Not last, but possibly least...
We wrap up our quick look of the National League with a glance at the
beasts of the east. Or more accurately, one genuine beast, a pair of
potentially scary wolf-type creatures, and a duo of fluffy pillows. Lets
jump into it:
Philadelphia Phillies (2016: 71-91)
Oh Do Tell, Odubel
In all honesty, I went back and forth when trying to decide which team would likely own the basement of the NL East in 2017. I settled on the Phillies but I don't think they'll run away with that low, low honour. Some familiar names will be wearing the red pinstripes in 2017: everyone's (least) favourite greaser Clay Buchholz was picked up from the Red Sox in a straight-up salary dump for Boston, Michael Saunders is aboard trying to remember what worked in the first half of 2016, and Howie Kendrick is coming over from the Dodgers to play second base? Left-field? First-base? Um... well he's a Phillie that much I know. Add in some other veteran pitchers on one-year deals like Jeremy Hellickson, Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, and you've really got the solid makings of a team... with a bunch of potential trade-chips come July. Because... lets be real.
With Ryan Howard at long, long last being bought out of his infamous contract, the last remnant of those great Phillies teams of the late 2000s is now gone. As one era of Philadelphia baseball has its page of history turned, another chapter is already beginning. There are some youngsters emerging here, like centerfielder Odubel Herrera (8.0 WAR in two seasons) stolen away from Texas in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft (lolz Rngerz), power hitting third baseman Maikel Franco, and a trio of starting pitchers in Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez (picked up in the weird Ken Giles trade) and Jerad Eickhoff (picked up in the Cole Hamels deal), all of whom were 25 or younger in 2016. There's a young core forming, but there are some ways to go. At least this organization has a realistic direction again.
Prediction -- 73-89, 5th NL East
Atlanta Braves (2016: 68-93)
The Swanson TV Dinners
As I wrote earlier, it was difficult to choose who would win the basement crown (frown?) of the National League East in 2017. But I think Atlanta's additions of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey give them just enough to avoid that fate. Yeah I know, hear me out for a moment. First of all, Colon is awesome and I want him to pitch until he's 60 (all while hitting Homer Simpson-esque home runs of course). As for Dickey, I think escaping the American League East for the senior circuit is going to add a couple extra seasons to his already improbable career (this might've been it for him if he'd stuck it out in those AL launching pads). A major problem for the Braves in 2016 was starting pitching, so bringing aboard a pair of ancient but consistent innings eaters in Colon and Dickey should help with that. Jaime Garcia is also in the fold, but expecting anything resembling a full season from him is not likely a winning proposition. Still not a bad gamble though for a team unlikely to go anywhere in 2017.
The most interesting tale to watch with the Braves in 2017 will be the emerging star shortstop Dansby Swanson, stolen along with Ender Inciarte from Arizona in the hilariously bad Shelby Miller trade. Swanson had a successful debut in 2016, putting up a 115 OPS+ in 38 games (145 PAs) while grading as a positive defender. He ain't gonna be Andrelton Simmons out there (who is?) but the hope is that he can provide much, much more with the stick.
Like the Phillies, the Braves will likely have a bunch of trade chips come July should things work out right by not working out. At least Freddie Freeman finally has some other guys in the lineup who can also actually hit in Swanson and Matt Kemp (unlike his time with Canada... sigh).
Prediction -- 74-88, 4th NL East
New York Mets (2016: 87-75)
Terry Collins Stars In: Too Many Outfielders!
After a winter of nearly every single Mets outfielder being linked in some kind of trade rumour, guess what they're all still here. Even Jay Bruce! (I love the Beaumont Bomber, but he is kinda bad now.) So with Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes all in the mix... this is gonna be interesting.
Depth is never a bad thing, of course, and this team has a fair bit of it. The constantly injured David Wright is, well, injured, but that won't hurt the Mets as much as usual thanks to Wilmer Flores' strong 2016 season (16 HRs, 108 OPS+) and so he'll figure to slide into third base for the time being. Perhaps the most significant question facing the Mets in 2017 is, strangely enough, starting pitching. Thor Syndergaard is awesome of course, as is his long haired brethren Jacob deGrom and lefty Stephen Matz. Yet there are two major concerns: firstly the health of deGrom and Matz, both of whom missed considerable time in 2016 with elbow issues (a big EEEEEK!!! for young pitchers). Both are supposedly healthy this spring, which is encouraging. Not as encouraging has been Matt Harvey's mixed bag of a spring as he also recovers from injury. His velocity still isn't quite back to his high 90s Dark Knight days of dominance, though his fastball is touching the mid 90s on occasion according to reports.
It's extremely hard to make a solid prediction on this team. Aside from catcher there's solid offense everywhere on the diamond, but a bunch of pieces that don't exactly fit (Lagares is the only real center-fielder for example, and yet the most likely to not get at-bats in the current configuration). As for the pitching, if the Mets can get full seasons out of deGrom and Matz without any lingering effects of injury, while Harvey returns to something resembling his previous form, this is a team with four aces that will challenge for the division title. If there are further injury/ineffectiveness problems, like in 2016, the result of that season will be similar to this one: good but not great. They did get some good innings last year out of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, plus surely Zack Wheeler has to reemerge from the darkness at some point, right? There's too much depth for them to actually be bad, but a lot of variance between good and great. Hmmmm, sounds familiar.
