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Previewing the opposition: NL East

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What do the site managers of the NL East teams heading into the 2020 season?

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Workouts John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As we prepare for the 2020 season, it’s important to look at the teams the Phillies will be playing to see how they look. Today and tomorrow, I’ll be posting some responses I received to questions I posed to the site managers of the SBNation blogs for the teams in the Phillies’ division. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the AL East.


Kris Willis - Talking Chop

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

My biggest concern is keeping everyone healthy and not just from the COVID standpoint but more in general. I worry about the pitchers in particular who have had their routines significantly altered this season. While everyone wants to win, I’d hate to see an injury occur to a young pitcher that also wipes out the 2021 season. In my opinion that would be the worst case scenario for 2020.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

For the Braves I think this is Austin Riley. Atlanta let Josh Donaldson walk to Minnesota during the offseason. They signed Marcell Ozuna to try and replace some of that offense but it is Riley that could actually plug the hole. Riley got off to a big start in 2019 flashing 30+ homer potential but then slumped down the stretch. If he can make the necessary adjustments at the plate, then he looks like he could be a big part of the team’s middle of the order for a long time. If he can’t, then Atlanta will probably be forced to look outside the organization for a long term answer for third base.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

The Braves have a lot of pitching depth although some of it is inexperienced. They have enough young arms to throw at this 60-game season and I believe they are built well for it. The shortened format and expanded rosters will likely allow them to get many more players looks that they probably wouldn’t have gotten under normal situations. I like the depth but as I mentioned earlier, I just want them to protect everyone the best the can, especially the younger pitchers.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

I think the Braves lineup is a bit underrated and there are some concerns against right-handed pitchers given their lack of left-handed hitters. I don’t think any team is prepared to lose a player like Ronald Acuna or Freddie Freeman for a stretch but Atlanta should be able to plug the holes for other everyday players if needed. Personally I think depth is the focus of just about every team and I don’t know if you ever truly have enough.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

My prediction is that this is going to be one crazy season in the NL East. I see four teams that are capable of winning the division or a wild card. I think Atlanta wins the division again but I a great battle within the division that probably goes down to the final day of the season.


Chris McShane - Amazin’ Avenue

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

With the Mets, it’s always easy to point to the bullpen, and I’ll go with that here. Relievers are highly volatile, but a couple of the Mets’ best relievers heading into the 2019 season were downright bad over the course of that season. It’s possible that things will all work out, though it’s hard to feel like that is ever likely to be the case as a Mets fan. But if the bullpen blows the same percentage of games it did last year, this team won’t make the playoffs.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

Following the Mets closely, I can’t say for sure that he isn’t being talked about in general, but Michael Conforto could be very important to the Mets this year. He’s settled in as a very good major league hitter, but he’s had some stretches of a couple of months where he’s one of the very best hitters in baseball. If he can do that for even half of this season, it would be incredibly helpful to the team’s playoff chances.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

Well, sixty games makes for fewer opportunities to get injured. If there are any injuries in the starting rotation, the depth is thin, especially with Noah Syndergaard out for the year.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

Considering the team has several options who would be desirable designated hitters on an everyday basis, they seem about as well equipped to handle vacancies in their lineup as most National League teams can reasonably expect to be this year.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

With the caveat that every prediction for this season is a complete guess, I’ll say that Jacob deGrom wins his third-straight Cy Young, while Marcus Stroman, Pete Alonso, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeff McNeil, and Michael Conforto help lead the way to a World Series title. Why not?


Ely Sussman - Fish Stripes

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

The bullpen, both the relief pitchers themselves and Don Mattingly’s usage of them. The longest-tenured manager in Marlins history succeeds in many areas, but tends to put his ‘pen arms in rigid roles and can be slow to react even when it’s obvious that one of them “doesn’t have it” on a given night. The 2019 post-trade deadline Marlins had arguably MLB’s weakest bullpen. They have made wholesale personnel changes since then, but there are still plenty of question marks.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

Corey Dickerson. He’s a very reliable hitter joining a Marlins team that barely had any of those last season. Dickerson is too often categorized as a platoon player when his splits have actually narrowed dramatically in recent years. A return to his 2018 quality of left field defense and the potential to cover center in emergency situations would be huge, too. Moreover, he is a willing mentor to young Marlins players.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle the particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

Thankfully (as of this writing), all pitchers in the Marlins 60-man player pool are COVID-free and training with teammates, so we shouldn’t take that for granted. All indications are that the five season-opening starters are fully stretched out, which mitigates the aforementioned bullpen worries. That being said, it’s unclear how they’ll handle the adjustment to reduced outfield dimensions at Marlins Park and the newly installed artificial turf. It will take time to optimize their game plans accordingly, and they don’t have that luxury in a shortened season.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

