The Nationals return a stellar collection of offensive talent in 2018. OF Bryce Harper is coming off of a very good year despite a late season injury. 2016 NL MVP runner-up 2B Daniel Murphy proved that that season was no fluke with his impressive 2017.
1B Ryan Zimmerman and 3B Anthony Rendon stayed healthy and added depth to an already productive lineup. SS Trea Turner is a budding star and has five-tool abilities on the field.
Washington is hoping they found the right collection of relievers to solve the issue of the bullpen. RHP Brandon Kintzler and RHP Ryan Madson will setup LHP Sean Doolittle who will start the season as the team’s closer.
- Team Strength: Starting Pitching
RHP Max Scherzer will turn 34 in July and is showing no signs of slowing down coming off of back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards. RHP Stephen Strasburg has electric stuff and would be the ace of several other clubs. RHP Tanner Roark is coming off of a rough 2017 but has the track record to rebound in 2018. LHP Gio Gonzalez is a very good option at the back end of the rotation despite postseason struggles.
- Team Weakness: Managerial Continuity
The Nats have had an impressive run in the NL East since 2012. D.C. has won four division titles in that time. Four also represents the number of managers the team has had since 2012.
Dave Martinez was hired in the offseason to replace Dusty Baker and lead the Nationals to their first playoff series victory since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos. The Nationals continue to churn out successful seasons year after year but continue to exit the postseason early. D.C. is hoping Martinez is the guy to push them further into October.
- 2018 Outlook: 1st in NL East
Harper and Murphy are free agents at season’s end but top prospect OF Victor Robles provides hope for the future in the event either depart. The Nationals should still be the class of the NL East but with Washington postseason misery seems to repeat itself.
Every team deals with its share of injuries over 162 games but what the Mets went through in 2017 was unbelievable. The Mets saw virtually every player on the 25-man roster miss time due to injury last season.
OF Yeonis Cespedes’s hamstrings often kept him off of the field. 2017 All-Star OF Michael Conforto was one of the few bright spots before dislocating his shoulder while swinging. RHP Jeurys Familia returned from suspension only to discover a blood clot in his arm.
A barren farm system combined with a slew of injuries resulted in 92 losses. The Mets signed OF Jay Bruce and 3B Todd Frazier to provide stability and power to a lineup that lacked both last season. 1B Adrian Gonzalez was brought in to give 1B Dominic Smith more seasoning in the minors. The catching duo of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki turned out to be fruitful for the Mets.
RHP A.J. Ramos and LHP Jerry Blevins return to a bullpen looking to recover this season. RHP Anthony Swarzak signed in the offseason. This group including Familia are expected to be the stable used in the closer by committee setup the Mets are implementing to start the year.
- Team Strength: Starting Pitching
The Mets return to the postseason is predicated on their talented pitching. RHP Jacob deGrom’s great 2017 campaign was overshadowed by the struggles of the team. RHP Noah Syndergaard had a tremendous spring and has given every indication that “Thor” is back after missing the majority of last season with a torn lat.
“The Dark Knight” RHP Matt Harvey is coming into what will undoubtedly be his last season in Queens. Harvey’s spring got better with each start. RHP Seth Lugo will begin the season as the team’s fifth starter. Lugo was solid in 2016 during the team’s playoff push.
LHP Jason Vargas was signed to be another lefty option in the rotation in the probability that LHP Steven Matz goes down with an injury. The enigmatic RHP Zack Wheeler will start the season in the minors.
- Team Weakness: Lack of speed/leadoff hitter
INF Jose Reyes led the Mets in stolen bases last season. That statement would not be concerning if last season were 2006. Reyes will be 35 in June and is primarily a utility player at this point in his career.
The Mets lack of speed also leaves the team without a traditional leadoff hitter. SS Amed Rosario’s alarmingly low walk-rate would prohibit him from being a leadoff option. Names like OF Brandon Kimmo and Frazier have been kicked around until Conforto returns.
- 2018 Outlook: 2nd in NL East, WC berth
New manager Mickey Callaway was hired to get the most out of his talented staff, but the team possesses a lineup that will hit home runs and a solid bullpen. A postseason birth is realistic as long as the team does not revert to the MASH Unit of 2017.
