It was supposed to be a battle between the Washington Nationals and New York Mets for first place last season with the Miami Marlins challenging for a Wild Card. Well, Washington basically clinched the division before the calendar read July. Entering 2018, the hot story lines are the Nationals Bryce Harper entering his “contract year”, a healthy Mets team calling for a mulligan from last season trying to reclaim their spot fighting for first place and the Marlins being a shadow of themselves. Beware the Philadelphia Phillies, an intriguing starting rotation added Jake Arrieta while an offense that may not be ready for prime time yet added Carlos Santana. The Braves hold my pick for Rookie Of The Year in Ronald Acuna, will that be enough to keep pace with the fighting Phils for the fight for 3rd place?

Atlanta Braves

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Who’s New To Help Cause” – Brandon McCarthy (trade w/LA), Charlie Culberson (trade w/LA)

Addition By Subtraction?” – Matt Kemp (trade w/LA), (Jim Johnson trade w/LAA)

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A Successful season for the Braves looks like this:

Opening Day is when every fanbase deludes themselves into believing their team has a shot at making the playoffs. If enough things go right, the Braves could finish .500 this season. That should be the goal.

For “service time” reasons Acuna will start the season in the minors but he has already been called a “potential Hall of Fame player”. When called up he will join bona fide star Freddie Freeman manning his customary first base after a short audition at third base last season. The Braves traded for the low average power bat of Ryan Schimpf to challenge for the third base spot but an 0-for-twentyplus start helped incumbent starter Johan Camargo hold him off. Camargo hit 21 doubles in 241 at-bats his rookie season. Only a dozen major leaguers hit 40+ doubles last season so consider Camargo a deep fantasy sleeper. Although fantasy baseball wise (after Freeman of course), 10 HR/20 SB guy Ender Inciarte is the mid rounds Braves player to scoop up.

Julio Teheran is an ace and would be an ace on most teams. He desperately needs Dodgers throwaway Brandon McCarthy to turn back the clock. If Sean Newcomb (likely starting in minors due to spaced out early Braves schedule) and/or Mike Soroka (likely expanded roster call-up) can expedite themselves into the role of quality Major League starter then the Braves have the beginning of a solid rotation.

Closer Arodys Vizcaino is on nobody’s top 20 closer list. For the Braves to be successful he needs to put himself in a position where he starts breaking top 10 lists.

An Unsuccessful Season for the Braves looks like this:

Shortstop Dansby Swanson was a much ballyhooed piece of the trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona. After a tantalizing 2016 preview,  his 2017 rookie season disappointed and his spring training did not lift up anybody’s spirits. What if second baseman Ozzie Albies follows the same path?

A bullpen that ranked 13th in the NL in ERA last season will now include rookies Jacob Lindgren and Jesse Biddle and one of the oldest players in the league in Peter Moylan. What could possibly go wrong?

Absolutely Correct Prediction:

I have them going 72-90 while these other famous projections have them going like this:

NL East FanGraphsPECOTAUSA Today
Washington Nationals92-7089-7394-68
New York Mets80-8281-8182-80
Atlanta Braves75-8776-8676-86
Philadelphia Phillies72-9078-8476-86
Miami Marlins68-9466-9660-102

Here’s why I will be right…I’m not sure if the gap between number 1 starter Teheran and number 2 starter Mike Foltynewicz is closing because Mike is getting better or Julio is regressing. Relying on a 34 year old McCarthy to have a renaissance year is a stretch. Much more excited for Soroka than I am Newcomb but patience will need to be used. Speaking of patience, see Acuna, Ronald.

Miami Marlins

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Who’s New To Help Cause” – Starlin Castro (trade w/NYY), Sandy Alcantara (trade w/St. L), Lewis Brinson (trade w/Mil), Cameron Maybin (free agent)

Addition By Subtraction?” – Giancarlo Stanton (trade w/NYY), Dee Gordon (trade w/Sea), Marcell Ozuna (trade w/St. L), Christian Yelich (trade w/Mil), Ichiro Suzuki (free agent), Edinson Volquez (injury rehab/free agent)

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A Successful season for the Marlins looks like this:

Giancarlo Stanton does not make his return to Miami until August 22/23. For some fans of the Marlins, two wins here against Stanton’s Yankees is all they ask for.

For fans focused on what the Marlins do have, new centerfielder Lewis Brinson has their attention. Of all the field position prospects the Marlins have, Brinson is the one with the highest ceiling and the one who is most ready to become a full-time MLB player. The pitcher that represents the same hopes as Brinson is Sandy Alcantara. The 22-year-old pitcher can hit 100 on the radar gun but needs to master his control and a third pitch.

