The National League East is at its best and the team the New York Mets should fear the most are the Washington Nationals.
Following a busy, and fairly unprecedented, New York Mets offseason, the roster moves implemented by General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen have made great strides toward transforming this organization into a bonafide postseason contender. Still, the significant additions of closer Edwin Diaz, second baseman Robinson Cano, and catcher Wilson Ramos, most notably, cannot overshadow the blockbuster deals made by their division rivals who also sent shockwaves throughout the baseball world this past winter.
Thanks to the new ‘winning culture’ Van Wagenen has been committed to establishing since his first day as GM, the Mets have reaped the benefits of these new talent acquisitions in the early goings of the 2019 season. However, one of their biggest challenges will come in the 13 games they have left to play against the Washington Nationals who (like the Mets) see 2019 as a chance for redemption after a disappointing 2018 campaign.
As both clubhouses stand today, New York fans and players alike should dread the Nationals more than the Philadelphia Phillies; even without Bryce Harper in the middle of their batting order.
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Simply put, their superior pitching staff and more balanced lineup give the Nationals the edge over other rivals. In fact, if you look closely at their offseason moves, it’s plausible to think that they might have actually made more impactful roster changes than the Phillies. Moreover, their goal to get younger and more athletic was no doubt the main factor in their decisions to part ways with veterans like Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, and Matt Wieters.
Consequently, these subtractions allowed for the promotion of outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles into true everyday players. That alone improves the production they get from their outfielders; both on the field and at the plate.
While there’s no dispute that the Phillies have the most recognizable talent in the division, following their acquisitions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura, they also lack the necessary pitching staff to stifle the Mets hitters in a three or four-game series.
As a Mets fan, I feel more confident matching up against the reigning National League East champions, Atlanta Braves, since their highly touted pitching prospects are not in the Majors yet and therefore not a factor. Although their lineup alone is still formidable, anchored by Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., they can be put-out by Mets pitchers; and unlike playing against the Nationals, I’m more confident that Mets hitters can perform well against the current Braves pitching staff on a consistent basis.
Then there’s the Miami Marlins who no team is sweating. They have been a non-factor in the NL East race ever since their new ownership took over prior to the 2018 season and gutted the team of its stars.
Therefore, the team that should worry the Mets the most is the Nationals who are capable of competing with the Mets pound for pound.
Although it has been proven time and time again that when the Mets starting pitchers are healthy and in command of their pitches, they have the best rotation in the NL East as well as one of the top group of arms in MLB, it’s worth noting that it’s the Mets hitters who have to face Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin at the plate – not the pitchers.
Why Van Wagenen has neglected the team’s need for starting pitching depth this past offseason, combined with his reluctance to part ways with their veteran fifth-starter, Jason Vargas, is beyond my comprehension. Not only would adding another quality arm to the roster strengthen their rotation, but it would also alleviate the heavy burden currently placed on their pitchers to excel in each of their starts without fail.
Should Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Zack Wheeler have trouble locating their pitches or otherwise find themselves on the shelf, then the Mets will find it immensely more difficult to claim their first NL East title since 2015.
In truth, the concerns lie with their entire division (save the Marlins) as the NL East has earned the reputation as the best division in MLB. At the moment, four of its five teams are considered serious playoff contenders. No other division can say that.
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Meanwhile, despite the Nationals Opening Day series loss to the Mets, both teams currently stand at 3-3 in their series matchups on the year. With both clubhouses striving for a playoff berth, their next 13 games will no doubt prove who wants it more.