A glance at every team in the NL East Division - follow me on Twitter @AQuinnFF for more!
Last week, I previewed the American League East division, predicting that 3 teams will advance to the postseason (Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays). Today, I will be taking a look at the teams in the National League East - including the World Series Champions from 2021. Will there be multiple teams in this division that advance to the playoffs in 2022? Keep reading to find out!
To begin, let’s look at the NL East divisional standings from the 2021 season. The Atlanta Braves were the only team in the division to advance to the playoffs, and they ultimately won the World Series. They finished the regular season with a 88-73 record. The Philadelphia Phillies finished in 2nd with an 82-80 record, missing the playoffs by 6 wins. The New York Mets finished below .500 with a 77-85 record. Finally, the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals both won under 70 games, with a 67-95 record for the fish and a 65-97 record for the Nationals.
2022 offers a new chance for the 4 teams that missed out on playoff baseball last season, but this is a top-heavy division. Let’s start our preview with the teams I expect to be at the bottom of the standings.
A few seasons ago, the Miami Marlins had some of the most promising talent in all of baseball; they had one of the best outfield groups in the league. Led by Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins also had Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna tracking down fly balls and hitting bombs. Then, their star pitcher, Jose Fernandez, passed away at the end of the season in a tragic accident. After that, the Marlins seemingly cleaned house and traded away as many assets as they could, beginning their rebuild.
The rebuild has been a slow process. Since the 2012 season, the Marlins have only made the playoffs once, and they are more than 200 games under .500. They have averaged about 65 wins per season, and 86 losses per season during that time. While they performed slightly better than their average last season, they still have quite a few questions to answer before we can consider them a dark-horse playoff team.
Their best offensive players last season were Adam Duvall and Jesus Aguillar, who are both nearing the end of their prime years. They also traded away Starling Marte at the trade deadline, who was arguably their best offensive player at the time. Due to a combination of injuries and mid-season call-ups, no player on the Marlins played in over 131 games - meaning that their players played in about 80% or less of games. They will need at least a few “everyday” players - guys who will be in the lineup every game, unless injured - in order to get the franchise back to it’s postseason glory.
The Marlins’ ownership does not typically spend big money on players, however, so they will likely not add any superstar talent before the 2022 season starts. However, they have some young talent that might break into the big leagues this year. Will they get consistent playing time to develop? That is the big question for the Marlins. If they can get some of these young guys up to the big leagues, and let them succeed and fail, it might be the jumpstart they need to move from a rebuild into a promising young team.
On the pitching front, the Marlins have 3 guys who will be locked in their starting rotation: Sandy Alcantra, Pablo Lopez, and Trevor Rogers. Aside from those 3, their best bet to progress as a team would be to bring up 2 of their top pitching prospects from the minor leagues: Jesus Luzardo and Edward Cabrera. Luzardo was acquired last season in the trade I mentioned earlier with Marte. The left-handed pitcher was previously held as one of the top prospects for the A’s. Luzardo has already spent the part of 2 seasons in the MLB, but has an ERA of 5.36 in 43 career games. Both he and Cabrera will benefit greatly from having a consistent role in Miami, even if they struggle during the season.
Prediction: The Marlins need to continue developing the young talent in their farm system and at the big league level. If they can find a handful of consistent contributors, they may only be a few signings away from competing in 2023 and beyond. This season, I think the Marlins will finish with 70 wins and 92 losses, missing the playoffs.
The Nationals had quite the fall from glory last season, as they finished with one of the worst records in baseball after a year removed from a World Series title. They also lost arguably the best pitcher to ever wear a National’s uniform in Max Scherzer via a trade with the Dodgers last season. Scherzer will now pitch against his former club with the New York Mets - we’ll talk about him some more later. However, the Nationals have one of the most exciting players in all of baseball, outfielder Juan Soto. Will he do enough to get this team back to the playoff discussion?