If you can look at second baseman Starlin Castro without connecting him to the Yankees or comparing him to last year’s second baseman Dee Gordon, you have yourself a pretty good player. Batting third in the order, Castro can be penned in for 20+ homers and average that could hover around .300. Last season he batted .405 hitting out of the 3-hole. Finishing with a .272 average with runners in scoring position,  he holds that stat lead over the departed power bat and speed demon.

An Unsuccessful Season for the Marlins looks like this:

Jose Urena and Dan Straily are serviceable pitchers any team would love to have. They are being cast as 1/2 on the Marlins rotation.  They would be 3/4 on every other team in the AL East. Straily is starting the season the DL . This pushes Odrisamer Despaigne into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, which to date, he is not.

Justin Bour is reigning home run leader left from last season with 25. A disgruntled J.T. Realmuto your incumbent stolen bases leader with 8. If you are not a swing for the fences team or a small ball team, what are you? Speaking of Realmuto, does anybody really believe he will still be a Marlin in August?

Solid depth pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (elbow) and versatile position player Martin Prado (knee), who both missed most of last season due to injury, will each start the season on the DL. While the Marlins have a clear cut answer as to who will take Prado’s at-bats in rookie Brian Anderson, there is no such clarity when it comes to who will cover Chen’s sport in the rotation.

Absolutely Correct Prediction:

I have them going 63-99 while these other famous projections have them going like this:

NL East FanGraphsPECOTAUSA Today
Washington Nationals92-7089-7394-68
New York Mets80-8281-8182-80
Atlanta Braves75-8776-8676-86
Philadelphia Phillies72-9078-8476-86
Miami Marlins68-9466-9660-102

Here’s why I will be right…the high end pitching prospects (minus Alcantara) are all a couple years away. First impression of the new management group is that they will patiently wait for the arrival of Jorge Guzman, Trevor Rogers, Dillon Peters, Nick Niedhart and more. We all miss you Jose Fernandez.

Tireless trade rumors will surround Castro, Bour, Realmuto and Cameron Maybin whether the team is winning or losing.

The schedule was downright rude to Don Mattingly‘s club giving them the Cubs and Red Sox as their first opponents (it doesn’t matter that they are home games). Also in April, the Marlins are tasked with a road trip where they face Stanton, then Christian Yelich, then finish up in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Quite possibly the most difficult schedule in the league period.

New York Mets

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Who’s New To Help Cause” – Anthony Swarzak (free agent), Jay Bruce (free agent), Adrian Gonzalez (free agent), Todd Frazier (free agent), Jason Vargas (free agent)

Addition By Subtraction?” – n/a

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A Successful season for the Mets looks like this:

For those with short memories, the Mets were widely picked to make the playoffs entering last season. Why the reminder? Because that same team effectively returns intact for the 2018 season but this year most predictions have them struggling to finish .500.

One does not put 150 game expectations on the cortisone injected wrist of Yoenis Cespedes. One hopes/expects a re-do of the 2016 season that saw him play 132 games, hit 30 HR and make the All-Star team. Michael Conforto likely is not back until May 1st as he recovers from shoulder surgery but the Mets have the outfield depth to cover his absence with Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. Entering last season your hopes for Jay Bruce would have been a minimum 30 homers and .250 batting average. He hit 29 HR while batting .256 before being traded. It is completely fair to put 35 HR expectations on him entering this season.

Noah Syndergaard is your Opening Day starter. He tweaked his off-season training to focus more on flexibility than bulk to try and reduce the risk of another significant injury. His first spring training appearance on February 26th featured his first three pitches hitting 100 mph! The only Mets pitcher last season to break the 30 start plateau was Jacob deGrom. deGrom had a late start to his spring training because of a stiff back but has been dominant since his return. “The Dark Knight” is gone but Matt Harvey is not done. Harvey’s mechanics seemingly went out of whack one inning every spring training start. The innings sandwiched around the one said “whacky” inning have been solid as Harvey adapts to being a pitcher who has lost some of his smoke. Don’t draft him for your fantasy team but feel free to stream him in depending on the opponent.

The Atlanta Braves were kind enough to make Adrian Gonzalez affordable enough for the Mets to bring in. If you keep your expectations on him circa 2016 (18 HR’s .285) then this value play is well worth it. Many clamor for Dominic Smith to be given the reigns to first base but a quad injury has delayed that plan and if AGon plays to his capabilities then Mets fans have the happy problem of depth.

