The quarantine continues as the sports world remains shut down, for the most part. In fact, you can now count the 2020 Olympic Games among those that are postponed.
While we think of the brave front-line workers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, police forces, grocers among others, the good news is we still have some MLB futures on the board.
While we don’t know when the season will begin, we know know the makeup of most of the rosters as we were entering the second half of spring training prior to the hiatus.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead with part four of my six-part series diving into the six divisions across Major League Baseball while taking a look at the odds and predictions for each team in said division.
In this piece, we’ll switch gears to the National League and begin in a division that appears loaded with as many as four contending clubs in the form of the National League East.
Let’s get it!
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
**Breakdowns done in order of last year’s final regular season standings
NL East Odds, Breakdowns and Predictions
- 2019 Record: 97-65
- Playoff Result: Lost NLDS vs. Cardinals
- NL East Odds: +225
- NL Pennant Odds: +750
- World Series Odds: +1800
I can’t help but feel that a very good Braves team from 2019 got even better for the 2020 campaign.
For one, their set long-term with one of the most dynamic lineups in baseball, one that combines youth with experience along with MVP-caliber talent.
The team did lose 37-homer man Josh Donaldson in free agency, but the addition of Ozuna helps offset that loss.
The pitching staff is where the team truly improved.
There wasn’t a ton wrong with the group in 2019 as Braves pitching worked to a 10th-ranked 4.20 ERA. However, a deeper dig reveals a 14th-ranked 4.39 FIP, 16th-ranked 4.42 xFIP and worst of all, an 18th-ranked 12.3 WAR.
The rotation was high on talent with Mike Soroka having a career year and Julio Teheran faring well, but it was a shallow group that used 11 different starters.
That said, many of those starts came from arms that are no longer with the club. Teheran, Dallas Keuchel and Kevin Gausman combined to make 68 starts a season ago, and all three will pitch elsewhere next season.
Additions were in order, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos went out and inked veteran lefty Cole Hamels to a one-year deal and bet on former Mariner Felix Hernandez as well.
Add in Soroka, a big bounce back candidate in Mike Foltynewicz who was brilliant down the stretch until getting blown up in Game 5 of the NLDS, a trendy breakout candidate in Max Fried as well as Sean Newcomb and youngsters Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint – both of whom garnered MLB experience in 2019 – and depth doesn’t appear to be an issue this time around.
However, the true improvement – on paper to start – is in the bullpen.
The Braves received an 11th-ranked 4.21 ERA from their ‘pen in 2019, but their WAR slipped all the way to 21st with a 1.1 mark. Upgrades were needed.
For one, the team will get full seasons (however long the season is) from 2019 trade deadline acquisitions Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. They re-signed Martin this offseason before he tested free agency.
They also signed former Giants closer Will Smith to perhaps form a tandem closing job with Melancon at the back end of the ‘pen while they should get more than 5.1 innings from Darren O’Day who missed almost all of the 2019 season with a forearm injury.
The moral of the story is this Braves bullpen looks a whole lot different than it did coming out of spring training this time a season ago.
Add in the elite offense and the deeper and talented rotation and the Braves should be beasts of the East again this time around.
Prediction: Wins NL East, Wins NL Pennant, Loses World Series vs. Yankees
While I believe there’s value in all three odds here, I really like those +750 odds to win the NL Pennant.
Sure, they would likely have to get through the Dodgers in the NLCS to do so, and while the Dodgers look even more frightening with Mookie Betts in the lineup, this Braves offense is going to mash too.
I also like the Braves’ bullpen over that of the Dodgers at this point, and bullpens of course play a major role in postseason success.
That said, I see nice value across the board.
- 2019 Record: 93-69
- Playoff Result: Won World Series
- NL East Odds: +225
- NL Pennant Odds: +850
- World Series Odds: +1800
The Nationals won the World Series in their first season without Bryce Harper. Now, they’ve lost another MVP-caliber talent in Anthony Rendon. Are they still in the mix?
Well, it will very much depend on that big three atop their rotation in the form of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. The team actually had a big four when you factor in Anibal Sanchez’s big season.
Add it up and the Nationals dominated the leaderboard when it came to starting pitching in 2019, as you can see.
Health is important here. While Strasburg is long removed from his Tommy John surgery and handled a huge workload en route to World Series MVP honors last year, it’s Scherzer I’m most worried about.
Scherzer was on track to take down his third Cy Young award – and second of the NL variety – until a back issue cost him much a month into late August while he topped out at 6.2 innings in a start over the remainder of the regular season.
He made a pair of dominant seven-inning starts in the postseason, but pitched just 10 innings across two starts while allowing 12 hits, seven walks and four earned runs in the World Series.
At 35 this season, there’s plenty of wear and tear on that arm and 2019 was the first season in which he truly dealt with injuries that slowed his dominance. Until this season, injuries were never an issue but whether he can be another 200-inning workhorse atop that rotation remains to be seen.
The team’s offense is set up not too bad with a dynamic outfield trio of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton while speedster Trea Turner remains at short. The team also added veteran help at first and second in Eric Thames and Starlin Castro, respectively while postseason hero Howie Kendrick should play all over the diamond next season.
