X-Washington Nationals 90-72
Since 2012, the Washington Nationals have had one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball, but they have struggled to live up to their potential. The Nationals have three National League East Titles to their credit since 2012, but they’ve also failed to win a playoff series. And dating back to their time as the Montreal Expos, the Nats have only won one postseason series in their 49-year history. Washington will head into the 2017 MLB season looking to buck the trend as after winning the N.L. East, they tend to really underachieve in the following season and you have to wonder if things will be any different for them now?
Dusty Baker is set to begin his second season as the Nationals skipper and he is indeed a man that knows how to get results. In Baker’s managerial career, he has now led the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Nationals to the postseason. Baker gets the most out of his teams, but the biggest shock in 2016 was how he got Washington to the playoffs.
The Nationals were able to win the National League East in 2016 in spite of the fact the outfielder Bryce Harper had a down year. After Harper won the N.L. MVP Award in 2015, he only managed to hit .243 with 24 home runs and 86 runs batted in last year. Harper still gave maximum effort for the Nats, but his timing at the plate simply wasn’t there. However, Harper is the kind of player that knows how to bounce back, and for the Nationals to do some damage this year, he will need to recapture his MVP form.
But as Harper was unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy picked up the slack. In Murphy’s first season in Washington, he finished second in the National League MVP voting as he batted a career-high .347 with 25 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Murphy was a motivated man in 2016 after he was spurned by his former team in the New York Mets which led to his signing with the Nats. However you have to wonder if Murphy and the Nationals will be able to go the well with that once more in 2017?
But aside from Harper and Murphy, the Nats are really high on shortstop Trea Turner. In 73 games with the Nationals in 2016, Turner batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 home runs, and 33 stolen bases. Turner is only 23-years of age and his potential led Washington to trading infielder Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels over the off-season. Turner can be a lead-off hitter for the Nats and his getting on base in front of Harper and Murphy will be important.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon has been consistent for Washington at the hot corner, while they have a veteran presence in their clubhouse in first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Jayson Werth. But two acquisitions that flew under the radar during the off-season by National general manager Mike Rizzo were when he acquired utility man Adam Eaton and catcher Derek Norris in separate trades.
The Nationals acquisition of Eaton got some attention due to the fact that three pitchers were sent to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for him, but he could be well worth it. Two of the last three years saw Eaton lead the American League in triples as along with Turner, he could be a valuable table setter in D.C. In five Major League Baseball seasons, Eaton is a career .284 hitter, while he also brings a scrappy element to each team in which he has played for.
Last September saw catcher Wilson Ramos suffer a torn ACL which hurt the Nats chances in the playoffs. Ramos has subsequently joined the Tampa Bay Rays, but his injury paved the way for Rizzo to acquire Norris from the San Diego Padres. Norris gives the Nats another veteran back stop along with Jose Lobaton to work with this pitching staff as they look to repeat as National League Eastern Division Champions.
The Nationals team earned run average of 3.51 was second in the National League and there is potential once for this staff to be one of the best in the business.
Starting pitcher Max Scherzer became the first Nats pitcher since Gio Gonzalez in 2012 to win 20 games en route to winning the National League’s Cy Young Award, and he should once again be a force. Scherzer is one of the better power pitchers currently in baseball which is evident by him striking out at least 200 batters in each of the last five years. Scherzer knows how to dictate the pace on the mound as he tends to get ahead of hitters in the count which paves the way for his electric fastball.
After spending 2015 between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Tanner Roark got his opportunity to pitch every fifth day for the Nationals and he rewarded the team by winning a career-high 16 starts. However 2016 was the first time in Roark’s career that he threw more than 200 innings in a season and you have to wonder if there will be any carry over to 2017?
After the strong start by Gonzalez upon joining the Nats in 2012, he’s been an up and down pitcher that needs to recreate himself. Gonzalez’s velocity has dipped slightly on his pitches as it time for him to become more of a junk pitcher that locates.
Each time that starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg appears ready to turn the corner in order to become the ace in which the Nats envisioned upon drafting him first overall in 2009, he cannot overcome the injury bug. Like Scherzer, Strasburg has the potential to win 20 games, but he is still a guy that Washington must approach with the kid gloves in order to maximize his effectiveness.
All signs point to relief pitcher Blake Treinen being the Nationals closer as neither Jonathan Papelbon or Mark Melancon returned to the Nats after they combined to save 36 games last year. Treinen has only saved one game during his three-year Major League Baseball career and it will be baptism by fire to begin the 2017 campaign.
