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NL East Division Preview

03/30/2023 4:30 AM

Article By: Michael Lane

MLB Opening Day is finally here, and we’re finishing our division previews with the NL East.

NL Central:
1. Atlanta Braves: 101-61 in 2022, lost to the Phillies in the NLDS

The NL East runs through Atlanta. The Braves have won the division title for five consecutive seasons, including last year when they spent four months chasing down the Mets and finally surpassed them during the final weekend of the season. The Braves let Dansby Swanson walk this offseason, but their player development is second to none and they have pieces in place to replace him.

It’s genuinely remarkable what the Braves have built. They’ve developed stars like Ronald Acuna Jr, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II, and Austin Riley, then locked them all up long term on team-friendly deals. After their 2021 World Series, as negotiations with franchise icon Freddie Freeman dragged on, they pivoted to trade for the younger Matt Olson and promptly signed him to an eight-year extension. This offseason they traded All-Star hitter William Contreras and replaced him with Sean Murphy (Orleans ‘15) who, you guessed it, they locked-up on a team friendly six-year extension. Vaughn Grissom is tasked with replacing Dansby Swanson this year. As a rookie last season, Grissom slashed .291/.353/.440 over 41 games. This lineup is going to be a nightmare for opposing teams for the foreseeable future.

The Braves pitching staff is equally as talented. Max Fried finished second in Cy Young voting last season and is a rising ace. Spencer Strider (Falmouth ‘18) burst onto the scene last year, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting, behind teammate Michael Harris II. Strider had a 2.67 ERA and 202 strikeouts over 131.2 innings (13.8 K/9). Kyle Wright finally put it together in 2022, finishing with a 21-5 record and 3.19 ERA over 180.1 innings. Jared Shuster (Orleans ‘19) is one of the Braves top prospects and should pitch significant innings for them in the major leagues this season. A.J. Minter (Cotuit ‘14) will open the year as the Braves closer, though they may shift back to a closer by committee after Raisel Iglesias returns from injury. Until any team proves they can outlast the Braves for 162 games, it’s tough to bet against them.

Cape League alumni: Spencer Strider (Falmouth ‘18), Sean Murphy (Orleans ‘15), Collin McHugh (Chatham/Wareham ‘07), A.J. Minter (Cotuit ‘14), Jared Shuster (Orleans ‘19), and Jordan Loplow (Orleans ‘13)

2. New York Mets: 101-61 in 2022, lost to the Padres in the NLWC

2022 felt like a magical year for the Mets for the first 156 games. They won 101 games, the second most in franchise history, trailing only the 1986 World Series team. Unfortunately they couldn’t win when it mattered most, losing the division lead in the final weekend of the season and then falling flat in the wild card series. It soured a really great season for a team that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2016. The team looks extremely similar to last year’s squad, with a few changes, but the division won’t be any easier this year.

Brandon Nimmo, who has a career .385 OBP, returned on an eight-year contract this offseason. Jeff McNeil (Brewster ‘12) is coming off a career year in which he won the NL batting title and made his first All-Star Game. Francisco Lindor shined in his second year as a Met, slashing .270/.339/.788 with 26 home runs and elite defense. Pete Alonso (Bourne ‘15) has established himself as one the premier sluggers in the entire league, with 146 home runs in his first four seasons (despite a shortened season in 2020). Maybe the most important piece though is Starling Marte. Marte slashed .292/.347/.468 with 16 home runs and 18 stolen bases last year. The Mets lineup lost its form after Marte suffered an injury in early September, missing his mixture of speed, power, and bat-to-ball skills at the top of the lineup. The Mets also have reinforcements on the way with top prospects Brett Baty, Francisco Alvarez, Ronny Mauricio, and Mark Vientos all in AAA.

Pitching wise, they signed Justin Verlander to replace Jacob deGrom and Kodai Senga to replace Taijuan Walker. Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, and David Peterson all return to fill out the rotation. They have solid depth in Tylor Megill and eventually Jose Quintana. The bullpen is where the issues might arise. In 2022, Edwin Diaz was the best closer in baseball with a 0.90 FIP and 17.1 K/9. Diaz’s season was so impressive he received NL Cy Young and NL MVP votes. Unfortunately he won’t throw a single pitch this season due to an injury suffered in the World Baseball Classic. Adam Ottavino (Harwich ‘05), David Robertson (Y-D ‘06), and Brooks Raley all had success last year and will anchor the back of the bullpen this year. Relievers are difficult to predict year-to-year, outside of the elite guys, so it could be great or it could be a disaster. Regardless, when Steve Cohen bought the Mets he promised fans a World Series “within three to five years.” Well, this is year three under his ownership, so the clock has officially started ticking in Queens.

