Season Preview: NL East
By Patrick Gunn
Yankees Baseball is racing towards us as the winter snow melts into April rosebuds. With that said, the Yankees have some competition to get back to the World Series. I will dig into the Bombers’ competition around the league over the next few weeks, going through every division ending with the AL East. I’m basing my predictions for the season on the team’s PECOTA projected records, statistics from last season, and overall talent.
The National League East seems to always be a competitive and fascinating division. This year looks to be no exception. The Mets, Phillies, and Nationals each made some moves to leapfrog the Braves and Marlins. Here’s where PECOTA has the NL standing by the end of the year:
1. New York Mets – 91.8-70.2
2. Washington Nationals – 83.4-78.6
3. Philadelphia Phillies – 83.5-78.5
4. Atlanta Braves – 83.0-79.0
5. Miami Marlins – 70.1-91.9
FIRST PLACE – NEW YORK METS
LAST SEASON’S RECORD: 26-34
Most Exciting Part of This Team: Francisco Lindor in the Big Apple
The Mets made one of the best moves in the offseason to bring Lindor over to play shortstop. He has an infectiously joyful personality that will light up Queens this season. He would have made a great Yankee, but Lindor’s smooth fielding and slick stroke will instantly add star power to an already stacked lineup.
Biggest Question: How Much has Really Changed?
The Mets finally saw new ownership come in with Steve Cohen replacing the Wilpons. Sandy Alderson also returned to help with baseball operations, and then Lindor and Carlos Carrasco came to town. Then, the Jared Porter news broke. And then Mickey Callaway’s long history of sexual misconduct – which included two years with the Mets – came to light. And then the team fired hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis for similar allegations. Issues like these – along with Cohen’s past – bring into question the authenticity of New York’s rebranded image change.
Pat’s Prediction: 90-72
This team should make the playoffs. Jacob deGrom gets reinforcements behind him, with Marcus Stroman returning, Taijuan Walker coming to town, and Noah Syndergaard returning later this year. The bullpen, led by Edwin Diaz plus Trevor May and Aaron Loup, should look the best it has in years. The lineup of Lindor, Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto should score with ease. With that said, I am very skeptical that this new regime is going to produce the positive “culture” shift that has been promoted. The baseball should be solid in Queens, but the Mets still need to prove they can be a top-notch organization.
SECOND PLACE – ATLANTA BRAVES
LAST SEASON’S RECORD: 35-25
Most Exciting Part of This Team: Bombs Away
Atlanta can rake. Ronald Acuña Jr. is one of the best players in the game. Marcell Ozuna is back to Truist Park hit bombs. Ozzie Albies hits them out from both sides of the plate. Travis D’Arnaud has rejuvenated his career since leaving New York. Oh, and reigning MVP Freddie Freeman is here, too. This team is going to hit a lot of home runs this season
Biggest Question: Is there enough pitching?
The Braves got by last season despite Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels’ injuries, but barely. Max Fried and Ian Anderson could only do so much. Now, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly are here to help rebuild this team’s depth, but Soroka will not be back for the start of the season. Plus, Morton is 37 years old and Smyly’s last 30 start season came in 2016. The rest of the rotation depth hinges on young, unproven arms like Kyle Wright. Also, the bullpen took a hit with Mark Melancon and Shane Green’s departures. Will Smith and Chris Martin are still here, but the depth in the pen has shrunk a bit.
Pat’s Prediction: 87-75
The Braves under Brian Snitker usually overachieve their preseason projections (as Mike Petriello analyzed). With that said, Atlanta’s lack of pitching depth is enough to put them below the Mets and their strong roster. Still, do not be surprised if this team finds itself at the top of the NL East standings by the end of the year. The Braves have a top-10 lineup in baseball and enough talent in the pitching department to stay afloat in the playoff picture.
THIRD PLACE – PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
LAST SEASON’S RECORD: 28-32
Most Exciting Part of This Team: The Core is Strong
I’ve spoken a lot about the value of having a strong nucleus of players returning to a lineup. And Philadelphia worked hard to keep J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius in the City of Brotherly Love. They rejoin Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, and Alec Bohm in a stacked lineup. Plus, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin combine to form a strong trifecta of starters. What else could possibly go wrong for this team?
