|Posted by theprincipality on March 25, 2019 at 12:15 AM|
With 2019 Braves baseball just days away, excitement is building as to what this young team can achieve as an encore to their unexpected 2018 NL East crown. The core pieces of the team have all returned, with outfielder Nick Markakis back for one more year and fan favourite Brian McCann returning to the club following 5 years in the American League with the Yankees and Astros. Joining them is former AL MVP and marquee signing Josh Donaldson to man the hot corner and provide a big bat to help Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna in the middle of the lineup.
However, the questions surrounding the Braves are less about what they did in the winter, but what they didn’t do. Atlanta had an uncharacteristic quiet offseason, during which their pursuit off a front-line starter, a catcher and a powerful outfielder came up fruitless. GM Alex Anthopoulos seemed unconcerned and unwilling to give up prize prospects without the necessary returns. So whilst the rest of the NL East stacked their decks, Atlanta looked back to its recent past with Markakis and McCann and took a chance on Donaldson, who has spent a good portion of the last year injured.
Whether the decision to hang onto its prospects ultimately benefits Atlanta, or leaves it kicking itself will only be known in the fullness of time, but it is interesting to look at the Phillies – a rival NL East team who took the opposite approach. Buoyed by a surprisingly good 2018, the Phillies seemingly decided not to leave anything on the table this offseason, making bigger headlines with every roster move. First was Andrew McCutchen, signed to a 3-year $50m contract. This was followed by J.T. Realmuto, a catcher coveted by the Braves for a number of years and completed by the biggest free agent prize of the offseason, Bryce Harper. Make no mistake, the Phillies intend to win and win now.
That said however, there is no guarantee the new Phillies core will gel and I always maintain that it is pitching that wins Championships, to which the Phillies have not made any significant upgrades and will rely once again on Aaron Nola as their ace. Conversely, the New York Mets are all pitching and no offense. deGrom and Syndergaard will anchor their rotation and will be very hard to score runs against, particularly if deGrom can back up his Cy Young Award-winning year with something even remotely comparable. However, only the oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes will strike any real fear into opponent pitching and I suspect the Mets will once again be the Jekyll and Hyde of the NL East.
The Nationals will be looking to improve on a frustrating 2018 campaign where 2nd place in the NL East flattered them. Losing Bryce Harper will hurt, especially then having to see him play against them 18 times a year and a hole like Harper’s will be hard to fill. The Nationals’ major upgrade came to the rotation by adding Patrick Corbin to a staff that already contained Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Making way though was Gio Gonzalez, so a lot of expectations will rest with Corbin to ensure that this is an upgrade and not just a like-for-like.
The Marlins, on the other hand, continue to make people ask why they continue to exist. When your best player is Brian Anderson, you know you’re in for another long year of sub-10,000 attendances and off-field confusion. The Marlins most positive change this offseason was to remove the outfield home run monstrosity outside the ballpark. For most, that is not near far enough!
So for 2019, it is hard to pick a winner from a well-stacked NL East. The Braves must go in as favourites, being the defending champs, but a lot rides on a very young, inexperienced pitching staff and keeping Ronald Acuna healthy. If Acuna can continue where he left off last year and with another year of experience amongst Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, the Braves can certainly repeat their 2018 success, but without the major pitching upgrade, it is doubtful they will advance any further.