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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

2017 NL East Preview


Photo courtesy of Bryce Edwards via

2016 RECORD: 95-67, No. 1 in NL EAST

Last year, the Washington Nationals were the leader of the National League East, winning the division by eight games. They were eliminated in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games, and are still looking for their first postseason series victory since the team moved from Montreal in 2005.

Over the offseason, Washington had one major addition and one big subtraction. They acquired outfielder Adam Eaton in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. Eaton quietly had a fantastic 2016 season, and the Nationals hope that he will bolster what was already an excellent offense. Outfielder Bryce Harper declined in form last year following an impressive MVP campaign in 2015. The Nationals still have very high hopes for him, and a rebound by Harper will be key for Washington’s fortunes.

The offense goes far beyond Eaton and Harper. Second baseman Daniel Murphy finished second in the NL MVP voting last year, leading the league in doubles, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging (OPS). Shortstop Trea Turner had a stellar rookie campaign, hitting .342 while clubbing 13 home runs in 73 games played. Nationals fans are excited to see him play a full season for the first time.

While there’s no doubt the Nationals’ offense is the most potent in the East, their pitching is a bit of a question mark. They lost the most important part of the bullpen this offseason, when closer Mark Melancon signed with the San Francisco Giants. His loss leaves the role of closer in Washington an open position. The part most likely will be played by Shawn Kelley, who had a 2.64 ERA and seven saves last year while serving as Melancon’s set-up man.

Starter Max Scherzer led the rotation last year, having another one of his typically excellent seasons. Unfortunately, he has been impacted by a stress fracture in his knuckle, which knocked him out of the World Baseball Classic and puts his opening day status in doubt. Pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who still has not quite lived up to the sky-high expectations that accompanied the start of the career, is recovering from a partial tear in his right elbow.

While Washington has pitching questions, the offense should carry them to a playoff spot once again. If Harper can recover his 2015 form, and Turner improves off his rookie season, this division could be a runaway.

2017 PREDICTION: 95-67, No. 1 in NL EAST


2016 RECORD: 87-75, No. 2 in NL EAST

New York managed to secure a wild card spot last year, despite a starting pitching staff ravaged by injury and an almost non-existent offense. That offense came back to bite them in the NL wild card game, where they were shut out by pitcher Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants.

Going into 2017, the hope of the Mets is that all their young and exciting starters are healthy and ready to go. The starter who survived the season unscathed was Noah Syndergaard, who had a great season. He struck out 218 batters in 183.2 innings, while making the All-Star team and finishing eighth in the NL Cy Young voting. He hopes to be accompanied in the rotation by Jacob deGrom, who had a 3.04 ERA before his season ended in early September, Steven Matz, who finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting and was lost to injury in mid-August, and Matt Harvey, the promising starter who missed all of 2016 after Tommy John surgery. Closer Jeurys Familia saved 52 games in a row between 2015 and 2016, for the third-best streak in major league history.

The Mets hope these pitchers can take them a long way, because they do not have much of an offense. The team re-signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes last off-season after an excellent second half of 2015 and a productive 2016 season.

The rest of the offense is, at best, full of question marks. Outfielder Michael Conforto started 2016 strong, but quickly faded away. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera performed admirably in his Mets debut last season, posting a 2.7 WAR. Third baseman David Wright remains the leader of the team, but his status for the season is in question due to shoulder issues.

New York looks like the opposite of the Nationals. The pitching rotation is very promising, albeit unproven. The offense doesn’t appear to be very strong, however, and that will cost them a National League East title this year.

2017 PREDICTION: 87-75, No. 2 in NL EAST


2016 RECORD: 68-93, No. 5 in NL EAST

The Braves started 2016 horribly, going 18-46 in their first 64 games. In their last 97 games, they went a more-than-respectable 50-47. The question in 2017, then, is: which version of the Braves will show up this year?

