By: Brian Cranston
The NL East finally looks like a competitive division for the first time in years. The Nationals have won 3 of the last 4 NL East crowns, and won the East last year by a whopping 20 games. The Nats were again expected to roll easily to another title in 2018. However, the Braves, Phillies and Mets are proving the East won’t be a cakewalk this year.
The Mets were a team coming into 2018 praying for a healthy season. The Mets made the playoffs in 2015 as NL East champs, and 2016 as a Wild Card team. Thus far, they have stayed predominantly healthy and look like they could be a force to be reckoned with in the National League again. DeGrom and Syndergaard at the top of the rotation is amongst the best in the league, and the bullpen lead by Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Jerry Blevins, and Seth Lugo has been outstanding, helping them to a 14-6 start. The most surprising thing about this start is how unproductive the Mets best bats have been. Cespedes and Bruce are both hitting below .200, and Conforto is hitting .212. This gives hope to Mets fans that once these guys get going, they can maintain this early season success. However, we all know that health is the key.
The Phillies and Braves have been two of the hottest, and most surprising teams so far in 2018. Both of these clubs are very young, but have played stellar thus far. The Phillies are the hottest team in baseball, winners of 11 out of their last 13 ballgames. The Phillies pitching has been better than anyone could have expected. Phillies pitchers rank in the top 10 in the majors in ERA, fewest home runs allowed, and fewest walks per nine innings. Another key for them is that Jake Arrieta has looked like the Jake Arrieta of old early on this season.
The youth movement in Atlanta has been underway since 2014, and it looks as though it is starting to turn the corner. Up the middle, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies have been brilliant. Swanson was horrendous in 2017, and has rebounded early in 2018 hitting .330 so far. Albies has been superb as well, showing monster power with 6 home runs already and hitting above .280. Freeman is a stud and one of the most underrated players in the game, and can carry that lineup when healthy.
The predictions for the NL East before the season saw the Nats cruising through the division. Fangraphs.com’s projections had the Nationals winning 92 games and beating the second-place Mets by eight. Interestingly, since those projections are updated daily, based on ongoing results, the Mets, Phillies and Braves have seen their projected win totals rise by three games apiece, to 86, 80 and 78, respectively.
The Nats sit at 10-13 currently, albeit with a ton of injuries (Murphy, Redon, Eaton). I expect them to turn it on once they get healthy again, but I don’t expect to see them dominant as easily as expected. I know its early and many things can change, but this is as competitive as I can remember the NL East being from top to bottom in a long time.
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