The Nationals were sellers at the trade deadline last season, not only trading away Scherzer, but also their all-star up-the-middle specialist, Trea Turner. Turner was not only a threat to steal bases anytime that he got on, he was also an exceptional defender at both shortstop and center field. They also traded Kyle Shwarber to the Red Sox at the trade deadline after the slugger hit 20+ home runs in DC. Needless to say, there are many holes that need to be filled to get the Nationals back to their World Series ways.
The biggest name to watch this season, aside from superstar Juan Soto, is Keibert Ruiz. Ruiz has been regarded as one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball, and he was acquired in the trade that sent Turner and Scherzer to Los Angeles. He has less than 100 career at bats in the MLB, but he profiles as a solid defender and an above-average offensive contributor from the catcher position. I would not be surprised to hear his name in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation if he gets an opportunity to play every day this season.
On the pitching side, their rotation is going to be a lot different for many Nationals fans, who will be without Max Scherzer for the first time in almost a decade. Their ace will be left-hander Patrick Corbin, who will be turning 33 this season. Corbin is a quality pitcher, but will be a below-average #1 option this season. As a team, their pitchers allowed close to 5 earned runs per game, so unless they make some improvements in both the rotation and the bullpen, they will need a heavy dose of offensive production on most nights to stay competitive.
Prediction: The Nationals are making it clear that they want to build young talent around their superstar, Juan Soto. However, this season may be another season for that talent to develop. Without a strong pitching core, I cannot see this team making a run for a postseason spot unless they make some big moves between now and the trade deadline later in 2022. I believe the Nationals finish 10 or more games under .500, with a record of 75-87.
The Phillies made a splash a few seasons ago when they signed Bryce Harper to a 13 year, $330 million contract before the 2019 season. In the 3 seasons he has been in Philadelphia, the Phillies have finished a combined 2 games under .500. With a star player like Harper, this has to be short of expectations for the fanbase in Philadelphia. Harper has not made the playoffs since signing with Philly; and his former team, the Nationals, won the World Series a year after he left.
The Phillies had one of the oldest teams in baseball last season, with the average player being about 29 year old in 2021. As a team, they hit 198 home runs, a little over one per game, but they hit just .240 as a team and struck out about once per inning. Their offense was definitely built around the long-ball last season, and though they finished over .500, the approach was not good enough to get to the postseason. With their team getting older and not a ton of young prospects expected to break through this season, the Phillies might be sellers this season depending on how they fare early on.
The Phillies do have 3 of their top 5 prospects expected to make it to the MLB this season: SS Bryson Stott, RHP Francisco Morales, and RHP Hans Crouse. Stott has a chance to contribute up the middle right away, as the Phillies employed a combination of Didi Gregorious and rookie Nick Maton at shortstop last season. Gregarious will be 32 this season, and Maton will likely be a platoon and situational player in 2022.
On the pitching side, besides their two pitching prospects, the Phillies have to be excited about their two top starters: Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Wheeler had a sub-3 ERA last season in over 200 innings pitched. Nola was less effective than his 2019 season when he was top 5 in Cy Young voting, but he still threw over 180 innings in their starting rotation. Other than those two starters, the Phillies only had 2 other pitchers throw over 100 innings in 2021. They will need more depth in both their starting rotation and their bullpen, which could lead to more consistent pitching in 2022.
Prediction: The Phillies will be in a transition stage this season, as they have young prospects that should play more this season. They also have a handful of veteran players that could end up elsewhere if the Phillies don’t get off to a hot start. Bryce Harper still has many years left on his contract, but I do not think that he gets to the playoffs in 2022. I think the Phillies will win 80 games this season and finish with an 80-82 record.
New York Mets
The Mets will be an interesting team to follow in 2022. They have struggled the past few seasons, but seem to finally have the right pieces in place to make a run at the division this year. However, take that with a grain of salts, as it seems that the Mets’ fanbase has been saying “this is our year!” for the better part of a decade. They are far removed from the Carlos Delgado, David Wright, and Jose Reyes days of the past - but they still look good on paper.