Biggest Question: What even is this bullpen?
Yah. Last season’s historically bad bullpen demands further discussion. A combined ERA over 7.00 – even in a shortened season – is horrid. Philadelphia would have easily made the playoffs had its bullpen been average. The Phillies did add some arms, with Archie Bradley, Brandon Kintzler, and José Alvarado joining the fray. They are not major game-changers, but this bullpen cannot be that bad over a full-162 game season. Right?
Pat’s Prediction: 84-78
These Phillies teams are similar to the Angels in that they usually are predicted to compete for a playoffs spot and then disappoint. Well, I like the Phillies’ lineup depth and starting pitching better than the Angels, but this team has major questions. Joe Girardi did a great job building bullpens in the Bronx, but last year’s performance left a massive stench. Also, welcoming Odúbel Herrera back with open arms is a questionable decision. Regardless, I like Philadelphia’s roster and they should push for a playoff spot if the bullpen improves…hopefully.
FOURTH PLACE – WASHINGTON NATIONALS
LAST SEASON’s RECORD: 26-34
Most Exciting Part of This Team: Juan Soto’s at-bats.
He is getting compared to Ted Williams at the age of 22. Soto certainly hits like a Hall of Famer, even if the comparison to the Splendid Splinter is premature. He has posted a 153 OPS+ with a .972 OPS in his first three seasons. Also, his swagger and squat make his plate appearances appointment viewings. Juan Soto is an absolute stud.
Biggest Question: Do the Vets have another run in them?
The Nationals doubled down on getting some experienced players to supplement the cornerstones in Soto, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasberg. Jon Lester, Josh Bell, Alex Avila, and Kyle Schwarber have all found their way to the Nation’s capital, and Ryan Zimmerman is returning after a year away from the game. That is a lot of experience, but the Nats’ victory lap after the 2019 championship felt more like a crawl. Strasberg barely pitched, the bullpen still looked mediocre (23rd in MLB in WAR), and the lineup behind Turner and Soto barely resembled that of the 2019 squad. Washington is relying on a lot of aging and inconsistent players to hang with its stars.
Pat’s Prediction: 81-81
This team should be better than last season, but the Nats are asking for a lot of declining players to return to their prime years. Soto will rake, and Scherzer (who turns 37 in July) will find a way to defy father time. Ultimately, I do not think that the Nationals have enough depth to place them higher than the three teams above them, but the talent is here to make a playoff push.
FIFTH PLACE – MIAMI MARLINS
LAST SEASON’S RECORD: 31-29
Most Exciting Part of This Team: Sixto Sánchez
Sánchez electrified the mound in Miami in his MLB debut last season. He avoids walks (7.0 BB% last season) and hard contact (13.4% line drive rate against, 58% ground ball rate) despite low strikeout totals (20.9 K%). He still hits 97.6 mph on average with his fastball and has a strong enough changeup and slider mix to up those swings and misses. Behind him, Sandy Alcantara has provided consistent innings for Miami over the past few seasons, while other arms are coming to assist Sánchez on the hill.
Biggest Question: Where the 2020 Marlins for real?
Miami played a fun spoiler role last season, running circles around playoff favorites in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington. With that said, the Marlins had the worst run differential of any playoff team at -41. That suggests that this team may have fallen under .500 in a longer season. Their lineup leaves a lot to be desired behind Starling Marte and Brian Anderson, and the bullpen depth is questionable. This team is going to need to up its game to see playoff baseball in a longer season.
Pat’s Prediction: 75-87
I’ll give Don Mattingly’s squad a little more respect than most projections. Sánchez could be an ace in the making, and this team did play hard last season. With that said, talent is important, and the Marlins simply lack the top-line threats that are present across this division. Like the Nationals, I would not be surprised to see this team make a run, but Miami has a difficult road back to the playoffs.