2017 will more than likely shape up as a two-team race for the National League East Crown between the Nationals and Mets. And another strong start by Washington could be just what the doctor ordered for them to win the division in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
Y-New York Mets 89-73
The New York Mets will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking to do something that they’ve never done before which is to make the postseason in three consecutive years. After winning the National League Pennant in 2015, the Mets were expected to once again reach the World Series Title last year. However injuries plagued the Mets in 2016, but somehow they were able to secure a playoff berth. And now the Mets are hopeful to be healthy in order to make another World Series push.
Pitching was the name of the game for the Mets in 2015 for their National League Pennant, and in order for them to get back to the postseason this fall, they’ll once again have to rely on their arms. The Mets allowed veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to leave in free agency as he joined the Atlanta Braves being that they have plenty of young studs in their starting rotation.
With injuries in 2016 to starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, the Mets relied on another young stud in starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. In 30 starts last season for the Mets, Synderggard went 14-9 with a 2.60 earned run average while striking out 218 batters. Syndergaard further solidified his reputation as a big game pitcher when he struck out 10 batters, but got a no-decision against the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card Game. Fans in the Big Apple have gravitated to Syndergaard due to the fact that he is fearless on the mound which is something that they can relate to.
For the second time since 2013, Harvey missed significant time due injury, and after he had shoulder surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, the man who the fans in New York City refer to as “The Dark Knight” is looking to bounce back. deGrom falls into that category of looking to bounce backas after expecting to be just stop gap starter in 2014, he would go on to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. deGrom was a big part of the Mets rotation in 2015, but an elbow injury cut his season short last year. Injuries delayed starting pitcher Steven Matz’s route to the show, but he did display his potential coming down the stretch in 2015 and the early stages of 2016 for the Mets. However the same injury bug that slowed Matz down in the minors got the best of him last year as he succumb to a shoulder injury.
But the Mets are anticipating that Harvey, deGrom, and Matz will be healthy this year to rejoin Syndergaard in the starting rotation that helped to propel New York to the National League Pennant in 2015. But the Mets do have depth in their pitching staff with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. And if there’s another injury, both Lugo and Gsellman can contribute in the starting rotation while also providing long relief out of the bullpen.
Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler was supposed to be another one of the big arms in the Mets rotation, but Tommy John surgery has kept him out of action for the last two years. The Mets are looking to ease Wheeler back into the mix, and he could be valuable for them this year out of the bullpen.
The Mets will more than likely begin the upcoming Major League Baseball season without the services of relief pitcher Jeurys Familia. Familia set a Mets single-season record in 2016 with 51 saves, but he was arrested during the off-season for domestic violence. The chargers against Familia were subsequently dropped, however this does not mean that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred won’t reprimand him for the incident.
And if Familia isn’t available to begin the season for the Mets, they do have fall back options for the ninth inning which could be Wheeler or relief pitcher Addison Reed. Prior to joining the Mets in 2015, Reed had a past life being a closer as he combined to save 104 games for the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.
But as good as the Mets pitching is which was evident by their 3.58 earned run average that was third in the National League last year, their lineup must become better at the plate in order for this team to be a legit World Series contender.
Last year the Mets were second in the National League in home runs as they hit 218. But New York was 12th in batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.316), while they were tied for 11th in runs scored (671). Like the pitching staff, the Mets lineup was hit hard by the injury bug which included three infielders ending the year on the disabled list.
Mets third baseman and team captain David Wright was only able to appear in 37 games last year due to spinal stenosis. The Mets are hopeful that Wright will be available more this year, but the odds are against him. Wright has only appeared in 75 regular season games over the last two years and at the age of 34, a bad back is tough to overcome in order to be an everyday player. Wright’s injury also makes it harder for him to do the little things such as make a routine throw from third base to first base, and if the Mets are able to get 100 games out of him at the hot corner, I would be shocked.
After first baseman Lucas Duda belted 27 home runs for the Mets in 2015, he only appeared in 47 games last year after he suffered a stress fracture in his back. But Duda is scheduled to become at the free agent at the end of the season, and thus I expect him to bounce back in a very big way for the Metropolitans.
Last year second baseman Neil Walker tried to make the folks in Queens forget about the departed Daniel Murphy as he belted 23 home runs which tied a career high. But like Wright and Duda, Walker’s season was cut short after he underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy. Walker passed up the option to become a free agent and instead he returned to the Mets after accepting the team’s qualifying offer for $17.2 million. And if Walker is able to stay healthy in 2017, along with providing the Mets will solid defense and a good bat again, it’ll be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
But in case that the Mets are once again hit with the injury bug, they have depth in their infield. Fans were sad to see shortstop Jose Reyes leave in 2011 as he and Wright were the left side of the Mets infield. Reyes was never the same player when he left the Mets as he has spent time with the Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Colorado Rockies.
