Sizing Up The NL East

If you were listening to the national media during the offseason, the talk was about the significant improvements the Phillies and Mets made to their rosters. And until they actually do it, the Nationals will be predicted to win the NL East, the NL pennant, the World Series, and maybe even the Super Bowl. That Atlanta mostly stood pat meant that they were DOOOOOOOMED.

But a third of the way through the season, it hasn’t completely happened that way. IWOTM has continued to be true, the Nationals continue to be the team that should be better but is not, and the Phils, as expected, have been quite good but have not been able to pull away from the rest of the division. The Braves, also as expected, are pretty good but with glaring holes that they refused to fix in the offseason.

The Nationals are the biggest surprise. They’re not 9 games below .500 because their starters have disappointed. Their 3.88 starters ERA ranks 7th in baseball. But their position player core, now short one Bryce Harper, has not hit well. If you thought that our young players were due for some sort of regression but the likes of Victor Robles were ready to break out, then you’re probably surprised to see that that also hasn’t happened. But the big problem with the Nationals is their bullpen. You think ours has been a dumpster fire? Well, yeah, that has been true at times, but the Nats have used almost as many relievers as we have, and all but Sean Dolittle have completely sucked. Our 4.29 ERA needs improvement, but their 7.25 ERA — no, that’s not a typo — should cost Rizzo his job.

The Mets… ya know, they really weren’t that much improved from last year. They added Diaz, sure, and Cano is a big name, but they’re largely the same team they were last year. And they’ve pretty much played like it; while their pitching has been about a half run per game better, their offense and defense are largely the same. But they’re probably the one team from this division that could be better than what they’ve shown, so I think they’re the team I’m keeping my eye on still.

The Phillies are a really good team. They’ve scored one less run per game than Atlanta, but it’s in one less game. Their team ERA is right there with Atlanta (Atlanta’s 4.09 is just ahead of their 4.11). The glaring difference is on defense; Philly has a -10 defensive runs saved (20th in baseball) vs. Atlanta’s +15 (11th). But Philly only has 5 blown saves, and Atlanta has 9, so that’s a big reason for their difference in the standings. I felt like Atlanta has the houses on the mound to outlast Philly, though, and that is unchanged.

Speaking of pitching and blown saves, though, keep in mind that the NL East could be heavily swayed by what happens with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. The Braves, Mets, and Phillies could all probably use Keuchel, maybe even the Nats too. And all 4 could use Kimbrel. 2 of the only 3 teams that have more blown saves than the Braves are the Mets and Nationals. The Nats may think they’re already too far out of it to throw money at Kimbrel, and we don’t know if the Mets have the money for Kimbrel, but adding Kimbrel to the Mets bullpen would make them a much more formidable foe. Adding Keuchel to the aforementioned teams could change things considerably as well.

As has been mentioned, the Phils have a tough part of their schedule coming up; the Braves have an easier one. It’ll be really interesting to see if the Braves’ good pen work can continue, and the Phils play the way you’d expect against tougher competition. If those two things go as expected, we might be able to pass them. We shall see.

66 thoughts on “Sizing Up The NL East”

  1. JC’ed from previous thread:
    Gohara is dealing with an unspecified arm injury and is continuing all non-throwing daily workouts at extended spring training. There has been no announcement of a timetable for his return to pitching.


    Notable points

    -Doesn’t shoot down Keuchel or Kimbrel, but lists their likelihood at no better than 50 percent.
    -Things they’ll go down to a 7-man pen to accommodate Ender.
    -Thinks Ozzie needs to do something to fix his production against RHP, and doesn’t shoot down abandoning switch-hitting.
    -Gohara has left shoulder problems, and thinks he may need exploratory surgery. He speculates this is a lost season. At the end of the day, he’s still only 22 (23 in July). He’s got plenty of time to get good, though this would be the first time he’s had an issue that isn’t fluky.

  3. Acuña needs a rest. I’m worried that the wait for Ender’s return will do Acuña more harm than good. I don’t think the Braves will call up Duvall, so it looks like Culberson will have to fill in.

  4. Thanks, Rob.

    I agree, Remy. Ronald needs a breather. Nick could use one too, and Ozzie; but the team keeps winning. Go figure.

  5. Cano looks like he’s done. Todd Frazier is at 3rd. I’m not worried about the Mets.

  6. With 2 off days in 4 days, this is the closest thing we’ll have all year to a mini all star break. Let’s hope Acuna can take advantage of this.

  7. The Mets have suffered through a lot of injuries, as they often do. Cano and Frazier look toast and Amed Rosario appears to be a huge bust as a prospect. Nimmo is hurt too and he was their best hitter last season. They should get McNeill back soon which will help some, but they are lacking offensively.

    The Nationals have also had bad luck with injuries. Trea Turner missed a lot of time after getting beaned earlier this season. Both of their first basemen Zimmerman and Matt Adams have also been hurt. Juan Soto is in a bit of a sophomore slump compared to how he hit last season. I see their offense as more likely to improve than the Mets, but they have dug themselves quite a hole, and they have to find new solutions to the bullpen.

