National League East X factors for 2020

What players can move the needle for their respective teams in the 2020 Major League Baseball season? Here are X factors for every team in the National League East.

Atlanta Braves: Max Fried

Concerning the Braves starting rotation, Cole Hamels is nursing a shoulder injury, and all eyes are on Mike Soroka‘s second full MLB season and whether Mike Foltynewicz can get back on track after a shaky 2019 campaign. Meanwhile, Max Fried is the arm that could propel manager Brian Snitker‘s rotation.

Fried had a yawning 2019 campaign, from a production standpoint, as he finished with a 4.02 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. With that said, it was his first full season starting at the big-league level. He also pitched in an NL East division that has some high-octane offenses such as the World Series-champion Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies.

The southpaw showcased an ability to escape trouble and eke out at-bats by means of striking out hitters. Him taking the next step would be a godsend for the Braves in their quest to escape the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Washington Nationals: Victor Robles

For the most part, you know what you’re getting from those on the Nationals depth chart. Victor Robles, on the other hand, is a Wild Card.

It’s fair to expect the 22-year-old center fielder to experience an uptick in offensive production this season (Robles hit .255, posted a .745 OPS, and totaled 17 home runs and 65 RBIs in 2019). But with the Nationals looking for production from others to try to come close to sufficing Anthony Rendon‘s free agent departure, Robles’ growth is pivotal. He has a lot of pop in his bat, is a speeding bullet, and an exceptional outfield commander. In what will be his second season starting at the big-league level, the Nationals need their former top prospect to have a breakout season to sustain an elite offensive attack .

Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Starlin Castro, and Eric Thames figure to be steady forces. If Robles can be the same and/or put together an All-Star caliber season at the plate it’ll keep Washington’s offense humming at a high level.

New York Mets: Marcus Stroman

When you think of the Mets, you think of starting pitching and Pete Alonso. However, there’s some loose ends to their starting rotation, and Marcus Stroman is the key to shoring up that nagging ailment.

Stroman underwhelmed in the 11 starts he made with the Mets last season. He put a lot of runners on base and struggled to provide length. Stroman has exhibited inconsistency over his career. In 2017 he posted an impressive 3.09 ERA across 33 starts, followed by posting a 5.54 ERA across 19 starts in 2018.

Stroman is a vibrant, off-speed pitcher who thrives on keeping hitters off-balanced. At his best, he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter. If the Mets can get that version of the Medford native, they’ll have a stout pitching trio in Stroman, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jake Arrieta

The Phillies have spent a lot of money in recent memory, but it has yielded few, if any positive results from a record standpoint. Arrieta was one of those big signings (three-year, $75 million deal in 2018), and the Phillies could maybe break through stagnation with a bounce-back season from the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner.

Last season was low-lighted by injuries and inconsistency for Arrieta. He couldn’t get in groove, was hit hard, and supposedly pitched through an elbow injury — which ended his season in August. The right-hander is a proven ground-ball pitcher who deceives hitters with a bit of a funky delivery. He has logged strikeouts at a high rate and come up clutch in postseason outings; he’s capable of pitching at a high level.

With Aaron Nola and free agent signee Zack Wheeler in place alongside Arrieta, the Phillies could have a compelling rotation trio this season. The only way it can make a difference is if Arrieta performs like the pitcher the Phillies signed up for: a rotation backbone.

Miami Marlins: Isan Diaz

Pitching depth is at the heart of the Marlins’ rebuild, though, they need some players to come into their own around the diamond. Could Isan Diaz help out in that regard?

Diaz appeared in just 49 games for the Marlins last season, most notably totaling five home runs and 23 RBIs. Other than that run production, he struggled to get on base, as he hit .173 while posting a .566 OPS. All that said, Diaz, 23, projects to be the Marlins opening day second baseman, meaning he’ll have the chance to work on making more considerable contact.

Brian Anderson is a versatile fielder who posted an impressive .811 OPS in 2019; catcher Jorge Alfaro is building continuity with the Marlins pitching staff; Miguel Rojas is a steady hitter; Jesus Aguilar, Jonathan Villar, and Corey Dickerson were nifty pickups. There’s some proven bats in manager Don Mattingly‘s order, but the Marlins need some youngsters to break out at the plate for the organization to take the next step. Diaz could be one of those players.

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