It’s the National League East today, as we continue our 2017 MLB Preview series! With this installment, Chris Jordan takes a look at what the NL East has to offer in terms of contenders, pretenders, and ongoing rebuilds.
All teams are listed in predicted order of finish.
2016 Record: 95-67, 1st in NL East
Big Questions: 1. Is his 2015 MVP season a blip on the radar, or is the 2016 Bryce Harper the real deal?
2. Can the starting pitching (especially Stephen Strasburg) stay healthy all season?
3. Who is the closer?
Synopsis: The Nats came up short in the postseason once again, falling to the LA Dodgers in a fantastic five-game series. Some believe that it was Dusty Baker’s old-school approach, that inability to get creative, that kept the Nats from moving on. But really it comes down to what is on the field. The Nats lacked the middle of the lineup thump, especially after Wilson Ramos went down for the year. Staying healthy is important in 2017, especially in regards to Strasburg. Harper needs to live his mantra and make baseball fun again in D.C. He also needs to play like an MVP again. Cy Young winner Max Scherzer had finger issues this spring but it doesn’t appear to have set him back too much. He should continue to be the ace he has been for the past several years.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Harper. He needs to bounce back from a disappointing season and show that 2015 was not the outlier.
2. Strasburg. The No.2 guy in the Nats’ rotation needs to stay healthy for a full season, which is apparently a lot to ask of him. If he does, Scherzer/Strasburg is the best 1-2 punch in the NL.
3. Daniel Murphy. A repeat of 2017 would be nice and go a long way toward the Nats getting past the NLDS for once.
2017 Predicted Finish: 1st place
New York Mets
2016 Record: 87-75, 2nd in NL East
Big Questions: 1. Can this young starting rotation stay healthy for a full season and be dominant?
Synopsis: The success of the Mets ultimately lies in the health of their starting rotation. With the exception of Noah Syndergaard, the rest of New York’s young, talented rotation–Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz–all missed time due to various injuries*. The Mets could possibly overtake the Nationals in the East if they’re firing on all cylinders. There are no bigger question marks on this team other than these four pitchers and their health. If they stay healthy, this is what carries this team all the way to another World Series in 2017.
*Ed. Note: Welp, as I edit this for publication, it is announced via MLB on Twitter that Matz will not be on the Mets’ Opening Day roster due to a wonky elbow. Sigh…
Most Important Player(s): 1. Syndergaard. A Cy Young candidate with a bit of support, luck, and (of course) health.
2. David Wright. The team leader. However, due to injuries, his days are severely numbered.
3. Cespedes. Signed a new multi-year deal and is the type of hitter that can carry the Mets when hot.
2017 Predicted Finish: 2nd place
2016 Record: 79-82, 3rd in NL East
Big Questions: Will the Marlins find a way to move on from the death of ace Jose Fernandez on the field? Can Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy for a full season? Will someone please remove that ugly…thing(?)*…in center field?
*Ed. Note: I swear to God, Loria needs to be ousted just for any sort of approval of that monstrosity.
Synopsis: 2017 needs to be the season that the Marlins move on from the unfortunate loss of Fernandez, and manager Don Mattingly is the right guy for that task with his calm presence and ability to connect. A huge gap in the rotation needs to be filled, but newcomer Edinson Volquez is not the man for the job. The Marlins will contend, but without that true ace, they will miss the playoffs for a while. Offensively, the Marlins are an solid team, but better if Stanton stays in the lineup.
I would be remiss in not mentioning that Jeffrey Loria owns this team. He should sell them and never appear in public again. (Did I get that right, Joel?)*
*Ed. Note: Yes. Well done. Loria is an insipid little toad whose ownership is a black mark on baseball. He is the just the worst.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Stanton. The best power hitter in MLB…when he isn’t visiting the doctor. Stay healthy, Mr. Stanton! The world needs to see you explode that stupid thing in center field à la Roy Hobbs.
2. Dee Gordon. The Marlins already have an offensive black hole in Adeiny Hechavarria. They don’t need another one in his double-play partner Gordon, so Dee needs to get on base and do what he does best: Run!
3. Dan Straily. After going 14-8 with a sub 4.00-ERA in a hitter friendly park with Cincinnati, Straily might just sneak up on you with 17+ wins for a shaky Marlins staff.
2017 Predicted Finish: 3rd place
2016 Record: 68-93, 5th in NL East
Big Questions: 1. Is the mix of solid veterans and up-and-coming prospects a team that will bring the fans to the new ballpark?
2. Is Dansby Swanson ready?
3. How much of a jump can this team make as they enter the next step in their rebuild?
Synopsis: This is a different looking Braves team from last season. Whether they are better or not is to be answered on the field, but this team looks like it might be a spoiler after a nice 18-10 run to end the year. The Braves have spent the last couple of seasons acquiring young talent in the process, rebuilding their farm into one of the better systems in MLB.
For veteran leadership/stability/butter passing, they signed free agent pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and acquired Brandon Phillips* to play second base. Whether these vets mix with the young guys will be determined.That young talent needs some veterans to help with the maturation process and the Braves have provided just that. The Braves look different in 2017, maybe even better. The Bravos are not quite ready to take over the (baseball) world just yet, but they will not be basement-dwellers this season.
*Phun Phact: Brandon Phillips was once traded for Bartolo Colon (or vice versa). Now they’re finally teammates.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Freddie Freeman. Almost took home an MVP award for his performance on a horrible team. Imagine what he can do when surrounded by much better players this season.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 4th in NL East.
2016 Record: 71-91, 4th in NL East
Big Questions: 1. The Phillies are another team attempting to find the right mix of veterans and young talent, but do they have the right vets?
2. Can Clay Buchholz ever pitch a full season?
3. Will any top prospects take a major step (or two) forward?
Synopsis: Remember when the Phillies won the World Series back in 2008? It actually seems longer than eight years ago, probably because the Phils haven’t been over .500 since 2011. However, there appeared to hope after 2016, when the Phils improved to 71 wins.
For 2017, the Phillies are hoping for a successful mix of their good, young talent with some veterans that was acquired over the off-season to take another push forward. The Phillies appear to be set up well for the future, however, their young talent needs to continue to make strides if the Phillies are going to contend in the next few years.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Maikel Franco. The power-hitting third baseman needs to improve on a 2016 that was good, but was expected to be better.
2. Odubel Herrera. An All-Star centerfielder proved that he was no fluke and was able to sustain his performance through an entire season. Needs to stay focused, however, as he has a tendency to forget the fundamentals.
3. Aaron Nola. If he stays healthy, he should be able to show why he was rated so highly as a prospect.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 5th place
We resume our peek at the Senior Circuit tomorrow with the home of the World Champions, the National League Central. Until, then, take care, Nation!