  8. @2 I don’t really feel they need Keuchel. He’d be a nice luxury, I guess. The rotation is pretty solid though. I’m not a proponent of adding there unless it’s a true #1.

    The pen needs Kimbrel, however. Does anyone really feel totally confident that Jackson, as solid as he’s been, is the guy to close out a deciding game in a playoff series?

    Going to a 7 man bullpen to “accommodate” Ender wouldn’t be the worst thing. I say that not so much from the standpoint that Ender’s produced. He hasn’t. Acuna needs some breathers, though; and if you’re keeping Acuna fresh, it’s probably a net gain.

  9. I thought the Nationals would drop off this season.

    The Mets have surprised me, however, as I really saw them being better than they are. I’m glad they’re not, though. Lol.

  10. Those Dodgers can slug, oh how they can slug..
    last night de Grom held them up and left in the sixth with a lead…in comes a young kid from their pen with a sub one ERA and a rosy smile…



  11. If one builds one’s team around the premise of Ryan Zimmerman being healthy and hale, one gets what one deserves.

  12. If Bryce Harper was worth $330MM, what on Earth will Yelich and Bellinger be worth?

  13. We should be seeing Minter back pretty soon. I think he’s earned it.

  14. That -0.8 fWAR this year is sure to get him enshrined.

    Chief, let’s not go through all of your failed prognostications. I don’t think WordPress allots us that much storage space.

  15. @12, that joke is several years out of date. The Nats haven’t built around the expectation of a healthy Ryan Zimmerman since the Jayson Werth administration.

    The Nats always have a mildly underachieving offense, but it isn’t why they lose. Their biggest problems always come back to the fact that their owners are spendthrift on the big stuff (like Boras clients) and cheap on the small stuff (like the manager and the bullpen). They always look good on paper because they’re always top-heavy and thin.

  16. I’m not sure it’s really that much of a disappointment that Gohara is so weirdly on the shelf. Even if he remains injured — whether that exactly means — for the next few months, he can still get some work in in September and be ready to go for next year. He’s the same age and at the same development curve as Kyle Wright, as an example. They’re both 23-year olds trying to conquer AAA, for different reasons.

  17. I didn’t include injuries as a valid excuse for poor play because each of the 4 “contenders” have dealt with injuries. We’re not in first place because our pen has been a joke, and we are short 3 of our most experienced relievers. If they didn’t have enough organizational depth to survive injuries, that’s their problem.

  18. Our problems are more easily fixable than anyone else’s. The Natspos have a worse bullpen than us and their offense is terrible. The Phils’ defense isn’t going to improve. The Mets are not going to stop Met-ing.

    Add one or two competent relievers to our existing pen, maybe mix Minter back in there, and we’re good to go. Very do-able.

  19. Mets ownership always believes two things. First, they are always One Last Piece away from a WS ring. And second, the One Last Piece must be a Famous Player.

  20. Are the Mets paying all of Cano’s contract? He’s got four more years after this one at $24M/yr.

  21. One of the guys the Mets sent to Seattle in the Cano trade is currently stop gapping for the Braves’ bullpen.

    The Mets and Mariners finalized and announced a blockbuster deal on Monday, sending eight-time All-Star Robinson Canó and standout closer Edwin Díaz to Flushing. In exchange, the Mets are shipping outfielder Jay Bruce, relievers Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista, and prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to Seattle. The Mets are also receiving $20 million from the Mariners to offset Cano’s salary, according to a source.

  22. @23 If I recall correctly, reports were the Mets didn’t exactly want Cano, but took him on as a way of making that Edwin Diaz trade. Can’t say I’m all that familiar with their farm system, but I suppose they lacked the prospect capital to get it done? Seattle mirrored what the Braves did with Kimbrel to offload a bad contract.

  23. @ 32,

    And part of the get for the Mets was getting rid of the Swarzak and Bruce contracts.

  24. I laughed out loud when that Mets/Mariners trade was reported. As of now, it looks possible that Cano will not even have another good season left in him.

    I will laugh even more if he’s off the ML roster before 2021.

  25. Robinson Cano is joining the illustrious list of All-Star American League second basemen who went to New York and immediately turned into stiffs: Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar, and now Cano.

    (Jeff Kent was another AL’er who came to the Mutts. He wasn’t bad, but he sure wasn’t the MVP he became after he left. Neither were Justin Turner or Daniel Murphy!)

  26. Jay Bruce (205/272/519)
    14m 2019,
    14m 2020,

    Anthony Swarzak
    8.5m 2019

    Robby Cano (241/287/371)
    24m 2019
    24m 2020
    24m 2021
    24m 2022
    24m 2023

    If that’s how the Mets strategically clear bad contracts, I have an idea why “Metsing” is a verb.

  27. Right. The Mets have never learned the simple “never acquire a middle infielder after the age of 32” rule.

  28. @33 As Sam said, it’s still a salary dump of sorts. Sending Swarzak and Bruce to Seattle may have balanced the books this season, and a bit next; but long-term, the Mets took on more money.

