Baseball Essential 2019 Preview Series: National League East

The National League East has been a division of ups and downs this decade. The Atlanta Braves were crowned division champions last season, but the Washington Nationals have won the division in four of the last seven seasons while the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper from the rival Nats to cap off a historic offseason. Meanwhile, the Mets spent the offseason upgrading around the diamond and on their pitching staff. There’s a case for the Braves, Nationals, Phillies, and Mets to all win the NL East this season. Unfortunately for the Miami Marlins, they remain multiple years away from posing a playoff threat. Here is how the division will fare in 2019.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 24: Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with Juan Soto #22 after scoring against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on June 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

1. Washington Nationals

The Nationals don’t have Harper, and that’s an obvious blow for the organization, but they had one of the most productive offseasons in the sport, adding Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, and Trevor Rosenthal, among others. They have a deep lineup, one of the best starting rotations in MLB, and improved their roster’s weakness, that being their bullpen. The Nationals will get back on top of a competitive NL East.

Players to Watch for: Patrick Corbin, Victor Robles, Trea Turner

The Nationals inked Corbin to a monumental six-year $140 million deal this offseason, which surprised many. The southpaw is coming off the best season of his career, recording a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while totaling 246 strikeouts; it’ll be interesting to see whether he can pitch into his contract. Once the Nationals top prospect, Robles is slated to be the team’s everyday center fielder. Time will tell whether his contact bat and quick wheels can make for a steady contributor in manager Dave Martinez‘s lineup. Turner is a reliable shortstop and one of the fastest players in the sport, but he has been unable to hit with consistency; the Nationals need him to have a big season at the plate to compete in the NL.

Projected Lineup:

RF Adam Eaton (L)
SS Trea Turner (R)
LF Juan Soto (L)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Brian Dozier (R)
C Yan Gomes (R)
Pitcher
CF Victor Robles (R)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Jeremy Hellickson

Notable Relievers:

LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Trevor Rosenthal
RHP Kyle Barraclough
LHP Tony Sipp
RHP Justin Miller
LHP Matt Grace
RHP Wander Suero

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA – MARCH 07: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies talks with manager Gabe Kapler #19 of the Philadelphia Phillies during batting practice prior to the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Spectrum Field on March 07, 2019 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

2. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies added Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson this offseason; yeah, it was a pretty good winter in Philly. They also have 2018 NL Cy Young Award finalist Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta at the top of their starting rotation, but the Phillies also have uncertainty in the backend of their pitching staff. They’ll be an exciting bunch, but miss the postseason in year one of the Harper era.

Players to Watch for: Bryce Harper, Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Let’s be honest: We want to see how Harper fares in a Phillies uniform. He’s coming off a season where he hit a career-worse .249, but also totaled a career-best 100 RBIs. Which Harper will the Phillies get: the former NL Most Valuable Player Award recipient, or an inconsistent power hitter? Meanwhile, inconsistency in the field has plagued Franco. His defense has come into question, but he was once one of the most intriguing young third basemen in the sport. Can he return to being the electric youngster of old? If the Phillies are going to make a postseason push, they need pitchers not named Nola and Arrieta to answer the call. Velasquez has found some success in the past, and whether he puts together a well-rounded season will be pivotal.

Projected Lineup:

LF Andrew McCutchen (R)
SS Jean Segura (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
1B Rhys Hoskins (R)
C J.T. Realmuto (R)
3B Maikel Franco (R)
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Zach Eflin
RHP Vince Velasquez

Notable Relievers:

RHP David Robertson
RHP Seranthony Dominguez
RHP Hector Neris
RHP Pat Neshek
LHP Adam Morgan
LHP Jose Alvarez
RHP Juan Nicasio

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 03: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates his fifth inning home run against the New York Mets with teammate Freddie Freeman #5 at Citi Field on May 3, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 11-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

3. Atlanta Braves

The Braves are the defending NL East champions and signed third baseman Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann this offseason. But with the Nationals, Phillies, and Mets all vastly improving their ballclubs, the Braves are going to take a step back this season, even with their youthful and highly productive offense. They’re also without their ace, Mike Foltynewicz, for the time being. But Atlanta has the talent to stay in the playoff race until the cows come home.

Players to Watch for: Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino

Inciarte was once arguably the Braves best pure hitter, but after a season where he hit just .265, he has become a forgotten commodity. If he can return to his .300-hitting-self, the Braves offense will take things to the next level in 2019. Teheran was once the Braves ace, but has struggled to keep runners off base, and manager Brian Snitker didn’t give him the ball at the beginning of any of the team’s four postseason games last season. If he can be the steady force of old, it will be a godsend for the Braves pitching staff given Foltynewicz’s elbow injury and the team’s desire to remain at the top of the division. But the Braves also need a bullpen anchor, and Vizcaino projects to be just that. He has manned the team’s closing duties in the past, but needs to keep more runners off base this season if Atlanta is going to have a more complete pitching staff.

