Chad Stewart and Jim Turvey continue their trek across the majors; this time they evaluate USA Today’s predictions for the NL East, and they each decide between the over and under for every team.

 

Nationals (90 wins)

Chad Stewart: I’ll go with the over here. The Nationals won the second-most games in the NL last year and while they did lose Wilson Ramos and Mark Melancon, I think they will be just as good, if not better, this year. They gave up a ton to get him, but I really liked the Adam Eaton acquisition. He’s one of the most-underrated players in baseball, and he does just about everything well. His left-handed bat will fit nicely at the top of the order and lengthens the lineup a ton, as he’ll do a good job setting the table for Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and Daniel Murphy.

I find it difficult to imagine a world in which Harper doesn’t come back with a better season than last. I mean, the guy hit five home runs after the All-Star Break. Five! I don’t see anything like that happening again and wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself in the MVP conversation again.

Additionally, Turner looks like a legitimate superstar, and Murphy probably won’t be as good as he was last year, but he will still be one of the sport’s best hitters. Also, Anthony Rendon is quietly really good at baseball. Of course, I have completely ignored the first base situation, which is… not looking good. But still, this lineup is insanely deep, and Washington should score a lot of runs this year.

Their starting staff figures to be among the league’s best again with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg leading the way along Tanner Roark and Joe Ross fitting in just behind them and Gio Gonzalez filling in capably at the number five spot. However, there isn’t much depth beyond those five, so an injury to one of their top arms could prove to be devastating. A lot has been made about their lack of a closer this offseason, but I think the group will be just fine, and the Joe Blanton deal could end up as the bargain of the offseason just as it was for the Dodgers a year ago.

The Nationals are basically the same team as last year with the exception of replacing Melancon and Ramos with Blanton and Wieters and adding Eaton, and they are still the favorites in the NL East.

Jim Turvey: I’m really not sure with this Nationals team. For most of the other “I’m not sure” teams, they have typically been in the bottom tier of their respective divisions, making the Nationals the highest importance “I’m not sure” team in my book. My gut instinct would to be to join you on the “Harper will bounce back” train, but listening to Ben talk to Jeff (before his time as host) and Russell Carlton a few months back about all the advanced stats that made 2015 look like more of the fluke than 2016, and I’m a bit worried. Maybe that’s an overreaction to a 24-year-old who has flashed Ted Williams potential already in his career, but I’m a little worried there. I’m certainly with you on Adam Eaton, but a little more hesitant on Trea Turner. The expectations are so high for Turner, that anything less than an All-Star level season will be considered a bust, a monumental ask for a player with as little MLB experience as Turner has had. The hole at 1B that you noted is also troubling, and I have to imagine Jayson Werth is going to turn to dust sooner than later.

I don’t feel a whole lot better about the rotation. Scherzer’s name is already popping up in the injury news and the only thing worse than that is that Strasburg’s elbow was reportedly so jealous that it plans on getting a few headlines of its own by June with a nice little 15-day DL stint of its own. Tanner Roark just isn’t the third starter on an elite team in my book and trusting Gio Gonzalez is a trap many a man has fallen prey to. The closer’s role is unsettled, a recipe for controversy all year long. It’s easy to forget that this team only won “only” 83 games in 2015 before jumping by 12 wins in 2016. I’m taking the under here, although this could easily be my biggest regret by the end of the season

Mets (89 wins)

CS: I think the Mets are my “I’m not sure” team, but I’ll take the under here. Of course, their pitching staff looks fantastic on paper, but there are so many questions regarding the health of their starters that I’m a little hesitant to crown their staff as the best in the majors even though it clearly has the potential to be. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are a couple of my favorite pitchers to watch when healthy, but they both dealt with various nagging injuries last year, and deGrom was even forced to go under the knife to fix an elbow issue.

I have no idea what to think about Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz has been unable to stay on the field consistently in his short career.

Lastly, Zack Wheeler hasn’t pitched in a regular season game since 2014. But despite all of these injury issues in their rotation, it’s ERA still ranked third in the NL last year with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman filling in nicely. Can they make it through another season like that, though? My gut instinct tells me no, and the Mets desperately need their starters to stay healthy.

If the pitching staff didn’t give this team enough to worry about, there’s the offense. Yoenis Cespedes, I’m sure, will be great again, but other than him and Neil Walker, there’s not a whole lot to like here. Curtis Granderson isn’t getting any younger, Asdrubal Cabrera will probably regress from a career year in 2016, Travis d’Arnaud and Jay Bruce just aren’t very good, and David Wright is still hurt. If you’re looking for upside, you can look for a bounceback year from Lucas Duda and a breakout year from Michael Conforto. But the Mets have so many corner outfielders that I have a feeling they’ll struggle to find the regular playing time for Conforto that he needs.