  29. We didn’t learn it until this decade. We extended a middle infielder wayyyy past 32 (Uggla). Yikes, what were we thinking giving Uggla a deal to age 35?

    Speaking of bad extensions for infielders, at least Chris Johnson was 28. I wish Statcast was around in 2013 because I would have liked to have seen what CJ’s launch angle and exit velo were at the time. Back in the olden days (pre-2015), fans had to make a gut determination as to whether or not someone’s BABIP was sustainable with no context to whether or not the player was hitting hard line drives. Not sure if the Braves were keeping that kind of batted ball data at the time, but I wonder if CJ was actually hitting the ball hard or if he somehow was able to get really lucky for an entire season.

  30. There were plenty of people screaming about the over-32 years rule with Uggla, at the time.

  31. Dan Uggla’s career trajectory was well-known on the forums and blogs before the Braves extended him. His demise was also well predicted.

    I don’t know how the Braves’ front office at the time could not know it was a big unnecessary risk.

  32. The Uggla and B. Upton signings were 2 of the 3 biggest reasons Wren was fired. (The other one being that he ran off much of the scouting department for being a supposed douche.)

  33. @24 I’m onboard with that. Anyone want to imagine Kimbrel closing with Jackson/Minter 2.0 for the 8th and Winkler/Webb/LH stopper (LOOGY) for the 7th and Touki/Newk (or Weigel or Ynoa or Wright or other rotating rookie SP) as long relief?

    That shows what 2 good relievers and Minter 2.0 could do for our pen. Superseding Blevins, Swarzak, and Tomlin. The idea has me salivating.

  34. BA has Kyle Muller as the hottest prospect in baseball right now:

  35. You know… Grant Dayton could be the LOOGY. And with Minter 2.0, we’d only “need” to sign Kimbrel to fully fix the bullpen.

  36. The Mets took 3-time All Star and two-time Golden Glove second baseman Felix Millan from the Braves and got five serviceable years out of him (no AS appearance, no Golden Glove, and over at age 33.)

  37. Felix Millan was never “good” per se.

    It’s Gold Gloves. He never won a military boxing tournament to my knowledge.

    They got him at 29 and cut him at 33, which doesn’t really break the “not over 32” rule by much.

  38. I love Ozzie Albies. His infectious nature delights me. He’s my current fave Brave, but …

    He needs some Chipper lessons and a few days off.

  39. I’d like to apologize for most of my (few) posts this year being negative.

    I don’t know if anyone else is going through it, but I’ve had a real hard time getting into the team this year, really since March when it became apparent there wouldn’t be any free agents or trades to put this team over the top. I naively thought that the years of sitting through crappy teams with Pierzynskis, Bethancourts, and Aybars would be rewarded with some money well spent. Breaking news – faceless corporation fails to meet local schlub’s expectations. Film at 11.

    So it just kinda took the fire out of it for me. Me, a fan who for the better part of 3 decades has put waaaaaay too much emotional investment in some tomahawk-emblazoned laundry. How could I get too excited or low about the wins and losses this year if the guys in charge didn’t seem all that invested in winning?

    Anybody have the same problem? How are you guys dealing with it?

  40. Felix the Kitten Millan was one of my favorite players. But he really was not a good hitter. As a kid, I thought that his .280 batting average made him a good hitter, but he had no power and rarely walked.
    Trading him for Gary Gentry was a good trade for the Braves–except this was the 1970’s, so of course it didn’t work out. Gentry hurt his elbow and never contributed.

  41. 51 — I understand where you’re coming from, but then I watch all these exciting young players who come in and fill the void as well as if not better than what we could have gotten externally, and I forget about the offseason woes.

  42. We brought in Swarzak with the bases loaded to face a righty, who he walks. Then he stays in the game to pitch to a lefty. Fortunately, that worked out, but that was some seriously Snitkering.

    Fortunately, the Nats pen also sucks.

  43. I don’t exactly disagree with you, MikeM.

    I guess I keep watching because there are/were so many question marks regarding all the youngsters and what they are capable of.

  44. F***ing Swarzak walking in a 2nd run and then giving the HR. We could at least be tied.

    I guess the Nats pen is a worse dumpster fire than ours.

  45. @51 I can’t relate. This is the most excited I’ve been about a Braves team in a long time. So much young talent with incredible promise that will be here for years to come.

  46. @51 Having weathered the ’70’s and ’80’s teams, the current situation doesn’t seem so bad. It actually seems pretty good. So cry me a river, Mike.

  47. This one is on Snit. You have a completely rested pen and in the 6th inning with the game on the line you bring in… Swarzak? Not Winkler, not Webb, not Touki? How has he earned such a high leverage spot?

  48. New guys get thrown into the fire, until they burn up. That’s the Snitker-way. (Not having any reasonable clue on managing lefty/righty matchups is also the Snitker-way…we’ve been over this many times).

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