The National League East only had one representative in the playoffs last season, but plenty has changed since then. It’s not unrealistic to think this division could send three teams to the postseason in 2019.
2018 Record: 90-72; 1st NL East
Postseason: Lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers, 3-1
Say hello to: Josh Donaldson, 3B; Brian McCann, C
So long to: Anibal Sanchez, P; Kurt Suzuki, C
2019 Forecast:Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña, Jr. will see if he can continue the magic of his 2018 season, which he finished with a .917 OPS and 26 homeruns in just 111 games. Acuña has hit cleanup for much of spring training and is expected to hit there permanently this sason. With Acuña now at cleanup, centerfielder Ender Inciarte has moved into the leadoff role. Veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson looks to hit in the 2-spot. Donaldson was plagued by injuries last season, but seemed back to his old stuff when he was finally healthy in September and playing for the Indians. Hitting third will be Freddie Freeman, who remains one of the best first basemen in the league. Nick Markakis re-signed with the Braves in free agency following a solid 2018 season. Those guys make for a formidable 1-5 in the Braves lineup. If Acuña can come close to replicating his rookie season, the Braves will be in contention again.
Look out for: It’ll be interesting to see how Acuna handles the cleanup role and how that changes the complexion of the lineup. Inciarte is a good choice to lead off—he had a career-high 28 stolen bases last season.
2018 record: 63-98; 5th NL East
Postseason: Did not qualify
Say hello to: Jorge Alfaro, C; Neil Walker, 2B/1B; Curtis Granderson, OF; Sergio Romo, RP;
So long to: J.T. Realmuto, C; Justin Bour, 1B; Derek Dietrich, LF
2019 Forecast: *Insert scream emoji* It seems the tear down and rebuild plan of Derek Jeter’s is finally complete. Following the Marlins fire sale in the 2017 offseason, which saw them move 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon, they used the 2018 offseason to trade one of the best catchers in the league to a division opponent. Any fans that stick around after that deserve a gift basket of autographed Jeter swag. As for those who still remain on the team, Brian Anderson had a surprisingly strong rookie campaign for the Marlins in 2018 and proved he was strong defensively at both third base and in right field. Centerfielder Lewis Brinson has raw talent, but has been unable to put it all together at the major league level. Both Anderson and Brinson have played well in spring training and time will tell if that carries over into the regular season. The Marlins got catcher Jorge Alfaro in the Realmuto trade. Alfaro is a great defensive catcher and still young, but he strikes out an awful lot. The Marlins acquired veterans Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson in the offseason. No word yet on whether or not Walker believes he got justice. The Marlins still have a long way to go to be competitive, especially in a division with three pretty good teams at the top. At least they have new uniforms.
Look out for: Brinson has the talent to be really good. He’ll be given plenty of time to figure it out with the Marlins. If he has a breakout year, that could signal the Marlins are at least beginning the long road to recovery.
New York Mets
2018 record: 77-85; 4th NL East
Postseason: Did not qualify
Say hello to: Robinson Cano, 2B; Wilson Ramos, C; Edwin Diaz, RP; Jed Lowrie, 3B; Justin Wilson, RP
So long to: Wilmer Flores, 3B; Jay Bruce, RF; Jose Reyes, IF
2019 forecast: Despite the team being a perennial punchline, the Mets’ rotation is among the best in the league when healthy, featuring 2018 NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz. The Mets signed deGrom to a 5-year, $137.5 million extension earlier this week, which is fully deserved—especially considering the Mets couldn’t get deGrom a win for nearly two months last season (and another example of why the win stat for pitchers is hot garbage). The Mets traded for Cano, who spent half of his final season with the Mariners suspended for a PED violation; however, Cano had an fWAR of 2.9 in just 80 games last year. They also added catcher Wilson Ramos. Cano, Ramos and returning right fielder Michael Conforto will be strong 3, 4, and 5 hitters, respectively. The Mets may still struggle to gain ground in a tough NL East, but they could be slightly better than last year. They wouldn’t be the Mets without some dysfunction, though. Yoenis Cespedes is still hurt. Syndergaard is annoyed with management’s decision to make the Mets go to Syracuse for one workout before heading to Washington for Opening Day. Brandon Nimmo can’t cook chicken properly. The Mets threw their insane three-GM model out the window during the offseason and hired just one man to be GM. Because they’re the Mets, they hired high-profile agent Brodie van Wagenen, who has represented deGrom, Cespedes, and minor leaguer Tim Tebow, so one can see the conflict of interest that is present in van Wagenen taking the job. Who wants to bet Tebow sees the majors this year? Perhaps last year was rock bottom for the Mets: their three GMs couldn’t get on the same page; they suffered the worst loss in franchise history; they batted out of order; and Syndergaard contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease, which most people didn’t even know was a real thing. It’s hard to predict what will go down in Queens this year; the Mets are nothing if not unpredictable.
