After previewing the entire American League, it’s time to look at the possibly the most exciting division in baseball: the NL East. This was the most active division during the offseason; the Mets, Phillies, Nationals, and Braves all added former All-Stars to the roster. Those four teams could all be playoff teams in 2019, so this division will be incredibly fun to watch.
First Place: Atlanta Braves
Projected Record: 90-72
Ronald Acuna LF
Ozzie Albies 2B
Freddie Freeman 1B
Josh Donaldson 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Tyler Flowers C
Ender Inciarte CF
Dansby Swanson SS
The integral part in the Braves winning the NL East last season was their young lineup, which exceeded all expectations. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies both impressed last season, with the former winning the NL Rookie of the Year award while the latter made the All-Star team. Both players should continue their progression this season, with Acuna an MVP candidate. The best hitter in this lineup remains veteran Freddie Freeman, who is as consistent as it gets. He’ll be joined by newcomer Josh Donaldson, who is coming off an injury-plagued season, but was one of the game’s top third baseman heading into last season. Nick Markakis may take a step back this season after posting an OPS over .800, but he and Tyler Flowers are solid veteran contributors. To top it off, Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson are both above average defenders who have shown flashes of promise offensively. To sum it up, this young Braves lineup has a chance to be a formidable unit; three players (Acuna, Freeman, Donaldson) could end up winning the NL MVP award, while others should also provide a major impact.
The Braves rotation is interesting, to say the least. Mike Foltynewicz’s breakout season in which he posted a 3.37 ERA played a critical role, but he’ll likely be out for most of April with an elbow injury. Still, once he returns, he should once again assume the role as the ace of this pitching staff. Both Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman have tremendous pitching arsenals and ace-level potential, but up to this point, neither has been able to put it together for a full season. That could change this season. Julio Teheran provides little optimism after posting an ERA around 4.00 despite an incredibly low .217 BABIP; an ERA in the 5.00s can be expected from him this season. The last rotation spot is up for grabs, but for now, it should belong to Touki Toussaint, who thrived in the bullpen late in the season and in the postseason. The Braves rotation has the talent to be an above average unit, but with injury and consistency concerns, it’s an average unit at the moment.
Though it’s filled with under the radar pitchers, the Braves bullpen could be a very productive unit in 2019. Though he’s currently dealing with a shoulder, AJ Minter looks like the closer of the future after taking on that role late in the season. Jonny Venters, Daniel Winkler, Jesse Biddle are all relievers who should give Atlanta solid production this season, as should Aroldys Vizcaino, Chad Sobotka, and Shane Carle. If they decide to carry eight relief pitchers, Max Fried would give the Braves a third left-handed reliever who is capable of being a long-reliever or a could fill a spot in the rotation if needed to. Keep an eye out for this bullpen; they could quietly emerge as one of the league’s best group of relievers this season.
What gives the Braves the edge over the other talented teams in this division is their depth. Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson are decent players who provide excellent versatility that gives the Braves the option to utilize a four-man bench. Meanwhile, there is plenty of depth in the bullpen, while Atlanta has so many minor-league pitchers ready to make an impact that it’s hard to count. In a long 162-game season, Atlanta’s depth is critical; they’ll be able to sustain the ups and downs that comes with an MLB season better than their counterparts.
The Braves have the perfect combination of youth and experience, as well as star power and depth. Though they could use a front-line starting pitcher, they remain the best team in this division.
Second Place: Washington Nationals
Projected Record: 88-74
Adam Eaton RF
Trea Turner SS
Juan Soto LF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Brian Dozier 2B
Yan Gomes C
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Victor Robles CF
The prospect of the Nationals lineup is fun to discuss. Just look at their 1-2 punch of Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, who each had an OPS north of .900 last season. The top of the lineup is also tremendous with Adam Eaton providing terrific on-base skills and Trea Turner possessing elite speed and a solid offensive profile. Meanwhile, Brian Dozier is a terrific bounce-back candidate, while the duo of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki turns the catcher position from a weakness into a strength for the team. Ryan Zimmerman can no longer fully be counted on, but the same cannot be said for rookie phenom Victor Robles, whose five-tool ability makes him the front runner for NL Rookie of the Year. Washington’s lineup is deep with every player at least an average contributor and looks to be one of the best in baseball.
The rotation is also a major strength for the Nationals. Max Scherzer finished in the top two in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018 for the third straight season and remains one of the best pitchers in baseball. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbina are high-end #2 options in a rotation, so to have them both is a tremendous luxury. Anibal Sanchez revitalized his career with the Braves last season throwing a cutter and limiting hard contact allowed, and there’s nothing that would suggest he’ll regress this season. Jeremy Hellickson isn’t a flashy option as a #5 roster, but he’s a consistent and steady arm at the back-end of the rotation. This rotation is easily one of the league’s best; it could carry the Nationals to playoffs possibly on its own.
