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National League East Preview Capsules

March 31, 2022 GMT
Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna clowns around with the outfielders while taking batting practice at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna clowns around with the outfielders while taking batting practice at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna clowns around with the outfielders while taking batting practice at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna clowns around with the outfielders while taking batting practice at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
1 of 4
Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna clowns around with the outfielders while taking batting practice at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Capsules of National League East teams, listed in order of finish last year:

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ATLANTA BRAVES

2021: 88-73, first place, won World Series.

Manager: Brian Snitker (seventh season).

Opening Day: April 7 vs. Cincinnati.

He’s Here: 1B Matt Olson, RHP Kenley Jansen, RHP Collin HcHugh, C Manny Pina, OF Alex Dickerson, RHP Tyler Thornburg, RHP Kirby Yates.

He’s Outta Here: 1B Freddie Freeman, OF Jorge Soler, OF Joc Pederson, C Stephen Vogt, OF Ender Inciarte, INF Johan Camargo, INF Pablo Sandoval, OF Cristian Pache, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Bryse Wilson, RHP Josh Tomlin, RHP Richard Rodriguez.

Top Hitters: 3B Austin Riley (.303, 33 HRs, 107 RBIs, .898 OPS), RF Ronald Acuña Jr. (.283, 24, 52, 17 SBs in 82 games), 2B Ozzie Albies (.259, 30, 106, 40 doubles, 20 SBs), 1B Matt Olson (.271, 39, 111, .911 OPS with Oakland), CF Adam Duvall (.228, 38, 113 with Miami and Atlanta).

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Projected Rotation: RH Charlie Morton (14-6, 3.34 ERA, 216 Ks in 185 2/3 IP), LH Max Fried (14-7, 3.04, 158 Ks in 165 2/3 IP), RH Ian Anderson (9-5, 3.58, 124 Ks in 128 1/3 IP), RH Kyle Wright (0-1, 9.95 in 2 games; 1.59 ERA, 5 2/3 IP in World Series), RH Huascar Ynoa (4-6, 4.05, 91 IP).

Key Relievers: RH Kenley Jansen (4-4, 2.22 ERA, 38 saves, 69 IP, 36 hits allowed with Dodgers), LH Will Smith (3-7, 3.44, 37 saves, 87 Ks, 67 IP), LH Tyler Matzek (0-4, 2.57).

Outlook: After winning 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, the Braves are on another roll with four straight NL East championships. Last year’s win was capped by the team’s first World Series crown since 1995. Atlanta lost Mike Soroka and Acuña to injuries and Marcell Ozuna to an injury and legal problems last year. This year, the major challenge is overcoming the departure of Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP and popular team leader who signed with the Dodgers. Olson, from the Atlanta area, agreed to a $168 million, eight-year contract one day after he was traded to the Braves, signaling the end of Freeman’s tenure in Atlanta. Acuña could be back in right field by May. Questions about the back of the rotation could stretch a deep bullpen in the first month, especially when the Braves play 14 consecutive days to open the season before their first off day. The team likely will use six starters during that stretch, creating possible chances for Kyle Muller or Tucker Davidson to make an impression.

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PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2021: 82-80, second place.

Manager: Joe Girardi (third season).

Opening Day: April 8 vs. Oakland.

He’s Here: OF Nick Castellanos, LF/DH Kyle Schwarber, RHP Corey Knebel, LHP Brad Hand, RHP Jeurys Familia.

He’s Outta Here: LF Andrew McCutchen, RHP Hector Neris, RHP Archie Bradley, INF Brad Miller, INF Freddy Galvis, OF Roman Quinn, OF Adam Haseley, C Andrew Knapp, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Chase Anderson.

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Top Hitters: RF Bryce Harper (.309, 35 HRs, 84 RBIs, 1.044 OPS, NL MVP), LF Nick Castellanos (.309, 34, 100, .938 OPS for Reds), C J.T. Realmuto (.263, 17, 73), DH/LF Kyle Schwarber (.266, 32, 71 for Nationals and Red Sox), 1B Rhys Hoskins (.247, 27, 71).

Projected Rotation: RH Zack Wheeler (14-10, 2.78 ERA, 247 Ks), RH Aaron Nola (9-9, 4.63, 223 Ks), RH Kyle Gibson (10-9, 3.71 for Rangers and Phillies), RH Zach Eflin (4-7, 4.17), LH Ranger Suarez (8-5, 1.36 in 39 games, 12 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Corey Knebel (4-0, 2.45 ERA, 3 saves for Dodgers), LH Brad Hand (6-7, 2.90, 21/29 saves for Nationals, Blue Jays and Mets), RH Jeurys Familia (9-4, 3.94, 1 save for Mets), LH Jose Alvarado (7-1, 4.20), RH Connor Brogdon (5-4, 3.43).

