In this edition of our 2017 MLB Season Preview, we examine the battle for the NL East. The Mets and Nationals lead the way, but who will come out on top? The Fourth String team examines each team’s prospects.
#1 The Washington Nationals
Is this finally the Nationals year? After winning the NL East last year and blowing a 2-1 lead to the Dodgers in the NLDS, the Nats are hoping to go farther this year and win their first pennant in franchise history. Before getting to the postseason, though, the Nats will have to push past the Mets and win the NL East. The Nationals consistency comes in large part from their spectacular bullpen, with Max Scherzer (2.96 ERA, 20 Ws), Steven Strasberg (3.6 ERA, 15 Ws), and Jonathan Papelbon (19 Saves) leading the way. 27 year old Strasberg has always seemed to be on the cusp of becoming a great pitcher, and he may finally have his breakout year after steadily improving his win rate since 2013. On offense, Bryce Harper had an off year last year, with his on-base percentage declining from .460 to .373 and his hits declining from 173 to 123. If Harper can return to form and the Nats can maintain their spectacular bullpen, they may get the pennant shot they’ve always been looking for.
The Nationals open at home against the Marlins on April 3rd. President Donald Trump will reportedly break tradition and will not be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
#2 The New York Mets
Step right up and meet the 2017 New York Mets: after falling to a 3-run homer by Giant’s Conor Gillaspie in the National League Wild Card game, the Mets come back hoping to best the Nationals and clinch the division this time around. That’s a tough ask, especially considering how good the Nationals look and the (many) problems the Mets have. Right Fielder Curtis Granderson is 36 years old, and has not been the same since breaking his right forearm and signing with the Mets in 2013. Center Fielder Yoenis Cespedes had a good year last year, batting .280 and slugging .530 while Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was also batting .280 and slugging .474, but that represented all of their standout offensive production last year. On the mound, 43 year old Bartolo Colon lead the Mets in wins with 15 last year, but signed a 1-year deal with the Braves in the offseason. 23 year old Noah Syndergaard lead the team in ERA (2.6) in just his second year in the majors. Syndergaard may keep Mets fans excited, but he may have to pick up more than he’s ready for with the loss of Colon. The Mets’ season will depend on how much Granderson declines as they age and how much their young stars can pick up the slack.
The Mets open at home on April 2nd against the Braves.
UPDATE: Mets Closer Jeurys Familia has been suspended 15 games in accordance with the MLB’s domestic violence policy. Familia led the Mets with 51 saves last season.
#3 The Miami Marlins
After the tragic loss of star pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, the Marlins have been left in limbo. Fernandez was 24, and had fled Cuba at the age of 15, and was a 2 time All-Star and NL Rookie of the year. Before his season was cut short, Fernandez lead the Marlins with 16 wins and a 2.86 ERA, something no other Miami pitcher came close to. The Marlins will miss him dearly when their season starts.
Without Fernandez, the Marlins will likely need more production from Starting Pitchers Tom Koehler (9 Ws, 4.33 ERA) and Adam Conley (8 Ws, 3.85 ERA). The main benefit for the Marlins this year comes from their offense: RF Giancarlo Stanton should be healthy and ready for a full season, while mid-season trade acquisition Dee Gordon will play his first full year with Miami. The key for the is to ensure their batting and offense can compensate for what they’ve lost in pitching this year.
The Marlins open against the Nationals in Washington on April 3rd, and have their home opener against the Braves on April 11th.
#4 The Atlanta Braves
The Braves finished a dismal 68-93 in the 2016 season, and expectations for 2017 are no higher: ESPN actually predicts them to end up 68-93 again. The Braves made a gamble for the postseason this year by signing 42 year old Starting Pitcher R.A. Dickey from the Blue Jays and 43 year old Starting Pitcher Bartolo Colon to one year deals. The acquisition of Left Fielder Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres also helped the Braves late in the 2016 season, and his .280 batting average with Atlanta helped them to an 18-10 record in September and October. If their gamble pays off, the Braves could become playoff contenders this year. If not, their best-in-baseball farm system should help them return to the playoffs soon.
The Braves open against the Mets on april third, and play their first home game in brand-new Suntrust Park on April 14th against the Padres.
#5 The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are in full rebuild mode, and have not made the kind of gamble that the Braves did this offseason. Despite being the second-luckiest team in baseball last year, the Phillies finished an awful 71-91. There aren’t any real standouts from last year’s Phillies lineup, but it’s worth noting that the Phillies have the youngest roster in Major League Baseball and the 6th-best farm system. Philadelphia also got rid of 36 year old 3rd Baseman Ryan Howard, who was dragging the team down financially and had negative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in his last four seasons. That means he was significantly worse than just the average MLB player, and that the Phillies would have won more games had they gotten rid of him sooner. Either way, it looks as though Philadelphia fans will be trusting The Process™ for a few more years.
The Phillies open against the Reds on April 3rd, and have their home opener on April 7th against the Nationals.
The Fourth String team