Prediction -- 88-76, 3rd NL East
Miami Marlins (2016: 79-82)
Do It For Jose
Knowing what we know now about the circumstances that claimed his life, it's difficult to be overwhelmed with sympathy towards Fernandez himself and the reckless abandon that led to his end by boat crash. Personally, most of my sympathy goes out to his young family, his friends and the Marlins community that are still so devastated by his sudden passing. One of the most touching moments I've seen in baseball in a long, long time was Dee Gordon's home run to lead off the very first game after the fatal accident, the look of emotion on Gordon's face as he rounded the bases is truly something I won't forget anytime soon. The greater tragedy is not death itself, but the void left behind by death.
This is surprisingly a veteran team, besides the outfield of baby-faced Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and "I'm gonna hit a ball to the moon one day" Giancarlo Stanton. There's a strikeout heavy bullpen in place with closer A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough and the latest fringe-starter-turned-bullpen-ace-maybe in David Phelps. The starting pitching isn't all that inspiring, but there might be enough to cobble together a working rotation (I mean, as long as they don't give Jo-Jo Reyes another look. Yikes). To be honest, I'm going mostly on feeling with this one. Every time people think the Marlins are gonna be good or at least a dark horse, they disappoint, meanwhile their successful seasons have come completely out of nowhere. So... maybe this is one of those seasons. It's entirely irrational sure, it's just a feeling. Though I'm sure if that feeling is right, the storyline of Fernandez's ghost will be drilled into our heads to a point that's beyond tiresome. But hey, they also still have the Amazing Ichiro. Get that guy a ring, please.
Prediction -- 91-71, 2nd NL East *Wildcard*
Washington Nationals (2016: 95-67)
Mad Max's Finger
As I wrote this time last year, there's just something about Dusty Baker and the playoffs isn't there? He's now managed in four cities (San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati and now Washington) and has taken all of them to the postseason. It's just that once those teams get there, for whatever reason, dramatic disappointment strikes. The Giants 4-0 lead over the Angels in Game Six, the Steve Bartman Game (Gonzalez's error was much more damaging, I've always maintained), the Reds leading the Giants 2-0 in the NLDS only for Posey's grand slam off Latos in Game Five to finish the comeback. And now 2016, Washington up 2-1 in the NLDS over the Dodgers and Game Five guaranteed to be at Nationals Park. The Nationals lose Game Four, but enter the 7th inning of Game Five up 1-0 with SuperAce(TM) Max Scherzer dealing. Well...
Top of the 7th, Dodgers Batting, Behind 0-1, Nationals' Max Scherzer facing 6-7-8
|t7||0-1||0||---||1,(0-0)||R||LAD||Joc Pederson||Max Scherzer||20%||50%||Home Run (Fly Ball to LF-CF)|
Marc Rzepczynski replaces Max Scherzer pitching and batting 9th
|t7||1-1||0||---||4,(3-0)||LAD||Yasmani Grandal||Marc Rzepczynski||6%||56%||Walk|
Blake Treinen replaces Marc Rzepczynski pitching and batting 9th
Howie Kendrick pinch hits for Andrew Toles (LF) batting 8th
|t7||1-1||0||1--||3,(2-0)||LAD||Howie Kendrick||Blake Treinen||9%||65%||Single to LF (Line Drive); Grandal to 2B|
Charlie Culberson pinch hits for Julio Urias (P) batting 9th
Austin Barnes pinch runs for Yasmani Grandal (C) batting 7th
|t7||1-1||0||12-||3,(0-2)||O||LAD||Charlie Culberson||Blake Treinen||-9%||56%||Strikeout (foul bunt)|
Sammy Solis replaces Ryan Zimmerman (1B) pitching and batting 6th
Clint Robinson replaces Blake Treinen (P) playing 1B batting 9th
Carlos Ruiz pinch hits for Chase Utley (2B) batting 1st
|t7||1-1||1||12-||5,(2-2)||R||LAD||Carlos Ruiz||Sammy Solis||17%||73%||Single to 3B (Ground Ball); Barnes Scores; Kendrick to 2B|
|t7||2-1||1||12-||4,(1-2)||O||LAD||Corey Seager||Sammy Solis||-5%||69%||Flyball: CF|
Shawn Kelley replaces Sammy Solis pitching and batting 6th
|t7||2-1||2||12-||2,(1-0)||RR||LAD||Justin Turner||Shawn Kelley||21%||89%||Triple to CF (Fly Ball); Kendrick Scores; Ruiz Scores|
Oliver Perez replaces Shawn Kelley pitching and batting 6th
|t7||4-1||2||--3||4,(1-2)||O||LAD||Adrian Gonzalez||Oliver Perez||-2%||88%||Groundout: 2B-1B|
|4 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 1 LOB. Dodgers 4, Nationals 1.|