Major League Baseball saw a big shakeup in the NL East this offseason with Bryce Harper going from the Nationals to the Phillies. It’s a major move, but does that make Philadelphia the favorite to unseat the Braves as division champs? And will the Mets, who improved their roster this winter, play spoiler after finishing fourth last season? Let’s examine the four contenders in the division (sorry, Marlins fans), based on the order they finished in 2018.
- 2018 record: 90-72
The Braves won 90 games and the NL East last year thanks, in large part, to a strong young core led by reigning National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr., who hit 26 home runs. He’s joined by fellow youngster Ozzie Albies and the veteran of the group, Freddie Freeman, to form the heart of the lineup.
The rotation includes Julio Teheran, who averages179 strikeouts per season for his career. The Braves’ additions this offseason included veteran hitters Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson, but the rotation is iffy, which is one reason Atlanta seems like a good landing spot for free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel.
- 2018 record: 82-80
Losing Harper to a division rival deals a big blow to the Nationals’ offense, and they tried to fill that hole by signing infielder Brian Dozier and catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. But the biggest offensive output will likely come from Juan Soto, who hit 22 home runs in 116 games in his rookie season and looks to be a 30-homer player if he can get a full season under his belt in 2019.
Despite losing Harper, the Nationals should be NL East contenders due to their starting rotation. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are perennial Cy Young Award candidates (Scherzer has three of them), and they are joined by Patrick Corbin, who signed a six-year contract with the team worth $140 million.
- 2018 record: 80-82
Harper will be a big bat in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup. He’s joined by other offseason acquisitions J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen. Those additions give Philadelphia’s offense a significant makeover, and we didn’t even mention first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who is coming off a 34-home campaign in his first full season in the majors.
The Phillies should be able to put runs on the board, but their starting rotation has question marks in it behind ace Aaron Nola. Jake Arrieta and Nick Pivetta expected to round out the top three spots in the rotation, and they’ll have to be at their best for the team to contend for the NL title.
New York Mets
- 2018 record: 77-85
Like the Phillies, the Mets have significant turnover in the lineup this season coming off of a 77-85 season. They added Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, and catcher Wilson Ramos through free agency and trades, but perhaps the biggest addition on offense may come from within the organization.
First baseman Pete Alonso will suit up for the big club from Day 1 this season. The 6-foot-3 rookie hit 36 home runs last season in 136 games at the AA and AAA levels. If he gets off to a quick start and sees significant playing time throughout the season, he should provide an offensive spark to a team that needs it. While the Mets didn’t add any starting pitchers this offseason, their rotation — led by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard — could be the best in the division if everyone can stay healthy.
Who wins the division?
With that look at the four teams who are expected to compete for the NL East title this season, who has the best chance to win it?
The Nationals look like they have the best overall team, but it’s been that way before and they’ve failed to win the division. They should have a consistent offense this season, in addition to a strong rotation Cy Young candidates.
If the Mets can get 200-plus innings out of each of their starters, they have a chance to go from fourth to first, but that’s not a given for them.
The Phillies have one of the better offenses in the division, but they have the worst rotation of the four teams, and the Braves also have too many question marks among their starting pitchers that could keep them from repeating as division champs. So who do you think will win the NL East in 2019?