Month: March 2019

Ode to a Pitcher: Blake Treinen and his deep diving sinker

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Blake Treinen’s sinker comes from a different dimension.

Studying a reliever in this series feels a little like smashing a handful of jelly beans. It’s a pure sugar high. Breaking down a starter is a different experience because relievers can come in and let loose in a way most starters can’t. Relievers need not worry about setting up hitters for later innings or conserving energy to go deep into a game. No, relievers can come in with both barrels blazing.

So, what the heck. Let’s embrace this sugar high for all its worth and enjoy some Blake Treinen.

Relievers are notoriously fickle. They come and they go. One day you’re dominant, lighting up the radar gun and punching out fools. The next, you get hurt and the switch has flipped. Baseball can be cruel to the short-inning guys. Who knows how long Treinen will be embarrassing guys, but for now he is. Let’s enjoy it.

Treinen had been a good reliever before 2018; 129 ERA+ spread across 261 innings since 2014. He struck out a healthy amount and limited the home runs, but walked more than would be comfortable. Then 2018 happened.

In 80.1 innings, he produced an absurd 531 ERA+ with 100 strikeouts to 21 walks and 2 (2!) homers. He went from good to Kryptonian and was in gifs all over Baseball Twitter, unleashing that crazy sinker. Filthy? Not a strong enough word. This might be the nastiest pitch we’d studied so far; I realize I am liable to say that every week. But, in my defense, have you see these guys?

Treinen’s sinker averaged 97.3 MPH last season. It ate hitters alive; .221 batting average against, .267 slugging percentage against, slightly north of 30 percent whiff rate. This is a sinker. If you want to study just how much this sucker moves, go here. Needless to say, the combination of movement and velocity make it nearly untouchable. Against a lot of these elite relievers — the Haders and Diazes of the world — sometimes the best you can do is hope they make a mistake. If someone like Dellin Betances is on his game, good luck.

Today’s victims are the Texas Rangers, and I’ll be honest with you … it’s not a fair fight. Treinen rips through these guys like Thor when he landed in Wakanda. Remember that these are Major League hitters, the best in the world. It’s a small group.

But at least in this specific inning, they were just overmatched.

***

Treinen threw the sinker 50.2% of the time last year, pounding the zone with it over and over. Even if he leaves one over the plate, driving a pitch with this heat and movement is no picnic. It’s an obvious choice.

Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos (97 OPS+) is up first and watches a sinker miss high and away. However — look how it moves!

Chirinos Pitch 1 SNK

Down 1-0 in the count, Treinen brings the next sinker back into the strike zone and Chirinos fouls it away.

Look, I’m going to say this about a thousand times in today’s breakdown, but … my God look how this thing moves! That baseball is flying so fast and dropping so hard that Chirinos making contact at all legitimately feels miraculous. It’s just absurd.

Chirinos Pitch 2 SNK

With the count even, Treinen moves up in the strike zone. If there is a pitch in this exchange to do something with, I guess it would be this one. Treinen would probably prefer this sinker run a few inches lower; that difference could mean something.

But not on this day.

Chirinos Pitch 3 SNK

What is it we always say? You don’t want to be 0-2 or 1-2 against these guys. Treinen has an excellent slider; it tunnels neatly within the sinker and is about 7-8 MPH slower with a deeper break. So yeah, it’s a real treat for the batter.

In football terms, the playbook is wide open and the baseball equivalent of throwing a deep route is burying a breaking ball off the plate. Treinen just went deep. Chirinos is helpless.

Chirinos Pitch 4 SLD

One down and up steps pinch hitter Ryan Rua (48 OPS+). It seems cruel to make someone struggling at the plate this way face Blake Treinen, but hey, I don’t make the rules. I just survey the damage.

Rua is greeted with a sinker. Note the horizontal movement back toward the zone.

Rua Pitch 1 SNK

Treinen goes offspeed with the count 0-1, missing just below the zone with a slider. Even with this kind of powerful stuff, the tactics of manipulating the batter’s eye level and changing speeds remain useful.

Credit to Rua for holding up here.

