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.
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.
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.
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.
4. New York Mets
The Mets added Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Jed 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.
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.