[2020 Season Preview] The NL East Competition

Yesterday, I previewed the Yankees’ intra-division opponents for this coming season. As noted there, those games will make up two-thirds of the 2020 schedule. The remainder of the 60-game slate will take place against the ballclubs previewed today from the NL East. Let’s dive in.

Washington Nationals

I hereby declare Juan Soto “Future Yankee Juan Soto”.

Last year’s World Series champions lost arguably its best player, Anthony Rendon, over the winter. Still, Washington has a very talented club led by an elite starting rotation and young positional talent like Future Yankee Juan Soto and Trea Turner. The NL East is pretty deep, so it’s not going to be easy for the Nationals to make the postseason, let alone repeat as champions. I don’t think it’d shock anyone if they came out on top of their division, though.

Health

Center fielder Victor Robles and pitchers Roenis Elias and Wander Suero have undisclosed injuries, though it sounds like Robles will be ready to play at the start of the season. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opted out. Washington has no other injuries at the moment.

Biggest Strength

It doesn’t get much better than Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin atop of the rotation. Similar to their World Series run last October, the Nats will go as far as that trio takes them. The Yankees will have the treat of facing that trio this weekend, by the way.

Biggest Question

Is Carter Kiemboom ready to fill the Rendon’s void? Hard to imagine that he’ll approximate anything close to Rendon’s production, especially in his rookie season. Nonetheless, perhaps a breakout from Victor Robles in center field can help alleviate the loss of Rendon.

When we’ll see them

Right away. The Yankees and Nationals open the season in Washington, DC on Thursday. It’s a three game series and the only time the two sides will face each other in 2020.

Atlanta Braves

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The Nats may have won the World Series last year, but I have to admit that I forgot that they were the runner-up to the Braves in the NL East in 2019. It probably doesn’t help that Atlanta had such an ugly finish to its season. Not only did they blow a 2-1 series lead in the Division Series to the Cardinals, but they did so in ugly fashion. The Braves had the lead late in Game 4 only to lose in extras and got humiliated in Game 5. In turn, Atlanta didn’t do much in the offseason to get better. Yes, they added Marcell Ozuna, but they also lost Josh Donaldson in free agency. A division title is certainly in reach again, but the Braves did nothing to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Health

Peter O’Brien (undisclosed), Pete Kozma (COVID-19), and Will Smith (COVID-19) are currently unavailable. Freddie Freeman and Touki Toussaint were recently cleared to return after battling the virus. Nick Markakis and Félix Hernández opted out. On the injury front, Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis) Jeremy Walker (shoulder impingement) are also shelved for the time being.

Biggest Strength

Even with the newly added Smith and Hamels not around (yet), the Braves have a good group on the mound. It’s more of a deep pitching staff versus a top heavy one. Not only do they already have a solid rotation even without Hamels around, but they also have top prospect Ian Anderson in waiting. The bullpen is solid too: once Smith returns, he’ll join Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Luke Jackson, and Chris Martin in relief.

Biggest Question

Freddie Freeman’s well-being following his recovery from COVID-19 has to be a big concern. Atlanta has a really good lineup on paper with him alongside Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Ozuna, but I can’t help but wonder about Freeman over the stretch run. Not having him and his career 137 wRC+ at full strength in the lineup would be a huge blow. We don’t know yet how (or if) he’ll experience long-term affects from the virus, but it’s certainly something that will remain a lingering question until he proves otherwise. Most importantly, it’s a relief that he’s healthy after feeling so sick that he prayed for his life.

When we’ll see them

The Yankees will host the Braves on August 11th and 12th. They’ll also head down to Atlanta for another two-game series a couple of weeks later on the 25th and 26th.

New York Mets

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The Mets had the National League’s second-best winning percentage after the All-Star break last season, seemingly positioning themselves for a postseason run in 2020. But the offseason into traditional spring training wasn’t exactly smooth for the Yankees’ crosstown rivals.

After firing Mickey Callaway and hiring Carlos Beltrán, the club had to part ways with Beltrán in the fallout of the Astros’ cheating scandal. Luis Rojas is now at the helm. Things didn’t end there, by the way. Team sale rumors have hovered since the winter. Speaking of the winter, the Mets didn’t necessarily make any needle-moving additions to the roster while also losing Zack Wheeler (free agency) and Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery). Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha will fill in the rotation. The one move with a potential big pay-off is Dellin Betances (sigh). The lack of reinforcements following a strong finish to last year will make it tough for them to eclipse the Nationals, Braves, and potentially the Phillies.

Health

Two relievers — Brad Brach and Jared Hughes — haven’t reported yet for undisclosed reasons. We already know that Syndergaard is done for the season, as mentioned earlier. Lastly, Jed Lowrie has played with a massive knee brace during Summer Camp, though how effective and healthy he actually is remains a big question.