Let’s start at manager: the Mets made one of the most talked-about moves this offseason by hiring veteran skipper, Buck Showalter. Buck has 20+ years of MLB managing experience, most recently managing the Baltimore Orioles in 2018. He has a career record of 1,551 - 1517, but also has experience managing in New York City, as he managed the Yankees from 1992 - 1995. Showalter is expected to be a large contributor to getting the Mets back to playoff contention.
Alongside Showalter, the Mets have already added Max Scherzer on a 3 year contract. He looks to work alongside Jacob DeGrom as two of the top aces in baseball for the foreseeable future; Scherzer will also be a great veteran presence in the clubhouse. The Mets have also added veterans Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte, giving them veteran platoon players and more depth at multiple positions.
The Mets also have some superstar players returning, most notably Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso. Lindor struggled in his first season with the Mets - his batting average was the lowest for his career, and his offensive production really dropped off. Lindor is a prime bounce-back candidate in 2022, and could be a huge contributor to the Mets’ success. Alonso is one of the premier sluggers in all of baseball, and has become famous for showcasing his power in the Home Run Derby. The 2019 NL Rookie of the Year has cut down on his strikeouts the past few seasons, and should have plenty of RBI opportunities with the pieces the Mets have put in place around him. Look for Lindor and Alonso to lead the Mets offensively, and if both of them return to their All-Star form, the Mets should contend for a playoff spot.
Prediction: The Mets have improved across the board already this offseason. They might not make any other big moves once the lockout ends, but between their new leadership both in the dugout and on the field, they will be a strong contender in the NL East in 2022. I believe the Mets will finish with 92 wins and 70 losses, which will be good enough for a wild card spot and a playoff appearance.
The Braves are the reigning World Series champions, and are likely going to be the favorites to win the NL East in 2022. They return most of their key contributors from last season, and should be much healthier to start the season than they finished last year.
The Braves’ pitching is the biggest area of concern at the moment - they lost one of their young workhorses, Mike Soroka, to his second achilles injury in about a one year stretch. He seems to be doing well in his rehabilitation and is expected to rejoin the Braves during the 2022 season. Other than Soroka’s return, the Braves are still strong in their rotation with left-hander Max Fried and veteran Charlie Morton. Morton broke his leg while pitching in the World Series, but should be back for Spring Training. The Braves could benefit from adding one more proven starting pitcher, as well as an arm or two to anchor down their bullpen.
Offensively, the Braves’ 1st baseman Freddie Freeman is currently a free agent, but I believe the Braves will make a strong offer to keep him in Atlanta for the remainder of his career. Much of my prediction for their season will be based on the expectation that Freeman returns for the 2022 season and beyond. They will also be getting superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. back after he was injured and missed all of the 2022 postseason. Acuña is one of the only 40 HR / 40 steal threats in the game today, not to mention the fact that he is a perennial gold glove candidate in the outfield as well. Young stars like Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley will be fixtures for the Braves infield, as well as some key rotational players like Orlando Arcia.
Without knowing for certain whether or not Freeman comes back, it will be interesting to see if the Braves go after any free agents after the lockout ends. Players like Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Nick Castellanos, and Anthony Rizzo are all available and waiting for a team to offer them a contract; maybe the Braves go after one of these players instead of Freeman? If they choose to not bring Freeman back, they will be missing out on a near .300 hitter with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI potential in the middle of their lineup
Prediction: The Braves should be the favorites to repeat as NL East champions, especially if they re-sign Freddie Freeman. If they cannot agree to terms with him, I expect them to sign another available slugger like Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo to come and play a corner infield spot. With a healthy squad, the Braves are my favorite team in the division to get to the playoffs in 2022. I predict the Braves will win 95 games with 67 losses and be crowned NL East Champions.