Rua Pitch 2 SLD

Treinen comes with another slider, this time letting it catch much more of the plate. Rua unleashes a hearty hack but fouls it away. This isn’t a great pitch, even despite the movement. Leaving a breaking ball in that part of the zone is rarely ideal. But, and this is true especially for most of the game’s great relievers, the threat of the fastball is omnipresent. It helps.

Rua Pitch 3 SLD

Rua is down 1-2. Treinen showed him a sinker then two sliders. It’s time to go back to the moneymaker.

This pitch is unreal. Just absolutely unreal.

Rua Pitch 4 SNK

Rua Pitch 4 SLOMO 1

Carlos Tocci (46 OPS+) is the last gasp for the Rangers. If you were the last hope against Treinen, you’d really want to open the count with a ball, right? Tilt the count your direction.

Yes. Treinen misses badly away.

Tocci Pitch 1 SNK

Alright, you’ve got that going for you. Maybe Treinen misses again? If he does, you’re probably getting a pitch in the zone! Hey, you can hit that! (Maybe.) Sure, it’ll drop a foot in a matter of milliseconds but still. (Yeah …)

Tocci Pitch 2 SNK

Good idea not swinging at this. What are you going to do other than foul it away or gently ground out? Take it and maybe you get a favorable call. Who knows. There’s just not much good that can come from flailing at this sinker. It’s absolutely filthy.

Alright, Carlos. You can do this. Just don’t chase anything out of the zone and you’ll be fine —

Tocci Pitch 3 SNK

Ugh. How can I fault you, though? I’m sure it looked tempting out of the hand, but alas, there’s a reason Treinen allowed less than ten earned runs all year.

Now Carlos is in real trouble. The count is 1-2.

Tocci Pitch 4 SNK

If it worked once, why not throw it twice?

Ballgame.

***

Treinen made his 2019 debut this week when the Athletics faced off with the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan. The stuff clearly hasn’t vanished:

Treinen and the other elite relievers in today’s game boggle the mind. I’d love to ask a big league hitter what the tactics are against, say, Josh Hader or Treinen. What do you do? I’m sure there’s something, but to my untrained eye, it seems simple.

Just hope for a mistake.

***

This was Ode to a Pitcher, a weekly feature from Adkins on Sports where we break down a brilliant pitching performance. These posts are meant to be informative and fun, just like baseball coverage should be.

Did you miss one? Click here to find every Ode to a Pitcher breakdown.

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2019 MLB Preview: Let’s try and predict the crazy NL Central

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Christian Yelich mashed his way to the 2018 NL MVP. IAN D’ANDREA

If you missed my breakdown of the AL East and NL East, click here.

What to do with the pesky NL Central? Oh, what to do … what to do. We’ve got last year’s division winners, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew are led by superstar outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and added an excellent catcher in Yasmani Grandal, but the pitching is a question.  The Chicago Cubs are no stranger to stars either; Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and the like are still around. But perhaps injuries and the fatigue of constant contention has worn them down. And meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds added firepower and the Pittsburgh Pirates might have the best pitcher in the division. There isn’t an actual bad team to be found here.

The AL Central likely will have a familiar champion. But a slow recovery by superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor could open the door to a push from the Minnesota Twins, who could blossom into an exciting team if a few things go their way.

The bottom of the division is … well …

Let’s dig in.

NL Central

1. Milwaukee Brewers

Goal: Win World Series
Most Important Player: Christian Yelich

The Brewers as currently constituted are a really good team. Yelich and Cain are about as good a pair of superstars as you’ll find. Grandal was a great addition. Travis Shaw is a heck of a player to have around. Josh Hader’s stuff threatens to violate the Geneva Convention and somehow Jeremy Jeffress was even better last year by bWAR.

And yet … I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy because you kinda need to squint to find a pretty good starting pitcher here. Yes, Jimmy Nelson — another gift to us pitcher-giffers — is healthy. Partnering with him Jhoulys Chacin makes a solid pair of starters, but the rest of this picture doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Brewers starting pitchers finished with a combined -2.2 bWAR last season, 22nd best in the world, amid such luminaries as the Los Angeles Angels. It worked because the bullpen usage was creative, plus the offense and defense were so good — the Brewers non-pitcher WAR ranked third-best in the sport. It might have to be that good again.

It can be.