The Phillies have been a sexy sleeper choice by many experts coming into the 2018 Season. The Phils were aggressive in the offseason. The team signed free agent slugger 1B Carlos Santana from the Cleveland Indians. The Phillies placed Santana’s locker next to struggling, yet talented third basemen Miakel Franco to help provide leadership.
The 3rd new manager to be hired in the NL East this offseason was the Phillies’ Gabe Kapler. Kapler, 42 is a younger manager was hired to relate to the Phillies young core of talented everyday players.
- Team Strength: Talented Everyday Players
OF Rhys Hoskins hit 18 home runs in just 170 AB and will be penciled in the middle of the Phillies order for years to come. INF Scott Kingrey had such a remarkable Spring Training that the team gave him an extension…without ever playing in an official major league game!
2B Cesar Hernandez and OF Odubel Herrera are nice pieces that have been productive during tough times. SS J.P. Crawford has buzz around him again after having a good 2017 in the minors.
- Team Weakness: Lack of Quality Starting Pitching
RHP Aaron Nola and the newly signed RHP Jake Arrieta aside the Phillies are lacking quality starting pitching. RHP Jared Eickoff saw his ERA go from 3.65 in 2016 to 4.71 in 2017. RHP Vince Velazquez when healthy had pitch count issues and trouble making it through three plus innings. RHP Nick Pivetta had a good strikeout numbers but an ERA over six. The Phillies need more out of the back of the rotation to make a jump in 2018.
- 2018 Outlook: 3rd in NL East
The Phillies spent money this offseason thinking the team had talent to make strides in the NL East. The Phillies will finish around .500 if they take advantage of playing the Braves and Marlins 40 times. The starting pitching and growing pains will push contention back another year to 2019.
The Bravos offseason was marred by controversy. Former GM John Coppolella received a lifetime ban from MLB for committing several amateur signing infractions. The team lost 13 prospects as a result of Coppolella’s conduct. Atlanta hired Dodgers executive and former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.
The Braves became the latest team to move on from OF Matt Kemp as they traded him to the Dodgers for Adrian Gonzalez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Brandon McCarthy, and SS Charlie Culberson. The move was widely viewed as a salary dump by both clubs as Gonzalez was immediately released. The Braves have suffered four straight losing seasons after only having two losing seasons between 1991 and 2013.
The quietest superstar in the league resides in Atlanta and his name is 1B Freddie Freeman. Freeman is the centerpiece a rebuild that’s taken longer than expected. OF Ender Inciarte continues to grow as an effective everyday player.
The team has high hopes for SS Dansby Swanson after a semi-sophomore slump in 2017. The usually reliable RHP Julio Teheran had a 4.49 ERA in the Braves new hitter friendly stadium SunTrust Park.
- Team Strength: Good Farm System
Help is on the way in Atlanta. The Braves feature eight players in MLB.com’s 2018 Prospect Watch. OF Ronald Acuna is considered to be one of the top prospects in the game. RHP’s Kyle Wright and Mike Soroka are only considered to be a year or two away from reaching Atlanta.
- Team Weakness: Lack of Established Major League Talent
A team going through the rebuilding phase is going to traditionally lack in quality Major Leaguers. Freeman, Inciarte, and OF Nick Markakis are a few of the names that resonate with the average fan.
The Braves and their fans will have to continue to be patient. Swanson and 2B Ozzie Albies have the potential to be very good major leaguers, but until the young pitching and Acuna arrive the Major League cupboard will be virtually empty.
- 2018 Outlook: 4th in NL East
The Braves now has a proven GM who needs time to get acclimated to the organization. The farm system is loaded, but how much longer will the rebuild last in Atlanta?
Usually fans are excited when their team has as active an offseason as the Marlins had last winter. Active in the sense of making trades not in the sense of trading four of the team’s best players for financial reasons.
The new ownership group headed by Derek Jeter embraced the traditional “Marlin Way” of dumping salary. OF Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, OF Marcell Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals, OF Christian Yelich was traded to the Brewers, and 2B Dee Gordon was traded to the Mariners.