I’d love to believe that the Mets rotation will stay healthy for the entirety of 2017 and if I could guarantee they would, I’d definitely take the over. But I cannot and thus, I expect the Mets to be in a similar place as last year, fighting for a Wild Card spot, unless everything breaks in their favor

JT: I agree entirely with your final paragraph on the Mets, and that’s why this is an easy under for me. As much credit as Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen deserves for bringing along some of the best pitchers in baseball, the hard slider method he teaches simply has too much risk for me. As you noted, Syndergaard is probably one of the three most fun players to watch in baseball when he’s healthy, I just can never assume full health from him. The same thing – to a lesser extent – is true of Mets pitcher down the line. Matt Harvey? The Dark Night and playoff hero when he’s healthy, but far more pedestrian when he’s pitching dinged up. Zack Wheeler? One of the most fun up-and-comers for a year or two, now it looks as though he may never pitch again, at least at the same level, in the major leagues.

On the offensive side of things, it’s almost as if the Mets front office are secretly running their own version of Saw where the torture device is making Terry Collins have to choose between five evenly-matched outfielders every night for his lineup. Bear in mind these are not great outfielders (only Yoenis-Cespedes-as-a-Met qualifies as a great outfielder) they are just all flawed to the same degree. Many folks would love to see the youngest and highest-ceiling-lowest-floor of the bunch, Michael Conforto, get the majority of starts, but it seems like the Mets are doing the exact opposite. The corpse of Jay Bruce is set to start in right field, which will be nice since he’ll have some “corpse company” in the form of Curtis Granderson’s corpse which will be manning center field. Seriously, the only good news for Conforto is one has to imagine there will be some injuries that open up playing time in the Mesozoic Era outfield the Mets are rolling out there. In the infield, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera both seem likely regression candidates and the end of David Wright’s career has gotten so depressing that Kenneth Lonergan is looking to pick up the movie rights.

I’m making the Mets under my lock for the division, and I could even see them finishing below .500.

Marlins (75 wins)

CS: I think that 75 wins seems just a tad low for the Marlins, so I’ll take the over. Miami has some legitimate talent on the position player side of things with Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon, which is what makes the team’s inability to get near the postseason so frustrating. The talent is clearly there, but the supporting cast hasn’t been. They’ve got to put it all together at some point, but I’m not convinced that this is the year.

I do like what they did this winter by adding Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to a bullpen that already had a good amount of talent. Add those two to the great A.J. Ramos and Kyle Barraclough, and Miami’s bullpen will likely be a strength this year and maybe even enough to mask their uninspiring rotation, which, if their reported interest in signing Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman is any indication, appears to have been their goal.

That rotation is led by Wei-Yin Chen, who was awful last year, but I don’t think he’ll be as bad this year. FanGraphs currently projects him to finish with a 3.82 ERA, which seems about right. The rest of their rotation is filled with a bunch of mediocre pitchers like Edinson Volquez and Dan Strailey who don’t carry much upside at all.

Adeiny Hechavarria is a joy to watch play defense, and the Marlins are pretty good defensively across the diamond, which should further boost their pitching staff. Overall, I think the Marlins are a very average team and finish with just above 75 wins.

JT: I don’t think I’ve taken the under for a Marlins team since the Bush administration. Year after year they pull me in with some sexy young talent, and next thing I know I’m predicting them to win the World Series from the wild card spot again. That being said, they’ve only topped that relatively low bar of 75 wins in two of the previous six seasons and rather quietly haven’t made the playoffs in 13 years now. (Doesn’t that make you feel a bit old?)

Of course, this being the Marlins, I agree with almost everything you said. That outfield trio seems tantalizingly close to the modern version of the Heavenly Twins. (The Heavenly Triplets?) Dee Gordon had the greatest moment of the past decade with his tribute to Jose Fernandez, and this season will be an emotional one without their fiery young leader.

The bullpen is the one spot I truly do believe in, but the rotation they’re backing could go up in flames. The team is simply relying on too many guys (Chen, Volquez, Strailey) who have absolutely flammable worst case scenarios in 2017. If one or two of those guys go up in flames, this season could go south in a hurry.

Ultimately, this will be a team I watch a lot the first couple weeks of the season (Stanton! Ichiro! Justin Bour!), but quickly realize just isn’t that good again. I see them finishing in the cellar of the NL East with somewhere around 70 wins.

Phillies (74 wins)

CS: Ryan Howard is finally a free agent, which means the final remnant of those great Phillies teams is now gone, and the team can move on with their plans for the future. That future seems very bright, but Philadelphia is still a couple of years away. They added a couple of veterans this winter in the form of Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Clay Buchholz, and I think all three were smart acquisitions, as they are all on expiring contracts and looking to reestablish some of their value. And if they do perform well, the Phillies can get some talent in return at the Trade Deadline. I also loved the extension they gave Odubel Herrera, as it looks like he, along with J.P. Crawford and others, will be leading the club’s core of position players for years to come.

