The NL East in 2018 was a tale of three cities. After a strong start from the Mets, they joined the Marlins in the kiddie pool and had a front row seat to the emergence of the Phillies and Braves from their rebuilds. Along with an inconsistent Washington Nationals team, they staged a compelling back and forth battle that eventually ended with the Braves capturing their first division crown since 2013. What should we be expecting from one of the most compelling divisions in baseball in 2019? We can’t wait to find out.
Key Additions: Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann, Darren O’Day
Key Departures: Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, Brad Brach
A quick postseason exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers should not take away from what this young team accomplished in 2018. The emergence of young superstars Ozhaino Albies and NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. along with the massive contributions from veterans Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman helped the Braves to a 90-72 record and an NL East title. Off the back of success that some thought was a year early, they made the first big splash of the offseason by handing star 3B Josh Donaldson a one year contract worth $23 million.
The Braves win the division if…
Josh Donaldson stays healthy, something he hasn’t been able to do since he hit 33 homers in 2017. A healthy Donaldson would provide another impact bat in a lineup that already features two of the best hitters in the NL in Acuna and Freeman. The Braves will also be counting on some of their young arms to take a step forward in 2019. Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka, Bryse Wilson, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Luiz Gohara will all be competing for a spot in the Atlanta rotation. A significant contribution from the host of young arms will be key if the Braves hope to repeat as NL East champions for the first time since 2005.
Key Additions: Brian Dozier, Patrick Corbin, Kurt Suzuki, Anibal Sanchez
Key Departures: Bryce Harper
The toast of the division for the better part of the last decade, the Nationals faltered in 2018 and finished a disappointing eight games back of the division champion Braves. On top of that, they lost superstar outfielder Bryce Harper to free agency and have all but given up hope of bringing him back. The news isn’t all bad in the Nation’s Capital, however. The Nats made some significant additions this offseason, including the best starting pitcher on the market, Patrick Corbin and two additionals from their rivals to the south in Kurt Suzuki and Anibal Sanchez.
The Nationals win the division if…
The talent on this roster performs to their potential. It’s that simple. There’s an argument to be made that the Nationals have the most talented roster in the National League, featuring the likes of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and 2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up Juan Soto, along with All-Stars Anthony Rendon, Brian Dozier, Stephen Strasburg, Trea Turner, and more. The talent is here for another division title and a deep postseason run (yes, it’s possible) but it will come down to leadership and commitment, two areas in which the Nats have fallen short at numerous opportunities.
Key Additions: Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson
Key Departures: Wilson Ramos
At times in 2018, the Phillies looked like they were going to waltz to a division title. Ultimately it all fell apart, largely on the back of one of the worst team defensive performances in the modern era and a collapse of some promising young pitching down the stretch. The Phillies head into 2019 with endless enthusiasm after the massive addition of former Nationals star Bryce Harper. Joining an outfield already benefitting from the addition of Andrew McCutchen, Harper provides an impact bat that should complement slugger Rhys Hoskins and new additions Jean Segura and JT Realmuto.
The Phillies win the division if…
Nick Pivetta finds some consistency. The Phillies spent the offseason adding safe, low-cost talent that should raise their floor and allow them to shift some players back to their natural positions to improve the overall team defense. The ultimate success of the 2019 Phillies will come down to a rotation that looks much the same as it did at the end of 2018. Aaron Nola is a Cy Young caliber pitcher and Jake Arrieta is a known quantity. It will be on Pivetta’s shoulders to elevate the Phillies rotation to the level of their closest rivals in the division.
New York Mets
Key Additions: Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Edwin Diaz
Key Departures: David Wright
Perhaps no team had a more confusing season in 2018 than the New York Mets. They started off the year 12-2 and then ultimately finished the season eight games below .500 with a lot of chaos in between. A short cameo by long time captain David Wright in September ended the season on a high note, and the Mets carried that positivity into the new year. The biggest blockbuster trade of the offseason saw the Amazins acquire future Hall of Famer Robinson Cano and elite closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, followed by free agent acquisitions of Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie.
The Mets win the division if…
The starting rotation performs to their potential. There is perhaps no better rotation in the National League than the current Metropolitans when they’re all healthy and firing on all cylinders. Led by 2018 NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, the Mets rotation features fireballers Noah Syndergaard and Zach Wheeler, whose velocity spike led to a breakout performance last season. The Mets will hope that some significant additions to their bullpen will let fewer sterling starting performances go to waste than in 2018.
Key Additions: Jorge Alfaro, Curtis Granderson
Key Departures: JT Realmuto
2018 was year one of the new Miami Marlins front office led by Derek Jeter, and was subsequently the first year of one of the most extreme rebuilds in recent memory. In the past 18 months, the Marlins have parted with 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, and All-Stars Marcell Ozuna and JT Realmuto. The Marlins lost 98 games in 2018 and things don’t look to improve for quite a while. There are some interesting young pieces on the major league roster, highlighted by 2018 Rookie of the Year candidate Brian Anderson and pitchers Pablo Lopez and Caleb Smith. Another 90 loss season (and another after that) looks likely.
The Marlins win the division if…
Florida breaks away from the Continental United States and drifts over to Cuba where the Marlins begin playing in the Cuban National Series. Even then, they may struggle against perennial powerhouses Industriales and Santiago de Cuba. Seriously though, it would take a catastrophe to befall the other four NL East teams for the Marlins to even come within striking distance of .500. This team is going to be bad for a while.