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March 29, 2018 - Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

TJ Knapp

TJ Knapp’s 2018 NL East Preview

It feels like Christmas in March. Opening Day is upon us and it is finally time to binge baseball again. This past offseason was an unusual one, to say the least, but it left us with plenty to be excited about, including the National League East.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves’ offseason was rather mundane outside of a salary swap trade that shipped Matt Kemp back to LA. However, Spring Training clarified one rather exciting thing about this team; Ronald Acuna is going to be a star. I’ve talked about him before as a possible front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award but after seeing him this spring I am totally sold. Yes, he was given the Kris Bryant treatment having been optioned solely for service time purposes but he will be in Atlanta very soon and that makes this team really interesting.

Pairing a budding superstar with the likes of Freddie Freeman and rising stars Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson could be a recipe for success in Atlanta long-term. The biggest question now is whether or not their young pitching meets their potential. Keep an eye on the Braves in 2018 and for years to come.

Miami Marlins

Since Derek Jeter has taken over the Marlins everything has fallen apart, at least in the eye of the public. While I do believe the Marlins were a couple of quality arms away from being a serious contender before they traded everybody, I also see understand why Jeter is doing what he is doing.

2018 is going to be rough for the Marlins and their fans but they have some young players like Lewis Brinson and Brian Anderson that should be fun to watch for quite some time. With Gary Denbo overseeing player development, I think more promising young talent will be flooding South Beach for years to come. They aren’t nearly as close as the Braves are but they are trending in the right direction toward a brighter future. Be patient.

New York Mets

It feels like every year you hear the same thing about the Mets. They can be great if their pitching staff can stay healthy, how are they going to get all of their outfielders playing time? And will David Wright ever play again? 2018 looks to be more of the same for the Mets. As of right now, their staff is healthy and they will have every chance to dominate if that remains the case. Matt Harvey is the biggest mystery to me but if he returns to even 75% of what he used to be then I think the Mets have a top-five rotation without question.

I don’t say this very often but I actually do like their lineup this year. Yoenis Cespedes looks like he’s primed for a big year (again, if he can stay on the field). I am a BIG fan of Brandon Nimmo, however, I don’t know what happens to him when Michael Conforto comes back, but Conforto returning will only make this lineup even more dangerous. Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez should provide a steady veteran presence on both sides of the ball, and I think Amed Rosario is going to be a star. My only question is, when are they finally going to move on from Travis d’Arnaud?

In a year where most of their division is rebuilding the Mets have an opportunity to make a real run at the postseason. Just like every other year, it will all come down to their ability to stay on the field.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies to me were the biggest surprise of the offseason. It started with the hiring of rookie manager Gabe Kapler, who as of right now looks like will do a great job. Then they signed Carlos Santana and I really started scratching my head. Finally, they locked up Jake Arrieta and I was like, yup they want to contend now. I’m going to pay close attention to this team in 2018 because they have the potential to be really exciting.

A few things need to happen for the Phils to be serious.  Rhys Hoskins needs to continue to mash, Aaron Nola needs to take the next step towards becoming elite, and their bullpen needs to prove themselves. Not to mention, a bulk of their offense is going to rely on young infielders J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, and newly locked up Scott Kingery. Speaking of Kingery, I found it really interesting that they handed a six-year contract to a player who has never played an inning in the big leagues. If he’s as good as they clearly believe he can be then this lineup gets even scarier.

This wave of young talent in baseball is so much fun to watch and it’s clear that the Phillies are hopping right on. I don’t think 2018 is their year, but they should be a fun team to watch for the next decade.

Washington Nationals

The Nats come into 2018 the clear favorites and for good reason. Max Scherzer and Stephan Strasburg are still anchoring the rotation, they finally have a closer in Sean Doolittle, and Bryce Harper is in his walk year. Talk about scary. Nobody is questioning whether or not this team is going to perform, rather will they finally show up once they make it to October.

Look for players like Michael Taylor and Trea Turner to take steps forward this year while guys like Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman continue to provide stability. Adam Eaton is back and healthy but rising star Victor Robles might be right around the corner from taking a job in the outfield which makes this team even more interesting for the future.

One scenario to consider; If the Mets and Phillies catch the Nats off guard and the Nats go into the All-Star break in 3rd place, do they consider trading Bryce Harper? With a guy like Victor Robles waiting in the wings, I think you’d have to.

Main Photo: March 29, 2018 – Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

Product of Ohio University. Also writes for Pinstripe Alley and Pinstriped Prospects

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