Saturday, November 19, 2016

Season 36 NL East Preview

Washington D.C. Nationals
Season 35:  90-72
GM:  chase39

Outlook:  The Nats suffered through some sub-par pitching performances last year (Benavente - 4.19 ERA, Lee - 4.17 ERA, even the 3.63 ERA by Stevenson was uncharacteristically high for him).  So they mostly re-signed their own FA's (Petkovsek), although they did let 1B Tony Diaz leave, and geared up for another run.

D.C. finished a close 2nd (to Montreal) in runs scored last year. The distinguishing feature is a lot of baserunners (league-leading 551 walks - 1B Purcell led with 76).  There's plenty of power, too (218 HR's - 4th), with 6 players hitting 20+ (Petkovsek paced them with 33 HR and 104 RBI).  On top of that, they're a better-than-average running team (139 SB...LF Winston 36 and CF Hughes 35).

The staff is excellent top-to-bottom.  Rotation ace Maicer Comacho had probably his best all-round season last year (22-2, 2.79 in 251 IP).  Benavente, Spruill and Lee are all high-end #2's, and Robinson Velez did a great job as #5 last year.  The pen has 4 absolute lock-down short relievers in Cervantes, Rathjen, Stevenson and Satou.  

The one crack in the armor has been below-average defense (.982 fielding %, 52/54 on good/bad plays), although they've taken some steps to improve it. New SS Rudy Blackley (7 errors in 74 games) will be a big improvement over Odalis Cantu (29 errors). Diaz was a good hitter but a mess at 1B; they didn't improve 1B by moving Purcell there, but the OF defense will be much better with Winston and Petkovsek at the corners.

This year's Nats may be slightly less explosive, but they'll play better defense and the pitching should rebound.  I think they'll top last year's 90 wins easily.

New York Mets
Season 35: 98-64
GM: z0601

Outlook:  The Mets started hot last year and won the Division impressively in GM z0601's first season.  They also made one of the more interesting off-season moves of the year.

Late in free agency, they scooped up the injured and overlooked Deangleo De Aza for 2 years, $1.6MM per.  He'll be available for the last third of this season and the playoffs and all next year for a total of $3.2MM.  Brilliant move.

The Mets also just traded for Milwaukee OF Paulo Telis.  I'm not sure how much action he'll see, but who wouldn't like having a switch-hitter of that cailber on the bench (making $378K at that).

NY's homerun-oriented (221 - 3rd) offense produced 731 runs - 5th in the league.  They expect offense from every position except the Olivo/Kim CF platoon.  RF Jemile Frazier led the team in OPS with .885 (and homeruns with 43), and 5 players topped .800 OPS.  Is it me, or has Cecil Bonilla been a bit of a disappointment with his .878 OPS over 4 seasons? Then again, zbrent and I had the same conversation about Robert Esposito before last season, and he won the NL Triple Crown (I may have just reverse-jinxed the AL East to NY).

The Mets' staff is top-notch, but highly dependent on the Big 3 of Ozuna, Day and Stevenson.  That trio threw 808 of their 1465 innings.  Lefties finally caught up with #4 starter Grant Young last year, pummeling him for an .871 OPS-against.  That won't happen again.  Neither will Ramon Wanatabe's 1.89 ERA - the bullpen is adequate but no the strength of the squad.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Season 35:  90-72, lost to New York in Round 2
GM:  blanch13

Outlook:  The Buccos lost SP Tony Baerga early last year and never quite put it together, although they did slide into the last Wild Card on the last game of the year.

Baerga returns to form Pittsburgh's own Big 3 with Milton Watson and Rolando Roque. #4 Dunham and #5 Brinson posted ERA's of 3.34 and 3.40 - they'll take that all day.  The bullpen, behind Ernesto Johnson (9 wins, 18 saves, 3.37) is good but not D.C.-good.

What might have been had Esposito (.321/52/131) gotten some help.  Expect better seasons from 3B R.A. Hollins, 2B/OF Dayton Asche, LF Brutus Prince and C Diory Esposito.

The Pirates help themselves with the glove - .985 fielding % and 115/24 good/bad plays.  Perennial GG candidate Julio Rojas (SS) leads the D.

Philadelphia Phillies
Season 35:  72-90
GM: tk21775

Outlook:  While their division mates have been battling for (and winning) WS titles, the Phils have been bringing along prospects and staying competitive with older bargain free agents.  That's the theme again this year. 

Dean Whitfield came up last year and looks like he'll bean All-Star CF for years to come.  Karl Floyd arrived as well...don't think he'll have an All-Star bat but the potential's there for multiple Gold Gloves. Same with C Art Scholl, a strong-armed 4th-round DITR from Season 31. 

That's a start...the Phils have 3 top ten draft picks (and 8 #1's overall) working up the minors chain.

Meanwhile, they've assembled a rotation that's at least in the ballpark with their pitching-rich division mates.  With some judicious training and coaching spending, 36 year-olds Alvin Phillips and Robin Buford should still be going strong when all those draft picks arrive.  The bullpen is not the same caliber, but does have some talent in Season 31 supplemental #1 Theo James, 1-year FA signee Jeremi Speaker and Season 28's #1 Ross Rusch.

Philadelphia scored 578 runs last season, and it won't improve drastically this year.  Whitfield will be pretty good, but there's just not enough around him to make a big jump...this year.

Division Outlook
3 different winners the last 3 years...D.C., New York and Pittsburgh are so close it's anybody's guess.  How about a round of "They'll win it if..."

Mets:  They'll win it if they add 2 good bullpen arms (and De Aza's 1)
Nats:  They'll win it if they make one more move to bolster the defense
Pirates: They'll win it if they reshuffle some that young, pretty-good talent into 1 more big bopper at 1B or COF.

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