Unlike their rotation and lineup, there isn’t as much certainty with Washington’s bullpen. Whether with injuries (Sean Doolittle, Trevor Rosenthal), or consistency (Kyle Barraclough, Koda Glover), there is reason to be concerned with their group of relievers. Still, Doolittle and Rosenthal should thrive if healthy in their late-inning roles, while Barraclough and Glover have the upside to also be reliable relievers. Tony Sipp and Matt Grace aren’t terrific options, but they’re satisfactory choices as the two left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Justin Miller has also shown flashed of excellence, though he also has some consistency issues. The Nationals bullpen is necessarily a weakness, but it’s possible it could if things don’t play out the way they expect it to. With good health and some sort of consistency, however, this unit should likely be a reasonable unit for Washington in 2019.
Matt Adams, Michael Taylor, and Howie Kendrick are all decent options off the bench, but none solidify Washington’s position player depth. Meanwhile, there is little pitchning depth present on the roster, and with few minor-leaguers major league ready, filling out the pitching staff could get ugly if injuries begin to pile on.
All offseason, I tabbed the Nationals as the clear best team in the division. While their starting lineup and rotation are superior to the Braves, I’ve sold some of my stock in them thanks to lackluster depth and a somewhat concerning bullpen. Plus, with little financial or prospect capital, this is likely the team the Nationals will have all season long. That’s fine, however; this is a very talented team even without Bryce Harper.
Third Place: Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Record: 87-75
Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper RF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
JT Realmuto C
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B
Odubel Herrera CF
With the addition of four former all-stars, the Phillies lineup should be much improved in 2019. Bryce Harper is a game-changer and based on improved underlying stats and his success in Philadelphia, he should produce like a superstar for his new team. JT Realmuto is also a tremendous add; he’s one of the top catchers and could thrive now that he’s not playing 81 games in Miami. Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura are also impact performers, and each should at least be two-three win players this season. Those additions are complemented by Rhys Hoskins, who should produce much better now back at first base. Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera round out the lineup, and though none are coming off of promising campaigns, all have produced at an acceptable rate at some point in their careers. In short, this lineup should be dangerous this season.
ter finishing third in the NL Cy Yong voting, Aaron Nola is the undisputed ace of this pitching staff and should continue to be for a long time. Jake Arrieta is definitely on the decline, but at the very least he can be a decent innings eater. Nick Pivetta is one of the league’s most likely breakout candidates with tremendous peripherals in 2018, while Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez each also have the potential to be above average major league pitchers. Though the rotation isn’t spectacular outside of Nola, it should at least be serviceable, with the potential to be above average.
Adam Morgan/James Pazos
The most underrated part of this incredibly improved Phillies team is its bullpen. David Robertson is one of the most consistent relievers in baseball, while Seranthony Dominguez is just scratching the surface of his potential. Juan Nicasio is a terrific bounce-back candidate, while Hector Neris and Tommy Hunter are also fine options in the bullpen. Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, and James Pazos all are capable of being reliable lefty options in the bullpen, and them producing would really make the unit an elite one. No matter what, this is a strong bullpen that is incredibly deep with a perfect mixture of relievers.
After signing Harper and McCutchen, the Phillies have a surplus of outfielders with Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr. Scott Kingery is also a young, versatile piece, and could allow Philadelphia to carry an extra reliever. Speaking of their relievers, Philadelphia has plenty of them; their Triple-A bullpen could match up with the bullpens for most major league teams. Jared Eickhoff is a solid #6 starter, and with some young arms progressing in the minor-leagues, Philadelphia has more than enough depth on their pitching staff. That could come in handy this season.
Though their mediocre rotation and the fact that they have a lot of moving parts keeps them in third place in the division, the Phillies are still a very talented team with few weaknesses. If the new additions mesh together well, I may be overlooking them; they could possibly be a World Series contender.
Fourth Place: New York Mets
Projected Record: 86-76
Brandon Nimmo LF
Jed Lowrie 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Wilson Ramos C
Michael Conforto LF
Peter Alonso 1B
Juan Lagares CF
Amed Rosario SS
In his first offseason as Mets general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen was fearless in acquiring talent; he brought in Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, amongst others. Cano, Lowrie, and Ramos will likely fill out the middle of the order. Though age is a concern with all of them, none have shown any signs of regression yet; they should each be a major influence this season. Already on the team, corner infielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo each are coming off of terrific seasons, and they’ll look to take the next step in their progression this season. Peter Alonso and Amed Rosario are two young players that aren’t yet established in the MLB, but with the former a high-end slugger and the latter an above average defender, each will provide at least some value this season. Center field is a mystery; Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton are the only two options for the position. Still, having seven out of the eight spots filled in the lineup with solid players is important, especially considering how weak the Mets lineup was last year.