Cape League alumni: Pete Alonso (Bourne ‘15), Jeff McNeil (Brewster ‘12), Mark Canha (Brewster ‘09), Adam Ottavino (Harwich ‘05), David Robertson (Y-D ‘06), Sam Coonrod (Y-D ‘13), and Stephen Nogosek (Orleans ‘15)

3. Philadelphia Phillies: 87-75 in 2022, lost to the Astros in the WS

The Phillies struggled for the first half of the season, hovering around .500 until late July. By the time they found their gear it was too late, as the Braves and Mets had left them in the dust of the division race. In the end, the Phillies got the last laugh though. They went further than both teams in the playoffs, knocking out the Braves themselves in the NLDS. They ended up falling just short, losing the World Series in six games to the Astros. Ownership continued to invest in the team though this offseason and expectations are high entering 2023

Trea Turner was the prized acquisition this offseason, signing a 11-year contract worth $300 million. Turner has put over 6 WAR in back-to-back seasons and established himself as one of the elite shortstops in baseball. Kyle Schwarber (Wareham ‘12) led the NL in home runs last season, hitting 46, and will hit behind Turner. Unfortunately for Philly, Rhys Hoskins (Falmouth ‘13) suffered a torn ACL in spring training and Bryce Harper will be out for a few months recovering from Tommy John Surgery. They should have enough offense to stay afloat while waiting for Harper thanks to guys like JT Realmuto, Alec Bohm (Falmouth ‘17), Nick Castellanos, and Bryson Stott (Wareham ‘18).

Aaron Nola (Harwich ‘12) and Zack Wheeler are an elite one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Ranger Suarez will start the season on the IL, but when he returns early in the season will deepen their strong rotation. Andrew Painter is one of the top pitching prospects in all of MLB. Despite only finishing last year in AA, there’s a chance we could see Painter with the big league club at some point in 2023. For the first time in a while, Philadelphia enters the season with a really strong bullpen. Dave Dombrowski acquired Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel, and Matt Strahm to join an existing core of Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, and Connor Brogdon. If Harper was healthy on Opening Day, the Phillies might’ve been the preseason favorites to win the NL East. Even if they settle for a Wild Card spot, this will not be a team you want to face in October.

Cape League alumni: Aaron Nola (Harwich ‘12), Kyle Schwarber (Wareham ‘12), Alec Bohm (Falmouth ‘17), Rhys Hoskins (Falmouth ‘13), Bryson Stott (Wareham ‘18), and Garrett Stubbs (Cotuit ‘13)

4. Miami Marlins: 69-93 in 2022

Excluding the shortened COVID season in 2020, when they finished 31-29, the Marlins have not had a winning season since 2009. It would be absolutely stunning to see that change in 2023.

The Marlins scored the third fewest runs in baseball last season and only one player had an OPS above .760. Second baseman Jazz Chisholm was the only bright spot, slashing .254/.325/.535 before suffering a season-ending injury in late June. Naturally, they went out this offseason and decided to only acquire a pair of second baseman. Luis Arraez will now be the everyday second baseman, shifting Chisholm to center field, and Jean Segura will play third base. For context, Segura has appeared at third base 21 times during his 11-year career and Chisholm has never played center field. Even if Jorge Soler bounces back in 2023, there is simply not enough offensive talent for this team to contend. They’re projected to finish with the sixth fewest runs scored. They haven’t been able to successfully develop bats over the past few years, missing on nearly every first round pick since 2015.

The real shame is that the Marlins are wasting an abundance of extremely talented, team-controlled pitching. Sandy Alcantara won the NL Cy Young in 2022 and has become a reliable ace over the past few seasons. Edward Cabrera and Jesus Luzardo are developing into quality arms in the middle of the rotation, both just 25-years old. Braxton Garrett is even younger, at 24, and coming off a season with a 3.58 ERA. Trevor Rogers is only one season removed from being an All-Star and finishing second for Rookie of the Year. They traded away Pablo Lopez in exchange for Luis Arraez to supplement the offense, but it won’t be enough. Four of their top five prospects are pitchers too, including three in MLB’s Top 100. Maybe the team starts off hot and decides to trade away some of those prospects for a bat in July, but in this division, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Cape League alumni: Matt Barnes (Wareham ‘09/’10), Dylan Floro (Hyannos ‘11), JT Chargois (Brewster ‘11), Tanner Scott (Chatham ‘14), Jacob Stallings (Chatham ‘09/’10), and Jon Berti (Brewster ‘10)

5. Washington Nationals: 55-107 in 2022

Nationals fans will always have the memories of their World Series Championship in 2019. Since that memorable run that began with a comeback victory in the Wild Card and ended with a celebration after Game 7 of the World Series, the Nationals have been slowly tearing apart their core. It began that offseason when Anthony Rendon walked and continued in 2021 when they traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Last year though was the most drastic move yet, trading away Juan Soto for five highly-regarded prospects. This is the beginning of a rebuilding phase, but they are building a strong system.

Keibert Ruiz was the headlining prospect in the Scherzer and Turner trade from 2021. This will be his second full season in MLB, after showing flashes of his potential last season. CJ Abrams, one of the pieces of the Soto package, will play shortstop everyday in his first full MLB season. That’s about it offensively for the Nationals, as their other prospects are a few years away.

The Nationals quietly have a solid young rotation. MacKenzie Gore was another one of the prospects acquired in the Soto trade. He had a 4.11 FIP last season in limited action, but will get a full season to develop at the major league level. Josiah Gray (Chatham ‘17) has had a strong spring, with a 0.55 ERA in 16.1 innings. Trevor Williams (Orleans ‘12) was the Nationals biggest signing this offseason and is coming off a career year. In 2022, Williams had a 3.21 ERA over 89.2 innings which came in a hybrid of starts and relief appearances. The most exciting moment of the Nationals season might come on July 9th though, when select second overall in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Cape League alumni: Cade Cavalli (Wareham ‘18), Kyle Finnegan (Cotuit ‘12), Josiah Gray (Chatham ‘17), Trevor Williams (Orleans ‘12), Riley Adams (Orleans ‘16), and Alex Call (Orleans ‘15)