Outlook: After their first winning season since 2011, the Phillies are aiming to return to the postseason and snap an NL-worst 10-year drought. The addition of sluggers Castellanos and Schwarber strengthens an offense that already features reigning NL MVP Harper. The Phillies were 13th in runs (4.5), 18th in batting average (.240) and 15th in homers (198) last year. The rotation led by Wheeler is solid and capable one through five. If Nola can return to his All-Star form, the Phillies would have a formidable 1-2 punch. Knebel gives the team a proven closer, while Hand and Familia provide depth in a bullpen that’s been a major problem the past few seasons. Offense should be a strength but defense could be a trouble spot as several regulars are more suited to DH. If the pitching improves and the defense doesn’t fall apart, the Phillies can slug their way back to October baseball.

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NEW YORK METS

2021: 77-85, third place.

Manager: Buck Showalter (first season).

Opening Day: April 7 at Washington.

He’s Here: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Chris Bassitt, OF Starling Marte, OF Mark Canha, 3B Eduardo Escobar, RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP Chasen Shreve, LHP Alex Claudio, OF Travis Jankowski, OF Nick Plummer, GM Billy Eppler.

He’s Outta Here: Manager Luis Rojas, RF Michael Conforto, RHP Marcus Stroman, 2B Javier Báez, RHP Noah Syndergaard, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP Jeurys Familia, LHP Rich Hill, INF Jonathan Villar, OF Kevin Pillar, LHP Brad Hand, RHP Heath Hembree, INF José Peraza, RHP Robert Gsellman, CF Albert Almora, RHP Corey Oswalt, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, OF/1B José Martínez, acting GM Zack Scott.

Top Hitters: 1B Pete Alonso (.262, 37 HRs, 94 RBIs, .863 OPS), RF Starling Marte (.310, 12, 55, .841 OPS, MLB-best 47 SBs in 120 games with Miami and Oakland), SS Francisco Lindor (.230, 20, 63, .734 OPS), 3B Eduardo Escobar (.253, 28, 90, .786 OPS with Arizona and Milwaukee), CF Brandon Nimmo (.292, 8, 28, .838 OPS in 92 games).

Projected Rotation: RH Jacob deGrom (7-2, 1.08 ERA, 146 Ks, 11 BBs, 6 HRs allowed, 92 IP in 15 starts), RH Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46, 236 Ks, 36 BBs, 179 1/3 IP in 30 starts with Nationals and Dodgers), RH Chris Bassitt (12-4, 3.15, 157 1/3 IP in 27 starts for Oakland), RH Taijuan Walker (7-11, 4.47, 26 HRs, 159 IP), RH Carlos Carrasco (1-5, 6.04, 12 HRs, 53 2/3 IP).

Key Relievers: RH Edwin Díaz (5-6, 3.45 ERA, 32/38 saves, 89 Ks, 23 BBs, 3 HRs in 62 2/3 IP), RH Trevor May (7-3, 3.59, 4 saves, 83 Ks, 24 BBs, 10 HRs in 62 2/3 IP), RH Miguel Castro (3-4, 3.45 in 69 games), RH Seth Lugo (4-3, 3.50, 1 save in 46 games).

Outlook: Expectations are high once again following the team’s latest offseason overhaul — on the field and off. Second-year owner Steve Cohen committed nearly $260 million to five free agents during a winter spending spree that positioned the Mets to have baseball’s second-largest payroll (more than $250 million) behind the Dodgers. The highlight was pairing Scherzer with deGrom to form a sensational 1-2 pitching punch that boasts five Cy Young Awards between them. Bassitt, an All-Star with Oakland last year who made a remarkable recovery from a frightening line drive to the face, slots in nicely at No. 3. So if they can stay healthy — Scherzer is 37 and the 33-year-old deGrom didn’t pitch after July 7 last season due to a sprained elbow — the top of the rotation looks transformative. New York signed Marte, Escobar and Canha to boost a lineup that languished in 2021. Star shortstop Francisco Lindor hopes to bounce back from his miserable Mets debut, which came after he got a $341 million contract. Robinson Canó returns at age 39 after sitting out last season while serving his second PED suspension. He could fit at DH. Perhaps the 65-year-old Showalter, a proven winner in four previous big league bench stops including across town with the Yankees, can instill the sort of stability, consistency and professionalism the Mets have lacked. Cohen is counting on it after New York spent 103 days in first place last season — the most ever for a club that finished with a losing record. Is this the year the talent finally clicks, or will age expose a bloated roster on a team prone to critical injuries for years?

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MIAMI MARLINS

2021: 67-95, fourth place.

Manager: Don Mattingly (seventh season).

Opening Day: April 8 at San Francisco.

He’s Here: INF Joey Wendle, OF Jorge Soler, OF Avisaíl García, RHP Louis Head, OF Delino DeShields.

He’s Outta Here: CEO Derek Jeter, OF Lewis Brinson, C Sandy Leon, INF Eddy Alvarez, OF Magneuris Sierra.

