According to projections by PECOTA (published on Baseball Prospectus), with some insight from FanGraphs.com's composite projections, and my own two cents, here's how I rank each NL East team's offense heading into the season...
The Phillies will clearly see a bump in run production over their results in 2018. By adding outfielders Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, C J.T. Realmuto and SS Juan Segura, they're balanced and can sustain multiple slumps and injuries.
According to PECOTA, Philadelphia's offense is projected to score 756 runs this season, which is 79 more than last year. For what it's worth, 756 runs scored in 2018 would have been sixth most in the National League. As I said, they're very balanced in terms of playing time and production. I suppose center field is a weak point, but I actually think most projections for Odubel Herrera are light as he's coming off a down season, is at the perfect breakout age (27) and now has a better lineup around him.
|1||César Hernández, 2B|
|2||Jean Segura, SS|
|3||J.T. Realmuto, C|
|4||Bryce Harper, RF|
|5||Rhys Hoskins, 1B|
|6||Maikel Franco, 3B|
|7||Andrew McCutchen, LF|
|8||Odúbel Herrera, CF|
Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen did a good job this past winter building roster depth capable of replacing struggling or injured players. However, if you look at the Phillies, not only do they have similar depth, they could also lose Realmuto or Rhys Hoskins or Harper and not skip a beat, whereas the Mets will be in trouble if that happens to any one player from the middle of their lineup (let alone two).
According to PECOTA, DC's offense is projected to score roughly 739 runs this season, which is a close to 40 runs less than their 2018 total and no doubt a direct result of losing Harper to the Phillies. In fact, if you put Harper back in DC, the two teams essentially flip their overall run totals.
|1||Adam Eaton, RF|
|2||Trea Turner, SS|
|3||Anthony Rendon, 3B|
|4||Juan Soto, LF|
|5||Ryan Zimmerman, 1B|
|6||Brian Dozier, 2B|
|7||Victor Robles, CF|
|8||Yan Gomes, C|
Yet again, though, the Nationals lack the type of roster depth that Van Wagenen worked hard this past winter to improve. It seems like every year, over and over again, the difference between the Nationals winning the division or not comes down to how much they got out of Harper and whether or not they lost a significant contributor to their offense.
They've already lost Harper, so a big injury this summer and I expect their entire offense again goes out of whack (much like it went down for them last season and 2015).
Nevertheless, if running on all cylinders, though they'll miss the threat Harper brought with him each at-bat, the Nationals should be consistent and productive game in and game out. And, if the young Trea Turner, Victor Robles and Juan Soto each improve, Harper will be an afterthought...
According to PECOTA's projections, Atlanta's offense will score roughly 710 runs this season, which is 50 fewer than they produced last year.
|1||Ronald Acuna Jr., LF|
|2||Josh Donaldson, 3B|
|3||Freddie Freeman, 1B|
|4||Nick Markakis, RF|
|5||Tyler Flowers, C|
|6||Ozzie Albies, 2B|
|7||Ender Inciarte, CF|
|8||Dansby Swanson, SS|
Dansby Swanson is their weak point, but he's strong in the field, as well as on the bases. Plus he's still just 25 years old and again hitting down in the order. In some ways, he could be lynch pin to their season. If he can elevate from the 1-2 WAR player he has been to the 3-4 WAR player he was projected to be when a top prospect a few years ago and he moves up in the order, their top six hitters have a totally different look for opposing pitchers.
Otherwise, they're similar to Van Wagenen's squad. In totality, I expect they will get less production from their pitching than is expected of the Mets, which is probably why most experts predict they'll finish fourth place in the division's overall standings.
The Mets are projected to have the least productive bats among the division's contenders with 694 runs, according to PECOTA. The Mets scored 676 runs in 2018 when they lost 85 games. The Mets also have the least cemented batting order, which is likely to see a lot of combinations, mixing and matching.
Excluding NL East catchers and all of the Marlins, only the Braves and Nationals are projected to see fewer than 75 percent of playing time at a position (both in center field), whereas the Mets have three positions (first base, third base and center field) and possibly third and second base) that will see a rotation throughout the season...
As a result, I'm putting up this projected lineup, but I think we know that, while it may look like this some day, it may not on Opening Day and may not the other 161 games. Nevertheless, here you go...
|1||Brandon Nimmo, CF|
|2||Jeff McNeil, LF|
|3||Robinson Cano, 2B|
|4||Wilson Ramos C|
|5||Michael Conforto, RF|
|6||Jed Lowrie, 3B|
|7||Todd Frazier, 1B|
|8||Amed Rosario, SS|
In the end, the difference between winning 85 games or exceeding 90 and taking the division likely comes down to whether Jeff McNeil can avoid sophomore slump and whether Pete Alonso can quickly emerge in to dominant, powerful, everyday first baseman.
In a world where McNeil and Alonso settle in for the long haul -- if they produce and play more than 140 games -- the lineup becomes far more consistent and powerful and should be able to weather an injury to Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie or Wilson Ramos. However, as I noted earlier in the week, and also imply multiple times above, if McNeil and Alonso do not lock down their new homes, a long-term injury to any one of Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie or Wilson Ramos will almost certainly set this team back in a bad and familiar way.
The flip side to the above story -- and one that obviously impacts how much the Mets lean on their hitting -- is the potential and prominence of Van Wagenen's pitching staff. I'll dig in to an NL East, compare-and-contrast set of pitching posts during the next week or so, but I bring it up now only to underscore how much Mickey Callaway's rotation and bullpen will be asked to shoulder the coming season.
By the way, this is why the Mets should have bitten the bullet and signed Harper, who clearly didn't want to return to the Nationals or put down roots in Philadelphia. At this point, I'd even be happy if they picked up free-agent Adam Jones, who I'd much rather have in the outfield than McNeil or the collection of below-average center fielders they currently have in camp.
Let's be honest, the chances of Todd Frazier, Cano and Lowrie all being healthy for a large stretch of games is unlikely at best. It's mid-March and it already seems improbable. And, even if they are all healthy at the same time, each will need rest, have aches and pains and miss games even if on the roster. The point is, McNeil will be needed on the infield and every day will be able to find a spot in the lineup, which becomes a lot easier if the veteran Jones is in a corner spot with Brandon Nimmo in center field.
Oh, Miami. Poor, poor Miami. The Marlins are this season projected to be the second-worst team in all of MLB. PECOTA has them scoring 617 runs, which is actually improvement over last season. However, it will still be the worst of any NL team, let alone within the East...
|1||Lewis Brinson, CF|
|2||Jorge Alfaro, C|
|3||Starlin Castro, 2B|
|4||Brian Anderson, RF|
|5||Peter O'Brien, 1B|
|6||Martín Prado, 3B|
|7||Austin Dean, LF|
|8||JT Riddle, SS|
To make matters worse, they have very little to trade this summer and have just one position prospect, outfielder Monte Harrison, that could help them this season. And, based on MLB.com's assessment, Harrison isn't likely to be an impact player for at least a few years, especially since he has yet to play above Double A.
All of the above about each lineup seems distinct, but with so much up in the air in any given baseball season, it's quite possible the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Nationals spend six months simply beating one another up and moving sideways in the standings. Therefore, the one with the best record against the Marlins could very well be the team that finishes in first place.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!