Jeter met with the team’s season ticket holders and insisted that the organization had a plan and was headed in the right direction. A tough sell for a fan base that has seen this purge two times before with two different owners. The World Series Championship was the one thing lacking this time around.
- Team Strength: No Expectations
The previous Marlins fire sales gave the young players a relaxed environment where they could develop and go through the ups and downs of turning into a quality major leaguer. This time will be no different. Players like OF Lewis Brinson can get the traditional Triple-A experience while at the Major League level. C J.T. Realmuto, 2B Starlin Castro, and 1B Justin Bour get the chance to play on a team that is destined for 100 losses and can only hope to be dealt before July 31st.
- Team Weakness: Different This Time?
Jeter can preach the rebuild plan all he wants, but Marlins fans have heard this tale before. The Marlins will be lousy enough for the next few years to draft and develop young, affordable talent. What happens when the Marlins have to pay those talented players? Will Jeter and Co. make good on their promise to compete? Will they still even be the owners by then?
- 2018 Outlook: 5th in NL East
You really have to feel for Marlins fans. 2018 and the seasons to come will be a true test for the fan base.
April 2019’s Biggest MLB Stories
Holy smokes, the first season of the 2019 MLB season is already in the books, and stories were abundant in this one. From certain players tearing it up and others struggling to records being broken, April 2019 was certainly eventful in the baseball world. Here are the biggest stories, happenings and surprises from the first month of the 2019 campaign.
Albert the Great
At 39, Albert Pujols might not be the revered slugger that he was in his prime, but the Anaheim Angel is still getting it done and joined elite company in April. His two-run double off of Kansas City’s Homer Bailey on April 28 gave him career RBIs no. 1,996 and 1,997, putting him ahead of Barry Bonds and in sole possession of no. 3 on the all-time list. Only Alex Rodriguez (2,086) and Hank Aaron (2,297) remain ahead of him. Though it’s unlikely that he’ll ever catch the latter, Pujols could pass A-Rod with a healthy and productive 2019 and 2020.
C&C on a tear
Outfielders Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers spent April wreaking havoc on National League pitching. Bellinger appears to have regained his form after a sophomore slump in 2018 and was the first month’s best hitter. The 23-year-old currently has the NL Triple Crown with a .431 AVG, 14 HR and 37 RBI. Reigning MVP Yelich is picking up where he left off last year, and owns a share of the homer lead in addition to a .353 AVG and 34 RBI. It’s obviously still early and both of these guys will cool off at some point, but they are as good as it gets in the Senior Circuit right now.
K&K still on the sidelines
Two of this past winter’s most high-profile free agents still remain unsigned as the calendar turns to May. 2015 American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and 2x Reliever of the Year Craig Kimbrel are still without homes and MLB.com Insider Ken Rosenthal reports that it may be as long as June before either star signs. Both men have different contract desires, as Rosenthal reports that Kimbrel does not want a one-year deal whilst Keuchel is aiming for the short-term. There are plenty of teams that would love the services of either, but it looks as if a signing won’t occur any time soon.
Medical costs soaring in the Bronx
The New York Yankees had enough injuries in the first month of the season to fill an entire hospital ward. Sophomore manager Aaron Boone has had the difficult task of holding his team together with more than half his starting lineup on the disabled list. Miguel Andujar, Dellin Betances, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino and Giancarlo Stanton are all currently laid up. Considering half of the team’s minor league system has seemingly played in the past month, New York has done pretty well and Boone should be commended for his work. But fans in the Bronx will feel much better when all their superstars return.
Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale is one of the MLB’s most dominant lefties and has been since he became a starter in 2012, but he’s been MIA for the first month of this year. Fans accustomed to the 7x All-Star dazzling batters with his slider would be shocked to see that he’s currently 0-5 with a 6.30 ERA. There’s still every chance that he can turn it around, but the Red Sox and their Nation have not enjoyed their ace struggling so mightily. Sale has taken full responsibility for his failures, but if his team wants to repeat as World Series champions, they’ll need him to regain his form.
