Are the Mets good enough to topple the Braves?

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You could make a definitive argument that the National League East is the strongest 1-through-5 division in Major League Baseball, so long as no one fucks this up.

And the Mets are the Mets, meaning they’re always one foot in, one foot out, on Metsing it all up. (Probably not as much as the Miami Marlins, whom we’ll get to shortly, but even as competitive as the division is, don’t expect a ton from them yet.)

The Mets had the splashiest offseason transaction of this group and probably still didn’t quite do enough if you ask their fanbase. Steve Cohen did gain majority ownership of the team and was a Twitter star until he was run off that platform over that Gamestop thing. He did manage to land Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster deal in exchange for a package led by Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenes.

Still, they’re the most captivating team in the division, and they’re not even the odds-on favorites to win it. The Mets should be a playoff team by the end of the season, but the National League is considerably competitive at the top, and any injuries could easily rearrange the World Series chase, which puts the Mets immediately behind the eight-ball.

Carrasco is already slated to miss the start of the season, joining an already-injured Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery), who may not return until this summer. Reliever/starter Seth Lugo should start throwing soon but is still a ways away.

The bottom line for the Mets is that they have enough, if healthy (big IF with them), and should be playing October baseball. The NL East and West should each claim multiple playoff spots, between the Dodgers and Padres in the West, along with damn near any combination in the East. You’ll find few other lineups as potent as what the Mets will be able to produce nightly, which will include Lindor, Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil, and Brandon Nimmo.

The rotation — and pitching, in general — is habitually concerning for the Mets, on health more than ability. Jacob deGrom is arguably the surest thing on the mound in all of baseball. Marcus Stroman had a quality spring training and 2019 season, which is when we last saw him in a real game, and he’ll also be playing for a new contract. Although 2020 was a condensed season, Carrasco pitched his best since 2018, which is his last apex season before battling leukemia. And the Mets have above-average arms in Taijuan Walker and David Peterson to round out their rotation. If Syndergaard can channel something closer to his 2018 self upon his return, they’ll be in great shape.

We’ll see what happens with their habitually unpredictable bullpen, but Edwin Diaz quietly bounced back with a total-180 of his well-documented 2019 unraveling. Diaz put forth a 1.75 earned run average through 25.2 innings, striking out 50, recording six saves, and only allowing five earned runs. They’ll need him this season because something from that Diaz and Robinson Cano trade has to work out. (Cano being suspended for the season is good for the Mets, though. They just better extend Lindor, Conforto, and Stroman and soon.) Monday night it was reported that the Mets offered Lindor a 10-year, $325M deal.

The Braves are bringing back mostly everyone they need to for another World Series push. Last season, Atlanta was one-run away in Game 7 of the NLCS, nearly reaching the World Series for the first time this century.

23-year-old Ronald Acuña is an MVP-favorite, and Freddie Freeman, diagnosed with COVID-19 in early July, is the reigning MVP from 2020’s shortened season. The Braves managed to get more out of Travis d’Arnaud than the Mets ever could and re-signed Marcell Ozuna for four years and $65 million following his outstanding 2020 campaign, which included 18 home runs, 56 RBI, and a .338 batting average during the 60 games. 2018 All-Star Ozzie Albies, who is still just 24-years-old, is one to watch for a return to stardom, giving the Braves more offensive firepower.

Though the Braves are still deciding on their fifth starter, they will return Max Fried and Ian Anderson, and Mike Soroka could be back on the mound in mid-April. Oh yeah, they also added Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly this offseason.

The Nationals aren’t quite their 2019 selves, but they have a rotation that will again include Max Scherzer, Stephen Strausburg, and Patrick Corbin, and they also welcome Jon Lester this season. Three-time All-Star Brad Hand, who led the American League in saves last season with 16, came to Washington in free agency, as well.

On the hitters’ side, they acquired 2019 All-Star Josh Bell on Christmas Eve, who finished the last entire baseball season we saw with 37 home runs, 116 RBI, and .936 OPS. Plus, with the duo of 27-year-old Trae Turner and 22-year-old Juan Soto still firmly on the team, the Nationals will always have a chance offensively. Perhaps Kyle Schwarber could bounce back to 30-plus home runs now that he’s away from Chicago, as well.

It would be surprising to see the Phillies achieve what would be their first playoff berth in 10 years, but they’ve been competitive in each of the last three seasons, even though they’ve finished at .500 or narrowly under each time. Aaron Nola has been in the top-seven of the NL Cy Young voting in two of the last three seasons, and Zack Wheeler thrived in 11 starts on his new team last year, recording a 2.92 ERA, finishing 12th in Cy Young voting. Their bullpen largely struggled last season, and it’s fair to expect much of the same this season, which probably factors into their odds.

Their main concern with their lineup has to be consistency. Between J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius, Rhys Hoskins, and Jean Segura, the Phillies didn’t collectively get enough from their key hitters. Only Harper had an OPS of at least .900 last season among this group. Third baseman Alec Bohm did finish second in Rookie of the Year voting, surprisingly hitting .338 in 160 rookie at-bats.

And the Marlins, shockingly, reached the extended-playoff field of 16 and even won a wild-card series 2-0 over the Cubs before being swept by the Braves in the NLDS last season. Their pitching was the key to their unforeseen season. The fivesome of Sandy Alcántara, Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sánchez, Daniel Castano, and Eliser Hernández are all back, though Sanchez is still working his way from injury. All five pitchers are in their early-to-mid-twenties and posted ERAs of 3.00 to 3.61 last season. They lost closer Brandon Kintzler to the Phillies, though, and he had 12 saves with a 2.22 ERA in 24 appearances.

The Marlins obviously didn’t have a big offseason: It’s the Marlins, and it’s not 2012. But as far as hitting, they return most of their lineup, led by Miguel Rojas, who hit .304, Brian Anderson, who paced the team with 11 home runs and 38 RBI, and Jesús Aguilar, who had a bounce-back campaign with eight homers and 34 RBI in 51 games while hitting .277. The Marlins also have a prospect worth following named Jazz Chisolm, who turned 23 in February and may become their starting second baseman this season.

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