It’s hard to envision the team not missing Rendon’s bat, however. An on-base machine with plenty of power, Rendon was the best bat of the bunch and he’ll be missed.
Thanks to a big second half the Nationals actually finished sixth with a .336 wOBA in 2019, but I see some regression from there.
The bullpen was the biggest negative by a country mile a season ago, turning in a 30th-ranked 5.68 ERA during the regular season.
Thanks to their elite rotation, that bullpen was hidden by the fact they pitched an MLB-low 500.2 innings while their best three bullpen members in Tanner Rainey, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle did most of the postseason work after mostly lengthy outings from their starters.
They added Will Harris in the offseason coming off a 1.50 ERA in north of 60 innings a season ago, the the final four of the bullpen doesn’t look so bad, and considering Hudson was a trade deadline acquisition, they have two more reliable names in this group than they had at this time last year.
Prediction: Misses Playoffs
I have too many question marks to have the Nationals grabbing a Wild Card spot considering I have the Braves to win the division.
The productivity of the offense is one, the health of the rotation – namely Scherzer – is another and whether the bullpen can bounce back in a big way is also one.
When I add in the lethal division in which they reside, it would appear all of my questions would need big responses in order for this version of the Nationals to succeed.
Coming from a guy who predicted the Nationals to win the NL Pennant a season ago after the trade deadline, I’m not liking their chances nearly as much this time around.
New York Mets
- 2019 Record: 86-76
- Playoff Result: Did not qualify
- NL East Odds: +275
- NL Pennant Odds: +800
- World Series Odds: +2500
They lost Zack Wheeler from the rotation as he landed big money in free agency, however I believe the Mets could become the new Nationals (and Dodgers) in terms of dominating the field with an elite top-three in their rotation.
We’re aware of Jacob deGrom’s work after he reeled in back-to-back Cy Young awards, however Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are aces in their own right.
Stroman was one with the Blue Jays before being acquired by the Mets at the trade deadline while he turned in a tidy 3.22 ERA between the two clubs in 2019. His 3.64 FIP and 3.59 xFIP for his career are extremely encouraging figures.
The x-factor to me is Syndergaard. He endured a down 2019 campaign in which he pitched to a 4.28 ERA, but he also posted a 3.60 FIP and 3.83 xFIP.
For his career, he owns a 3.31 ERA, but also an elite 2.92 FIP and 3.17 xFIP. He actually set new career highs with 32 starts and 197.2 innings in 2019. What if he’s able to work to the 2.60 ERA/2.29 FIP and 10.68 K/9 he produced in 183.2 frames in 2016? It’s a scary thought.
The Mets added veterans Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha to complete the rotation. Porcello, a former Cy Young winner himself, will look for redemption on a one-year deal after a poor 2019 season while Wacha will look to stay healthy and productive for the first time in three years.
The offense is largely unchanged from the team that produced an 11th-ranked .325 wOBA in 2019.
Reigning home run king and NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso leads the way, while productive bats such as Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeill, J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, Robinson Cano, Amed Rosario and Wilson Ramos follow. All of those names have been productive at some point over the last two seasons while Rosario is a breakout candidate and Nimmo a big bounce-back candidate with huge OBP upside.
This offense has a change to hit another gear in 2020.
Like the Nationals, the work of the team’s bullpen was its biggest undoing in 2019 and consistently mitigated the quality work of the rotation.
The 4.99 ERA from the Mets bullpen last year ranked 26th and their their 0.7 WAR checked in at 24th league wide.
The team went out and made a significant splash by signing free agent strikeout artist Dellin Betances away from the crosstown Yankees, however priority No.1 is getting 2018 MLB saves leader Edwin Diaz back on track.
The Mets acquired Diaz and Cano in the same offseason blockbuster last winter with Diaz coming off a season in which he turned in a lethal 1.96 ERA, 1.61 FIP, 1.78 FIP, a 15.22 K/9 and 57 saves.
His production plummeted in Queens, however, posting a 5.59 ERA/4.51 FIP with just 26 saves. His strikeout rate actually improved a little bit, but he was bitten by the long ball with a huge 2.33 HR/9 and his walk rate elevated to 3.41 BB/9.
There is hope for a rebound, however, as his xFIP sat at just 3.07 and his .377 BABIP is a product of flat-out bat luck and much higher than his .311 career mark. He also allowed home runs on 26.8% of his fly-balls against after maxing out at 14.7% over his first three seasons in the big leagues.
If that bullpen can correct itself, I’m serious in saying the Mets are World Series contenders.
Prediction: Wild Card berth, Win Wild Card Game, Win ALDS, Lose NLCS vs. Braves
I believe the Mets are capable of big things and it starts with that potentially lethal rotation. While far from guaranteed, the truth of the matter is deGrom, Syndergaard and Stroman are all capable of hurling sub-3.00 ERA seasons.
deGrom has done it two straight years and in four of his six MLB season, Syndergaard has accomplished the feat twice in five seasons (one in an injury-shortened, seven-start 2017 season) and Stroman has come close twice in two of the last three years (3.09 in 2017, 3.22 in 2019).
