John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It was billed as a four-team horse race that anybody could win, perhaps the most competitive division in the Majors this season. But as the contenders reach the quarter-pole this weekend, the NL East is hardly living up to the hype.
The race could still go to the wire, but with only the first-place Phillies over .500 as of Saturday, the division is certainly weaker than expected, with the Mets, Braves, and especially the Nationals all playing less-than-scintillating baseball.
Bad bullpens have been the common denominator -- though the Phillies' pen has been much-improved lately -- leaving open the possibility one of these teams takes the leap to sign Craig Kimbrel.
To this point, after an active winter for all but the Braves, so far it's clear the Phillies, as expected, are benefiting from wheeling and dealing to bring in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen, even if David Robertson has been a no-show so far.
But they're hardly a juggernaut at this point, and don't figure to run away with anything. So here's a first-quarter breakdown of the NL East (albeit the MLB-worst Marlins), sizing up how offseason planning is playing out for each team, and reasons to believe in, or doubt, their chances of winning the division.
Best Offseason Move: Pulling Jeff McNeil out of the trade with the Mariners.
Would the Mets really have included McNeil in the deal if social media hadn't exploded in outrage when reports of such a trade surfaced? They'll never tell, but considering Brodie Van Wagenen's acquisitions have been underwhelming as a whole, it's a good thing he held onto his new hit-machine leadoff hitter, who is merely invaluable to the offense.
Worst Offseason Move: Wilson Ramos
It's no small feat prevailing over Jeurys Familia in this category, but Ramos has been that bad. He seemed like a safe bet when Van Wagenen signed him to a two-year deal after becoming frustrated by the Marlins' asking price on Realmuto. But so far, Ramos has looked old and immobile behind the plate, struggling with wild pitches and passed balls, while throwing out only 14 percent of base-stealers (4-of-25). He's also hitting .235 with four extra-base hits.
Reason To Believe They Can Win The NL East: The starting pitching is finally coming around and could still be the best rotation in the division. And McNeil and Pete Alonso offer hope for the offense, assuming Robinson Cano has life left in his bat.
Reason To Doubt They Will Win: Their bullpen has been better lately, but it's still scary-thin, especially if Familia can't find his form when he returns from injury. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard's inconsistency is becoming quite troubling, and the defense, particularly at SS, C, and CF (when Nimmo plays there) is looming as a major concern.
Best Offseason Move: J.T. Realmuto
This could change, obviously, if Harper, currently hitting .237 with seven HRs, puts up the numbers expected of him. But to this point, the trade the Phillies made for the best catcher in baseball is paying dividends. He's been solid offensively and superb defensively, throwing out an MLB-best 55 percent of base-stealers so far.
Worst Offseason Move: David Robertson
Signed to a two-year, $23 million deal to close for the Phillies, Robertson had a few rough outings early, as reflected in his 5.40 ERA and his 2.10 WHIP. Then, he went on the IL April 15 with an elbow injury. No indication he's close to returning.
Reason To Believe They Can Win The NL East: They've clearly been the best team in the division so far, at 21-16, and that's with a rocky start to the season from ace Aaron Nola, who has found his form his last few starts, and only a so-so start from Harper. Without Robertson, the bullpen has been surprisingly effective.
Reason To Doubt They Will Win: They have baggage, after the late-season collapse in '18, to go with huge expectations. And the starting pitching has a lot to prove, as does manager Gabe Kapler.
Best Offseason Move: Josh Donaldson
He's not worth $23 million, even on a one-year deal, but the 2015 AL MVP is healthy and producing at third base, with six home runs and an .859 OPS.
Worst Offseason Move: Sitting On Their Hands
The Braves' brass apparently thought an up-and-coming team automatically would continue to improve, but it seems clear the pitching staff, in particular, needed a boost especially after losing Anibel Sanchez, an unsung hero last year who left via free agency. For all of their young promise, the Braves' starters rank 12th in the NL with a 4.55 ERA.
Reason To Believe They Can Win The NL East: It's mostly the same team that went 90-72 to win it last year, with a lot of young talent that should continue to get better, especially the pitching.
Reason To Doubt They Can Win: Not a surprise to see a young team struggling to deal with high expectations. Right now their pitching isn't good enough to repeat.
Best Offseason Move: Patrick Corbin
The Yankees wouldn't go to six years and $140 million for the lefty free agent, and the deal might look bad down the road, but so far Corbin has been very good. He has a 3-1 record with a 3.20 ERA that includes seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in LA last week.
Worst Offseason Move: Trevor Rosenthal
Brian Dozier has been a bust so far at 2B as well, but Rosenthal is a major factor in the Nationals' bullpen mess. They gambled $8 million that the former Cardinals' closer could bounce back from Tommy John surgery and be their eighth-inning guy, but he's been a disaster. It wasn't until his fourth outing that Rosenthal even got an out, and he currently has a 36.00 ERA and hasn't pitched since April 26, when he went on the IL with a viral infection.
Reason To Believe They Can Still Win The NL East: Their Big Three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Corbin has been good enough to allow for the possibility of the Nats getting on a roll, especially when offensive catalyst Trea Turner returns in another week or so from a broken finger.
Reason To Doubt they Will Win: They're 15-23 with a manager, Davey Martinez, on the hot seat and the bullpen, with its hideous 6.29 ERA, is probably beyond repair unless they sign Kimbrel. Also, maybe it wasn't all Bryce Harper's fault.