Baseball Essential 2018 Preview Series: NL East

The National League East has been dominated by the Washington Nationals in recent memory as they’ve been crowned division champions four times in the last six years. However, while they may be the frontrunner to win the NL East yet again in 2018, the division presents intrigue behind Washington such as the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves. The Miami Marlins, though, do not present such a threat.

Here’s a preview of how the NL East will fare, in terms of standings, players to watch, and team’s depth charts.

1. Washington Nationals

The Nationals are looking to finally get out of the NLDS but did little to upgrade their roster this offseason. At the same time, they did retain utility man Howie Kendrick and reliever Brandon Kintzler while also signing first baseman Matt Adams to replace Adam Lind. First-year manager Dave Martinez has one of the most complete rosters in baseball, but the Nationals do have some major questions marks heading into the regular season.

Source: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, A.J. Cole

Last season, Trea Turner missed nearly half the year and while he did hit .284, the shortstop was never able to play at a high level and get into a rhythm. Now healthy and hungry, the shortstop could be in store for an All-Star campaign. His double play partner, Daniel Murphy, will be watched closely based on his upcoming free agency but also a hip injury that will keep him off the field for the foreseeable future. Murphy has a lot to play for and the Nats need him to contend. But the most intriguing situation to monitor is righty A.J. Cole who is going to be the Nats’ fifth starter. Last season, Cole posted a 3.81 ERA in eight starts, has been waiting for a chance to crack the starting rotation, and, if he can work off his successful 2017 campaign, will propel their rotation.

Projected Lineup:

LF Adam Eaton (L)
SS Trea Turner (R)
RF Bryce Harper (L)
3B Anthony Rendon (R)
1B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
2B Howie Kendrick (R)
CF Michael Taylor (R)
C Matt Wieters (S)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP Gio Gonzalez
RHP Tanner Roark
RHP A.J. Cole

Notable Relievers:

LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Ryan Madson
RHP Brandon Kintzler
RHP Shawn Kelley
LHP Enny Romero
LHP Sammy Solis
LHP Matt Grace

2. New York Mets

The Mets have been plagued by injuries over the last two seasons, but with new manager Mickey Callaway and a relatively healthy and young roster, there is optimism in Queens. Management made shrewd offseason signings (Anthony Swarzak, Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas) and have a healthy pitching staff. Winning the division isn’t impossible, but the Wild Card is more feasible for the Mets; depth or lack thereof will be what holds the Mets back.

Source: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Matt Harvey

The Mets will begin the season without Michael Conforto, so Brandon Nimmo will begin the year in center field. A career .264 hitter, Nimmo has the chance to finally stick in the majors and perhaps make it difficult for Callaway to remove him from the lineup when Conforto returns. Another youngster to watch is shortstop Amed Rosario. While the Mets don’t have a huge sample size to forecast his future on, the talent is there with Rosario. He’s smooth in the field, a contact hitter, and has electric speed; Rosario’s development into becoming a franchise shortstop will be a situation to keep an eye on. Matt Harvey is another: The right-hander has struggled to stay healthy and recorded an abysmal 6.70 ERA last season. If Harvey turns things around in 2018, it can be a huge help to the Mets’ rotation and potentially his wallet when he hits free agency after this season.

The NL West is an interesting division looking into 2018. With the Nats on top and Wild Card contenders down low, it's anyone's game for a playoff spot.Click To Tweet

Projected Lineup:

CF Brandon Nimmo (L)
LF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
RF Jay Bruce (L)
2B Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
3B Todd Frazier (R)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
SS Amed Rosario (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Noah Syndergaard
RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Matt Harvey
LHP Steven Matz
RHP Seth Lugo

Notable Relievers:

RHP Jeurys Familia
RHP Anthony Swarzak
RHP AJ Ramos
LHP Jerry Blevins
RHP Paul Sewald
RHP Jacob Rhame
RHP Robert Gsellman

3. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies made two significant transactions this offseason signing former Cy Young Award winning righty Jake Arrieta and first baseman Carlos Santana on three-year deals. While they did win just 66 games last season, first-year manager Gabe Kapler has a young and blossoming roster and now some proven commodities to work with. They’re one of the more intriguing teams in the National League.

Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Maikel Franco

Right-hander Aaron Nola broke out for a big season in 2017, recording a 3.54 ERA and punching out 184 batters. The righty can be an overpowering presence on the rubber and has the potential to be a Cy Young caliber arm down the road — potentially forming a formidable one-two punch alongside Arrieta. Righty Vince Velasquez is another pitcher to monitor. Just a year removed from showcasing the ability to be a reliable strikeout pitcher, Velasquez struggled last season and will be looking to became a rock in the middle of the Phillies’ rotation. Third baseman Maikel Franco will also be looking to bounce back. Hitting just .230 in 2017, the third baseman struggled to progress his game. Franco has to prove that he can be the Phillies’ franchise third baseman both in the field and at the plate.

Projected Lineup:

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
1B Carlos Santana (S)
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
LF  Rhys Hoskins (R)
RF Nick Williams (L)
3B Maikel Franco (R)
C Jorge Alfaro (R)
Pitcher
SS J.P. Crawford (L)

Projected Rotation:

RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Vince Velasquez
RHP Ben Lively

Notable Relievers:

RHP Hector Neris
RHP Luis Garcia
RHP Pat Neshek
LHP Adam Morgan
RHP Edubray Ramos
LHP Hoby Milner
RHP Drew Hutchison

4. Atlanta Braves

The Braves have not made the playoffs since 2013 and have been rebuilding over the last three years. The young talent is there for the Braves both in their lineup and the farm system. But they don’t appear ready to make the jump to being a playoff team. Nevertheless, there are some X-Factors and Wild Card players who could help their chances (whatever they may be) in making such a push.

Source: Joe Sargent/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran

Prized young shortstop Dansby Swanson was supposed to have a breakout year in 2017 but instead struggled, hitting .232 and spending time in Triple-A — which isn’t always a bad occurrence in a player’s development. But the shortstop is a critical piece to the Braves’ future and they need him to become the staple at short they need. One player whose quietly established himself as one of the best outfielders in the game is Ender Inciarte. He fields his position well, hits for contact, and posted a career-best .304 average last season; 2018 could be Inciarte’s second consecutive All-Star game appearance. Righty Julio Teheran has a lot at stake this season too. Teheran has struggled with his command and posted ERA’s over four in two of the last three seasons, and if the Braves fall out of the playoff race, he could be dealt for prospects.

Projected Lineup:

CF Ender Inciarte (L)
2B Ozzie Albies (S)
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
C Tyler Flowers (R)
RF Nick Markakis (L)
LF Preston Tucker (L)
SS Dansby Swanson (R)
3B Ryan Flaherty (L)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Julio Teheran
RHP Mike Foltynewicz
RHP Brandon McCarthy
LHP Sean Newcomb
RHP Anibal Sanchez

Notable Relievers:

RHP Arodys Vizcaino
LHP A.J. Minter
RHP Jose Ramirez
RHP Peter Moylan
LHP Sam Freeman
RHP Dan Winkler
LHP Rex Brothers

5. Miami Marlins

The Marlins threw their big fish to the gators this offseason. Trading Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Dee Gordon, they officially went into full rebuilding mode. While they project to have a respectable lineup, the Marlins’ rotation and bullpen are subpar. At the same time, they do have some power hitters in the middle of their order who offer intrigue, regardless of their roster’s flaws.

Source: Joe Skipper/Getty Images North America

Players to Watch For: J.T. Realmuto, Justin Bour, Wei-Yin Chen

Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto was almost apart of the team’s offseason fire sale but ultimately hung around. The 27-year-old is one of the best catchers in the game whether it be in the field or at the plate (Realmuto is a career .280 hitter). If he continues to blossom into a premier backstop, Realmuto will either be a force in the middle of manager Don Mattingly‘s order or bring back a massive haul via trade. First baseman Justin Bour is another key component to the Marlins’ offense. He’s hit 20-plus home runs two times in the last three years but has struggled to remain on the field due to injury. If he can stay healthy, Bour could be in store for a big year. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen has also been devastated by the injury bug and hasn’t lived up to his $80 million deal. If he can stay on the field and regain his command, Chen could be the ace the Marlins signed him to be two years ago.

Projected Lineup:

CF Lewis Brinson (R)
LF Derek Dietrich (L)
2B Starlin Castro (R)
1B Justin Bour (L)
3B Brian Anderson (R)
C Tomas Telis (R)
RF Cameron Maybin (R)
SS Miguel Rojas (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jose Urena
RHP Odrisamer Despaigne
RHP Dan Straily
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Jacob Turner

Notable Relievers:

RHP Brad Ziegler
RHP Kyle Barraclough
RHP Junichi Tazawa
RHP Drew Steckenrider
RHP Brian Ellington
LHP Chris O’Grady
RHP Tayron Guerrero

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