If they even come close to it, the Mets are deadly.
Add in what should be another quality offense with the upside to improve and a bullpen that A. cannot get much worse and B. should be better with Betances and huge bounce back upside from Diaz.
Add it up and I think the Mets play deep postseason ball this season.
- 2019 Record: 81-81
- Playoff Result: Did not qualify
- NL East Odds: +350
- NL Pennant Odds: +1200
- World Series Odds: +3500
This is a deep division when we take into account a loaded Phillies lineup finished fourth in the NL East with a .500 record last season.
The offense didn’t live up to its hype, however, finishing the season at 18th with a .314 wOBA, thanks to a number of factors.
In the midst of a big season atop the Phillies’ lineup, former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen went down with a torn ACL and Bryce Harper struggled in the season’s first half.
The team managed to fight off those factors to enter August in second place, but the surging Nationals and Mets down the stretch sent the Phillies down the pecking order despite sporting numbers that aren’t representative of a fourth-place time.
That’s life in the NL East these days.
The added on offense in the form of shortstop Didi Gregorius who bet on himself with a one-year pact after Tommy John surgery cost him the first half of 2019 and given his subsequent struggles, his market fell apart.
The rotation saw the biggest upgrade, however, as former Met Zach Wheeler inked a five-year deal in excess of $100M coming off a couple of quality seasons with the rival Metropolitans.
— Starting 9 (@Starting9) December 4, 2019
It seems Wheeler’s put a lengthy injury history behind him, putting together back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons while his 3.25 FIP from 2018 and 3.48 mark from 2019 are encouraging.
Despite averaging 97 mph on his four-seamer, Wheeler’s strikeout rate has remained under the 9.00 K/9 mark, but he’s maintained quality control and has seen positive results that earned him a lucrative deal.
Like the other clubs in this division, their bullpen wasn’t anything to write home about.
The Phillies ranked 16th with a 4.38 bullpen ERA in 2019, however that number is a little misleading as their 4.84 FIP ranked 23rd and their 0.7 WAR also checked in at 23rd.
There’s not much reason as to why this lineup shouldn’t be producing.
With Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Gregorius, McCutchen and Jean Segura aboard, it’s a run-producing group. Add in a career-year from Scott Kingery from last season and this Phillies offense should improve.
The rotation wasn’t horrible with a 17th-ranked 4.64 ERA, but certainly not great, either.
Aaron Nola regressed from his Cy Young-caliber 2018 campaign, Jake Arrieta struggled with both production and injuries and having Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff all struggle when given an opportunity didn’t help.
Wheeler should help and Nola could positively regress, but they’ll need at least two more arms to step up and deliver some production for a full season. After Nola, Zach Eflin’s 1.5 WAR was tops among Phillies starters. Not good.
Prediction: Misses Playoffs
While they could move to third in the division, I don’t view the Phillies as a better team as the Mets or the Braves.
That leaves one Wild Card spot open for the Phillies to duke it out with the likes of the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals and Reds in the NL Central as well as the D-backs, and Padres in the NL West, assuming the Dodgers win that division and the Giants and Rockies rebuild.
I figure one of those NL Central clubs steps up and grabs a Wild Card spot, leaving the Phils on the outside looking in once again.
- 2019 Record: 57-105
- Playoff Result: Did not qualify
- NL East Odds: +15000
- NL Pennant Odds: +12500
- World Series Odds: +100000
Tip your cap to the Marlins as they made some moves to add big league talent despite needing a miracle – and some – to compete in this division.
The traded for second baseman Jonathan Villar coming off a big season with the Orioles while they added first baseman Jesus Aguilar and outfielder Corey Dickerson, a couple of bats with some power built in.
They also added some veteran catching depth in former Pirate Francisco Cervelli.
The Marlins strong point remains in the rotation, however, rather than looking at these offensive additions as a way to greatly improve an offense that ranked last with a .288 wOBA last season.
Rather, the Marlins rotation worked to a 16th-ranked 4.59 ERA last season, and while their peripheral numbers regressed, it’s a young group and it’s a start for the rebuilding club.
Late-blooming left-hander Caleb Smith showed flashes of dominance at the age of 28 in his first full MLB season, despite a second-half drop, 24-year-old Sandy Alcantara produced a 3.88 ERA in his rookie season and fellow 24-year-old Pablo Lopez produced a 4.23 first-half ERA before falling off significantly in his first full season of big league work, not uncommon for young pitchers.
Add in a nice 15-start cameo from 23-year-old Jordan Yamamoto straight out of Double-A and the team certainly has some nice arms on the big league club, and more on the way.
According to MLB Pipeline, the Marlins sport the fourth-best farm system in baseball with 22-ranked prospect Sixto Sanchez – a right-handed pitcher – their highest-ranked prospect.
Prediction: Misses Playoffs
Of course, none of this is going to be enough to upset the big boys towering over them with MLB talent in this division.
After taking some criticism after tearing down the big league club upon his arrival, it appears the Marlins are stocked at the minor league level, although that never guarantees big league success.
One thing we do know, however, is the Marlins won’t be playing postseason ball in 2020.