Turns out NL East has 1 good team, not 4
Before the 2019 regular season started there were 30 teams who had at least some optimism. In the NL East, that included the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets.
As spring training ended, all four of those teams appeared to have a shot at the division.
• The Braves won the NL East in 2018 for the first time in five years, surprising everyone with a 90-72 record.
• The Nationals bolstered their starting pitching core with left-hander Patrick Corbin.
• The Philadelphia Phillies signed outfielder Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract, the richest in MLB history.
• And the Mets traded for closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano, giving them the biggest offseason net gain of wins above replacement.
But instead of four teams jockeying for the division, we instead have a one-team race and three others with more questions than answers.
The Braves continue to be the class of the NL East. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley and Josh Donaldson has the Braves on track to have one of their best hitting seasons since 2003. Even Atlanta’s pitching looks as though it might be on the upswing after the team signed left-hander and former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel to a midseason deal.
The outlook isn’t as rosy for the Mets, Phillies and Nationals.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway and pitcher Jason Vargas blew up at a beat reporter after Sunday’s loss, using enough profanity the club issued an apology shortly after and fined both.
The frustration is justified: New York’s pitchers have allowed 77 more runs than expected this season after accounting for the men on base and outs remaining in the inning (only the Pirates are worse).
The Phillies lost leadoff hitter and former Pirate Andrew McCutchen to a torn ACL on June 3, leaving a gaping hole at the top of the lineup. His replacements have combined to hit .237 (last in the majors) with a .273 on-base percentage (third worst). Plus, Harper has been a bust, batting .248 with a .825 OPS and is on pace to establish career worsts in strikeout rate (28%), contact rate (68%) and swinging strike rate (15%).
As a result, Philadelphia has lost seven in a row and 16 of its past 22 games.
“We just haven’t been playing well. That’s the bottom line,” Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “There’s no sense of sugarcoating it.”
The decline of the Nationals’ bullpen to historic lows is well-documented. Washington’s relievers have allowed 59 more runs that you would expect given the men on base and outs remaining during their appearances and recently parted ways with Trevor Rosenthal, who at one point had an ERA of infinity.
If Washington’s troubles stopped there it might be able to contend but instead the batters are average (hitting .254 with a .762 OPS) despite Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick having career years.