Reyes dealt with domestic violence issues following the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Reyes would subsequently be suspended by MLB for Colorado’s first 51 games before they designated him for assignment. Reyes would return to the Mets as they were desperate for infield help, and he gave the team some of the flashes that made him a fan favorite during his first stint in Queens.
Reyes is no longer a .300 hitter, but he still possesses some speed, while he is hungry to once again have the chance to play as he has once again won over the fans in the Big Apple. However Reyes is no longer a shortstop, but he should once again be vital for the Mets at third base with questions about Wright’s health.
T.J. Rivera could be the future for the Mets at second base and I expect him to push the switch hitting Walker for time there, while Matt Reynolds could be valuable for the team as a utility infielder; even though he probably be on the shuttle back and forth to the minors.
But the biggest move that the Mets made this off-season was to re-sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes joined the Mets just prior to the trade deadline in 2015, and his impact in the lineup was immediate as he helped to propel the offense which led to New York winning the National League East. In 132 games for the Mets last year, Cespedes batted .280 with 31 home runs and 86 runs batted in. Cespedes opted out of his contract, but he and the Mets would agree on a new four-year deal that is worth $110 million.
Cespedes provides the Mets with a legit power bat in their lineup that they have lacked for some time as he has that rare ability to put a lineup on his back. But the downside is that Cespedes has been known to go into funks at times as well. Cespedes coming back to the Mets is a “high risk, high reward” scenario, however if it means that New York will be playing baseball in October for a third consecutive year it will be well worth it.
Last year there was speculation that the Mets would lose Cespedes in free agency which led to team general manager Sandy Alderson acquiring outfielder Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds. At first Bruce struggled with the Mets as he was pressing, but he did managed to hit 8 home runs for the Metropolitans in 50 games. However when Cespedes re-signed, it created a logjam in the Mets outfield.
Cespedes is locked in as the Mets everyday left fielder, but you’ll have Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Juan Lagares all vying for time at the other two positions. Lagares and Conforto will compete in center. But it’s Lagares who has the better glove, and Conforto who has the better bat. Granderson and Bruce are both veteran players who’ll each become free agents after this season. However Granderson has provided the Mets with a veteran presence in the clubhouse due to his work ethic and it would be hard for Alderson to part with him.
The Mets still have questions behind the plate with their three-headed monster in catchers Rene Rivera, Travis d’Arnaud, and Kevin Plawecki. The Mets have given d’Arnaud and Plawecki chances to prove themselves. Each player knows how to call a game behind the plate, but the Mets need more production from them with a bat in their hands as both d’Arnaud and Plawecki batted south of .250 last year.
This could be the final year for Mets manager Terry Collins as there’s the possibility that he could retire. But if the Mets are able start strong and take care of their business, Collins could finish off his managerial career in style with a third straight trip to the postseason.
Miami Marlins 79-83
To call the 2016 Major League Baseball season a difficult one for the Miami Marlins would be an understatement. The Marlins were in contention for a wild card spot in the National League until they ran out of gas over the final two months. There was still optimism for the Marlins to finish with some momentum for 2017 until the morning of September 25 when starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident off of the coast of Miami. Fernandez’s death impacted the baseball world as well as his native Cuba. Fernandez was one of the game’s rising stars and he was rapidly becoming a legend in Miami. Marlins manager Don Mattingly had to piece things together after Fernandez died, but there was no way to hide the raw emotion of losing a person like Fernandez.
The Marlins have now had several months to digest the loss of Fernandez and move on. And as the 2017 Major League Baseball season is set to begin, the Marlins are hoping that they can get their first winning campaign since 2009.
Fernandez’s death leaves a gaping hole in the Marlins starting rotation as he put fear into every lineup in the National League East. Fernandez was 16-8 last year with an earned run average of 2.86. But no other Marlins starting pitcher won more than 9 games with an earned run average that was below 3.85. And as the Marlins don’t have another stud in their starting rotation, things will be pieced together with spit and glue. However if the Marlins starting pitching staff is able to take a lead into the late innings, they do have a quality closer to give the baseball to.
In the last two years, relief pitcher A.J. Ramos has saved 72 games for the Marlins. Ramos is a fire baller that Mattingly can rely on to close out contests. But if the Marlins do fall out of playoff contention early on, expect Ramos to become a hot commodity on the trade front.