2. Chicago Cubs

Goal: Win World Series
Most Important Player: Kris Bryant

Amazing how good the North Siders are despite the owners being broke. Silly ownership comments aside, isn’t it odd how gloomy the feeling is around the Cubbies? Sure, Kris Bryant didn’t continue his run of MVP-caliber seasons last year; okay, year one of the Yu Darvish experience was a disaster. These are indeed first world problems. They nearly won 100 games and the manufactured rules of the sport kept them from the NLDS.

The Cubs are really good. I’m not high on the rotation at Joe Maddon’s disposal either — as Joe Sheehan pointed out in his excellent newsletter, not a lot of strikeouts here — but much like the Brewers, the elite talent on the position player side is hard to ignore. That infield is incredible, and if Javier Baez finally figures out what walks are, watch out.

But, it’s really hard to keep pushing like this for years on end.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

Goal: Make the playoffs
Most Important Player: Paul Goldschmidt

Yet another NL Central team with excellent position player talent that you wish had just one more good arm, the St. Louis Cardinals added first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to an offense that finished tied for second in the NL by OPS+. This team won’t struggle for runs.

Oh, how the Cards could benefit from having someone like JA Happ on this roster (or even Gio Gonzalez, also gobbled up by the Yankees on a — wait, what? — minor league deal). The Cardinals could really use 170 more quality innings somewhere to pair with Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty. In fairness, that’s true of basically everyone but the Indians; alas, the Birds must hope for health. Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright could all have 2+ WAR years; but if only two of them threw more than 130 innings, would you be shocked?

4. Cincinnati Reds

Goal: Win more than 85 games?
Most Important Player: Joey Votto

The Reds had an aggressive offseason. They acquired a bunch of outfielders — Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp — plus starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Alex Wood. At the time, I was supportive of the moves, even despite giving away a couple good prospects to get Puig. The Reds have been some frustrating combination of incompetent (the Zack Cozart debacle comes to mind) or immobile since they last made the playoffs. At least the team was trying, right?

It won’t be enough, but the future is bright. Here’s the first key; don’t screw up Nick Senzel. Play him in center field and leave him the hell alone. I’m sure they’ll dick around and leave him the minors for a while, whatever. Once he’s in Cincy, he plays center. Period. Whether he ever plays a full season might be a different — perhaps unanswerable — question.

The second key: can Luis Castillo be a top-end starter? He throws hard and that changeup produces plenty of whiffs, but the fastball is straight as a board and he serves up batting practice way too often. Of the options close to or in the majors, no one else has Castillo’s potential to lead a rotation. Ultimately, the fastball might be what it is, but could mechanical tweaks help him locate it more often? Could a revised approach — a la Masahiro Tanaka — exemplify his strengths?

Also: I guess you can prove yourself now, Sonny Gray.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

Goal: Win more than 85 games?
Most Important Player: Jameson Taillon

The Pittsburgh Pirates might boast the division’s two best starting pitchers. Chris Archer didn’t come cheap, but he’s a reliable strikeout machine. Jameson Taillon is rounding into form and is rightfully being pegged around the baseball internet as a Cy Young pick; the stuff is ridiculous and at 27, he could easily break into that conversation. Don’t be surprised if Taillon produces a +6 WAR kind of season.

Starling Marte is a pretty good player and the leader of a sneaky-good outfield. Gregory Polanco took some really promising steps last season and Corey Dickerson has some pop (can someone tell Corey that walks are not only acceptable but in fact encouraged?). Beyond them, this team has enough players to not suck but not enough players to win. Oh, how different this story could be if the Bucs had ponied up for Manny Machado. Alas.

Even if it delays the chances of serious contention, I understand a team and fan base just not wanting to repeat the dreaded years between Bonds and McCutchen again.

I’ll be honest; you can flip the bottom three in any way you want and I could believe it.

NL Central Observations

Best Pitchers going into 2019 Best Position Players going into 2019
1. Jameson Taillon 1. Christian Yelich
2. Chris Archer 2. Lorenzo Cain
3. Miles Mikolas 3. Paul Goldschmidt

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians

Goal: Win World Series
Most Important Player: Francisco Lindor

The Indians are winning the division again, but there are pathways to trouble for Terry Francona’s boys. The team is so top-heavy; Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and the starting rotation are by and large all elite. But the outfield? Yuck. The bullpen? Shiver. That’s why the Lindor situation should send a chill up an Indians fan’s back. As long as the stars are all around, this team competes. Losing one exposes the flaws.