Look out for: deGrom has been a great pitcher for quite some time, but he took it to a whole new level last year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue pitching as impressively into 2019. Conforto had a decent season last year and hit a career-high 28 homers, but his other numbers fell from the previous season. The Mets are certainly banking on the young rightfielder returning to his 2017 form.
2018 record: 82-80; 2nd NL East
Postseason: Did not qualify
Say hello to: Yan Gomes, C; Patrick Corbin, SP; Anibal Sanchez, SP; Brian Dozier, 2B;Trevor Rosenthal, RP
So long to: Bryce Harper, OF; Matt Wieters, C; Tanner Roark, SP
2019 Forecast: The Nationals may have lost Bryce Harper, but they should be just fine. Between their core of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto; the additions they made in the offseason; and having one of the best right-handed pitchers in the game, the Nats shouldn’t take much of a step back, if at all. Rendon finished 2018 with the 9th highest fWAR in the majors, which was better than Harper. Soto was second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Young outfielder Victor Robles spent much of last year on the disabled list after a hyperextended elbow, but performed well when called up in September. The Nationals made some notable acquisitions in the offseason, signing Brian Dozier in free agency and trading for catcher Yan Gomes from Cleveland. Dozier had a down season last year, but it was revealed he had played most of the season with a severe bone bruise on his knee. Gomes should be an upgrade over Wieters, particularly defensively. A rotation that already features three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg got a few additions, when the Nats signed both Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in free agency. Corbin was a stud for the Diamondbacks last season and has one of the filthiest sliders in the game. Sanchez isn’t what he was at his peak, but he’s still decent enough to fill the four or five spot in the rotation.
Look out for: Victor Robles is likely the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year in 2019. Robles would probably have even more hype had it not been for his injury and Soto becoming a star. If he performs as many experts expect him to, the Nationals outfield could very well be better without Harper.
2018 Record: 80-82; 3rd NL East
Postseason: Did not qualify
Hello to: Bryce Harper, OF; Andrew McCutchen, OF; J.T. Realmuto, C; Jean Segura, SS; Jose Alvarez, RP; David Robertson, RP
So long to: Jorge Alfaro, C; Justin Bour, 1B
2019 Forecast: The Phillies went all-in during the offseason, making perhaps the biggest splash in both quantity and quality of acquisitions, both in trades and free agency. The Phils also made sure to lock down one of their best players by signing pitcher Aaron Nola to a four-year, $45 million extension following his breakout 2018 season. Yes, teams that win the offseason don’t always win in the actual season, but it’s tough to imagine the Phillies not being a much better team this year. They signed Bryce Harper to the largest free agent deal in history, and added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen to help their lineup, which had some trouble scoring runs late last season. The Phillies also bolstered their bullpen with the acquisitions of David Robertson and Jose Alvarez. Robertson will likely be used in high-leverage situations and could be used as a part-time closer. Robertson gives manager Gabe Kapler some flexibility in late innings, so the Phillies won’t have to rely as heavily on young reliever Seranthony Dominguez. The Phillies were in contention for most of 2018 and their offseason acquisitions have them poised to make some big gains in the win column in 2019. You’ll know if the Phillies are doing well, because their fans will literally not shut up about it.
Look out for: It’s tough to put anything but Bryce Harper in this spot. His new home stadium is a hitter’s ballpark, so his slugging percentage and homerun totals should see a boost.
NL East Prediction:
I could see the Braves, Phillies, or Nationals winning this division and whichever teams don’t could be vying for the two NL Wild Card spots. My prediction for how things shake out in the NL East:
I like the Nationals because I think they have the best combination of pitching and hitting. I like their rotation better than the Phillies’ and I like their lineup more than the Braves’. I think all three teams will be in contention into late August or September, barring any injuries. The Mets could even shock the world and win the division. If the Marlins win it, we’re truly living in the Upside Down.