X-Atlanta Braves 96-66
The National League East was Major League Baseball’s toughest division in 2019 as the Miami Marlins were the only team to finish the season with a losing record. But as the teams in the N.L. East would beat up on each other last season, it was the Braves who emerged from the smoke to win the division for the second consecutive year as they won 97 games for their best campaign since 2003. However the postseason would not be as kind to the Braves as they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in a grueling five-game National League Divisional Series. And even though that the Braves have struggled in the playoffs, this squad enters the new season with one of the best teams in baseball that has the potential to win the franchise’s first World Series Title in 25 years.
Last year the Braves had one of the best offenses in the National League, and they’ll once again be a force to be reckoned with. In just two years, outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has become one of the faces of Major League Baseball as after being named as the National League Rookie of the Year in 2018, he is now a legitimate MVP candidate. Acuna is the epitome of a five-tool player, and the scary thing is that he is just beginning to scratch the surface. Last year Acuna flirted with being the first Major League Baseball player since Alfonso Soriano in 2006 to hit 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season as he was only 3 steals shy of the mark. But if Acuna finds a way to pull off the feat in 2020, the 22-year old would become the youngest N.L. MVP Award recipient in MLB history.
But Acuna is not the only youngster that is recognizing his potential with the Braves as after leading the team in batting last season (.295), 23-year old second baseman Ozzie Albies is ready to hit .300 in a season for the first time in his career. Albies is vital to the offensive production of the Braves as his 189 hits in 2019 were tops in the National League, while he also has the potential to hit at least 40 doubles for the third consecutive year.
For the last decade, first baseman Freddie Freeman has been the constant in the Braves lineup as he taken the mantle from Chipper Jones in regards to being the face of the franchise. Freeman is now 30-years of age, but he continues to be one of the top power threats in the National League as he hit a career-best 38 homers last year. And it has also not taken Freeman that long to get accustomed to his new home park as he has taken advantage of the outfield gaps at Truist Park as he is a doubles machine.
Atlanta may have lost third baseman Josh Donaldson in free agency to the Minnesota Twins, but they were able to add another quality bat as they signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna. In seven years with the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna has hit 148 career home runs. But Braves fans will remember him for what he did against Atlanta last year in the National League Divisional Series as he batted. 429 with a pair of home runs and 5 runs batted in to help the Cardinals advance. Now the Braves are hopeful that Ozuna will bring some of that clutch hitting with him as he looks to help Atlanta win the N.L. East for the third consecutive year.
Atlanta’s 4.19 team earned run average was fifth in the National League last season, while their 76 quality starts were fourth. And as the Braves know that it will once again take strong pitching to win the N.L. as this division could once more be the toughest in baseball, but Atlanta has the arms to get the job done.
Last year starting pitcher Max Fried came out of nowhere to win 17 games which was second in the National League. Fried accomplished this in spite of the fact that he had an earned run average of 4.02 as he was the beneficiary of tremendous run support during his starts. However the plus side is that Fried was also able to strike out 173 batters in 165.2 innings pitched, and his production on the mound should increase if he is able to reach the 200 innings pitched mark in 2020.
Last year starting pitcher Mike Soroka finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting to New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. And even though that Soroka was runner-up to taking home the hardware, his rookie campaign was not shabby as he went 13-4 in 29 starts with an earned run average of 2.68. There are some who feel that Soroka could be the victim of the dreaded “sophomore jinx” being that he surrendered 153 hits in 174.2 innings of work as it will be more about him locating his pitches in the new season.
Veteran starting pitcher Cole Hamels is coming back to the National League East as he helped the Philadelphia Phillies win as he helped the Philadelphia Phillies win five division titles. Now the 14-year veteran is looking to provide the youngsters on the Braves pitching staff with some guidance, while also getting it done every fifth day when he takes the mound. At the age of 36, Hamels will rely on his secondary pitches such as his curveball which is still one of the best in the game as his softer approach will be the perfect compliment to the harder throwers on the Braves staff.
For the first month and a half of the season, the Braves will not not face a team that made the playoffs last October, and a fast start by manager Brian Snitker and his crew will allow them to set the pace in the National League East.
Y-New York Mets 92-70
In spite of missing the postseason for the third straight year, the New York Mets were one of Major League Baseball’s most exciting teams in 2019. At the All-Star break, the Mets found themselves 10 games under .500, but a stretch from late July to early August saw them go 16-2 which propelled them into position for a wild card spot in the National League. However the Mets dreams of making the playoffs would fall short as they finished just three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the final wild card spot in the N.L. But hopes springs eternal for the Metropolitans as they’re hopeful that their off-season moves will point them in the direction of hoisting the World Series Title for the first time since 1986.
In spite of the fact that the Mets were able to finish with a winning record last year, the team’s general manager Brodie Van Wagenen decided to move on from Mickey Callaway as the club’s skipper. And in the place of Callaway, the Mets initially decided to hire Carlos Beltran, but he’d quickly resign from his post after reports surfaced linking him to the Houston Astros “sign-stealing scandal” in 2017.
The Mets would then stay in-house to find Beltran’s replacement as they hired Luis Rojas to be their next manager. Rojas has been with the Mets since 2007, and now he is getting his shot to run the big club. And unlike Beltran, Rojas does have previous managerial experience; albeit that it came in the minor leagues as the Mets are hopeful that the 38-year old will be able to get his message across to his team.
As the home run ball is back en vogue around Major League Baseball, the Mets were no strangers last year to swinging for the fences. New York’s 242 home runs in 2019 were fifth in the National League, and they are hopeful that this trend will continue in 2020.
The Mets have the reigning National League Rookie of the Year on their roster as first baseman Pete Alonso is coming off of a season for the ages. In 161 games last season, Alonso set a new Major League Baseball rookie record as he blasted 53 home runs, while also driving in 120 runs. Alonso became the sixth Mets player to win the award, but he will head into the 2020 season looking to avoid the dreaded “sophomore jinx”.
Like most power hitters, Alonso is prone to striking out as he did so 183 times last season. And although that Alonso has thunder in his bat, Major League Baseball pitchers now have a year’s worth game film to study his tendencies; especially his propensity to swing at breaking balls in the dirt when he has two strikes.
Another emerging star for the Mets is outfielder Michael Conforto. After suffering a dislocated shoulder in 2017, Conforto has recovered to be a solid contributor in the Mets lineup. Conforto hit a career-high 33 homers last season, but he has a smooth swing which gives him the ability to hit to all parts of the field if he decides to.
Two of the biggest surprises for the Mets in 2019 were outfielder Jeff McNeil and third baseman J.D. Davis. McNeil and Davis combined to hit 45 homers last season, but each player has the ability to consistently get on base, while each player also has the knack to get the big hit, and that “clutch gene” will be important if the Mets are going to make the playoffs this year.
However the Mets enter the new campaign with plenty of question marks around them as the health and availability of a trio of veteran players will be important. Since the Mets acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes via a trade in 2015, he has been an enigma. You have the good Cespedes who when he is focused on baseball cannot be stopped which is evident by the tear he got on coming down the stretch in 2015 to help New York win the National League East, and ultimately appear in the World Series. But then you have the other side of Cespedes who will get injured and end up in witness protection.
Since the start of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, Cespedes has only appeared in 119 games for the Mets which includes missing last year altogether. But as Cespedes is entering the final year of his contract, while also taking more than a $20 million reduction on his salary, you can expect him to have a big season in New York which would be a welcome surprise to Mets fans.
The Mets took a chance in acquiring second baseman Robinson Cano last year from the Seattle Mariners, and for their troubles they rolled snake eyes. Age is beginning to show on Cano’s 37-year old body, and if the Mets are able to get 125 quality games out of him in 2020, then they should consider themselves lucky.
