It’s been Season 24 since anyone but the Phillies and Mets finished 1st or 2nd in the East, and NY and Philly have both made the playoffs 5 times in those 6 seasons. Can D.C. or Pittsburgh break the stranglehold this year?
Washington D.C. Nationals (rigbystarr - 16th season)
Season 29: 56-106, 4th in East
Offense: 591 runs (14th)
Defense: 782 runs allowed (15th)
The Nats have been building the farm system for a few seasons now, and it started to pay off last year. The contributions of rookies Erubiel Calderone (30 HR’s) and Danny Cairncross (4 wins, 3.05 ERA in 100 IP) probably pushed them over the MWR (although just barely).
They’ll get more help from rookies this year. Season 25 IFA ($1.5MM) Yordano Gonzalez starts the season on the staff; he’ll likely be joined soon by Season 27’s #8 pick, SP Sid Miller, and Season 26 IFA ($6.1MM), SP Nigel Kuroda. They’ll form the backbone of what should be an improved staff, along with 3rd-year SP Brian Ray (7 wins, 4.13).
The offense looks like it’s still going to struggle, although FA 2B Bryan Cambridge should be a decent upgrade from the departed Ed Sierra.
They have 2 more excellent prospects at AAA: Manuel Guerrero (9th pick,Season 29) looks like he could become a game-changing defender at either 2B or CF who also hits for power, and SP Joba May (#2 overall Season 28), who is the future ace of the staff.
D.C. will see a good improvement this year (maybe 65 wins) just based on the young arms. They’ll really get interesting when we see Guerrero and May with the big club in a season or 2 - they’ll have a very young, cheap talented roster and cap room to make a big splash in free agency.
Pittsburgh Pirates (jthornton75 - 5th season)
Season 29: 77-85, 3rd in East
Offense: 636 runs (9th)
Defense: 688 runs allowed (9th)
The Buccos orchestrated a major CF upgrade with he signing of Bryan Mordecai. The 11-year vet has exceptional range in CF (although he’ll boot the occasional routine play) and adds 20-25 HR’s to a lineup that could certainly use more power (185 HR’s last season). The attack still suffers from a dearth of baserunners (.306 OBP Season 29), but could jump to 650-660 runs this year.
Len Reith (10-13, 3.28), Adam Strange (9-7, 3.16) and Brett Hamilton (10-3, 3.16) give Pitt a potent front three on the rotation, while quality relievers Nick Terrell (12 saves, 2.55), Santiago Sardinha (6-1, 2.74) and Eugene Bell (14 saves, 3.76) hold down the late innings. A little improvement from the 4th and 5th starters (a distinct possibility - both Kingsale and Sogard were well above their career ERA norms last season) would go a long way toward putting this staff in the top half of the NL.
The Pirates vastly improved their farm system last year. They added pitchers Banjo LaRocca (#19) and Buster Minor (#13) in the draft, and infielders Rodrigo Alberro and Cesar Andino in int’l free agency. All will be ML contributors, but not before Season 32.
I like Pitt’s chances to hit .500 - that probably won’t overhaul the Phillies or Mets, but they’re closing.
Philadelphia Phillies (dillontt - 13th season)
Season 29: 89-73 (2nd in East)
Offense: 790 runs (2nd)
Defense: 709 runs allowed (11th)
The Phils missed the playoffs for the first time since Season 21 last year (although by just a game. They sported their usual potent offense (#2 in the NL), but the pitching fell off a little (not dramatically - they allowed just 5 more runs in a year when scoring was down - but enough to drop by 3 wins).
They didn’t take it sitting down. They scored one of the offseason’s biggest trades, getting former ROY and 2-time All-Star SP Rich George (14-10, 4.14) from Cleveland for C Dennis Drese (.282/30/78) and prospects Sam Baker and Will Stein. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phils’ entire starting rotation (George, Freddy Hughes, Al Jeanmar, Saul Romano and Francisco Morales) all posted ERA’s in the 3’s this season.
They improved the staff further by signing RP Rick Dalesandro, a career 3.66 setup man who tossed 102 innings for the Angels and Giants in Season 29 (5 wins, 4 saves, 3.34). And they put a bow on top of all of it by re-signing closer Brandon Ross to a team-friendly 2-year deal ($5.6MM per).
Offensively, the weapon of choice for this team is the longball - 251 last year (2nd in NL). 1B Luis Baez leads the charge (58 taters last season), with compliments from another 8 players last year in double figures. They may miss catcher Drese in this department, although Season 24’s #1 pick (Dan Blair - #20 overall) looks ready to step into, if not completely fill, his shoes.
On the farm, the Phils have a few prospects, but the only significant help coming anytime soon will be the aforementioned C Blair.
I think Philadelphia will win 95-97 this year, and will certainly challenge the Mets.
New York Mets (blanch13 - 9th season)
Season 29: 95-67, 1st in NL East, lost in the playoffs in Round 1
Offense: 781 runs (4th)
Defense: 645 runs allowed (4th)
Coming off a World Series win in Season 28, the Mets had high hopes for Season 29. It wasn’t exactly a bad season, but a first-round playoff exit sparked a wholesale housecleaning.
It started when management let RF Karim Saenz, OF David Newson, backup SS Pedro Lopez, MR Javy Gomez, and 2B Glenallen Richard all walk in free agency.
It gathered steam with the trade of productive (and expensive) frontliners Alex Walden (.285/35/89) and Danny Thompson (13-12, 4.19 in 236 IP) to the White Sox for 1B Lawrence Urich (.302/29/73).
It really got rolling with the trade of 1B Tony Ramirez (.248/47/107) and RP Keith Owen (19 saves, 3.70) to the Giants for 3B Hack Hampton (Season 26 #11), 2B Harry Tapies (.209/16//64) and RP Lenny Kroeger (12 saves, 3.78).
Somewhere in between, the Mets got lucky and had free agent ace Deleanor Johnstone fall into their laps for $8.55MM a year as a free agent.
It will take full shape with the Opening Day or early-season promotions of 3B Hampton, super-utilityman Terry Spencer, and DH-impersonating-a-RF Neill Hill.
All-in-all, they have significantly less power, but are more left-handed, better at reaching base and a grade higher defensively. Are they a better regular-season team? I don’t know. But with a 3-man rotation of Johnstone, Sammy Quinones and Rico Marrero, they are a better playoff team.