Biggest NL East storylines a week from opening day
Biggest NL East storylines a week from opening day originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The NL East will be a three-team race in 2023, though most sportsbooks and projection systems see it as more of a battle between the Braves and Mets.
The Phillies are +350 to win the NL East at PointsBet ($100 to win $350). The Mets are +175 and the Braves are an even bet at +100.
The over-under win totals are Phillies 88.5, Mets 91.5, Braves 95.5.
Is the gap in talent between the Phillies and those two teams so wide? Obviously, the absence of Bryce Harper looms large, but the Phillies did go out and sign one of the 10 best players in baseball in Trea Turner, among other additions that leave the 2023 roster in a better place than it finished in 2022.
The Phillies haven’t navigated through spring training unscathed. Andrew Painter went down with an elbow sprain, ending the fifth starter’s battle quickly. Ranger Suarez (forearm) and backup catcher Garrett Stubbs (knee) left the World Baseball Classic early. Third-string catcher Rafael Marchan is dealing with a hand injury. Pitchers Cristopher Sanchez and Nick Nelson are dealing with hamstring injuries.
But this is the case throughout baseball, and some teams are dealing with more important injuries than others.
Let’s take a spin around the NL East, examining top storylines and key injuries eight days away from opening day:
For everything they did this offseason, the biggest topic surrounding the Mets a week ahead of opening day is the sudden loss they’ve suffered — Edwin Diaz to a season-ending patellar tendon tear. The elite closer injured his right knee as Team Puerto Rico mobbed him on the mound to celebrate its World Baseball Classic win over the Dominican Republic.
Diaz was a big part of the Mets’ offseason. They signed him to a five-year, $102 million contract just after the World Series, the richest contract for a reliever in MLB history. He’s as good as it gets among current closers and is coming off a career year (1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 118 strikeouts and 18 walks in 62 innings).
Former Phillie David Robertson could be the next man up to close games, and while he’s experienced, his stuff is nowhere near Diaz’. The Mets’ bullpen really isn’t all that strong behind him, either. The primary setup men appear to be Adam Ottavino and Drew Smith. This has to be extremely worrisome for a team with a payroll exceeding $350 million, the largest in baseball history.
Another of the Mets’ offseason additions was Jose Quintana, signed to a two-year deal worth $26 million. He was slotted into the back of their rotation but will miss at least three months with a rib injury.
Justin Verlander, who signed with the Mets and essentially replaced Jacob deGrom, has had a strong spring, allowing four runs and striking out 19 in 16 innings. The Mets are built around their 1-2 punch of Max Scherzer and Verlander. Scherzer is 38 and Verlander is 40, though Verlander is still a good bet to provide more durability than deGrom did the last two seasons when he missed 40 starts.
The Mets also added Kodai Senga, a 30-year-old right-hander from Japan who projects as a mid-rotation piece.
Offensively, they bring back the same cast of characters after the Carlos Correa fiasco. Leadoff man Brandon Nimmo jammed his knee sliding into second base over the weekend and was in pain afterward, another injury situation to monitor entering the season.
The Braves dominated in the second half last season to wrestle the NL East out from under the Mets, and they’re viewed by most as the favorite to win the division for the sixth straight year.
They should have a full season of Ronald Acuña Jr., who has played 120 games just once since debuting in 2018.
They should also get substantially more from Ozzie Albies in 2023 than they did in 2022, when he was limited to just 64 mostly ineffective games. Albies began last season hot from a power perspective, broke his foot in early June, returned on September 16 and broke his pinky the next day. He’s only a season removed from 40 doubles, 30 homers, 106 RBI and 20 steals.
The Braves did suffer a big loss in Dansby Swanson, whom they didn’t appear to make much of an effort to re-sign given the price tag. The assumed replacement was young infielder Vaughn Grissom, who admirably replaced Albies a year ago, but neither Grissom nor former first-rounder Braden Shewmake won the shortstop job in camp. Instead, it went to veteran Orlando Arcia, while the other two will begin the year at Triple A. There’s a gap between Swanson’s overall production and Arcia’s.
The Braves’ biggest offseason addition was catcher Sean Murphy from the A’s. A year after they traded for Oakland’s first baseman, Matt Olson, the Braves added another ascending player just reaching his prime. Atlanta moved quickly to extend Murphy for $73 million over six years. He was one of the top two-way catchers in baseball last season and slots into the middle of the Braves’ order.
The Braves are going to have a very good offense with Acuña, Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris, Albies and Murphy. How far they go will be determined in large part by the sophomore seasons of Spencer Strider and Kyle Wright. Strider was the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Harris after striking out 202 in 131⅔ innings with a 2.67 ERA. Wright went 21-5 with a 3.19 ERA, leading the majors in wins. Both pitched about 40 innings more than their previous career-highs. Strider is probably the better bet of the two to repeat his success because of his nearly unmatched ability to miss bats.
Then there’s 39-year-old Charlie Morton, whose ERA was a full run higher in 2022 (4.34) than in 2021 (3.34). He made only nine quality starts out of 31 last season. Is he finished, or does he have one more season left as a No. 2 or 3 starter?
The rest of the league knew for the better part of a year that the Marlins were looking to trade pitching for offense. Their biggest organizational strength is their young starting pitching, and their pitchers also have more room for error playing in such a gigantic ballpark. They needed bats.
In late January, the Fish traded Pablo Lopez to the Twins for 2022 AL batting champ Luis Arraez. The left-handed hitting infielder has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the league and never swings and misses, an even peskier version of Jeff McNeil. Arraez can play first, second and third base. He hit .316 last year and has hit .314 in 1,569 big-league plate appearances.
The Marlins also signed Jean Segura to a two-year deal after his three-year stint with the Phillies ended.
Sandy Alcantara is back to lead the rotation, and the Marlins have high expectations for Jesus Luzardo and Edward Cabrera. Last season was a major disappointment for lefty Trevor Rogers, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2021 (2.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) before struggling all season in 2022 (5.47 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).
A player who will again be missing from the Marlins’ season-opening roster is right-hander Sixto Sanchez, the former top Phillies prospect traded to Miami for J.T. Realmuto prior to the 2019 season. Sanchez hasn’t pitched since the shortened 2020 season, when he showed in seven starts why he’d been hyped for years. Shoulder issues requiring multiple surgeries have kept the 22-year-old off the field ever since. The Marlins are hoping to build his stamina back up in the first half of the season before he potentially joins their rotation around the break.
They lost 107 games last season and could be worse in 2023. The Nationals made no big additions; this year is about further developing catcher Keibert Ruiz, shortstop CJ Abrams and starting pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray.
The Phillies, Braves and Mets all lose out by facing the Nationals 13 times this season as opposed to the 19 meetings of recent seasons. Beginning in 2023, schedules are balanced so that every team faces the other 29 each year.
Source: Yahoo Sports