMI MARLINS
2017: 77-85, 2nd place, NL East
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Lewis Brinson (Trade-Milwaukee), 2B-Starlin Castro (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-Cameron Maybin (FA-Houston), C-Chad Wallach (Waivers-Cincinnati), IF-Garrett Cooper (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-JB Shuck (FA-Minnesota), OF-Scott Van Slyke (FA-Cincinnati), P-Jacob Turner (FA-Washington), Elieser Hernandez (Rule 5-Houston), P-Caleb Smith (Trade-New York Yankees), P-Brett Graves (Rule 5-Oakland): SUBTRACTS: OF-Marcell Ozuna (Trade-St. Louis), OF-Giancarlo Stanton (Trade-New York Yankees), OF-Christian Yelich (Trade-Milwaukee), 2B-Dee Gordon (Trade-Seattle), C-AJ Ellis (FA-San Diego), OF-Ichiro (FA-Seattle), P-Dustin McGowan (FA-Tampa Bay)
Outlook: Jeez. If you combine the fire sale after the 1997 World Championship season, and then after the 2012 season where the Marlins shipped off everyone to Toronto for nearly nothing, this is its love child. The Marlins traded Stanton for nearly nothing (yes, the Yankees assumed his heavy contract so it freed up payroll in Miami), and then made questionable trades with Gordon and Ozuna where they could have gotten a better package in my eyes. Adding on to all of it, just employee upheaval in Miami since Derek Jeter took over and many are going “wow, I miss Jeffrey Loria.” Yes, there are prospects on the farm for the Marlins, but it isn’t similar to what we see with the White Sox, Padres, Phillies, or Braves and the moves that were made. It will be another long haul for Miami as they could probably sell a few pieces at the deadline as well (Castro, Realmuto). But if Jeter believes attendance will be better in 2018, he’s kidding himself.
MY PROJECTION: 58-104. Miami is just going to be very, very, very bad.
That’s it for the previews. Later on, the October picks come in.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat