NL East Forecast: Hey, Washington, Let’s Try This Again, Shall We?

The Spitter whiffed badly last year in our projections for the National League Eastern Division. So we went back through the numbers to see if there was a singular thing that Atlanta excelled at. The answer is yes…and no.

The Braves finished fifth in the N.L. in runs-scored and eighth in all of baseball in batting average (.300) on balls put in play. They did just about everything well. Nothing in particular stood out except for two things: doubles hit and batting average against. The Braves had 30 more doubles compared to the Washington Nationals and gave up an N.L. low .229 batting average against. Both teams were dead even in a host of other categories including runners left on base per game (3.61 for Atlanta to 3.68 for Washington). Atlanta was fourth overall in total bases and fourth in the N.L. in batting average with runners in scoring position. That’s a nice combination to have. But Atlanta pitchers also gave up 148 more walks than the Nationals. What does it all mean? Damned if I know.

WASHINGTON: I loved what the Nationals did in the off-season not knowing if they were going to get Bryce Harper. The signing of Patrick Corbin from Arizona bolstered an already strong pitching staff and the signing of Matt Adams gives them an extra first-baseman/designated hitter. Ryan Zimmerman hit .377 against lefties last year but only .228 against righties. Adams has hit .278 against righties in his career and .285 with men on base.

I like Anthony Rendon, and what’s not to like? All the guy does is hit 40 doubles, 25 home runs and .290 every year while not striking out a whole lot. You can put him anywhere in the lineup, and he plays a really nice third base, though he has yet to win a Gold Glove.

Howie Kendrick will still be hitting when he’s 75. I can envision the bat boy helping him out to the plate in his walker and him hitting .285. He gives you a lot offensively in what could be a platoon role in three positions. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets this year as he comes off of an Achilles injury. Adam Eaton is coming off knee surgery. He’s also one of those .290 guys who can do a lot of things well offensively and will be asked to provide some power lost with the defection of Harper.

Speaking of outfielders, the Nationals have what looks to be a cornerstone franchise player in Juan Soto. A .292 batting average with 22 homers in just 112 games is a nice way to start a career. He also had a .405 on base percentage last year. Trea Turner managed to hit .272 last year which significantly helped his on-base percentage and made him a valuable leadoff man. He needs to continue that this year so that the high-average guys behind him can drive him in.

The strength of this team last year and this year is on the mound and makes it all the more puzzling why they were only able to scuffle to a .500 record. Max Scherzer is a dominant number-one starter with Corbin being a two. Anibal Sanchez did not have a lot of innings last year, but had a 2.83 ERA. Then you have Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson as your fourth and fifth starters. If this team can play defense they should be really, really good. And maybe the loss of Harper actually benefits them with everybody focusing a little more on what needs to be done instead of waiting for him to bail them out.

Projection: 92 wins

ATLANTA: The Braves could use a lead off hitter with a better on-base percentage then .325 but that’s what they have in Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies, at least among the guys who can steal bases. Behind either of those guys, you have the potential for some offense. Freddie Freeman will put up numbers Nick Markakis had a great year last year (.297, 78R, 93 RBI.) If Ozzie Albies, Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna Jr. put up similar numbers, this team has a chance.

On the mound their starters aren’t as good as Washington’s but are way better than Philadelphia’s. Mike Solcynewicz lead the team with a 2.85 ERA. That and spiritual enlightenment are nice. Julio Tehran, Kevin Gausman, and Sean Newcomb are all solid. If Newcomb could walk fewer hitters, he would be even better.

Projection: They may h it more homers than the Nationals, but not as many as the Phillies. But then again, they just might with Donaldson. It wasn’t that long ago he was an MVP. With their pitching they should be around 88 wins

NEW YORK: The Mets needed offense so they went out and got slugging second baseman Robinson Cano, who should be relatively fresh coming off a suspension for a diuretic masking agent (according to Sporting News) that he had to serve last year.

Catcher Wilson Ramos is worth at least five or six wins per year over most guys in his position because of his bat (even if Baseball Reference lists his career Wins-Above-Replacement at just 13). After that, you have to wonder where the power’s going to come from. The Mets’ number-one home run hitter to start the year is: Jed Lowrie. I repeat. Jed Lowrie, who had a career high of 23 last year. If this team is going to have a chance they need to have center fielder Brandon Nimmo lead off and then have Ramos, and outfielders Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto behind him. That should give them their best chance to score runs. Pete Alonso hit 59 home runs in 255 minor-league games. It’s worth a shot giving him a look. Yoenis Cespedes could push them into the playoffs if he can get back on the field after surgeries to both heels.

On the mound, Jacob deGrom rightfully won the National League Cy Young award and is backed up by Noah Syndergaard, Zack wheeler and Steven Matz. Though it was a disgrace deGrom won only 10 games with an ERA of 1.70, Matz’ record of 5–11 with an ERA of 3.97 is also testament to how anemic the Mets offense was. I don’t know what they’re going to get out of fifth starter Jason Vargas.

Projection: If the bullpen can’t hold on to whatever leads the Mets can scratch out, they are in trouble. If the bullpen comes around, they should have just enough offense to exceed their total of 77 wins from last year by double digits. So 87 wins isn’t unreasonable. But I worry.

PHILADELPHIA: the Phillies overachieved last year with Gabe Kapler as their first year manager. Looking at this lineup, Kapler should get manager of the year if he’s able to break .500, but will probably get fired because any team with Bryce Harper on it should win the World Series, right? Right?

Catcher JT Realmuto steps in for the departed Wilson Ramos. The lineup is full of guys with double-digit home runs, but nothing spectacular and that’s where they’re going to have to score when Harper isn’t carrying them. He may not help as much as people think if he continues to strike out as much as he did last year. At some point other teams will just start trying to get him out instead of trying to pitch around him –even in situations where runners are in scoring position. There are flaws in that swing… Rhys Hoskins (34 HR and 96 RBI last year) serves as a nice four or five hitter behind Harper.

The lineup is okay -a lot of .245 hitters with a double-digit home run potential. There aren’t any gaping holes, but they could be really prone to offensive funks.

On the mound of the same cannot be said as the starting lineup is full of gaping holes. Aaron Nola is a stud (212.1 innings pitched, 2.37 ERA 4:1 K:BB ratio). Jake Arrieta is now a number-four starter. He’s good for a .500 record and an ERA under 4.00, but he’s no longer dominant. Then you have Nick Pivetta, Zack Eflin, and Vince Velasquez. All of them have so far shown themselves to be number five starters if not bullpen material.

Projection: This team does not have the pitching to get it done but there will plenty of 13-12 ball games and Bryce Harper to bring fans out to see them play. The addition of Harper helps. But let’s not forget Washington won 82 games last year with Harper and with one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball: 79 wins

MIAMI: Offensively, Starlin Castro is probably their best hitter. They’re going to need Lewis Brinson to cut down on his strikeouts. You can’t have 120 strikeouts and only 11 home runs. Martin Prado is 35 and a good guy to have around to teach the kids how to hit. Miguel Rojas provides depth at multiple infield positions and has pretty good plate discipline. After that….crickets.

On the mound you have a number-four starter as your number one in Jose Urena, who is still walking too many and striking out too few. Sandy Alcantara’s ERA last year looks nice at 3.44, but he had a lot of problems finding the plate (30 Ks, 23 BBs). Over a full season that isn’t going to get it done. The rest of the staff, Caleb Smith and Trevor Richards have room to improve and have minimal big league experience. So, no reason to have any real belief in this squad, yet.

Projection: I don’t see a lot of hope for Manager Don Mattingly. He must be a patient man. 58 wins

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