Intriguing yet volatile. Lewis Brinson had his Summer Camp interrupted by an “unspecified health issue” and will begin the campaign on the injured list, but he’s now in the process of catching up. He could get a late July/early August activation if the need arises. Despite abysmal results in 2018 and 2019, he made real strides during the winter and spring (reflected in his Grapefruit League production, fwiw). The pressure of a make-or-break year hopefully brings out the best in him. Beyond that, the Marlins figure to lean heavily on top prospects like Monte Harrison, Lewin Díaz and Jesús Sánchez. There is legitimate All-Star upside in each of them, but it’s impossible to predict how they’ll handle their first cup of coffee in the majors.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

Solid start, brutal August, feel-good September. I had them slated to finish 23-37 for much of camp, but I’m ready to bump that up slightly to 25-35. Highest winning percentage of the Jeter era


Patrick Reddington - Federal Baseball

1. Outside of the obvious Covid-19 answer, what are you most concerned about with regards to something scuttling your season?

I’m hoping the time off due to COVID-19 removed any threat of a World Series hangover, after the top of the rotation (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin - with Aníbal Sánchez not throwing as much in the postseason, but still throwing a lot in 2019), threw a ton of innings last year.

Scherzer’s 35 now (36 on 7/27) and he dealt with odd-ish injuries last year. Strasburg threw 245 13 innings total between the regular season and postseason. Corbin got up to 225 13 IP, and Sánchez, who’s now 36, has a lot of pitches/innings on his arm in his 14-year career, so hopefully the extra time off spared them some wear and tear going into this two-to-three-month season, because there isn’t a ton of depth in the 60-Man Player Pool behind them.

I’m still interested in seeing how the ramp-up in March, 3+ month shutdown, and then the quick ramp-up again the last three weeks works out for pitchers around the league, after listening to years of “creature of habit” talk when it comes to pitchers and position players.

Austin Voth and Erick Fedde are currently battling it out for the 5th spot in the rotation, but after that there are a lot of prospects on the 60-man, who are unproven at this level, so any real issues with the top 4-5 starters and the Nationals could find themselves in trouble real quick.

2. What player that isn’t talked about as much might be the most important player to your team this season?

Eric Thames? Especially after Ryan Zimmerman opted out. Thames, Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick were expected to share time at first and DH when not in the field, but Zim’s choice to opt out for the season left (obviously) less depth at first base, and with Kendrick playing at 37 years of age, Thames is going to be more important than before as the Nationals try to replace some of the offense they lost when Anthony Rendon signed on in Los Angeles with Carter Kieboom at third base, Thames adding some power at first, and most of the rest of the roster from 2019 in place for another year.

3. How do you think your pitching staff is set up to handle to particular rigors of this sprint of a season?

I should have read all the questions before starting with the first, but I’ll just add to the talk about the starters above, with some discussion of the bullpen, which has a trio of Sean Doolittle, Will Harris, and Daniel Hudson in the late innings and some improved depth with Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Roenis Elías, Ryne Harper, and Voth/Fedde working middle relief.

Once again, after that there are a lot of intriguing young, unproven arms, with the Nats using a number of their roster spots in the 60-Man pool to keep prospects progressing while this weird season plays out.

I don’t think the Nationals’ bullpen will be as bad as it was at the start of 2019, but I think there are legitimate questions about the starting depth and the relief corps if/when any injury issues arise.

Hopefully with the reduced number of games it won’t be as much of an issue as it might have been over 162 games.

If they stay healthy, I think the rotation can match up with any team in the majors, and I like the mix at the back end of the bullpen with Doolittle, Harris, and Hudson.

4. How does your team’s offensive depth look in case of Covid-related issues?

I already miss Anthony Rendon. Ryan Zimmerman opting out (with completely reasonable family concerns) hurt the depth as noted above. Though he’s struggled to make contact in his career, and “struggled” is a nice way to put it, I like having Michael A. Taylor around as part of the outfield depth behind Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton (two of whom, Soto and Robles, got just a week-plus of action in ST 2.0 after quarantining over the first two weeks). There’s some depth in the infield, with Kieboom/Asdrúbal Cabrera at third, Trea Turner at short, Starlin Castro at second (with Cabrera and Kendrick backing him up), Thames and Kendrick at first base, and Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki sharing the catching duties.

Wilmer Difo can fill in at second or short if needed, Luis Garcia is young (20) but highly-regarded in the organization, though whether or not we’ll see him in 2020 is debatable.

There are some bench bats (Andrew Stevenson, Emilio Bonifacio) who could end up on the 30-Man on Opening Day and could contribute if called upon.

Replacing Rendon’s production (.319/.412/.598, 44 doubles, 34 HRs, 117 runs in a 7.0 fWAR season) is not going to be easy.

5. What is your prediction for your team this season?

I think the Nationals have assembled a club that will compete for a postseason berth and probably benefit from the shortened season after the long run in 2019 (did I mention they won the World Series yet?). I think we will see them in October again if this whole thing works, but I have serious questions or doubts about whether it will. Hoping for the best, and health and safety for everyone out there. Enjoy your season, TGPers.


Our thanks to these guys for taking some time to answer our questions.