So what will the Phillies will be up against in the National League East when the season starts? We’ll get our first taste of NL East action on Friday, April 7, a 3:05 p.m. first pitch against the division favored Washington Nationals. It’s also the Phillies home opener.
Here’s how the division stacks up as we enter 2017.
Washington Nationals (2016: 95-67, first place)
The Nats ran away with the division last season by eight games over the New York Mets despite a down year from phenom Bryce Harper. Harper hit just .243 with 24 home runs after an MVP 2015 saw him hit .330 with 42 home runs. Harper will seek to put last season behind him and prove it was a fluke. The Nats are easily the most complete team in the division – they’re solid everywhere with a good mix of veterans and young players. MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy is back at second base, with and Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman manning the corners.
Shortstop Trea Turner is probably going to make Phillies fans sick this summer. In 73 games last season, Turner hit .342/.370/.567 with 35 extra-base hits and 33 stolen bases. He’ll have a chance to build on those numbers with a full season ahead of him. It could be quite scary, honestly.
The Nats have outfield depth with Jayson Werth returning, a hopefully motivated (for Nats fans) Harper, and newly acquired Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox. You might remember the Nats failed attempt to nab Chris Sale before he went to Boston; just days later, many of the same players discussed in the near-Sale deal were included for Eaton. Eaton’s numbers over the last three seasons are very comparable to Odubel Herrera.
The same ho-hum starters will be Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross. As much as any other team, injuries will be the only impediment to a season that should have the Nats looking down at everyone else.
New York Mets (2016: 87-75, second place)
The Mets were running on fumes in September when the injury bug wouldn’t stop biting them. But somehow, Terry Collins led his Mets into the NL Wild Card game, where their hearts were broken by a late three-run home run by San Francisco’s Conor Gillaspie.
Here is a list of all the players who spent at least one trip on the disabled list: Travis d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Lucas Duda, David Wright (season-ending), Juan Lagares (twice), Matt Harvey (season-ending), Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Ruggiano, Yoenis Cespedes, Steven Matz, Jonathon Niese (season-ending), Neil Walker (season-ending) and Jacob deGrom (season-ending).
I’m no Mets fan by any means, but to keep it real, I give them a ton of credit for keeping it together. A healthy staff of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and possibly Zach Wheeler, gives them arguably the best in baseball.
Their outfield has pop with the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, plus Curtis Granderson, and Jay Bruce, who struggled since coming over from the Reds last July. Starting the year fresh in New York may be what the doctor ordered for Bruce. Playing a series of meaningless games for the Reds and all of a sudden thrust into a pennant race, in New York, can wear on a player. Look for Bruce to rebound. A bunch of solid, proven vets make up the Mets’ infield.
If – and that’s a big if – the Mets can cut down half the injuries for 2017, they’ll give the Nats a run.
Miami Marlins (2016: 79-82, third place)
For the next few years at least, it’ll be difficult to picture Jose Fernandez not around the Marlins, especially when the Phillies play them or if you’re watching a highlight. The baseba
ll community, along with the Marlins franchise, was shaken after the tragic death of Miami’s young, exuberant superstar pitcher.
There is no replacing a player and personality like Fernandez, but they did their best by signing Edinson Volquez as a free agent and trading for Dan Straily from Cincinnati. The Marlins have quite a few other marginal-to-fringe starting pitchers including Wei-Yin Chen, Tom Koehler, Adam Conley, Jeff Locke, and possibly young right-hander Jose Urena. The two best bullpen arms for Miami are A.J. Ramos, who saved 40 games last season, and Kyle Barraclough, who posted a 2.85 ERA in 75 games.
The Marlins very much have talent in their lineup. Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, catcher J.T. Realmuto and Dee Gordon are the guys we’ll hear of the most. Then, of course, Giancarlo Stanton is still smack in the middle of the lineup. He hasn’t hit for average recently, but hecan still hit some of the most mammoth shots you’ll ever see.
The Marlins are not expected to compete in the division. A record near .00 could keep them in the wild card hunt, but their pitching probably won’t hold up.
Atlanta Braves (2016: 68-93, fourth place)
The Braves were the laughing stock of 2016, at least in the first two months. They fired manager Fredi Gonzalez after 37 games (9-28) and hired Brian Snitker, whose interim tag was removed after the season. Snitker went 59-65 the rest of the way, and in September went 16-10. There was clear improvement.
While they had a young 2016 team, the Braves made some splashes in the offseason. In somewhat surprising fashion, Atlanta signed 43-year-old Bartolo Colon and 42-year-old R.A. Dickey, and traded for 30-year-old Jaime Garcia. The Colon and Dickey signings were probably the biggest shocks, since they’re in their 40s on a rebuilding team. Those three should give them a semblance of stability with Julio Teheran and maybe Matt Wisler.
Atlanta also traded for 35-year-old second baseman Brandon Phillips. Entering his 16th season, Phillips has hit over .290 in each of the last two seasons. So he’s not done just yet. Dansby Swanson has been labeled the next up-and-coming phenom. The 22-year-old hit .302 in 38 games last season. Freddie Freeman is coming off arguably his best season in 2016, hitting .302 with 34 homers and 91 RBI.
Atlanta has just three outfielders listed on their active roster: Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp. Kemp returned to his early career form, hitting 35 homers and driving in 108 with San Diego and Atlanta. Markakis is a steady bat and Ender Inciarte is a scrappy player.
The Braves will sneak up on some teams this year, as they have an odd mix of really old guys and really young guys.