Then there is the case for infielder Jed Lowrie who was signed to be a utility player for the Mets last season, but he only appeared in nine games due to a knee injury. However the Mets are hopeful that the veteran Lowrie will be able to stay healthy as he’ll provide depth due to his ability to play multiple infield positions as well as his defensive prowess.
Since the Mets inception in 1962, their franchise has always been known for its pitching with names such as Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone who have all excelled while wearing the blue and orange. The current Mets are adding to that reputation, and starting pitcher Jacob deGrom is the ring leader of the unit.
In each of the last two years deGrom was named as the National League Cy Young Award winner in spite of the fact that he only won 21 games over that stretch. deGrom has quickly become one of the game’s best pitchers as he has been extremely difficult for hitters to have success against. Last season deGrom led the N.L. in strikeouts, and he did it mainly by challenging opposing batters with the heat right over the plate. Now deGrom cannot expect to consistently get hitters out with his fastball right over the plate in 2020, but he is crafty to know how to mix up his speeds, while also utilizing the corners.
But behind deGrom, there are plenty of questions in the Mets starting rotation. As good as starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard can be when he is on top of his game, he has had the inability to remain healthy throughout his career. 2019 marked just the second time during Syndergaard’s career where he was able to make at least 30 starts, and in spite of the fact that he recorded 202 strikeouts, he also led the National League in earned runs allowed (94), while also surrendering 24 homers. Throughout Syndergaard’s Major League Baseball career, he has been known to rely heavily on his fastball which consistently hits 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, but he is at the point of the game, where he needs to starts focusing on using his secondary pitchers such as his curveball and changeup.
Aside from Syndergaard, starting pitchers Steven Matz, Marcus Stroman, and Rick Porcello have all been up and down throughout their respective careers as first-year pitching coach Jeremy Hefner will look to get the most out of this unit.
And if the Mets are going to be serious about making the playoffs in 2020, their bullpen must improve. Last year the Mets bullpen blew 27 saves which was fourth in the National League as those losses really hurt them coming down the stretch. Along with Cano, relief pitcher Edwin Diaz was acquired from Seattle last year, and he struggled in a big way. After saving 57 games for the Mariners in 2018, Diaz only saved 26 games for the Mets, and at one point he was removed from being a closer together. Diaz was throwing batting practice last year as he allowed 58 hits in 58 innings pitched, as his dominant fastball was not there. The Mets are hoping that a heel injury was all that prevented Diaz from being dominant last season as they’ll need him to show the form that he had in 2018 when he was lights out in Seattle.
Relief pitcher Jeurys Familia is supposed to be Diaz’s tag-team partner in the bullpen, but he was equally ineffective last season in setting up games for Diaz as he posted an earned run average of 5.70, while also allowing 62 hits in 60 innings pitched. In 2015 and 2016, Familia was at the top of his game as he saved 94 games over that stretch, and he did it primarily with his slider which will be two vital pitches for him if he is going to turn things around in 2020.
The Mets have one of the toughest schedules in Major League Baseball to kick things off as the month of April will see them have seven series versus teams who made the playoffs last year which includes them facing both World Series participants from last fall in the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.
Y-Philadelphia Phillies 91-71
Last spring the Philadelphia Phillies signed outfielder Bryce Harper to a 13-year deal for $330 million. And in signing Harper, the expectations for the 2019 Phillies went through the roof. However the ultra tough National League East proved to be too difficult for the Phils to overcome as they’d finish fourth in the division with a record of 81-81. The underachievement by the Phillies would result in the firing of manager Gabe Kapler as his over usage of sabermetrics and analytics consistently drew the ire of veteran players in the Philadelphia clubhouse. And in parting with Kapler, the Phillies sought out the services of an experienced manager that they are hopeful will get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
From 2008-2017, Joe Girardi was the manager of the New York Yankees as he helped them win the World Series in 2009. During Girardi’s time with the Yankees, as well as his brief stint as the manager of the Florida Marlins, he developed a reputation for getting the most out of his teams and then some which is why the Phillies are hopeful that he can do the same for him.