Top Hitters: LF Jorge Soler (.223, 27 HRs, 70 RBIs, .749 OPS with Royals and Braves), RF Avisaíl García (.262, 29, 86, .820 OPS with Milwaukee), 1B/DH Jesús Aguilar (.261, 22, 93, .788 OPS), DH/1B Garrett Cooper (.284, 9, 33, .845 OPS in 71 games), 2B Jazz Chisholm Jr. (.248, 18, 53, 23 SBs).

Projected Rotation: RH Sandy Alcantara (9-15, 3.19 ERA, 201 Ks), RH Pablo Lopez (5-5, 3.07), LH Trevor Rogers (7-8, 2.64), RH Elieser Hernández (1-3, 4.18), LH Jesús Luzardo (6-9, 6.61).

Key Relievers: RH Dylan Floro (6-6, 2.81 ERA, 15/21 saves), RH Anthony Bender (3-2, 2.79), RH Louis Head (2-0, 2.31 with Rays).

Outlook: The Marlins ranked next-to-last in the majors in runs (way too few, 623) and strikeouts (way too many, 1,553) last season, and they know offense was by far their biggest problem. Wendle, García and Soler should help, but the Marlins also know they need improvement from holdovers like Chisholm — who says he studied every at-bat from last season and simply wasted too many of them. Starting pitching shouldn’t be an issue if everyone stays healthy; Alcantara’s record is highly deceiving and Lopez looks as though he added a few pounds of muscle in the offseason. Center field has been a big concern all spring, especially since the Marlins play in a home park that is enormous and a gap-hitters’ paradise. The idea in Miami is to build something sustainable for the long-term, not be a one-year wonder. Jeter’s departure earlier this year wasn’t a complete surprise, and his few words on the topic made clear that he wanted Miami to be a bigger spender and evidently wasn’t getting his way. It’s now up to people he brought in, most notably highly respected GM Kim Ng, to finish the rebuild.

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WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2021: 65-97, fifth place.

Manager: Dave Martinez (fifth season).

Opening Day: April 7 vs. Mets.

He’s Here: DH Nelson Cruz, RHP Steve Cishek, INF César Hernández, INF Maikel Franco, INF/OF Ehire Adrianza, INF-OF Dee Strange-Gordon, LHP Sean Doolittle, RHP Aníbal Sánchez, RHP Hunter Harvey, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., RHP Tyler Clippard.

He’s Outta Here: 1B Ryan Zimmerman, C Alex Avila, INF Jordy Mercer, RHP Wander Suero, RHP Ryne Harper.

Top Hitters: RF Juan Soto (.313, 29 HRs, 95 RBIs, .999 OPS, 111 runs, MLB-leading .465 OBP and 145 walks), DH Nelson Cruz (.265, 32, 86, .832 OPS for Minnesota and Tampa Bay), 1B Josh Bell (.261, 27, 88, .823 OPS).

Projected Rotation: RH Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 4.57 ERA in 5 starts; expected to miss start of season after an operation last July), LH Patrick Corbin (9-16, 5.82, MLB-worst 37 HRs allowed), RH Josiah Gray (2-2, 5.48 in 13 starts for Dodgers and Nationals), RH Erick Fedde (7-9, 5.47), RH Aníbal Sánchez (did not pitch in 2021; 4-5, 6.62 in 2020) or LH Josh Rogers (2-2, 3.28 in 6 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Tanner Rainey (1-3, 7.39 ERA, 3 saves, 42 Ks, 31 2/3 IP), RH Kyle Finnegan (5-9, 3.55, 11/15 saves, 68 Ks, 66 IP), RH Steve Cishek (0-2, 3.42, 74 appearances for Angels), LH Sean Doolittle (3-1, 4.53 for Cincinnati and Seattle).

Outlook: Two consecutive last-place finishes and a wholesale reshuffling of the roster at last year’s trade deadline have the Nationals in the midst of a full-on rebuild — or, to use GM Mike Rizzo’s preferred term, “reboot.” Key players such as Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Daniel Hudson and Yan Gomes were shipped elsewhere and newcomers such as Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz will be counted on. The 2019 championship could not feel much further away, and there isn’t a lot in the way of remnants of that club, with the notable exceptions of Soto, the 2020 NL batting champion and 2021 NL MVP runner-up, and Strasburg, who’s pitched fewer than 30 total innings since earning World Series MVP honors. Unless and until Washington signs Soto to a long-term contract, his future will be a main topic of discussion. The Nationals brought in Cruz to offer protection for Soto in the lineup, but that was about it in terms of notable additions. There were some familiar names who returned, though, such as Doolittle and Sánchez, both part of the 2019 club and seen as mentors for a young roster. One of many question marks will be the rotation, where Strasburg plans to make a delayed debut after a second consecutive season-ending surgery, and another pitching star of that title team, Corbin, will try to bounce back from a career-worst 2021. One player long associated with the franchise is gone: Zimmerman, who retired in the offseason.

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