The obvious best part of the Mets roster is their rotation; it’s as good as it gets. Jacob deGrom is coming off of a season in which he won the Cy Young award after posting a FIP under 2.00, and should continue to pitch an elite level. Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler did a terrific job limiting hard contact last season, and each is a Cy Young contender in 2019. That’s as lethal of a 1-2-3 punch as it gets. Though Steven Matz and Jason Vargas have had some recent struggles, both are still solid back-end starters. Matz had a 3.39 FIP in 2016, while Vargas had a terrific second-half. As long as they stay healthy, which is always an issue with the Mets rotation, this group will keep New York in the playoff hunt all day long.
A weakness in 2018, the bullpen is an area where Van Wagenen improved greatly this offseason. Ranked as the top reliever on my list, Edwin Diaz should continue to dominate as the closer of the Mets, while Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson are more than capable of being the late-inning bridges to him. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman both can go multiple innings out of the bullpen, and each was effective last season. Luis Avilan was another addition made by Van Wagenen this offseason, and he’s an outstanding option as the second lefty reliever amongst this team. The last spot in the bullpen is a mess, but if they decide to give Paul Sewald a second chance, he may be able to prove to be a decent reliever; his peripherals well exceed his actual stats. No matter what, there’s no denying that the Mets have, in my opinion, the best bullpen in this division.
Jeff McNeil, Keon Broxton, Todd Frazier, Dominic Smith, and Travis d’Arnuad make out a solid five-man bench, with McNeil bringing flexibility with his ability to play almost every position. Still, there isn’t much pitching depth, whether it be starting pitching depth or bullpen depth. Van Wagenen did improve the team’s position player depth, but a lack of pitching depth could kill them once again.
There’s no doubt that Van Wagenen ameliorated the Mets roster greatly. There is doubt, however, if it’s enough for them to reach the playoffs. For now, they remain a step back from the top three teams in this division.
Fifth Place: Miami Marlins
Projected Record: 67-95
Curtis Granderson LF
Neil Walker 1B
Brian Anderson 3B
Lewis Brinson CF
Starlin Castro 2B
Jorge Alfaro C
Austin Dean RF
JT Riddle/Miguel Rojas SS
The trade of JT Realmuto stripped the Marlins of the last core player; this lineup’s outlook is bright at all heading into 2019. Brian Anderson is the lone bright spot in the lineup after posting a 3.9 WAR last season and is currently the face of the franchise at the moment. Veteran additions Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker were two terrific additions for this young team; both should do reasonably well at the top of the order. Starlin Castro is capable of being an All-Star level second baseman, but he needs to improve his on-base percentage. Jorge Alfaro also possesses that same type of upside, though a high BABIP and a high K% rate suggests he may actually regress in his first season with the team, while Austin Dean and the combo of JT Riddle and Miguel Rojas don’t provide any sort of optimism. Lewis Brinson has tremendous upside, but his struggles last season have lowered his stock quite a bit. That’s the story of this Marlins lineup: some potential, yet not a lot promise.
The Marlins rotation shouldn’t be horrible in 2019. Jose Urena induces a lot of ground balls, Dan Straily is relatively stable, and Trevor Richards and Pablo Lopez have had a lot of success in Spring Training. Plus, Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara are also contenders to make the rotation and should be solid contributors if called upon. Still, none of those pitchers are front-line starting pitchers, and a rotation filled with mediocre pitchers is exactly what it should be: mediocre.
With Drew Steckenreider, who is unhittable versus righties and Sergio Romo, the Marlins bullpen is likely the strength of the team. Adam Conley is a decent lefty option as well, and Tayron Gurrero constantly hits triple digits with his fastball and has closer upside if he shows some command. That’s about it, however; Riley Ferrell and Tyler Kinley are unknowns, while Jarlin Garcia is nothing more than a long reliever. This bullpen definitely is the strongest part of the team, but it’s still nothing special.
As mentioned, the Marlins have plenty of depth in the rotation, while prospect Nick Neidert will likely have a big influence in the rotation as well. However, the position player depth is incredibly thin, with no players on the bench capable of filling in for an injured starter.
The Marlins have some promise on the pitching staff, but outside of Brian Anderson, the lineup is pretty weak. The pitching staff, though it’s alright, won’t be able to carry the load of the weak offense and defense; the Marlins will likely get bullied by the rest of the teams in this division as a result.