Projected Lineup:

CF Ender Inciarte (L)
3B Josh Donaldson (R)
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
LF Ronald Acuna Jr. (R)
RF Nick Markakis (L)
2B Ozzie Albies (S)
SS Dansby Swanson (R)
C Tyler Flowers (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Mike Foltynewicz
LHP Sean Newcomb
RHP Kevin Gausman
RHP Julio Teheran
RHP Touki Toussaint

Notable Relievers:

RHP Arodys Vizcaino
LHP A.J. Minter
LHP Jonny Venters
RHP Chad Sobotka
LHP Jesse Biddle
RHP Dan Winkler
RHP Shane Carle

MIAMI, FL – AUGUST 12: Michael Conforto #30 of the New York Mets celebrates with Amed Rosario #1 after defeating the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 12, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

4. New York Mets

The Mets added Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson RamosJed Lowrie, and Jeurys Familia, among others, this offseason. This is a ballclub that is surely deep enough to be in the playoff mix, but they’re the fourth-best team in their division. They should win more games in 2019, but their lineup, as a whole, is still a question mark heading into opening day. With that said, there are ways the Mets can make the race for first place in the NL East even more intriguing.

Players to Watch for: Zack Wheeler, Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto

The Mets have one of the best starting rotations in the sport, but if Wheeler can pitch like he did in the second half of 2018, they will be an even more formidable bunch. The right-hander is coming off arguably the best season of his career where he finished with a 3.31 ERA and pitched deeper into games; he’s also a free agent after this season. If the Mets offense is going to be a reliable unit, they need individuals such as Rosario and Conforto to be more consistent. Rosario is a speeding bullet, but records a lot of groundouts given his, at times, erratic swing. He fields his position well, but hasn’t kicked it into another gear and proven himself to be a reliable and consistent everyday shortstop. Meanwhile, Conforto has been an All-Star in the past, but tends to hit for power more so than contact and hit just .243 last season. If he can put the two together, the center fielder could be an All-Star once more and a force to be reckoned with in the Mets lineup.

Projected Lineup:

RF Brandon Nimmo (L)
3B Jeff McNeil (L)
2B Robinson Cano (L)
LF Michael Conforto (L)
C Wilson Ramos (R)
1B Dominic Smith (L)
SS Amed Rosario (R)
CF Juan Lagares (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Noah Syndergaard
RHP Zack Wheeler
LHP Steven Matz
LHP Jason Vargas

Notable Relievers:

RHP Edwin Diaz
RHP Jeurys Familia
RHP Seth Lugo
LHP Justin Wilson
RHP Robert Gsellman
LHP Luis Avilan
RHP Drew Smith

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 13: Brian Anderson #15 of the Miami Marlins celebrates in the dugout with teamate Starlin Castro #13 after scoring a run in the seventh inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 13, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

5. Miami Marlins

The Marlins are rebuilding in arguably the most competitive division in the sport. Does that about sum it up? Do they have some intriguing pitchers and position players who could pan out to be starting fixtures? Sure, but it’s still going to be an extremely long season for the Marlins.

Players to Watch for: Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, Brian Anderson

Urena has quietly bloomed into a reliable top-of-the-rotation force for the Marlins. He finished with an ERA under four for a second consecutive season in 2018 (3.98, 3.82) and can only improve in time. Richards is another pitcher who has shown some promise. In the 25 starts he made in 2018, Richards recorded a 4.42 ERA, and even though he struggled to pitch deep into games, he totaled 130 strikeouts and pitched well enough in his rookie season for the Marlins to stick with him in their rotation this season. Meanwhile, Anderson impressed in his first full season at the hot corner. Hitting .273 while totaling 11 home runs and 65 RBIs, he was a reliable source of offense in manager Don Mattingly‘s lineup last season. The Marlins would benefit from an even more productive Anderson in 2019, as they search for players to build around.

Projected Lineup:

LF Curtis Granderson (L)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
3B Brian Anderson (R)
1B Neil Walker (S)
SS Miguel Rojas (R)
RF  Garrett Cooper (R)
C Jorge Alfaro (R)
CF Lewis Brinson (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jose Urena
RHP Trevor Richards
RHP Pablo Lopez
RHP Sandy Alcantara
LHP Caleb Smith

Notable Relievers:

RHP Drew Steckenrider
RHP Sergio Romo
LHP Adam Conley
RHP Tayron Guerrero
RHP Riley Ferrell
LHP Jarlin Garcia
RHP Tyler Kinley

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