Girardi’s first order of business will be to get more out of a Phillies lineup that has the potential to be one of the best in the National League as opposed to being the middle of the road unit that they were in 2019.
Last year the Phillies batted .246 which tied them with the Milwaukee Brewers for ninth in the National League, and they have to potential to be so much better in that regards; but them getting better begins with Harper.
Harper has the ability to hit for average which was evident in his 2015 season with the Washington Nationals as he batted .330 en route to being selected as the National League MVP. But since then Harper has continued to hit for power, however he has not been as consistent at the plate which included him hitting .260 last year.
In looking at Harper’s swing, he has become impatient at the plate, while following the current trend around Major League Baseball which is to swing for the fences. However Harper has a naturally sweet swing at the plate which makes him dangerous to all parts of the field, and maybe working with Girardi will change things for a player who has the potential to be in the N.L. MVP conversation every year.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins has the power to make him one of the top sluggers in the game, but he also has shocking plate discipline for a big bopper. Last year Hoskins led the National League in walks with 116, while he also blasted 29 long balls. However Hoskins still has the issue that most sluggers have which is that he is prone to the strikeout pitch. In 2019, Hoskins struck out 173 times, and after batting just 226 last season, I can see Girardi working with the youngster to make him a .250 hitter in 2020.
Generally when a veteran manager takes over a new team, he tends to bring some of his former players to the new club, and that is exactly what Girardi did as the Phillies signed former New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious this off-season.
When the Yankees acquired Gregorious from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015, he was asked to do the impossible which was to replace the legend that was Derek Jeter. And in five years with the Yankees, Gregorious didn’t become a Hall of Famer like Jeter, but he held his own as he provided solid defense in the Bronx, while also batting .269 with 97 home runs during his tenure there. And now Girardi will need Gregorious to provide some veteran leadership in the Phillies clubhouse, while we also know that the pressure of playing in a big city where the expectations are high will not faze him one bit.
Infielder Jean Segura didn’t have the impact that the Phillies expected to have in his first year in Philly as his numbers were slightly down at the plate. But Segura’s offensive output will be very important for the Phillies in 2020 as he’ll be one of the table sitters for this club.
Philadelphia also has a solid veteran presence in their lineup with the likes of outfielders Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen. Bruce and McCutchen may no longer be everyday players like they were earlier in their respective careers, but what they give the Phillies is outfield depth, along with more options for Girardi.
But whereas the Phillies will be able to hit, their pitching staff comes into the new season with plenty of question marks surrounding them. Last year Philadelphia’s team earned run average of 4.53 was 11th in the National League, while opponent’s hit .261 off of them. Philadelphia attempted to remedy this over the winter as they signed former New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to a a five-year deal for $118 million.
Wheeler began his career with the Mets in 2013, but the injury bug has held him back. Wheeler missed both the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injuries, and last year marked just the second time in his career that he was able to make at least 30 starts in a season. Wheeler has never hit the 200-inning mark in a season, but now the spotlight will be on him after he signed such a lucrative deal in free agency.
After winning 17 games in 2018 and finishing third in the National League Cy Young Award race, starting pitcher Aaron Nola took a big step backwards last season which included his earned run average increasing by more than a run. Nola was able to strikeout more than 200 batters for the second consecutive year, but hitters were catching up to his pitches at a better pace as he surrendered a career-worst 176 hits. But with a former Major League Baseball catcher in Girardi now as Nola’s manager who has a reputation of getting the most and then some out of his hurlers, he should be able to have a bounce back campaign in order to once again be one of the best pitchers in the N.L.