The thing that intrigues me most about this team is their pitching staff. Aaron Nola appears to be a legit front-end arm; he posted a 3.08 FIP and was worth 2.8 WAR in 111 innings last year. Jerad Eickhoff has been similarly great in his 248 1/3 innings over the last two years, posting a 3.44 ERA. And Vince Velasquez might have the most potential of all of them. He hasn’t quite put it all together just yet, but I can’t get that 16-strikeout shutout he threw last year out of my mind.

According to Baseball America, the Phillies have the sixth-best farm system in the league, so once some of those players begin graduating to the majors, Philadelphia might just have another powerhouse on their hands. But until then, they’ll find themselves in the loss column more often than not while they’re youngsters get adjusted to the Show, which is why I’m taking the under.

JT: I couldn’t agree more, Chad. This team really excited me – especially in the long run – but I do think they are two (maybe just one?) more seasons away.

Their pitching staff will be incredibly fun to watch this year. It will be very intriguing to see which half of 2016 Aaron Nola is the real one. I’m saying full first half, not even the “somewhere in the middle cop out.” I see a Cy Young Award somewhere in his future. Jerad Eickhof is probably going to finish the season as the most valuable starter, as he is just Mr. Consistency, a tough title for a 26-year-old to already have grabbed. Vincent Velasquez has the highest ceiling of any of these guys, and it would not at all be surprising if he somehow topped his 16-strikeout gem from 2016 with an 18-K game against the Padres or somebody in 2017. Health will obviously be the biggest key for Vinny. Jeremy Hellickson is the perfect vet to compliment all this high-ceiling young talent in the rest of the rotation. Clay Bucholz is somehow being given another chance to pitch… Just bring Zach Eflin back up or something.

On the offensive side of things it’s a little murkier. Maikel Franco could break out in 2017, or he could do what he did in 2016 and be a slight disappointment. I love Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera but I’d like to see another season of plate discipline out of each before we know that 2016 wasn’t just a fluke. Freddy Galvis and his 20 home runs was almost certainly a fluke. Speaking of power, we know Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp have it, but do they have anything else? (I secretly really like Michael Saunders but I don’t want to jinx it, so let’s pretend this sentence didn’t happen.)

I think there’s a really good chance that the Phillies win a division title in one of the three years remaining in this decade, but 2017 doesn’t seem likely. I’ll take the under.

Braves (70 wins)

CS: I think the Braves might be halfway decent this year, so I’ll take the over here. They won 68 games last year, and I think they’ve done enough to improve by at least three wins this year. They loaded up their rotation with veterans and while I am a little confused as to why exactly they did that, the rotation itself should be fine. Teheran is a legit top-of-the-rotation arm, and Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia will… throw a lot of innings?

The offense should also be better than last year with a full season of Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson, and the addition of Brandon Phillips will help, too. The Braves scored the fewest runs in the NL in the first half last year, but they scored the fifth most in the second half. And while I wouldn’t expect their offense to be as good this year as it was after the All-Star break last year, it certainly won’t be the worst and will more than likely be somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Like the Phillies, this team is still a couple of years away from contending, but they’ll be trotting out an improved team this year, and they have a ton of highly-rated pitchers sitting in their farm system; some of whom will likely be called up this season. Another MVP-caliber year from Freddie Freeman, and the Braves should have no problem winning more than 70 games in 2017, though they probably won’t win all that many more.

JT: I agree, Chad. The Braves are actually my current deep sleeper pick to make a playoff push. They really showed signs in the second half, as their offense went from moribund (wRC+ of 72, 30th in MLB) to actually quite productive (wRC+ of 104, fourth in MLB). I don’t think that was just a fluke either, as Matt Kemp was very productive with the club (OPS+ 126 in ATL) and Freddie Freeman finally showed the ceiling we’ve always hoped to see from him.

With the aforementioned additions of Colon, Dickey, and Garcia the rotation should at least be serviceable, and this team looks like an 80-win team at least, with the ceiling for a few more Ws here and there. I too am a big believer in Teheran, and I even kind of think Jim Johnson will be perfect for the end of games.

This team is a unique blend of grizzled veterans and extreme young talent. Dansby Swanson is already here to stay, and with arguably the best farm system in baseball even after Swanson’s arrival, the influx of talent should only continue throughout the season.

This team will be challenged by the rest of an interesting NL East, but I actually think they are capable of blowing the doors of that 70-game over/under. The future is bright in Hotlanta.

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