Slow start for Harper in Philly
The most high-profile free agent acquisition in recent MLB history hasn’t gotten off to the start that his new team was expecting. 26-year-old Bryce Harper is having a rougher time acclimating to the Philadelphia Phillies than anyone would have thought. Through the first month of what is to be a very long tenure in the City of Brotherly Love, Harper is batting .231 with 6 HR and 20 RBI. He’s far too talented to struggle like this long-term, but considering what the Phillies are paying him, they can’t be too happy.
Vlad Jr. makes long awaited debut
The baseball world had been chomping at the bit for some time to see no.1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the big league level. However, the Toronto Blue Jays waited patiently with the young phenom and allowed him to spend the end of 2018 and the beginning of this season with Triple-A Buffalo. Fans finally got their wish when the Jays made the call last week and brought Guerrero up for his MLB debut on April 26 vs. Oakland. A proud Vlad Sr. looked on as his son ripped a double in the bottom of the ninth for his first career knock. There will surely be many more to come.
Mets endure deGrom TJ scare
Jacob deGrom is currently the best pitcher baseball has to offer and he hasn’t slowed on the heels of his masterful 2018 campaign. However, the Mets and their fans had to endure a brief panic when it looked as if the superstar righty had been claimed by the curse of Tommy John. It turned out to be nothing more than a scare and deGrom only missed one start, but baseball fans in Queens surely thought the sky was falling at the time.
Ichiro retires in grand fashion
Though it happened in March actually and most fans may have forgotten about it by now, it’s still one of best stories to come from baseball in some time. The Seattle Mariners opened the 2019 season vs. the Athletics at Tokyo Dome in Japan’s capital. It was undoubtedly an amazing experience for all players involved, but it stood out for one player especially. 45-year-old Ichiro Suzuki played the series with the Mariners and called it a career after the second game. Not many foreign players in Major League Baseball can say that they played their last game in front of their native country and it’s an honor Ichiro more than earned throughout his 28-year professional career in Japan and North America. An undoubted future Hall of Famer and one of the best hitters of all time, Ichiro walked off an MLB field for the last time to a thunderous ovation from his countrymen. Thanks for the memories, no.51.
Cardinals Place Michael Wacha On Injured List
The St. Louis Cardinals have placed right-hander Michael Wacha on the 10-day injured list due to patellar tendinitis in his right knee.
In a corresponding move, the Cardinals recalled infielder/outfielder Drew Robinson from Triple A Memphis.
Wacha, 27, has posted a 4.64 ERA over 10 games for the Cardinals this season.
deGrom Tommy John Scare Apparently Over For Mets
The team’s golden goose Jacob deGrom, the National League’s reigning Cy Young winner, was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Manager Mickey Callaway then stated his ace would placed on the 10-day disabled list and undergo an MRI on his right elbow after it was reportedly “barking” after a Friday bullpen session.
However, the Mets have apparently backed down from DEFCON 1, as deGrom threw today in the outfield at New Busch Stadium and told the media afterwards that he felt okay.
“It’s just a little sore,” he said to ESPN. deGrom has been experiencing illness and recent weeks and went on to attribute that to the discomfort in his arm, stating he decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
“I had been sick since Atlanta and kinda had a whole-body soreness. For me when I don’t throw, it seems that things pop up and I wasn’t on a normal routine. I was trying to just get enough in to be able to make my start and I felt a little soreness in my elbow. I decided to say something and talked it over with Mickey and [Mets pitching coach] Dave [Eiland].
Fans across baseball knew exactly what the Mets were getting at when the news broke. When coupled together, “T” and “J” are the two most infamous letters in the game, and it looked like the notorious operation was stalking its most high-profile victim in years.
deGrom has already undergone Tommy John surgery in once before, but that was back in 2010 when he was in the rookie class Appalachian League. Nine years later he’s the best pitcher in baseball, and it would be a horrible shame to see his meteoric momentum halted so abruptly.
It remains to be seen if deGrom will miss a prolonged period of time, or if there is actual damage to his elbow, but Mets fans can let out a sigh of relief and breathe easy, at least for the time being.
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