2023 NL East Preview: Philadelphia versus everyone else

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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola leaves the game with bases loaded during the fifth inning in Game 4 of baseball’s World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The fields are mowed. The seats are cleaned. Upgrades are done. Rosters are finalized. Fans are (not yet) knocking down the doors but they’re ready. If you’re a baseball fan, this is the most time of the year. If you’re a Phillies fan, it’s going to be something to have the boys defending their NL championship. And for those fans of other NL East teams, while well those are choices they’ve made, fans are licking their chops.

New York, Atlanta, Miami, and Washington are ready to swipe at the top spot and by extension, Philadelphia. There were two 100+ wins for the NL East in 2022 and currently, the Mets, Braves, and Phillies are all World Series favorites. This competition was fueled by teams making money rain like it was coming off trees for whatever player they wanted. All of this means that if 2023 is anything like the NLDS series of 2022 between Atlanta and Philly, the whole division is in for a wild ride.

Atlanta Braves (2022: 101-16, lost to Philadelphia in NLDS)

The Atlanta Braves were arguably the Phillies’ biggest competition in 2022. After an offseason where Philadelphia beefed up their roster, you bet Atlanta was watching intently. Their 2021 World Series win was only 24 months ago and, if anyone is watching, they’re hungry for another NL East title. They’ve won the past five (and 17 overall) so best believe that Brian Snitker and Co. are ready to go for number six.

They boosted their outfield during the offseason. Bringing in Kevin Pillar, Jordan Luplow, Eli White, and Sam Hilliard was a wise move. After losing shortstop Dansby Swanson, they made amends in a way with the addition of catcher Sean Murphy. Swanson was the second guy and fan-favorite the Braves figured needed a change of scenery In keeping with the Big Spending NL East, Murphy earned himself a cushy six-year, $73-million contract.

Atlanta’s got a talented roster that even a casual fan can respect. Ronald Acuña Jr. had a down year last season but expect to see his name thrown into the MVP conversation with a rebound season. Austin Riley might want that MVP trophy for himself. He has cemented himself as one of the best hitters in our game and a bat to fear in the NL East. Don’t count out two of the best 2022 NL rookies: center fielder Michael Harris II and hand-numbing right-hander Spencer Strider.

Come Opening Day, expect to see Max Fried on the mound. The 29-year-old lefty posted yet another book-worthy regular season in 2022. Fried left a stat line of a 2.48 ERA with 170 strikeouts over 185 innings. A surprising move that Orlando Arcia will open the season as starting shortstop might pay off after losing Swanson. Or it could be an offensive drop-off. One thing is clear: Atlanta is ready to come to the NL East Battledome and is going to want to emerge as the winner.

New York Mets (2022: 101-61, 2nd place in the NL East)

The other 100+ win team in the NL East belongs to the squad up I-95: the New York Mets. Under the leadership of skipper Buck Showalter, the Mets had one of their only 100+ game season since 1988. It’s also the second-most amount of wins in franchise history.

They even held the NL East for most of the season- except for six days. However, it was tough that their first playoff appearance since 2016 ended in three days. The loss came at the balls, mitts, and bats of the San Diego Padres. And then came free agency.

NL East
ATLANTA, GA – AUGUST 16: New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) delivers a pitch during the MLB game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves on August 16, 2022 at Truist Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire)

New York did not do great in the early time of free agency. Their losses were heavy with massive bullpen losses, including right-hander Jacob DeGrom and Chris Bassitt. But then there was one man who came into that time ready to do whatever it took (and cost) to make it work: Steve Cohen.

He spent nearly $500 million (with an m) of his own money to keep the Mets competitive. Picking up Justin Verlander to join Max Scherzer (for combined ages of 78 years old by the way) was supposed to give them a 1-2 punch. Kodai Senga is another new face in the rotation on a deal for a five-year, $75 million. He posted an ERA of 2.59 and over 1,000+ innings over in the NPB Superstar. When it comes to pitching, the Mets are going to be tough to beat in the NL East.

Yet also their weakness is going to be their bullpen. They lost Edwin Diaz in the World Baseball Classic and by doing so, one of the team’s most dominant closer. Free agent acquisition José Quintana is already out for the next three months, not a great sign. Going back to Senga, he experienced some tendonitis in his right index figure during spring training and missed some starts.

These are also not old guys, they are younger guys and this might be a concern moving forward. Tylor Megill is the youngest guy on the roster getting some rotations but that might be good for the Mets to get him some reps. Yet don’t expect to just have the Mets be a one-trick pony. With guys like Francisco Lindor, who blasted 27 homers last season and hit .270. He proved he is still one of the best two-way players in our game and that might be how the Mets get another 80+ win season.