For the Marlins to have a realistic shot at making the postseason this year, they are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup which will require everyone staying healthy and living up to their potential. The Marlins have several players in their lineup that have the potential to hit at least 25 homers, but shockinginly as a team they were only 14th in the National League last season with 128 long balls.
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of Major League Baseball’s best power hitters. In seven years with the Marlins, Stanton is already the franchise’s all-time leader in WAR (wins above replacement) at 27, and home runs (208). But as much stress that Stanton can put into opposing pitchers, he also puts that same fear into the Marlins front office. Only once during Stanton’s career has he been able to appear in at least 150 games. As most power hitters are prone to strikeout often, Stanton falls into that category as he could flirt with striking out 150 times this year. But one of the biggest issues with Stanton is that his batting average continues to dip as it is boom or bust with him. Last year Stanton only batted .240 as his propensity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone makes it very enticing for pitchers to get ahead of him in the count in order to make him chase pitches out of the zone.
Outfielder Marcel Ozuna is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance as he was one the Marlins most consistent hitters last season. Outfielder Christian Yelich is developing into one of the better contact hitters in the National League. Yelich batted .298 last season while hitting a career-high in homers with 21. Yelich should be in running to be an All-Star this season, while if he concentrates on hitting into the gaps at the cavernous Marlins Park, he could also flirt with getting at least 10 triples this year. Yelich also has one Gold Glove Award to his credit, and with his range in the outfield, he could once again have in name in the conversation as far taking home some more hardware.
After first baseman Justin Bour finished fifth in the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, the expectation level was high for him last year. Bour hit 23 homers in 2015, but injuries limited him to just 90 games in 2016. And like Stanton, if Bour is able to remain healthy in 2017, it will provide some extra pop to Miami’s lineup.
After second baseman Dee Gordon led the National League batting in 2015 at .333, he was once again expected to be a catalyst last year. But it didn’t play out that way for Gordon has he failed a drug test which saw him miss 80 games. And now as Gordon is seeking to rebuild his reputation, he must once again reassert himself as the Marlins table setter if this teams expects to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
It won’t be easy for the Marlins to begin the season as they’ll be on the road to face the Washington Nationals and New York Mets respectively as these are the two favorites to win the National League East. It will be tough for the Marlins to overtake either team, and I am not sure if this organization has still gotten over the untimely death of Fernandez.
Philadelphia Phillies 77-85
When Andy MacPhail became the Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations in 2015, he knew that he had a rebuilding job ahead of him. The Phillies lost 99 games in 2015 as they were a far cry from the team that made the postseason in five consecutive years from 2007-2011 which included winning the World Series in 2008. The Phillies roster got old and MacPhail knew that he would need to revamp it while also finding a new field general.
2016 was Pete Mackanin’s first full year as the manager of the Phillies and it wasn’t as bad as most people expected. The Phillies had a winning record through the first two months of the Major League Baseball season before they began to fade. The Phils would lose 91 games, but they remained competitive throughout. And although that the Phillies will be fighting an uphill battle in the National League East in 2017, their effort and hard work will make them a team that you’ll be unable to forget about.
But in order for the Phillies to realistically compete, they are going to need improvement in each phase of the game. Last year Philadelphia’s team earned run average of 4.63 was 12th in the National League. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was a pleasant surprise in his first season in Philadelphia as he led the pitching staff in wins with 12.
Starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff has plenty of potential for the Phillies. Eickhoff was one of the key prospects that Philadelphia received when they shipped starting pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in 2015. The 26-year old Eickhoff was able to make 33 starts for the Phillies last season as he posted a record of 11-14 while his earned run average was 3.65. Eickhoff also had 20 quality starts as he recorded 167 strikeouts. Eickhoff fell just short of the 200-innings plateau, but could flirt with winning 15 games for Philadelphia this year.
Starting pitcher Aaron Nola is one of the keys in the Phillies rebuilding process, but his 2016 Major League Baseball season was cut short due to an injury. Nola was shut down after just 15 starts last year due to an injured elbow. Nola visited Dr. James Andrews who has been known to perform his fair share of Tommy John surgeries, but he instead prescribed a platelet-rich plasma injection and rest. However it will be interesting to see if Nola’s elbow is fully healed and ready to take on the riggers of making 30-35 starts over the course of an 162-game season.
The Phillies do have a solid bullpen which features relief pitchers Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Neris was able to strike out 102 batters in 80.1 innings in 2016 which paved the way for his 37 holds. The Phillies are Gomez’s third Major League Baseball team. And after Gomez spent six years trying to figure out his role, he now appears to be someone that Philadelphia can count on in the ninth inning. But if the Phillies were to fall out of contention, I would expect MacPhail to definitely dangle Gomez out there on the trade market to see if a contender would want his services. But this Phillies pitching staff will have its hands full as they’ll once again be asked to mask the issues of the team’s offense.