Atlanta’s player to watch this year will be shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson. In 38 games with the Braves last year, he hit .302 and slugged .442. Swanson, the No. 1 draft pick of the 2015 MLB draft, has high expectations for his seaso, and a great campaign by him will be the key for Atlanta to improve this year.

He’ll be surrounded by a solid offense, including veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Ender Inciarte. The latter was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2016 season, and blossomed in Atlanta, hitting .291 with a respectable 3.8 WAR. He doesn’t have much power to speak of — he hit just three home runs in 522 at-bats last year — but gets on base enough to make him a productive offensive player.

At the trade deadline last year, the Braves acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres. The one-time MVP runner-up had a great second half for Atlanta, and figures to be an important part of an increasingly potent offense.

The pitching staff was bolstered in the offseason, with the acquisitions of the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. They’ll accompany Julio Teheran, who had an impressive 3.21 ERA, despite a poor 7-10 win-loss record.

The promise that the Braves showed last year gives fans reason to believe the team will take a big step forward in 2017. If everything breaks right, a .500 season is not out of the question.

2017 PREDICTION: 77-85, No. 3 in NL EAST


2016 RECORD: 79-82, No. 3 in NL EAST

The Marlins, who have not made the playoffs since 2003, looked like wild card contenders for most last season. Over the last few weeks of the season, the dream slowly died, and they coughed and lurched to the finish line, going 19-29 after Aug. 9.

If starter Jose Fernandez had not passed away in a boat crash last September, the Marlins would look poised for another playoff bid this year. He was the anchor of that rotation, and his loss has left it in shambles.

The closest thing to an ace pitcher the Marlins have is Edinson Volquez, who pitched well on the Kansas City Royals’ championship team in 2015. Unfortunately, he struggled throughout 2016, with an abysmal 5.37 ERA. Wei-Yin Chen showed some promise with Miami last year, but he’s hardly a fearsome pitcher. Dan Straily was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds this offseason, and he sported a solid 3.76 ERA last year.

The leaders of the offense are outfielders Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. Yelich had a breakthrough season last year, hitting .298 with 21 home runs and a 5.3 WAR. He finished nineteenth in the MVP voting, and many pundits predict he will do even better this year.

Stanton has a reputation as one of the most fearsome sluggers in baseball, but has a hard time staying healthy. He played just 193 games out of a possible 323 between 2015 and 2016. When on the field, he’s capable of great things. When he played 145 games in 2014, he led the NL in home runs, total bases, and slugging percentage, and finished second in the NL MVP voting.

While Yelich and Stanton will provide stability for the offense, the lack of quality starting pitching will be the downfall of the Marlins this year.

2017 PREDICTION: 75-87, No. 4 in NL EAST


2016 RECORD: 71-91, No. 4 in NL EAST

With the departure of slugger Ryan Howard in the offseason, that means everyone from the dominant 2007-2011 Phillies teams are no longer on the team. It’s a new era in Philadelphia, as a franchise that has been lost in the wilderness for several years will seek to get on the path to rebuilding.

Several people have taken note of a young and promising Phillies pitching rotation. Vince Velazquez was acquired in a trade with the Houston Astros last offseason, and turned heads early in the 2016 season with a 16-strikeout, no-walk, complete game shutout. He struck out 10.44 batters per nine innings last year, the sixth-best mark in the league. Jerad Eickoff had the lowest ERA on the staff last year, at 3.65, while Jeremy Hellickson posted a decent 12-10 record with a 3.71 ERA and 154 strikeouts.

The offense will be interesting this year, as almost every member of the everyday lineup will be under the age of 30. Center fielder Odubel Herrera was the best offensive player on the team last year, and he hopes to improve further this year in his third MLB season. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez led the team in batting last year, at .294, while third baseman Maikel Franco clubbed 25 home runs.

Philadelphia, while they have some promising pieces, are clearly not built to contend this year. However, they could make noise in the near future if everything pans out.

2017 PREDICTION: 69-93, No. 5 in NL EAST

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2017 NL East Preview