With the 2018 MLB season less than a month away, it’s time to take a look and preview the season ahead. We’re going division by division to try and project every teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and questions heading into the season. Continuing on with the NL East:
2017 Record: 97-65. Lost to Cubs in NLDS.
Three of the top twenty pitchers in WAR in 2017 were Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez, but Tanner Roark wasn’t too bad either. AJ Cole is projected to be the fifth starter, although he has only pitched 100 innings in the major leagues. Washington was rumored to be in the mix for former Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. Even without him, the Nationals still have the best 1-2-3 punch in the majors.
Adam Eaton is trying to come back after tearing his ACL at the beginning of 2017 and has yet to play any spring training games. The status of Daniel Murphy for Opening Day is also unclear after the microfracture surgery on his knee. Both players are taking a cautious approach, but injuries like these can have lingering effects, even once they heal. The Nationals have enough depth to cover an injury to most positions, but it’s still an issue they would obviously rather do without.
Question: Can the Nationals finally get over the NLDS hump? What does the offseason hold for Bryce Harper?
2018 Projected Record: 91-71
New York Mets
2017 Record: 70-92, Did not make playoffs.
While the 2017 season could be seen as a disaster by fans, the Mets were actually second in the NL in home runs. Signing Todd Frazier, hanging onto Jay Bruce, and the return of Yoenis Cespedes should help keep them there. They were ninth in the league in both runs scored (735) and batting average (.250), so some work can be done there. Having guys who can knock the ball out of the park is a good start.
At midseason, Asdrubal Cabrera (-19) and Jose Reyes (-16) were the second and third-worst players in defensive runs saved. The Mets as a team were at -17 just at third base. The addition of Todd Frazier helps there too, as he was at +10 DRS in 2017, but the Mets need to get a lot better defensively in order to potentially grab a wild card spot in 2018.
Question: Injuries derailed the 2017 Mets season before it really got started. Can they avoid the injury bug in 2018?
Projected 2018 Record: 83-79
2017 Record: 66-96, Did not make playoffs
Strength: Offensive Potential
They signed Carlos Santana in the offseason, and rookie Rhys Hoskins had 18 home runs in just 50 games in 2017. Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, both acquired in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, have also shown some promise at the plate. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are still around as well. The Phillies were in the bottom half of the league for most batting stats in 2017, but the potential for higher numbers in 2018 is definitely there.
The bullpen, led by Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, should be good enough, but there are still some questions for a staff that had the third-worst batting average against in the NL. Aaron Nola is the only starter who won more than eight games for the Phillies in 2017. He looks like he can be a solid starter, but they need at least one more they can count on. Enter Jake Arrieta; his numbers have gone down the past few seasons, but could he be the ace Philly needs?
Question: Will the Phillies be able to jump ahead of their rebuilding schedule, or will they fall back once again?
2018 Projected Record: 75-87
2017 Record: 72-90, Did not make playoffs
Strength: Farm System
The Braves already have some young players in the lineup, namely Dansby Swanson. Even with it, they still have one of the best systems in baseball, despite recent MLB sanctions. According to Baseball America, the Braves have the #1 system, along with #1 overall prospect, Ronald Acuna. They also have eight total prospects in the top 100. Depending on how the season starts, look for some young names to get called up and contribute at the MLB level.
Freddie Freeman does his part, despite coming back from a broken wrist. Other than him, there isn’t much to go around. Only one other Brave in 2017 played over 100 games and had an OPS over .750 (Matt Adams). Atlanta does have some other solid pieces in their lineup in Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis, but more production is definitely needed here.
Question: How long will it take before the Braves start calling up prospects?
Projected 2018 Record: 73-89
2017 Record: 77-85, Did not make playoffs.
Strength: Farm system?
This was probably the most difficult aspect I’ve written yet. Baseball America has their system ranked 19th, which is their highest ranking since 2015 when they were 5th. They’ve been 29th the last two years, but recent trades have brought them back up a bit. Lewis Brinson and Sandy Alcantara will both look to contribute. Outside of JT Realmuto, Starlin Castro, and Justin Bour, there doesn’t look to be too much in the major league lineup for Miami right now.
Weakness: Just about everything else
Things don’t seem too bright for the Marlins. Their reigning MVP is gone, along with the other stars they had within their lineup. So, we’ll go with the bullpen. Miami has several hard throwers, but a lack of command could be an issue. They threw the most innings in the league in 2017 (612), and were tied for second in walks (217). With the starting pitching also in question, the bullpen will look to be highly used once again.
Question: Would anything other than the #1 pick be a disappointment for the Marlins?
2018 Projected Record: 64-98
Projected records according to fangraphs