Last year the Phillies were last in the National League in runs scored (610), while they were 14th in both batting average (.240), and on-base percentage (.301). Philadelphia did acquire veteran utility man Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his presence in Philadelphia is more about working with some of the team’s young players. The Phillies do have some young potential in their lineup; especially in the infield which could once again lead this franchise to glory.
Third baseman Maikel Franco led the Phillies in home runs last year with 25, and the age of 24, he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Like Franco, shortstop Freddy Galvis is coming off of a career year as he belted 20 homers. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez doesn’t possess the power of Franco or Galvis, but he’s rounding into being a solid contact hitter as he batted .294 in 2016 to go along with an on-base percentage of .371. However this trio must improve their defense as they combined to commit 33 errors last season.
Outfielder Odubel Herrera is coming off of his first All-Star Game appearance, and in a few years he has the potential to be one of the best outfielders in the National League. Herrera is a solid contact hitter who knows how to get on base which is evident by his .361 on-base percentage from last year. Herrera also stole 25 bases for the Phils in 2016 and his ability to get on base will be important for Philadelphia to hang around in the playoff race.
The Phillies will continue to be a scrappy team, but they still have some improvement ahead of them as they’re still a year or two away from becoming a legitimate contender.
Atlanta Braves 73-89
The rebuilding process of the Atlanta Braves has been a tough one as they have not had a winning season since 2013. The Braves have seen the parade in the National League East pass them by as the Washington Nationals and New York Mets are the two best teams in the division, while the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies are inching closer to contention. The Braves have lost at least 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990, and as they are set to begin life at SunTrust Park in Cobb County, Georgia, the last thing that they can afford to do is to remain an afterthought.
Brian Snitker is set to begin his first full season as the manager of the Braves. Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as the Braves manager last year when he was fired after the team’s 9-28 start. Atlanta would go 59-65 the rest of the way under Snitker which was enough for Braves president of baseball operations John Hart to give him the job on a full-time basis.
Even with the Braves rebuilding process, they can still lean on one of the best first baseman in Major League Baseball in Freddie Freeman to be a center piece in their lineup. After a down 2015, Freeman bounced back in 2016 to hit a career high in home runs 34, while also batting .304. The Braves have remained steadfast in not trading Freeman in spite of interest from other teams. And if the Braves are going to shock most people in order to make the playoffs, Freeman will be a big part of it.
Outfielder Matt Kemp is not the all-around player that he was when he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2011 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he is a still a quality player. Kemp split 2016 with the Braves and San Diego Padres as he hit 35 home runs. Kemp is one of those players that is streaky, and the Braves would love to see a long hot streak from him in 2017.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Diamondbacks quickly soured on Swanson as they felt that he would not be the player that they initially projected him to be. However the Braves were more than happy to acquire Swanson from Arizona as in 38 games with Atlanta last season, he batted .302 with an on-base percentage of .361. The Braves hope that Swanson is not a flash in the pan as they need a lead-off hitter who’ll be able to consistently get on base in front of Freeman and Kemp.
The Braves team earned run average of 4.51 was 11th in the National League last season. Like Freeman, the Braves scoffed at offers for starting pitcher Julio Teheran who was only 7-10, but he possessed an earned run average of 3.21. Teheran would have had a better record if he played on a better team. And as there have been some upgrades to the Braves for 2017, Teheran could flirt with winning 15 games.
Behind Teheran, the Braves will be relying on some veteran arms in their starting rotation. Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon is set to begin his 20th Major League Baseball season and he has become a cult hero. Colon will be 44-years of age in May, and last year he led the Mets in wins with 15. Colon is not a hard thrower, but his rubber arm can eat up innings, while also giving the Braves a valuable veteran in their rotation whom the youngsters can lean on for advice. The Braves also signed a 42-year old starting pitcher in R.A. Dickey whose knuckleball can be very difficult to deal with when he’s on. Dickey spent the last four years of his MLB career with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he was unable to recapture the success that he had in 2012 when he won the National League’s Cy Young Award as a member of the Mets.
Relief pitcher Jim Johnson is not the player that he was when he led the National League in saves in 2012 and 2013, but he could still be valuable for the Braves in spite of the fact that he more than likely will not have as many opportunities to close out games this summer in Atlanta.
The Braves will begin the upcoming season facing an uphill battle as their first eight games will be on the road, while it will also be interesting to see how many fans will make the trek from Atlanta to Cobb County in order to watch them play.