Welcome to part three of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the NL East.
Past Five Champions
2017 – Washington
2016 – Washington
2015 – New York
2014 – Washington
2013 – Atlanta
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.8
Bryce Harper, Nationals
Harper has now completed six major league seasons and he remains one baseball’s biggest enigmas. He has gone from superstar rookie, to injury plagued, to the greatest player of his generation, to mild disappointment. After a down year in 2016 he rebounded slightly last year but still dealt with injury, missing 51 games. His WAR improved from 1.5 to 4.7, he hit 29 HR (second most of his career), and posted a 1.008 OPS and .319 batting average, but because he put up an outrageous 2015 campaign those numbers leave us wanting more. Perhaps his walk year will provide sufficient motivation to increase his numbers back to MVP-levels. After all, the largest contract in the history of professional sports might be just around the corner….
Max Scherzer, Nationals
Although Clayton Kershaw still generally receives the praise of most pundits as the unofficial best pitcher in baseball, Scherzer has proven that he should own that label. Last season was quite possibly the best year of the All-Star’s entire career. He led the NL with 268 strikeouts, a .902 WHIP, and a miniscule 5.7 hits per 9 innings, en route to winning his second consecutive Cy Young award. Unlike Kershaw, he once again proved his durability by eclipsing the 200 IP plateau for the fifth straight year . If there is one flaw in his resume, it is his performance in the playoffs. In the last two seasons with Washington, Scherzer has made four playoff starts and posted a record of 0-2 as the Nationals have failed to advance past the NLDS. With the Nats looking loaded once again, he might get another shot to prove his doubters wrong.
Three Storylines For 2018
1. Why Bother Playing?
It is a question that has to be asked considering the state of the division. Unless something incredibly unforeseen happens, the only reason the 2018 regular season needs to be played is to determine if the Washington Nationals will have home field advantage in the NLDS and onwards. The Nats won 97 games last year all while losing Harper for 51 games, Adam Eaton for 138, Trea Turner for 63, and possessing one of baseball’s worst late-inning bullpens for half a year. Now they get Harper in his walk-year, and presumably full health from Eaton and Turner. To make things worse (or better) the rest of the division is soft. The Mets continue to believe that New York is a small market, Atlanta and Philadelphia look promising but at least a year away, and Miami…..well….more on them later. If Washington does not win the division in 2018 it will go down as a massive surprise.
2. Welcome Back Anthopoulos
The last time we saw Alex Anthopoulos in a General Manager’s role was 2015, a year that Jays fans remember fondly. A series of bold trades and signings broke Toronto’s 22 year playoff drought and had fans dreaming of a dynasty. Instead, AA shockingly resigned after the playoffs, joined the front office of the Dodgers and waited for another GM spot to open. One finally did in Atlanta. With the Braves, Anthopoulos will inherit a team that might be on the cusp of greatness. Atlanta may have averaged 90+ losses in each of the past four years, but that losing has allowed them to stockpile one of baseball’s best farm systems. Led by future superstar Ronald Acuna the Braves have eight players ranked in the top-100 and the #2 overall farm system according to MLB Pipeline. The future is bright. Of course, AA has a track record of reaching into the minors to make trades, so if Atlanta is hanging around in July will the Ninja strike again?
3. Disgrace in Miami
While there are high expectations in Washington, and fresh hope in Atlanta and Philadelphia, there are a variety words one can use to describe the situation in Miami. Disgraceful, disgusting, embarrassing, pathetic, and insulting are a few that come to mind. Marlins fans are used to their team being dismantled but this time it feels different. Miami finished 77-85 in 2017, but seemed on the verge of contending. They had a dynamic sparkplug in Dee Gordon, perhaps the greatest outfield in the game with NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich, and two highly underrated offensive studs in J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bour. Sure their pitching was suspect, but they appeared to be on the rise. Then along came a new ownership group fronted by Derek Jeter with a mandate to slash payroll, and slash they did. Gordon went to Seattle, Stanton to New York, Ozuna to St. Louis, and Yelich to Milwaukee. The remaining roster is full of reclamation projects, longshot rookies, and old veterans, a mix that looks certain to lose 100 games – if not more. Poor, poor Marlins fans.
Based on the names alone, the latest Marlins firesale was devastating enough. But based on actual statistics? Yikes. The 2017 Marlins accumulated a total WAR (baseball reference version) of 26.7: 28.3 by the players and -1.6 by the pitchers. Derek Jeter and company spent the offseason trading away players who were responsible for 20.4 of those wins. In other words, Miami dealt away 76.4% of it’s 2017 WAR in one winter. Without Stanton (7.6 WAR), Ozuna (5.8), Yelich (3.9), and Gordon (3.1) on the roster, it will be up to holdovers Justin Bour, J.T. Realmuto, and Miguel Rojas, along with the newly acquired Starlin Castro and Cameron Maybin to prevent the Marlins from dropping over 100 games. Good luck with that.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March