Chances are he’ll be fine and the Indians will cruise to the postseason. But the team didn’t address the bullpen situation and with the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros (spoiler) all competing for the same pennant, one wonders if the window is beginning to slam shut.

2. Minnesota Twins

Goal: Make playoffs
Most Important Player: Jose Berrios

A lot of things have to go right for the Twins to eclipse the Indians. Byron Buxton stays healthy and finds just enough production at the plate; Miguel Sano also stays healthy and mashes. Heck, even if both of those things occur I suspect the Twins would need trouble from the Indians to really compete.

So, instead, let’s talk about Jose Berrios. I love Jose Berrios. You should too. He’s 24, packs a ridiculous curveball and increased his strikeout rate a healthy amount from 2017-18. The challenge for Berrios is controlling that hammer. Somedays he can; that allows his fastball to live up in the zone. Somedays he can’t; hitters lay off the deuce and sit on the fastball.

As a fan of young, highly-giffable pitchers, I hope Berrios figures that out. The AL Central would be loaded with aces.

3. Chicago White Sox

Goal: Tank
Most Important Player: Eloy Jimenez

Look. If there was ever a team who should have just ponied up and added both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, it was the pale hose. The outfield situation in Chicago is a car crash. Alas, that didn’t happen.

Eloy Jimenez will surely rake once the team decides he’s saved enough service time. Yoan Moncada probably won’t be a star, but he’s a big league regular anyway. Michael Kopech’s injury really sucks. Losing a year of development at 22 isn’t a picnic for the pitcher, the team or the fans. Things could be so different for this club had a few things broken a different way.

4. Detroit Tigers

Goal: Tank
Most Important Player: Jeimer Candelario

Look. For the big league team, the goal is pretty much to lose all the time. Sure, helping Michael Fulmer reclaim his former glory (Editor’s note: Not happening this season) and working with Jeimer Candelario to develop a bit at the plate are solid goals, but the main focus is to lose and continue to build the farm system. The future could be bright — Casey Mize is doing well in his first pro camp, for example. Sometimes rebuilds aren’t pretty. The Tigers should keep stockpiling high draft picks and pour money and manpower into turning those guys into stars.

Instead of dwelling on that, let’s appreciate Miggy. No one thought he’d age gracefully through the massive contract he signed in 2016, but the last two seasons haven’t been pretty. Sometimes aging sluggers collapse.

However, few batters have his plate discipline, even after age and injuries. The power might be gone for good; who knows. But if he can cobble together enough batting average, I bet Miggy can still be a valuable hitter on the walks alone. I’m hoping he hasn’t gone full Pujols on us.

5. Kansas City Royals

Goal: Tank
Most Important Player: Adalberto Mondesi

Flags fly forever. The Royals probably should have sold the farm awhile ago, cashing in the now-injured Salvador Perez and Merrifield for prospects. They didn’t. Okay. This team has no prayer of winning and holding onto any valuable, nearing-30 big leaguers only pushes the next contention window out further.

But hey — flags fly forever. The Royals won. It just so happens they might not do that again for a while.

AL Central Observations

Best Pitchers going into 2019 Best Position Players going into 2019
1. Trevor Bauer 1. Jose Ramirez
2. Corey Kluber 2. Francisco Lindor
3. Carlos Carrasco 3. Adalberto Mondesi

2019 MLB Preview: Breaking down the excellent Eastern divisions

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Bryce Harper’s wearing new digs for the next, oh, 13 seasons. KEITH ALLISON

The AL East has been a bloodbath for decades. Randomly pick a year and there’s a good chance the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been contenders — in the last 20 years, the two have combined for seven World Series championships. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays have appeared in the ALCS in that timeframe; the Tampa Bay Rays played in the Fall Classic.