Biggest Strength

The Mets shouldn’t have much trouble scoring runs this season. Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil make for a formidable trio among many other talented hitters in the lineup. The universal designated hiter will really help them out considering how many DH-types the Mets have. JD Davis, Dom Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes could all see some time there and lengthen the club’s lineup.

Biggest Question

Even without Thor or Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman make for an excellent one-two punch at the top of the rotation. But after that, the rest of the rotation and bullpen is questionable. Steven Matz, Porcello, and Wacha isn’t a great way to round out the rotation, and the options in the minors thereafter aren’t too exciting. Now, there’s plenty of upside on the relief side of things, especially if Betances regains his velocity and Edwin Díaz reverts to his Seattle form. Those two things are far from certain though. Overall, there’s a lot of volatility on the pitching side of things.

When we’ll see them

There’ll be two subway series toward the end of August. One from the 21st through 23rd at Citi Field and another at home from the 28th through the 30th.

Philadelphia Phillies

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There are a couple of familiar faces in the City of Brotherly Love this year. New manager Joe Girardi and Didi Gregorius are a couple of the Phillies’ big additions over the winter (along with Wheeler, as mentioned in the Mets’ section). These moves, followed by the addition of Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto a year ago, represent a recent trend for Philadelphia unlike their divisional competitors. The club has actually tried to improve externally and push itself back into postseason play. They finished .500 last season, but could make a push for the division crown in 2020.

Health

Relievers Ranger Suarez and Austin Davis are away from the team for undisclosed reasons. Two other bullpen arms, Seranthony Dominguez (elbow discomfort) is on the 45-day injured list and ex-Yankee David Robertson (Tommy John surgery) won’t pitch this season.

Biggest Strength

This is one of the deeper lineups in the league. In addition to the aforementioned Harper, Realmuto, and Didi, the Phils also have Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins, Jay Bruce, and Jean Segura as regulars. At some point soon, top prospect Alec Bohm could be penciled in at the hot corner as well.

Biggest Question

There’s a lot of name value in the Phillies’ rotation: Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Jake Arrieta. But Nola had a bit of a down season last year while Arrieta hasn’t been same since he left the Cubs after 2017. Even with some lingering concerns about Nola and Arrieta, the bigger worry has to be Philly’s bullpen. Right now, Hector Neris (the closer) is the team’s best reliever, which doesn’t say much. The team’s highest-upside reliever, Dominguez, may not pitch this season. Unfortunately for Girardi, there’s not too much to work with in relief, and it could be the team’s downfall in 2020.

When we’ll see them

The Yanks and Phils will play back-to-back home-and-home series next week. Two games in Philly starting Monday and another two at Yankee Stadium on the 29th and 30th.

Miami Marlins

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Health

Outfielders Lewis Brinson and Matt Joyce aren’t around for undisclosed reasons, though Brinson reportedly has worked out at Miami’s alternate training site over the past few days.

Biggest Strength

Nope, not gonna try here. If we were talking the farm system and not the big league squad, it’d be a different story. There’s actually some promise there. Which leads to the next section…

Biggest Question

When will the organization’s top prospects get a chance? There’s a ton of upside in the system, from starter Sixto Sánchez to shortstop Jazz Chisholm to outfielders JJ Bleday and Jesús Sánchez, though not everyone is quite major league ready. Bleday was just drafted last year, so we can probably count him out. But both Sixto and Jesús Sánchez could see some time in the majors this year. Chisholm isn’t too far away either. Until any of these players see time with the Marlins, there won’t be too much to watch this team for.

When we’ll see them

Just once: the final series of the regular season. The Marlins come to the Bronx for a three-game set beginning September 25th. Assuming the Marlins are absolutely toast by then, the Yankees should close the year on a high note.


This is a pretty tough interleague assignment for the Yankees. It would have been nice to see Miami earlier in the year, but those are the breaks. Any of the four non-Marlins clubs could make the playoffs this season which speaks to the depth of this group. There’s no question that the Yankees are better than all of these teams, but these will be difficult matchups nonetheless.

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1 Comment

  1. Coronaveddardus

    There’s no question about it the NL East is the very best division in baseball, Derek. And lucky us, we get to play them. The Nats are the biggest competition we have for the WS. Braves are a good young club. Mets have a lot of ex Yankees that will come back and haunt us. Joe will have the Phillies in the World Series in less than 3 years. Miami Marlins will compete with the O’s for #1 draft pick so we’ll probably lose 2/3 to them.

    If not for the great Mike Ford, who should be on the opening day roster, we would have lost last night. And once again our only offense was 2 solo dingers. We couldn’t get a hit with RISP to save our lives. Boone hasn’t made a single adjustment even with all that extra time to plan. Wouldn’t mind flying him to Portland and having the secret police pick him up and take him to God knows where. Torre won a WS in his first year, Girardi in his second. Boone is now in his third. If he doesn’t win it this year he has to be gone but I fear the virus will be used as an excuse, and that’s a pretty lame excuse. Dr. Fauci would be a good hire when he starts looking for a new job soon.

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