Every team in Major League Baseball has an X factor to their success before the regular season begins. Here is every National League East team’s 2019 X factor.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran
The Braves are the defending NL East champions and are well-positioned to, at the very least, make a playoff run again in 2019. The Braves issue is their pitching staff, and while their young bullpen could potentially be an area of concern, the backend of manager Brian Snitker‘s starting rotation is a more glaring worry. With that said, a steady and dominant Teheran could be the difference in 2019.
Last season the Braves starting rotation was a reliable bunch given Mike Foltynewicz‘s breakout season, Sean Newcomb coming into his own, and Kevin Gausman giving them reliable outings in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Teheran had a bounce-back season in 2018, recording a 3.94 ERA and pitching out of trouble often. Last week it was revealed that Foltynewicz, the Braves ace, isn’t going to be ready for opening day due to an elbow injury meaning that the rest of their rotation will have to pick up the slack.
Sure, they have an electric lineup that can only improve with age, but without consistent outings from their starters, the Braves won’t stand a chance at making the playoffs. Once the ace of their rotation, the Braves need Teheran to rekindle his old ways; in the sport’s most competitive division, there’s no margin for error.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman
Bryce Harper is now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Nationals will be searching for ways to replace the void in their lineup that his departure creates. At the same time, they have a lineup of proven veterans and blossoming young players, but some of those individuals need to have big seasons for the Nationals to get back in the pennant race, such as Zimmerman.
Zimmerman had a discouraging 2018 campaign. He missed a large chunk of spring training due to injury, appeared in just 85 games, and finished the regular season hitting just .264. Zimmerman is a year removed from the best offensive season of his career where he hit .303 while totaling a career-high 36 home runs and 108 RBIs.Perhaps @MLB's most competitive division, the National League East will be so tight that it can be altered by the performance one poor player. Here is every NL East's team's biggest X factor in 2019.Click To Tweet
The veteran’s health always has the Nationals holding their breath, but if he’s even 70 percent of the hitter he was in 2017, Zimmerman, along with youngsters such as Juan Soto and Victor Robles, can replace Harper’s production. With one of the best starting rotations in the sport, as well as an improved bullpen, a high-octane offense would make the Nationals the best team in their division. Zimmerman’s revival is pivotal in that regard.
Philadelphia Phillies: Vince Velasquez
Adding Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen has distracted people from the hole that exists in the backend of the Phillies starting rotation. Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta form one of the best pitching duos in the sport, but beyond the prolific right-handers, their rotation is an enigma; Velasquez will be a make-or-break factor.
Last season was Velasquez’s first full season starting at the big-league level, and he was inconsistent, finishing with a 4.85 ERA and putting a great deal of runners on base. But two years ago he was pitching like one of the best young starters in the sport and was a bright spot for the Phillies. Since that brief period of time he’s been wildly inconsistent and hit hard.
Yes, Zach Eflin made a career-high 24 starts, and Nick Pivetta showed some improvements from his lackluster rookie season in 2018, but Velasquez has found some sustained success in the past; that makes him the most likely of the three starters to have a big season. On the other hand, if Velasquez continues to be shaky on the rubber every fifth day, the Phillies offensive firepower may not be enough for them to meet expectations.
New York Mets: Amed Rosario
The Mets had one of the best offseasons in MLB, adding Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, and Jeurys Familia, among others. They also have some improving young position players. Simultaneously, the Mets need those youngsters to have breakout seasons to play their way into contention, Rosario in particular.
Once the team’s top prospect, Rosario has become the Mets everyday shortstop. While he has held his own in the field given his slick glove and elite speed, Rosario has been a shaky hitter. He has an erratic swing, records a lot of groundouts, draws little to no walks, and is a career .255 hitter.
This season will be Rosario’s second full season with the Mets, but the team has depth in their infield and players capable of locking down the middle infield position. They’re all in with this roster, have one of the worst farm systems in MLB, and will likely keep their options open around the diamond. But if Rosario can have a breakout season, the Mets will have a balanced lineup, and there will be no more doubt as to whether he’s capable of being their franchise shortstop.
Miami Marlins: Trevor Richards
The Marlins aren’t going to the playoffs this season. In all likelihood, they’re going to let their youth play around the diamond from opening day to Game 162. There will be some encouraging moments and some discouraging ones. But if the Marlins can begin to establish a reliable starting rotation, it will pay dividends down the road; Richards could be a driving force of that effort.
While a bit of a late bloomer, Richards strung together some plausible starts in his first MLB season. His 4.42 ERA in 2018 didn’t wow anyone, but the 25-year-old was able to keep some runners off base and totaled 130 strikeouts in 25 starts.
Jose Urena has been the Marlins ace over the last two years, and Dan Straily has been a steady force. But the Marlins need more reliability if they want a rotation that can keep their offense in games. An improved Richards would bolster that aspect of their roster.