The NL East has its moments too, even if the titles are a bit harder to find. The Philadelphia Phillies beat those pesky Rays to claim the 2008 title. Josh Beckett shutout the Yankees in 2003 to claim the then Florida Marlins’ second title in a handful of years. The New York Mets played for the title twice; the Nationals have had some famous players but haven’t won a playoff series.

Going into 2019, the star power in these two divisions is kind of incredible. Recent award winners like Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom and Blake Snell; dominant pitching dragons like Max Scherzer and Chris Sale; ultra-powerful sluggers like Aaron Judge, JD Martinez, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. I didn’t even mention all the future superstars breaking in like Ronald Acuña, Gleyber Torres, Juan Soto and on.

The Easts are no joke. Let’s break it down.

AL East

1. New York Yankees

Goal: Win World Series
Most Important Player: Aaron Judge

The 2019 Yankees offense could be unbelievable. There’s so much power here, so much force that it calls to mind Daenerys Targaryen on the back of Drogon swooping down on Jamie Lannister. There’s an awful lot of fire and screaming.

Okay, that’s dramatic, but don’t discount the incredible power of this offense. The 2018 Yankees set a record having nine different batters hit at least 20 home runs on the path to a record-setting 267. Incredible, and yet all Aaron Judge and the boys can talk about this spring is shattering the home run record the team collectively set last season.

Maybe they can do it. The bigger concern is whether ace Luis Severino misses extended time, but the acquisition of James Paxton helps ease that potential loss. The Yankees have the resources to patch over such a blow, but replacing an ace mid-season isn’t for the faint of heart.

2. Boston Red Sox

Goal: Win World Series
Most Important Player: Mookie Betts

Rafael Devers broke into the big leagues as a top-10 prospect. So far, his MLB tenure hasn’t been great — he was replacement level last season according to bWAR. But the potential is there, especially if reports of Devers accepting advice about his approach are borne out on the field. He could use it, what with a walk rate less than 8% and an OBP last season less than .300.

The 2019 Sox are hardly dependent upon Devers, but if he finds the offensive potential he flashed in the minors, suddenly the champs are all the more dangerous. Mookie Betts, JD Martinez, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts are about as strong a position-player core as you’ll find, after all. Of a more pressing concern for the Sox is a bullpen without any true lights-out options, but with such incredible high-end talent on the roster — Chris Sale, David Price, Betts, Martinez, etc — it won’t matter in the regular season.

October could be a different story. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Goal: Make the playoffs again (last: 2013)
Most Important Player: Blake Snell

Hard not to love the Rays, who continually find ways to compete with such limited resources. Still, they haven’t made the playoffs in several years and the path isn’t any easier in 2019. As usual, the Rays are thin on elite talent aside from the magnificent Snell, who rightfully won the 2018 AL Cy Young. He should be awesome again and pairing him with free agent acquisition Charlie Morton at the top of the Tampa rotation eases the burden on Manager Kevin Cash. If Tyler Glasnow can edge that walk rate down again, suddenly the Rays might have something. The team has proven they can win a lot of games relying on relievers to handle the whole game. It worked last season and it should work this season.

The 2018 Rays were a sneaky-good offense (6th in wRC+), led in part by Joey Wendle. Wendle had never played more than 30 games in the big leagues before last season, his age-28 season. Credit to him for striking while the iron was hot, but finding dudes like Wendle and getting production out of him is quintessential Rays. Chances are they do it again.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

Goal: Not screw up Baby Vlad
Most Important Player: Baby Vlad

The excuses were so stupid, and then fate went and bailed the Toronto front office out. On March 10, this news broke:

Let’s be real: the Blue Jays were thrilled about this. No, they don’t want their prized prospect to be seriously hurt. Baby Vlad isn’t seriously hurt. He’ll be fine, but most importantly for the Jays he’ll miss several weeks and need time once he’s healthy to get back up to speed. This cuts down that pesky service time — which, you know, leads to Guerrero getting paid what he’ll surely be worth.

For shame.

The Major League team needs him desperately, but I suppose that isn’t the concern for the front office. Randal Grichuk and Justin Smoak are OK hitters; Kevin Pillar remains a good defender. Danny Jansen has some power for a catcher.