Philadelphia Phillies (87-75, lost in World Series)

We’ve come to the part everyone is waiting for: where will the 2023 Philadelphia Phillies stack up? They’re under the helm of favorite for NL East Manager of the Year Rob Thompson and well, the Phillies front office did some work in free agency. The defending NL champions lured Trea Turner away from the Los Angeles Dodgers with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Philadelphia gave him an 11-year, $300 million contract and he just felt like the right fit for the team and city. While Kyle Schwarber has been the leadoff man for the past season, Turner is going to be another man you can put in that position. He is fast and brings some pop at bat, not to mention 21 home runs and 100 RBIs in 2022. Turner might be an average fielder but he brings defensive needs for the Phillies.

Yet the bright spot in free agency is shadowed by two big losses at the moment: Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. Harper, with nine more years on his contract, is sidelined for two months. The two-time NL MVP had off-season Tommy John surgery and is targeted to return around the All-Star Break.

While Harper’s 18 homers and 65 RBIs will be missed, Turner will likely be someone who can fill that spot. A larger heartbreaking loss is Hoskins. The spring training injury resulted in a torn ACL in his left knee and he’s out for the season. His 30 homers and 79 RBIs last season, plus six homers and 12 RBIs during the postseason are going to be sorely missed.

The Phillies bullpen- whether it makes you nervous or excited- is still as solid as an ox. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are still the anchors. During the postseason, they were a terrifying duo to face. Nola was 2-2 with 27 strikeouts and a 4.91 ERA. Wheeler had a much better outing with a 2.78 ERA and 33 strikeouts. Taijuan Walker will take on the number three spot in the rotation to start the year as Ranger Suarez is starting on the IL.

He earned himself a cool four-year, $72 million off-season deal but he’s going to need to prove he deserves that bank. Depth is going to be the name of the game for Philadelphia. Rob Thompson’s done it once in his rookie season. Now that he’s gotten a full Spring Training and postseason under his belt, it’ll be fun to watch where the skipper steers the ship in 2023.

Miami Marlins (69-93, fourth place)

Someone is going to doubt that the Miami Marlins will be the dark horse of the NL East. The name of the game for new skipper Skip Schumaker and Co down in the Sunshine State is youth. After finishing with their 12th losing recording in the past 13 years, big changes were made. A fire sale on both players and staff, including bringing in Schumaker as the new manager. They had the fifth-worst-team batting average in 2022. So what do you do? You clean house and go to town during your off-season.

NL East
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 07: Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) at bat during the Major League Baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals on July 7, 2022 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Now Miami did not have Steve Cohen money to spend but they made some serious acquisitions. The Marlins brought in Luis Arraez and former Phillies second baseman Jean Segura. Arraez is the AL reigning batting champion and has a career .314 batting average, .374 OBP, and 120 OPS+.

Segura was signed to play third base for the Marlins and had .755 OPS while striking out only 14.2% of the time. Add this duo to Jazz Chisholm Jr. at second base. Chisholm Jr. played 60 games in 2022, hitting 14 home runs and finishing with a team-leading .535 slugging percentage. These are guys who are youthful and bring the energy needed to make Miami an NL East contender.

The glaring point of this is everyone on the starting lineup has to be on point. Their pitching rotation is filled with like Sandy Alcantara. Alcantara was remarkable last season, posting a 2.28 ERA over 228 innings. He will need to lead the rest of an inexperienced, high-ceiling group that has a lot to prove in 2023. Lefty Jesus Luzardo seems to have found consistency in Miami but keeping that up is going to be an issue. Schumaker has the pieces for a season to shake up the NL East. He just needs it to all come together.

Washington Nationals (55-107, fifth place)

The 2019 World Series Washington Nationals seem a distant memory from the team of the 2022 season. Dave Martinez is back in his sixth season as skipper and well, likely wants to start 2023 without the reminder of what transpired last year. Since them winning it all, they’ve had three consecutive last-place finishes. 2022 was the worst as they held the worst record in the entire league.

They’ve lost Turner, Scherzer, and last year Juan Soto. Sending Soto to the San Diego Padres was reviled by Nationals fans. While there will likely be more frustration in the nation’s capital for the next 162 games, the Nationals might be at least enjoyable to watch.

There’s talent that the Nationals got from San Diego. CJ Abrams is likely going to be a fixture in the roster. MacKenzie Gore also will see his name on the lineup card in 2023 if he can get his spring ERA of 7.07 down. Pitcher Josiah Gray maintained a 5-plus ERA in both big league seasons. He has a chance to significantly work on that in 2023. Yet of course the Nationals’ bullpen will also be dealing with the injury bug. Exciting prospect Cade Cavalli will be out the 2023 season, requiring Tommy John surgery. The Nats will miss his 96 mph fastball but next season maybe.

Stephen Strausberg is going to be a name that will be uttered along with the question: is he fully healthy? A series of injuries over the past couple of years and no one is sure if he’ll return. Another albatross is even the team’s ownership. After losing Ted Lerner in February 2023, there is still the question of if there is going to be a sale. Don’t expect this team to win the division. But maybe they have a chance at .500.

Season Predictions

Atlanta Braves: 92-70
New York Mets: 90-72
Philadelphia Phillies: 85-78
Miami Marlins: 70-92
Washington Nationals: 59-103

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