So we did a roundtable on the new KinersKorner.com where we all went through our predictions for the N.L. East on Tuesday night. I wanted to extrapolate in print where my head is at as to how I think the division will shake out:
Washington Nationals: 5th Place
Watching Dom Smith get 550 at-bats will be the only intriguing aspect of this team … that and the walk off hit he’ll surely get against the Mets when the Mets really need a victory.
Miami Marlins: 4th Place
The arrival of Yuli Gurriel and Luis Arraez means that the Marlins will hit. The departure of Pablo Lopez means they’re going to depend on 150 innings from Johnny Cueto like it’s 2015. I’m not sure that’s a sustainable strategy. But they’ll compete and they’ll be their annoying selves for all three of the top teams in the division.
Atlanta Braves: 3rd Place
Out of the Mets, Braves, and Phillies, someone has to finish third. Sorry, I think it’s going to be Atlanta. Frankly, I didn’t like their off-season as much as I liked the Mets; and Phillies’ off seasons. They let Dansby Swanson go, which would have been fine if their tried and true strategy of plugging in another of their million prospects would have panned out. But Vaughn Grissom didn’t win the job out of spring training. So now it’s Orlando Arcia at shortstop.
Also, let’s play a Player A/Player B game from the 2022 season:
- Player A: .250 BA, .759 OPS, 120 OPS+, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 612 plate appearances
- Player B: .268 BA, .791 OPS, 119 OPS+, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 426 plate appearances
Player A was the big upgrade that the Braves made for the 2023 season: Sean Murphy. Player B is the player that he’s replacing: Travis d’Arnaud. Outside of getting younger, is Murphy going to give the Braves that much more than what d’Arnaud gave them last year? To me, the only thing the Braves have gotten is six years younger. Unless Murphy’s offense jumps significantly getting out of Oakland, it’s not going to be a major difference from what d’Arnaud did in 2022. Simply for the very reason that they’ve forced me to defend Travis d’Arnaud in a post, I’m picking the Braves to finish in third place.
New York Mets: 2nd Place
Before you rail on me, hear me out: The Mets are every bit as talented as the Braves and the Phillies on paper. Maybe more so, even without Edwin Diaz. There are three things, to me, that will bring the Mets win total down from 101 last season:
- The Marlins being annoyingly competitive.
- Diaz’s injury, because even if Ottavino and Robertson do a bang up job, no two relievers can replicate what Diaz did last season.
- The Mets will be cautious with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
That third thing is the deciding factor for me. With both players pushing or having already pushed 40, and with Scherzer having missed significant time last year, I think that Buck Showalter is going to be extremely cautious with them this season. It’s already been speculated that the Mets would go to an occasional six man rotation this season, and signing Dylan Bundy is a huge hint. With David Peterson already in the rotation to take over for Jose Quintana, the Mets had to hunt for another pitcher to give them an option to go to a six man rotation at certain times to help Max and JV get to the end healthy. I do think it will cause them to drop some games in the regular season, but with half of the N.L. pretty much already throwing in the towel in terms of the playoffs, the Mets will feel that they can safely get to the playoffs while keeping Max and JV healthy for the end, which is the most important thing. As long as it doesn’t backfire, and as long as the Mets can stay safely in a playoff spot by the All Star break, they’ll pull off the throttle and not worry about the division so much.
Philadelphia Phillies: First Place
It sounds blasphemous, and it sounds weird with the Phillies missing Rhys Hoskins for the season, and Bryce Harper for half the season. But the Phillies have made up for it with the signing of Trea Turner (who I can’t believe the Mets have to deal with again), and the trade for Gregory Soto, who I think will be the closer by mid-May. The Phils are a better balanced team than they have been in recent history. I’ve long compared them to a jelly sandwich, having all power hitting hairy guys (as Billy Eppler would call them). But between Turner, Brandon Marsh, and Bryson Stott at second base, their up the middle defense is as good as it’s been in years. With Aaron Nola on a contract year, and Alec Bohm ready to make a jump in production, I think the Phillies will put their foot on the pump and barely edge the Mets for the division.
As you know, winning the division guarantees you nothing. If the Mets do enact this plan of keeping Scherzer and Verlander fresh for the playoffs, I think it will serve them well. What will also serve them well is their success against the Phillies head to head, if they can keep that up. Also, I think the Mets roster will most assuredly be upgraded, whether it be through a trade for a back end bullpen piece to keep guys like Ottavino and Robertson fresh, or the call up of Brett Baty for regular at-bats at third base, pushing Eduardo Escobar to the DH slot to replace some combination of Daniel Vogelbach and Tommy Pham at-bats. So by the time October comes, if the Mets’ plan is the stay fresh and hit their stride when it counts, then I would be ready to predict that they’ll be the National League’s representative in the World Series this year. So scream at me all you want about telling you that the Mets aren’t going to win the division, because as we know, it’s not the be all end all to success.