Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
It’s a given that the Division Champ Washington Nationals are the primary competitors for the National League East pennant this year as well. They have starting pitching that’s on par (and healthier) than what the Mets have and an offense that was vastly superior (though that gap should close a bit if the Mets see a return to health for their many injured hitters). Their manager sports a career managerial record nearly 200 games over .500, so that’s a big edge, too. The Achille’s Heel would appear to be the bullpen, and as a result there’s every reason to believe the Mets should be able to contend right up until the end.
However, what about the rest of the division? How have the Braves, Marlins and Phillies shaped their rosters and will they provide stiff competition or easy victories during the upcoming season?
Believe it or not, in 2016 the Braves managed to finish below the Mets in runs scored. Despite Freddy Freeman’s monster year, they finished dead last in the division but things seem to be looking up for 2017. Newcomer Brandon Phillips may be a bit long in the tooth but an average year from him is Neil Walker-ish, a tad less power but a bit more baserunning speed and defense. Youngster Dansby Swanson is a bit of a wildcard at shortstop, but his career in minors showed modest power and a .277 average to go along with double digit stolen bases. 31 year old Cuban rookie Adonis Garcia posted those kinds of numbers at the major league level already and could improve now that he’s had a taste of the type of pitching he’ll expect in the majors. Matt Kemp had a monster year combined for San Diego and the Braves in 2016 with 35 HRs and over 100 RBIs. Speedster Ender Inciarte with a career .292 AVG mans CF and former Oriole Nick Markakis pretty much takes up space in RF. Catching is pretty weak with Tyler Flowers at the top of the depth chart and Anthony Recker in the mix. The starting rotation is looking pretty impressive with Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey and Mike Foltynewicz. Jim Johnson is the closer and appears to be healthy. After that the bullpen is a bit of a crap shoot, but it seems that the revamped infield and much bolstered starting rotation should propel the Braves out of the cellar.
The Marlins, like the Mets, were ruined by injuries and now the untimely death of ace Jose Fernandez. When Giancarlo Stanton is around, he’s as good as anyone in the league but his health has been precarious for quite some time now. Flanking him is one of the better outfields in baseball with Christian Yelich providing both power and batting average and Marcell Ozuna moving his cannon of an arm to LF where he may challenge Yoenis Cespedes for a Gold Glove. On the infield you have a potential 30 HR hitter in Justin Bour at 1B, speedster extraordinaire Dee Gordon at 2B, underwhelming Adeiny Hechevarria at SS and ever steady Martin Prado at 3B. The Marlins feature a little known .300 hitting catcher in JT. Realmuto. Overall the only offensive weak link is at SS. Closer A.J. Ramos notched 40 saves in 2016 and turned in his second straight season of a sub 3.00 ERA. They have a pretty good bullpen behind him to support the starters who will, unfortunately for them, need all the help they can get. Right now the depth chart for the starting rotation isn’t pretty with Edinson Volquez and Wei-Yin Chen both coming off the worst seasons of their careers. 26 year old Adam Conley has pitched significantly better in the majors than in the minors where his career ERA was over 5.00. Tom Koehler pitched like a typical 4th starter and shouldn’t hurt the Marlins in that capacity once again. Young journeyman Dan Strailey is penciled in for 5th starter duties. Ugh. If they should suffer any injuries on the offensive side they will likely find themselves fighting to stay out of the cellar.
At one time there was a Phillies team known as the Whiz Kids. This year’s version is more likely to be known by the New Orleans Saint’s, “Who dat?” nickname. The team is not exactly filled with household names. In fact, outside of Howie Kendrick they may not be known much at all outside of the city of brotherly love. At 1B you have a guy who walloped 21 HRs in just over 300 ABs in Tommy Joseph. 2B is going to Cesar Hernandez who quietly hit .294 with 19 SBs. Shortstop is still manned by PED abuser Freddy Galvis who suspiciously went from a career high of 7 HRs in 2015 to slug 20 in 2016. Perhaps he found a new drug. At 3B you have young superstar in the making in Maikel Franco who hit 25 HRs, drove in 88 at age 24. Catcher Cameron Rupp showed 20 HR power extrapolated over a full season. Left field will feature former second baseman Howie Kendrick who doesn’t have much power but is a career .289 hitter despite a poor 2016. Centerfield goes to Odubel Herrera who hit 15 HRs, batted .286 and stole 25 bases. RF belongs to newcomer Michael Saunders who is coming off a 24 HR campaign as a part time player in 2016. Starter Jeremy Hellickson turned in a credible year and should be number one. Clay Buchholz is one of those enigmatic pitchers who seem to excel in alternate years. Fortunately for the Phillies it’s the odd numbered years where he does well. Jerad Eickhoff pitched similarly to Hellickson. Aaron Nola posted some eye popping minor league numbers (career ERA of just 2.57) but it hasn’t translated in two brief trials in the majors. Vince Velasquez also did pretty well in the minors but pitched to two seasons over 4.00 in the majors. In the pen you have closer Jeanmar Gomez who locked down 37 saves despite an unsightly 4.85 ERA. Behind him you have some good depth with veteran Joaquin Benoit and solid setup men Hector Neris and Pat Neshek. They have a good balance of power around the lineup with weakness only in LF. The starting pitching is mediocre but the bullpen is top notch.
Prediction for 2017 final standings: