2017 NL East Preview: The Resurgance Begins
With Spring Training in full swing, it’s getting time to get back into baseball mode. This is part of a season primer series, that’ll take you through what to watch for over the course of the season.
The NL East the last few years have been a tale of haves and have-nots.
The Nationals and Mets have been duking it out for the crown the last few years, while the Marlins have been coasting around .500, and the Phillies and Braves in complete rebuild mode.
Last season, the Nats ran away with the division, and the Mets had a tenuous hold on an NL Wild Card, but hung in only to lose that game to the Giants.
The Marlins were a very distant third, and the Phillies and Braves continued their recent trends of bringing up the rear.
This year, the tide seems to be turning a little. With new players to watch, new agendas for everyone, this division may get a little more competitive in 2017.
Coming into this season: The Braves have been in complete rebuild mode since 2014, and have been selling off parts left and right in order to build a new core to compete in a new ballpark coming this season.
Last year was an obvious struggle, but had some bright spots to show for it. Freddie Freeman had another great season, leading the way with an OPS of .968, and Ender Inciarte playing well defensively and setting the table.
Another bright spot is Dansby Swanson, who showed that the future in Atlanta has much to offer. The Braves brought in a bunch of veterans to try and contend sooner rather than later, such as RA Dickey, Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, and Big Sexy Bartolo Colon.
A climb in the standings isn’t out of the question.
Storyline to watch: Will the new park and new talent put butts in the seats? Atlanta hasn’t had much success in the box office in recent years, and are now moving to a new park out in the suburbs.
The goal was to have a contending team in time for the new stadium, but they aren’t quite there yet. They also might have annoyed the locals with all the public money that’s going into it. At least they’re going for it, right?
X-Factor: RA Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Obviously, these guys have both seen better days. But who cares about that? Both guys are in their 40’s and still going strong.
Heck, Bartolo hit the sexiest home run ever last season. But if the Braves want a chance to play with the big boys, these guys have to give their best.
Bold prediction: A surprising third place in the division, Dansby Swanson wins NL Rookie of the Year.
Coming into this season: The Marlins have always been a team on a roller coaster, and last season was no different.
They were just getting going, when Dee Gordon got slapped with an 80 game suspension for PED use. Then, late in the year, Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident, just as the team was gearing for a late push.
The Fish haven’t done a whole lot in the off-season to combat their middling place in the standings, and in a division where everyone is either improving or already peaking, it’ll probably be another disappointing season for the All-Star Game hosts this year.
Storyline to watch: How can the team continue to recover from the devastating loss of Jose Fernandez? He was the present and future of the Marlins pitching staff, and now it seems like the rotation doesn’t really have a true ace.
It’ll be impossible to fill the shoes that Fernandez left, but something to watch is how the team rallies itself around that, and tries to win it for him.
X-Factor: Giancarlo Stanton. The monster masher has the power to obliterate scoreboards and cars in the parking lot when he’s at the plate, and always brings joy in watching a home run derby.
But he’s had trouble staying on the field the last couple of years. Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna are both very talented, but could benefit from the protection of Bigfoot looming behind them.
Bold prediction: Last place, but Giancarlo hits a home run that breaks someone’s car windshield.
New York Mets
Coming into this season: The Mets had a very interesting season last year. They had ups and downs more extreme than many could emotionally handle in one year.
Yoenis Cespedes signed and didn’t disappoint, yet longtime favorite David Wright missed most of the year. Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera both had great years and contributed big time to the lineup, yet young gun Michael Conforto seemed to regress.
The rotation led by Noah Syndergaard was very good, but everyone else save Bartolo missed chunks of time with injury. The team battled and barely held on to a Wild Card spot, but didn’t score a run in the WC game.
They look mostly the same as last year, hoping that health won’t be an issue this year.
Storyline to watch: The disabled list. A common Mets problem last year was staying on the field. 8 pitchers made at least 7 starts last season, and only 2 Mets played more than 140 games.
David Wright is already slated to miss time with an injury related to last year, so it’s not a great start for that. If they stay healthy, they have a good squad on the field.
X-Factor: Jose Reyes. Reyes was welcomed back warmly by Mets fans, and he didn’t disappoint.
Despite not getting back to his form from his first stint in Flushing, he still didn’t look out of place. Now that David Wright might miss significant time, Reyes has to pick up lots of slack in Wright’s stead.
Bold prediction: Another year of second place and a WC spot. It won’t come easy though.
Coming into this season: Ever since the 2009 World Series loss to the Yankees, the Phillies have been slowly getting older and worse every season.
Those days are now over, though. The final holdover from the previous core, Ryan Howard, is now gone, and they are left with a team full of young promising talent.
While they only won 71 games, they showed promise with good years from Tommy Joseph, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, and Freddy Galvis.
The pitching needed lots of help, but wasn’t a total train wreck. Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff both put in very solid seasons, and it shows us that there’s a lot of new Phight in this team (I feel sorry I wrote that).
Storyline to watch: Development of the young starting pitching.
The Phillies’ rotation features a few promising young arms, including Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and Vince Velasquez, all 25 and younger.
None had overly amazing years, but if they continue to get stronger, it’ll make the Phillies a tough team to play against.
X-Factor: Tommy Joseph. The heir apparent to Ryan Howard’s longtime position, Joseph showed last year that he has good power and hitting potential.
This lineup isn’t much on power just yet, but if he can break through, it gives this lineup underrated depth.
Bold prediction: Fourth place, but they don’t go down without a whimper.
Coming into this season: The reigning NL East champs had a very strong season last year, getting contributions from everyone on the team.
Bryce Harper is the unquestioned leader of the team, even with an off-year, he still put up good numbers. Daniel Murphy surprised everyone, nearly hitting .350, and leading the team in nearly every major offensive category.
Trea Turner showed off immense talent and speed, and looks to be the brightest spot in the future of the Nats.
It also helps to have a deep rotation, led by Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark, that can hold down the fort while the bats work.
Their main addition in the winter was Adam Eaton, who looks to be the final piece of the puzzle for the Nats to finally take that next step.
Storyline to watch: Bryce Harper. Well, yeah, you come to a Nats game and you keep your eyes fixed on him for obvious reasons.
But he’s coming off a substandard year, especially considering the show he put on in 2015. Many have attributed it to injury, but in any event, this year he should look to get back into it and maybe even surpass those 2015 numbers.
X-Factor: Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark. These guys are the support to perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, and are the depth of this packed rotation.
They need to continue to be strong and healthy for the Nats to really succeed. Both had ups and downs the last couple of years, but can definitely be lights out if they have their game.
Bold prediction: NL East champs again, and Trea Turner becomes the best player on the team.
New York (WC)
What do you think?