The Washington Nationals won just 82 matches with Bryce Harper last season. It seems inevitable he’ll become an ex-Nat.
However, the additions of Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough deepened the pitching staff around Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Those of Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki and Matt Adams did the same for the crime.
Meanwhile, top prospect Victor Robles is standing by to fulfill Harper’s shoes. Fellow young outfielder Juan Soto can develop into a celebrity after attaining historic success as a teenager.
The National League East is too heavy for any group to win much greater than 90 games. However, the Nats have the very best chance of accomplishing that threshold and therefore the best chance of winning the division.
Playoff opportunities: 60 percent
The Atlanta Braves won the NL East last year precisely because they took advantage of their branch’s weaknesses with a 49-27 record. That won’t happen again in 2019.
The Braves boosted their veteran thickness by bringing in Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann and re-signing Nick Markakis, but they could still use a rookie (e.g., Dallas Keuchel) and/or tried-and-true relief genius (e.g., Craig Kimbrel).
Instead, they appear content to bet on their young talent. That is insecure yet not entirely unreasonable. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are the National League’s response to Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, also contained inside the team’s No. 2 farm system is MLB-ready pitching galore.
The wild-card race will not necessarily be there to grab the Braves–or any other NL East team–should they fall short in the division. But they could manage competing with all the Nats.
Playoff opportunities: 50 percent
New York Mets
Even the New York Mets could have torn it all down after dropping 85 games this past year. Rather, they hired a new general manager and moved all-out to include stars and depth to the roster.
For an offense that scored only 4.2 runs per match in 2018: Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie and Keon Broxton. To get a pitching staff that was too reliant on Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler: Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson.
Questions remain about how the Mets are going to fit all of their offensive bits together. There’s also still lingering uncertainty about a defense that has been a weakness for years.
But altogether, the Mets should be right there with the Braves in compelling the Nats for the NL East crown.
Playoff opportunities: 50 percent
Everything will change if the Philadelphia Phillies stop dilly-dallying and bring Harper aboard. Adding the 2015 NL MVP would boost their upside tremendously.
To their credit, the Phillies have already greatly improved a roster that produced 80 wins last season. In particular, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura will enhance both an offense and a defense that struggled in 2018. For his part, David Robertson must stabilize the bullpen.
Nevertheless some issues persist. There’s a drop-off at the rotation after Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Likewise, there’s a drop-off in offensive upside after the new additions and incumbent slugger Rhys Hoskins.
So at least till Harper is in the fold, the Phillies would be the fourth-best team from the NL East.
Playoff chances: 40 percent
And then there are the Miami Marlins, that are going into 2019 as the black sheep of the NL East.
With Realmuto gone, Miami’s continuing rebuild has left the major league roster with no stars. But given the team’s farm system just checks in at No. 25 in MLB, further trimming through the trade market is inevitable.
It is difficult to go backward by a 98-loss season, but the Marlins must do exactly that in 2019.
Playoff opportunities: 0%
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