A Quick Look At The National League East
Sunday, March 28 2021 @ 06:36 AM EDT
Contributed by: Eephus
Mets gotta Mets...
Wrapping up the National League here with the NL East! Another fairly compelling division. Maybe with more of a surefire favourite than the NL Central, but good storylines here throughout. Lets go in and take a looksy:
Atlanta Barves (2020: 35-25, 1st, Lost NLCS)
Q: What do they need to take the next step (World Series)?
Answer: The Dodgers to ascend to an even higher league. No, actually Atlanta gave the Dodgers all they could handle in the 2020 NLCS and nearly knocked them out (3-1 series lead, were ahead in the middle innings of Game 7). They're a fairly young team and this has all the makings of a fun NL rivalry for the next few years to come.
Off first glance, the 2020 team had an elite offense (led the NL in nearly everything including OPS, OBP and SLG) but the pitching was middle of the pack. Mike Soroka only made three starts, Cole Hamels just one (is he retired now? I can think of a team that could use him) and Sean Newcomb only four which were all terrible. The rotation was led by lefty Max Fried and stellar prospect Ian Anderson who were both exceptional. Everybody else... not so hot.
So General Manager Alex Anthopoulos (never heard of him... sounds Greek) addressed this by adding veterans Charlie Morton and lefty Drew Smyly. To me, Smyly is a lottery ticket since he's very good when healthy, which is basically never. Morton though is a very good pickup, slotting in nicely behind Fried and Anderson (and Soroka whenever he comes back... latest report thinks May).
Meanwhile this team will score lots and lots and lots and lots of runs. Marcell Ozuna is back, and while repeating his incredible 2020 seems unreasonable he's a consistently above average regular with the bat. The young core of Ronald Acuna Jr, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley is still intact, while another top outfield prospect in Cristian Pache seems ready to contribute if Ender Inciarte's bat continues to be a sinkhole. Oh and they have the reigning MVP of the National League... Freddie Freeloader or something. In all seriousness though, what Freddie Freeman did is pretty damn incredible considering the dude caught COVID-19 at some point after the season was postponed, and was seriously ill with it too. For him to bounce back from something that physically debilitating and perform the way he did... hard not to be a big fan.
I still think my jazz joke was good though.
Miami Marlins (2020: 31-29, 2nd, lost NLDS)
Q: Was their winning record in 2020 a fluke?
Answer: Probably. They were outscored by 41 runs and their Pythagorean W-L had them at 26-34, roughly a 70 win pace over a 162 game season.
Looking over that club, it's not like they were a super young team either... at least on the position player side (the pitching staff was actually very young with an average age of 26.7). Still though, they won more playoff games than 22 other major league teams last year, gotta give them that.
They seem very much like a team that's inbetween: the young position player prospects (Lewis Brinson, Jazz Chisholm) did not had a good time facing major league pitching, so their best hitters were all fringey older players like Jesus Aguilar, Miguel Rojas and Garrett Cooper having career years. Plus old Blue Jay friend Jon Berti, who seems to have slotted in nicely as a play-everywhere league average hitter type guy. They added outfielder Starling Marte at the deadline last year and still have him for one more season at 12.5 million, which when combined with Corey Dickerson's 8.75 million is probably more than the rest of the team combined (I checked: it isn't, but it's more than 1/3).
The young starting pitching is the ticket, and the quintet of Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, Daniel Castano, Sandy Alcantara and Elieser Hernandez were all good-to-excellent in 2020, and none enter the 2021 season older than 26 (Sanchez is the kid of the group at 22, and likely the most familiar name). To compliment that, they've added outfielder Adam Duvall, who can run into a home run on occasion for you, plus some veteran relievers like Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber, Dylan Floro and... and...
...sigh... I've reached my limit. I can only talk about the Marlins so much.
If the young starting pitching is for real, they've got a puncher's chance at a Wild Card. It's more likely they're ten games under .500 at some point so they ditch Dickerson and Marte for prospects in late June. I might be wrong? Even if I am though... meh.
Philadelphia Phillies (2020: 28-32, 3rd)
Q: Will they again have the worst bullpen in MLB history?
Answer: They sure hope not. I was listening to an episode of Spin Rate with Kaitlin McGrath and Drew Fairservice in which they interviewed Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb, where he commented just how unbelievable it was how nobody the Phillies called upon out of the pen could record outs. Even established relievers like Heath Hembree and David Phelps came over and were just instantly terrible. Check the 2020 Phillies page because it's astounding: they used 29 different pitchers and at least a quarter of them have double digit ERAs. It was so bad it undoubtedly cost them a playoff berth.
Thing is, the starting staff wasn't really great either, aside from the top three of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin (who were each excellent). Jake Arrieta's hittability was unviable (certainly the Cubs are hoping not), Vince Velasquez shows flashes but hasn't ever been able to harness his great stuff, and Spencer Howard is a strong prospect who got roughed up in 2020 and now seems questionable to begin the season due to injury. They've brought in starters Matt Moore and Chase Anderson in hopes either one or both can regain some of the form that made them decent big league rotation pieces, because hey why not it can't be much worse.
Archie Bradley (who I've always liked a lot, sad the Reds let him walk) is aboard to battle for a late inning role, while Tony Watson, Jose Alvarado (who everytime I watch pitch amazes me that he isn't the most dominant lefty reliever in baseball.. yowza that fastball), while Brandon Kintzer and Hector Rondon* are your "throw these guys at the board" option and hope one or two of them are useful bullpen arms.
*I think Rondon was released yesterday. Oh well.
Credit to the Phillies, they clearly saw what sank them in 2020 and so went out and tried to add some established yet still cheapish options to help them. The cheapish part is because financially this team is tapped out. Bryce Harper, Wheeler and the re-signed J.T. Realmuto have long massive contracts (Wheeler becomes a free agent the earliest, after the 2024 season), while Nola and the also re-signed Didi Gregorius aren't exactly cheap either for the next couple years. This isn't just a Dodgers situation where you simply have more money than multiple countries in Oceania, because what has made the Dodgers so dangerous is how they can sign anybody they want in addition to always having a bunch of great young (cheap) players knocking on the door of the big leagues.
The Phillies pipeline, beyond Howard, doesn't seem to have a serious impact player potentially on the horizon anytime soon. This is the team that has to win now and it's very much a stars and scrubs squad. Their season will really depend on those stars shining, but even more on some of those so called scrubs stepping up. Geez though, that bullpen really can't be any worse.
I'd be remiss though not to mention Alec Bohm. Scoring runs wasn't a problem for the Phillies last year, shouldn't be again with that deep lineup and Bohm just has a great approach when you watch him. Reminds me of D.J. LeMahieu (except he doesn't need the short RF porch in New Yankee Stadium... hyyooo!!!)
New York Mets (2020: 26-34, T-4th)
Q: Is all that lost off-season momentum actually good for this team?
Answer: I'd say, yes actually. For the team on the field I mean. All the bad awfulness of the former GM Jered Porter (I don't care if I misspelled his name) getting fired for being a creep, then the Mickey Callaway stuff wherein he turns out to be a well known creep... ah forget it. I hope they lose 120 games again.
Fine I'll continue with the review. It might be good for the on-field team since the big additions (Lindor, Carrasco) aren't a shadow hanging over the team, at least from my (very) limited perspective. So... it takes the pressure off of them? Sorry this is flimsy as hell. I like the players on this team but everything else... eeechh. Not exactly impressed with Shapiro and Atkins either, considering their dealings with Callaway in Cleveland and the predictable answers when questioned on it, but aggghhh lets get back to baseball before this goes off the rails into a totally different conversation.
The Mets The Baseball Team, should be pretty good I think. They were .500ish for most of 2020 and now they won't have the rotting corpse of Rick Porcello regularly making starts for them in 2021. Marcus Stroman is back after opting out, Taijuan Walker is onboard, Noah Syndergaard coming back from injury, Carlos Carrasco is a terrific MLB starting pitcher and so easy to root for (dude survived f***ing cancer... his nickname is "Cookie"... when he first arrived in the US as a teen he ate pizza everyday for three months because he didn't know anything else to order), plus the awesomeness of Jacob deGrom... uh oh I feel myself almost coming back around. Curses! This is a very likeable team.
