Spring NL East Preview
As is the case every year, this division is doomed to collapse short of the finish.
The Mets just have the most complete team in this division and they always have one more prospect pitcher to step up should anyone else get hurt. In previous years it came from Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman (not a typo) who are now the promising back end of the rotation. They may have a constant hole in CF but having a little less speed at that position hasn't seemed to hurt them too much the last few years. They also have a trump card in their pocket with RF Jay Bruce who the Mets can afford to trade away for an upgrade anywhere they may need it with youthful up and comer Michael Conforto on the bench.
I have the Nationals taking a step back in the standings this season even though they have a great top of the lineup of OF Adam Eaton, Trea Turner (5th in the NL in SB's only playing half a season), Daniel Murphy (2nd MVP voting 2016), and Bryce Harper (2015 MVP) but the rest of the lineup is under performers. They were also the odd team out when it came to finding a closer in the off season and they're going to be looking in house for a solution. The Braves will be making a jump to be closer to the Wild Card (I doubt it will happen) through some savy team building. This off season they brought in 2B Brandon Phillips, and SPs Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. DIckey. This is a team of promising young players and sturdy vets. 1B Freddy Freeman is the star and is an attainable season away from an MVP yet it was OF Matt Kemp who finished 3rd in the NL in RBI last season.
The Phillies are getting better. They might have a good month or so as OF Odubel Herrera matures and former Blue Jay All-Star Michael Saunders joins the OF and the young rotation (excluding Clay Buchholz) rack up K's. The Marlins are in a season where all-time embarrassment of baseball Jeffery Loria tries to sell the team. Nearly every hitter in the lineup is some kind of positive anomaly for the team, but the rotation is in especially rough shape after the untimely death of Jose Fernandez in 2016.
Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)
This is the most debatable race for an MVP candidate so far between Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), Bryce Harper (Nats), Freddie Freeman (ATL, not to be confused with Freddy Freeman) and Giancarlo Stanton (Miami). Cespedes finally settles down with a team after two season with 30+ homers and a couple of nice AVGs of .290 and .281 and he is a physical freak. Harper is a pretty easy selection because of his 2015 MVP season and it's easy to claim he won't do it because of his down season last year. I think the only thing holding him back is that Stanton will just be a hair better, even if his team falters in the standings. Freeman had a bad start to his season last year but still finished with 34 homers and a .302 AVG and this season the lineup around him should give him even more RBI opportunities than it ever has.
Giancarlo has been the biggest home run hitting monster in the the league ever since he entered the league in 2010, yet he has only had one season with 150 games and only one other season with 145 games. Despite his injury issues, he has had three season with 34 or more homers. In his 7 seasons he has compiled 208 homers because in those games he does play in, he destroys the baseball in such a way that it has brought up questions of cruel and unusual punishment. In 2015 he only played in 74 games (less than half a season) and hit 27 homers and in his first 76 games of 2016 he hit 20 homers. It wouldn't be crazy to think that if he had a full season of health, Stanton wouldn't have much of an problem pushing 60 homers even on a losing team in a pitcher's park.
Cy Young Candidate
Max Scherzer (WAS)
This is a race between the Mets and Nats with Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey. Harvey has a tendency to have a great season then an injury season then another great season. He's coming off an injury season (I think they took out a rib) so he's bound for a great season, it just might not be great enough. Strasburg has had injury problems but has managed to have consistently low WHIP numbers and high strike out rates. Because he still hasn't been able to have a full season under a 3.00 ERA I don't think he'll go over the top to be the ace of the league. Roark broke through last year with the lowest ERA on the Nats but the 3rd best WHIP in the rotation. Syndergaard in only his second season has established himself as a strike out artist who can keep his ERA and WHIP fairly low.
Syndergaard still hasn't met the heights of Scherzer, however, who has also been consistent with his incredible rates. Scherzer has had a K/9 over 10.0 each of the five seasons, a WHIP under 1.00 three of the last four, ERA under 3.00 three of the last four, and 18+ wins three of the last four. Those "three of the last four" season for each category have been a mixture and not one bad season, as well. He is the reigning NL Cy Young winner and the 2013 AL Cy Young winner. The two seasons between his trophies he was able to finish fifth each year. Scherzer is a freak of his abilities as well as the consistency that he is reaching what seem to be the heights of those abilities.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Ozzie Albies (ATL)
I'm going to go with a little bit of a curve ball here. Dansby Swanson is the front runner for this award for the NL, the East, the Braves, the infield, and the middle infield but I don't have him as the ROY Candidate here. He is the front runner for a fantastically talented short stop position in the NL East also including J.P. Crawford of the Phillies and Amed Rosario of the Mets. Crawford might not hit for as much average and power as Swanson and Rosario probably won't be ready or have a spot on the Mets until 2018.
I think Albies will edge Swanson statistically THIS SEASON even though Swanson is expected to start the season at short and Albies is blocked by Brandon Phillips at 2B because Albies has a better track record batting average last season in the minors, doubles (and triples) and they are pretty even in home runs and OBP. Doubles in the minors are a good indicator of home run potential in the majors. Albies may find he is only blocked from the majors by Adonis Garcia, the Braves 3B who walked only 24 times last season and hit only 14 homers over 134 games. Any mixture of Swanson, Albies or Phillips could move over to the hot corner if the Braves would like to tap into Ozzie's 33 2B's or 30 SB's in the minors last season.
Dark Horse Player(s)
Jerad Eickhoff/Vince Velasquez (PHI)
Christian Yellich and Odubel Herrara would make some nice dark horses due to house hold name recognition so far, but Yellich is already a WBC Team USA starter and Herrera an All-Star for the Phillies so I'll go a little deeper, a little darker, a little horser. And so, I'm going with two Phillies SP's, Eickhoff and Velasquez. Eickhoff pitched his first full season for the Phillies last season and impressed with a WHIP of 1.16 (13th in the NL) and a respectable 3.65 ERA. You wouldn't know he had the top ERA and WHIP for an NL rookie pitcher last season because he is hiding away on the Phillies. Velasquez was in his first (almost) full season in the majors last season and dazzled with a 10.4 K/9 rate over 24 starts before his season ended prematurely. If he were to be able to sustain that rate over a full season, he would have been fifth in the NL ahead of Madison Bumgarner, and his 4.12 ERA last season didn't hurt either. The Phillies will be sporting a little finesse and power in their dark horse rotation in 2017.
Most likely to be suspended in a fight
Brandon Phillips (ATL)
Bryce Harper has a record of having a short fuse at times but that has mostly been either frustration aimed at himself or a boiling over at umps. He's a good candidate in a pretty competitive division for a guy to get the crazy eyes and take a swing at anyone around him. Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia have pretty ugly off the field records of violence for the Mets that just don't make them fun picks here as Reyes was suspended for domestic abuse last season and Familia faces a hefty suspension this season for the same. Brandon Phillips is already out of the gate this calendar year as a fighter, apparently getting into a fight after a college basketball game with a student and I'm sure he's waiting for a warm face in baseball to greet with his fists. And hey, it just might open up that job Ozzie Albies is running for.