In his four full years as a Cincinnati Red, Todd Frazier never hit less than .234.  He has hit .225 and .207 in his two years in the American League. Let’s not set the bar higher than .234 for the free agent signee but the basement number for his home run total should be 30.

An Unsuccessful Season for the Mets looks like this:

No David Wright. His 2018 season has already had the first eight weeks taken away from him as he recovers from back surgery.

Yes you are allowed to worried about the health of Cespedes, Conforto, Gonzalez, Smith and any Mets pitcher not named deGrom. If the team finishes closer to the 70 wins they had last season than to the playoffs, it will be another victory for the injury bug.

The steady but unspectacular Jason Vargas was brought in via free agency…and is injured to start the season. The competition for the final starting rotation spot between Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler has neither one reaching out grabbing the job by the horns. Both struggled last season and both struggled this spring training.

Absolutely Correct Prediction:

I have them going 87-75 while these other famous projections have them going like this:

NL East FanGraphsPECOTAUSA Today
Washington Nationals92-7089-7394-68
New York Mets80-8281-8182-80
Atlanta Braves75-8776-8676-86
Philadelphia Phillies72-9078-8476-86
Miami Marlins68-9466-9660-102

Here’s why I will be right…I believe in the Mets starting three of Syndergaard, deGrom and Harvey. I believe in a Mets bullpen led by fully recovered from a blood clot in his shoulder Jeurys Familia and free agent signing Anthony Swarzak. Why all the faith? Did you not see what former pitcher and current manager Bud Black did in Colorado last year? Mickey Callaway will have the same effect on the Mets. A Manager Of The Year nomination awaits Mr. Callaway as the Mets make the playoffs!

 

Philadelphia Phillies

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Who’s New To Help Cause” – Carlos Santana (free agent), Jake Arrieta (FA) Tommy Hunter (FA), Pat Neshek (FA)

Addition By Subtraction?” – Freddy Galvis (trade w/SD)

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A Successful season for the Phillies looks like this:

We all knew the Phillies would struggle to win 70 games last season but we watched because the young pitching threesome of Aaron Nola (24), Jerad Eickhoff (27) and Vince Velasquez (25) all have All-Star potential. Nola, for the second year in a row, had more strikeouts (184) than innings played (168) as he continues to show he can pitch to any corner of the plate. Eickhoff missed the end of the last season due to a hand injury and will miss the beginning of this season due to a lat injury. When healthy, he is a “change up” away from unlocking all his potential. Velasquez’s 2017 was practically a washout due to a laundry list of nagging injuries but he still managed 68 k’s in 72 innings. He teased us all with his top end talent back on April 14, 2016 with a complete game, 3-hit, 16 strikeout gem versus the San Diego Padres. Now, enter Jake freaking Arrieta (spare me the “on the decline” crap) to head the rotation!

June 30th call-up Nick Williams impressed in his half season preview. August 10th call-up Rhys Hoskins was that much more impressive in his short preview last season. Full seasons from both young men should continue to rile up fans of the fightin’ Phils. Hoskins is being moved into the outfield to accommodate the signing of Carlos Santana.  If the move goes smoothly that puts versatile Aaron Altherr as the utility outfielder. Altherr entered last season with 72 hits and 9 HR on his MLB resume. He finished last season with 101 hits and 19 HR and there every reason to believe that trend will continue.

Lets keep the expectations on Carlos Santana realistic – 25 HR and .250 batting average.

If any part of you is worried about Hector Neris as the club’s closer, allow free agent signings Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to alleviate your worries.

An Unsuccessful Season for the Phillies looks like this:

Odubel Herrera continues to bat flip with the best of them but his batting average continues to slide while his walk total halved last season. Speaking of batting averages, Maikel Franco lost .025 off his in consecutive seasons. As his batting average descends to the Mendoza line, one can only hope his defense continues to improve.

With Freddy Galvis traded, J.P. Crawford has been handed the keys to the starting shortstop position. Surely his sub par 23 game audition at the end of last season did not earn him this honor. He has had a good spring training but when new manager Gabe Kapler is trying to positive spin batting him 9th in the order, after the pitcher, red flags are raised.

If injury problems persist with Eickhoff (after his return) and Velasquez, things could get hairy with the starting rotation. Nick Pivetta was fine in his rookie season but the sophomore season tends to tell a different tale.

