In what many consider the strongest division top to bottom in all of baseball, it will be difficult for the Atlanta Braves to repeat as NL East Champions after they surprised the baseball world by winning the division last season. Bryce Harper stays in the division – but joins division rivals Phillies who spent the “stupid money” needed to get him. How will it alter the divisional landscape? Read below to find out!
1. Atlanta Braves: I’ll be surprised if Giuseppe picks the Braves as well, as this team really needs a rotation arm to step up if they do not add another one before or during the season. Sean Newcomb showed signs of being an ace along with Mike Foltynewicz but the team needs both to show it all season long. Kevin Gausman had a great second half after coming over from Baltimore but the Orioles had seen that Gausman before too. Which one will show up for 2019? Still – the strength of the pitching is the depth of options both at the major and minor league level and will carry this team. The offense is improved with Josh Donaldson – we’ll just assume he is healthy and hits 30 home runs – to pair with franchise leader Freddie Freeman. Brian McCann is a nice addition to platoon with Tyler Flowers. A full season of Ronald Acuna Jr should be an exciting force to watch unfold. I see Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies continuing to improve and help this team for the first repeat Braves titles of the East since 2004-5. Remember this?
2. Washington Nationals: The biggest under-performers of 2018 lose Bryce Harper…but can still be much better than last year’s squad. They added Patrick Corbin early in the off-season, then kept going in beefing up their rotation behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. ROY runner up Juan Soto is a great player, with the next top prospect Victor Robles right behind him to join Adam Eaton in the outfield. Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner on the left side of the infield should be a treat to watch in the field and at the plate. The Nationals the last couple of seasons have had painfully bad bullpens, and they’ve added some former closers to the pen. Will it be enough for a wild-card berth?
3. Philadelphia Phillies: What? The team that just added Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Jean Segura and more will finish in third place? YES. Rarely do teams thrown together like this actually make it. McCutchen could easily be even more done than he was as a Giant, relievers break down all the time, and of course, Bryce Harper might not fit right into the city of brotherly love. This team collapsed spectacularly last September to barely finish above .500. Aaron Nola was a legitimate ace, but the other pitchers need to improve.
4. New York Mets: The Mets got a new GM in former agent Brodie Van Wagenen, and he quickly went out and improved the team. He made a splashy trade to get Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, but splashy trades do not always equal playoff success. Certainly – with health, this rotation can be absolutely amazing. Yet how many years can you wait for perfect health? I’m excited to see what Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo can do as they continue to develop, but it won’t help the 2019 Mets.
5. Miami Marlins: At some point, this team will have some exciting young players to watch. Not in 2019.
1. Atlanta Braves
I certainly was a skeptic of the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2018 season, picking them to finish fourth in our National League East preview last year thinking they still had another year before competing. Obviously, the Braves proved me wrong in 2018 by following three consecutive seasons with at least 90 losses with a 90-72 record en route to winning the division title before falling to the Dodgers in the Division Series.
The performance by new manager Brian Snitker earned him a National League Manager of the Year honors and a three-year contract extension with Atlanta. The Braves were not expected to compete last year and were playing with house money. In 2019, the Braves will own the National League East.
The Braves wasted no time this offseason bolstering their offense with the acquisition of 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann. These two, along with Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Adam Duvall, Ender Inciarte, and the freshly resigned 2018 All-Star Nick Markakis, the Braves will be the best they have been since they won 14 consecutive division championships. The Braves have a solid pitching staff headed by Mike Foltynewictz and Sean Newcomb that along with their star-studded offense, could take Atlanta a long way in 2019.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies had a great run last season and were neck and neck with the Braves prior to an end-of-season collapse. The Phillies have gotten busy this offseason and intend on going all the way in 2019.
The Phillies made moves this offseason that will send Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Jose Alvarez, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and of course, Bryce Harper. This core of stars will join Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Caesar Hernandez, and Odubel Herrera on the offensive front and bonafide ace Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and a solid bullpen now lead by Robertson and Pat Neshek.
The Phillies showed a ton of potential in 2018 and will be back with a vengeance this upcoming season. Despite the valiant effort to bring in as much talent as possible, the Phillies had a very inconsistent offense in baseball last year on top of baseball’s worst defense. The Phillies could easily win this division by patching up these holes, and while these acquisitions will help immensely, the Braves are a more sound team and I simply can’t see the Phillies besting Atlanta in 2019.
3. Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals were easily one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2018 after firing Dusty Baker in favor of rookie manager Dave Martinez, the Nationals won just 82 games and while they finished in second, they were never true contenders from the beginning to the end of the season.
The Nationals will enter this upcoming season with one less Bryce Harper, but will still have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez, and Jeremy Hellickson make up the Nationals’ incredible (and expensive) starting rotation. The Nationals also upgraded their relief core with the acquisitions of Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal who will join Sean Doolittle at the forefront of Washington’s bullpen.
On the offensive front, the Nationals added Brian Dozier after trading Daniel Murphy in August and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki were also added this offseason. As for the players that will be returning, the Nats have a solid core headed by Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, and Ryan Zimmerman. The up and coming Victor Robles is also a Rookie of the Year Award frontrunner.
The Nationals are going to be better than last year, but the fact that they are competing with the Braves and Phillies in this division is the reason why I have them finishing third.
4. New York Mets
Brodie Van Wagenen did one thing that few thought was possible prior to this offseason, given Mets fans hope. The team that made history for ineptitude in 2018, particularly when a certain Cy Young Award winner was on the mound, now has a pretty solid lineup across the board.
The Mets’ two biggest holes going into the season were their bullpen and their offense and Van Wagenen has done a great job at filling in these holes. The Mets struck deals this offseason that sent superstar closer Edwin Diaz and stud reliever Jeurys Familia. To bolster the offense, all New York did was bring in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Keon Broxton, and Wilson Ramos. These acquisitions will accompany possible Rookie of the Year Peter Alonso, Todd Frazier, Brandon Nimmo, Ahmed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil. The Mets pitching staff will be strong as ever with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard heading the rotation with Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz not far behind the two aces.
This team certainly has the potential to compete for the Division in 2019, but these deals to me, come off as a little 2014-15 San Diego Padresque and there are holes that still need to be filled before I can see them as legitimate contenders.
5. Miami Marlins
During his 20-year career with the New York Yankees, legendary shortstop Derek Jeter was nothing but a winner and has five World Series Championship rings to prove it. Now Jeter is now getting a taste of losing and it is not a pretty sight. The Marlins posted a 63-98 record in 2018 (the worst in the National League) and were lucky if they could get 10,000 fans to come out to the ballpark to watch this atrocity of a baseball team.
The Marlins rotation is headed by Jose Urena and Caleb Smith (Yikes) and former top prospect Lewis Brinson, the centerpiece of the Christian Yelich deal for the Marlins, will now head the offense in 2019 after putting up a .199 batting average with 11 home runs in the year prior. The one bright spot on this team in 2018 was J.T. Realmuto and luckily for him, he will be donning a Phillies jersey this season. The Marlins will continue to be one of the worst teams in baseball, so don’t expect anything better from this club than a last-place finish.
At least they still have…well…um…nevermind.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow for Doubleday Double Talk’s National League Central Preview.