Can they overtake Atlanta? ....aaaaaaaaa maybe? Aside from Lindor, I'm not exactly overwhelmed by their offseason additions (especially letting that centerfielder from Connecticut slip through their fingers). A four year deal for catcher James McCann? You know he's not related to Brian, right? 15 million for Trevor May? Why yes, I like younger David Phelps a lot too. Guaranteed money for Jonathan Villar? I'm sure he's actually a better player than he was as a Blue Jay, and I'm sure he won't drive any of your fans completely nuts with constant questionable plays... nope no chance of that.
On the topic of former Blue Jays, this squad gives the Brewers a run for their money (don't worry I won't do the carnival huckster bit again. Ol' Doc Pretzel says it's bad for my sarsaparilla prescription!). Along with Stroman, Villar and Walker, Aaron Loup is also around to hit batters! Kevin Pillar is around to try and hit everything by swinging at pitches above his head! (he has done this). Sean Reid-Foley is here to grow a mean moustache! Miguel Castro is here to... get traded for Troy Tulowitzki again? Wait wait... Trevor Story...! ah? ah???
All right enough goofiness. This team is pretty good! And I think giving those starts you gave to Porcello and Michael Wacha to Stroman, Carrasco and Walker (and eventually Syndergaard) will be enough to offset the pain of giving away 2021 AL Cy Young award winner Steven Matz. Okay I'm done!
Washington Nationals (2020: 26-34, T-4th)
Q: How good can Juan Soto be?
Answer: Holy flying intergalactic jeeps, he's pretty insanely good already. His career batting line is .295/.415/.557 in 1349 plate appearances. This will be his age 22 season. Yipes.
The 2020 Nationals attempt to run it back was not successful. The loss of star third baseman Anthony Rendon surely didn't help, but the biggest reason was their compromised four headed starting pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. Scherzer was still pretty good (perhaps not as elite as the multiple Cy Young winner has been before) but Corbin was very ordinary and hittable (2-7, 4.66 with 85 hits surrendered in 65.2 innings) and Sanchez even worse (4-5, 6.62). Strasburg meanwhile only made two starts, pitching a total of five bad innings before succumbing to injury. They actually maintained an average-ish offense despite only three regulars (catcher Yan Gomes, shortstop Trea Turner and Soto) performing above league average. In the case of Juan Soto, it was extremely above. The team ERA however, was 5.09 and ranked 13th in the NL.
For the Nationals to challenge again in 2021, they'll need those pitchers to be healthy and bounce back (except Anibal Sanchez since they bought him out)... a tricky proposition considering all those pitchers are above 30 (Scherzer is 36). To get younger, they added Jon Lester! Ah, why not.
Jokes aside, it isn't impossible to imagine this team as a threat again. They've brought in Brad Hand to shore up the bullpen, Kyle Schwarber as a hitting reclamation project they can hide in an outfield corner, first baseman Josh Bell from the Pirates because the Pirates are cheap... I mean as a buy low acquisition, and Ryan Zimmerman is also back because the damn Nats uniform just fits him so well. Say Corbin and Strasburg are their old selves, Hand and Will Harris hold things down at the back end, Bell bounces back and a young player like Carter Kieboom figures it out... well at the very least that'd make them better than Miami and maybe even the Phillies. Could it happen? Maybe.
Anyway crystal ball time. Like the NL Central, I except this division to be a tight one so I'll explain my reasoning afterwards. Okay and go:
The Barves are still the best team in the division by a comfortable margin, but I think the Phillies and Nationals will be pesky enough to stop them from running away with it. I do like the Mets (on the field) and admit I underrated their offense when I wrote that initial blurb. If guys like Nimmo, Dominic Smith and J.D Davis can provide above average production again then this lineup is really treacherous, since you've already got all-star level bats in Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and of course Lindor. Among challengers to Atlanta, the Mets, when you think about what their starting pitching could be also, definitely have the highest ceiling. The Phillies would need everything to go completely right to do that, as would Washington and even then for them it probably wouldn't be quite enough. The Marlins are the Marlins.
That's a wrap on the National League! Next we'll jump over into the AL West where... well frankly I have no idea what is happening over there. Is it finally, maybe, finally maybe or maybe finally the year of the Angels? I dunno, but we'll find out next time!