Absolutely Correct Prediction:

I have them going 82-80 while these other famous projections have them going like this:

NL East FanGraphsPECOTAUSA Today
Washington Nationals92-7089-7394-68
New York Mets80-8281-8182-80
Atlanta Braves75-8776-8676-86
Philadelphia Phillies72-9078-8476-86
Miami Marlins68-9466-9660-102

Here’s why I will be right…Arrieta and Nola will play themselves into the argument of which NL East has the best one two punch. That is saying something remembering the division features a Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg combo and a Noah Syndergaard/Jacob deGrom combo. When it comes to #3 pitchers, I have Velasquez unlocking more of his potential and moving ahead of guys like Matt Harvey and Gio Gonzalez in mid-season fantasy re-drafts.

There will be cold spells with such a young outfield but Williams-Hoskins-Altherr will keep building the bridge for the Phillies to legitimately contend for a playoff spot in 2019.

Washington Nationals

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Who’s New To Help Cause” – Adam Eaton (return from injury after only 23 games), Matt Adams (free agent), Joaquin Benoit (free agent)

Addition By Subtraction?” – Jayson Werth (free agent), Adam Lind (free agent), Matt Albers (free agent)

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A Successful season for the Nationals looks like this:

The Nationals did not renew Dusty Baker‘s contract after a 97 win season. You can easily surmise that anything less than a spot in the World Series would be considered a failure. That is not a harsh assessment when you look at all the tools this team has.

Max Scherzer-Stephen Strasburg-Gio Gonzalez are the hands down best 1-2-3 punch in the National League. Their tragic flaw most of last season was their bullpen and they fixed that last July acquiring Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler. All of whom are back for full season’s with the Nats in 2018.

The baseball world will be inundated with “Bryce Harper contract year” talk. Whenever I allow myself to believe this jargon truly motivates a player, then all I imagine is a repeat of Harper’s 2015 MVP season. Official prediction for Mr. Harper – 150 GP, 41 HR, 10 SB, .305 average with more walks (not including IBB) than strikeouts for the first time in his career.

Adam Eaton for real this time in the outfield. The big-time acquisition heading into 2017, his season ended on April 28th after tearing his ACL. In both 2015 and 2016, Eaton had 9 triples and 14 homers. In his three years as a Chicago White Sox stole 15-18-14 bases respectively. The price the Nats payed for him will forever be argued but if Eaton slides back into playing smoothing, the grumbling will reduce to a silent murmur.

Daniel Murphy may miss the beginning few games of the season. The Nationals have the luxury of spare part Howie Kendrick to cover for him. That’s depth at it’s best folks.

Anthony Rendon finished 6th in the MVP voting last year. He is the 11th name mentioned in this outlook. Cannot stress how deep this team is. By the way, the 1st ever first round draft of the Nationals, a Mr. Ryan Zimmerman, had a career year last season launching 36 homers and finished the season batting over .300 for the first time.

An Unsuccessful Season for the Nationals looks like this:

In his first full two seasons in the MLB, Trea Turner has averaged 81 GP, 12 HR, 39 SB. Only that first number is bad. Sure his home run and stolen base totals create excitement but for the Nationals to get to the next level they need to find a method to keep Turner on the field.

There is a chance that Harper struggles under the increased media microscope that comes with being in a contract year. Less pictures of him and his Cubs BFF Kris Bryant together would help keep everybody glued together.

How far back to the median will Zimmerman go? When playing more than 140 games, he has always hit more than 24 homers but the concern is getting him to 140 games.

New Manager Dave Martinez has the pressure of World Series or bust on his shoulders. Yes he signed a three year with an option for a fourth year contract but if this Nationals team fails to make the playoffs…

Absolutely Correct Prediction:

I have them going 93-69 while these other famous projections have them going like this:

NL East FanGraphsPECOTAUSA Today
Washington Nationals92-7089-7394-68
New York Mets80-8281-8182-80
Atlanta Braves75-8776-8676-86
Philadelphia Phillies72-9078-8476-86
Miami Marlins68-9466-9660-102

Here’s why I will be right…pegging them to finish with 4 less wins this season than they finished with last year is a compliment to the Mets and Phillies. It’s still a 6 game cushion over the 2nd place team in the division and the same amount of wins as predicted for the Dodgers. Speaking of those Dodgers, be sure to watch the April 20-22 road series and May 18-20 home series closely, cause when the Nationals organization reach their first NLCS since the 1981 Montreal Expos, that’s who they will face. This team has far to much depth all over it’s roster to not make the NLCS.

Possibly The Most Accurate NL East Predictions Ever
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