Relief pitcher Hector Neris is coming off of his best season with the Phillies as he saved 28 games last season, while Philadelphia also has solid middle relief that includes relief pitchers Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez will be busy in 2020 as Girardi is known to heavily use his bullpen.
After beginning 2019 as Major League Baseball’s “flavor of the month”, the Phillies must be up for the challenge in 2020; especially since the competition in the National League East will be very intense.
Washington Nationals 87-75
The Washington Nationals will begin the 2020 Major League Baseball season in unfamiliar territory as they will be the hunted. For the first time in franchise history, the Nationals were able to claim the World Series Title last October, and they did it grand fashion as they became the first team in World Series history to record four road wins. But the Nats celebration was short lived as they lost some key pieces to their championship team as they look repeat as World Series Champions.
With Major League Baseball’s currently luxury tax crunch that effects the big-market clubs, the Nationals had to make a decision as they’d be unable to re-sign both third baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. And after it became apparent that what Rendon was asking for was not in Washington’s price range, the Nationals elected to let him walk in free agency as he is now a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Washington would re-sign Strasburg as both sides agreed a seven-year deal for $245 million. Strasburg won 18 games last year which was a career-high, while he also led the National League in the category. But the biggest thing that has hampered Strasburg’s career has been his inability to remain healthy. Last season was just the third year that Strasburg was able to make at least 30 starts, and as good as he is, can the Nationals count on him to have another season like he did last year?
Starting pitcher Max Scherzer only won 11 games for Washington last season, but he was still able to live up to his reputation which is that he strikes out opposing batters. In each of the last eight years, Scherzer has surpassed the 200-strikeout mark. And although that Scherzer’s velocity could be ready to slightly dip as he is 35-years of age, he will still inch closer to the coveted mark of 3,000 career strikeouts as he is just 308 away from it.
The Nats batting order will definitely take a hit following the departure of Rendon as he led the club last season in most major statistical categories, but there is still some talent on this unit.
After outfielder Juan Soto finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018, he should that he was no fluke in 2019. There is not much that Soto cannot do on the baseball diamond as he is one of the top five-tool players in baseball, and he has plenty of fun doing it. Soto is only 21-years of age, and he plays the game with the enthusiasm of a kid as you know that you’re in for a treat each time that he steps into the batter’s box. And as Soto is just beginning to scratch the surface in regards to his talent, he has the potential to go yard 40 times this season, while also stealing at least 20 bases which would put him in the mix to be the N.L.’s MVP.
During the off-season, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo re-signed several veterans such as infielder Howie Kendrick, but the biggest thing for Washington is whether or not that they’ll be able to catch lightning in a bottle once more.
As a new Major League Baseball season is set to begin, the Nationals must try to avoid the dreaded “World Series hangover”, but they must also contend with the fierce competition in the National League East which is second to none.
Miami Marlins 63-99
The Miami Marlins head into the 2020 Major League Baseball season in the midst of one of their infamous “rebuilding projects”, but who knows how long that it will last. A new ownership group that includes former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter took over the Marlins late in 2017, and since then he has been hard at work attempting to transform Miami into what he was accustomed to during his playing career in the Bronx. But the success has not shown up on the field as under Jeter’s watch as the Marlins have combined to lose 203 games over the last two years which included dropping 105 contests last season which was the second worst mark in franchise history.
Jeter has entrusted Don Mattingly to be the Marlins manager as the former Yankees shortstop always had a fondness of him which dates back to their brief time together as teammates in New York. And in spite of the fact that Mattingly has never recorded a winning campaign during his four years in Miami, Jeter gave him a contract extension last year that runs through 2022. But even though that not much is expected of the young Marlins in 2020, will they find a way to make some noise in the ultra tough National League East?
Last year the Marlins were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball as they were near the bottom of most categories in the National League in regards to hitting and pitching. And as the young talent for the Marlins does not appear ready to take the next step in 2020, this team will once again have a difficult time in the N.L. East as the other four teams there have an eye on making the postseason.