Marcus Stroman is one of my personal favorite pitchers; dude has swag and is a master at messing with timing and keeping hitters off balance. I’d be thrilled if he had a big season, but I wouldn’t call that a great bet, though. He was hurt and bad for most of 2018.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Goal: Tank
Most Important Player: Uhhh …

Look. I … I can’t really polish this one. If you’re an Orioles fan, chances are you’re also a Ravens fan. Maybe just spend all summer studying up on Lamar Jackson? I’m only sort of kidding.

The Orioles waited way too long to trade Manny Machado and got little in return. Now comes the dark, hard road of a full rebuild, probably in the mold of what the Houston Astros did years back.

AL East Observations

Best Pitchers going into 2019 Best Position Players going into 2019
1. Chris Sale 1. Mookie Betts
2. Blake Snell 2. Aaron Judge
3. Luis Severino 3. JD Martinez

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies

Goal: Win the World Series
Most Important Player: Bryce Harper

You might have heard — they had a rather busy offseason. Here are the big names the Phils brought onboard:

    • Jean Segura
    • Andrew McCutchen
    • JT Realmuto
    • Bryce Harper

Pretty good, particularly Realmuto and Harper who are sizable upgrades over the players who held their positions last season (Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro at catcher, who amassed a reasonable 2 bWAR and the trio of replacement level the Phils had in right field). The 2018 Phillies won 80 games; the 2019 version should be better, even if Aaron Nola isn’t quite as ridiculous this coming season. Plus, it helps when you sign away your division rival’s nominal best player.

Weird to say this about a dude who just got the biggest contract in the history of American professional sports, but is Bryce Harper sorta kinda underrated? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if he makes a run at his second MVP.

Despite the spending spree, the Phils are probably the most logical place for the still unsigned Dallas Keuchel. If you’re going for it — something something stupid money — you might as well go for it. He’d add depth, a lefty-touch and a probable 200 innings to an already good rotation with Nola, Jake Arrieta and pitching gif icon Nick Pivetta.

2. Washington Nationals

Goal: Win the World Series
Most Important Player: Max Scherzer

Well, one of the two phenoms is still around.

Stephen Strasburg was supposed to be Roger Clemens 2.0. The hype going into the 2009 draft was unbelievable. Strasburg annihilated college and flashed stuff that gave prospect watchers all sorts of tingly feelings. He got to the bigs and showed that same prowess; I called his starts “Strasmas” with my friends.

It’s unfortunate that the biggest event of Strasburg’s career might just be the Nationals shutting him down before the 2012 playoffs in an effort to lengthen his career after Tommy John surgery. The Nats lost in 5 in the NLDS and have never gotten further than that; Strasburg has been pretty good but not quite what was hoped for. Then again, expecting an inner-circle Hall of Famer is absurd.

But there’s another young phenom around in Washington, a welcome distraction from Harper’s disappearance. Juan Soto, a 19-year-old outfielder, produced a whopping 142 wRC+ in 116 games. Nothing to sneeze at. For what it’s worth, ZiPS likes him a lot in 2019; 154 wRC+.

Reason to believe. Anthony Rendon is awesome. Max Scherzer is unconscionable. Harper or not, this team can still win.

3. Atlanta Braves

Goal: Build on a successful, surprising 2018
Most Important Player: Ronald Acuña

The 2018 Braves are why I love baseball. Before the year there was little reason to believe they’d claim the NL East crown — the future was bright, but perhaps not the present. Yet, they did, led by a consistent superstar in Freddie Freeman and a boatload of fun young talent. Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz all broke into the mainstream. Heck, even Nick Markakis had a surprising year.

If Acuña replicates his 2018 performance over a full 162-game slate … wow. It’s a tall order, but the young left fielder has visions of MVPs dancing in his head for good reason.

Speaking of MVPs … the Braves added Josh Donaldson, who recently has been made of glass but was once legitimately a superstar and easily could be one again. If he is — if Josh Donaldson is Josh Donaldson again — with a repeat turn from Folty and maybe a strong Kevin Gausman performance and voila, this team could be as exciting and frisky as last year’s version, even if the division has shuffled some top talent into Citizens Bank Park.

4. New York Mets

Goal: Make the playoffs
Most Important Player: Jacob deGrom

Brodie Van Wagenen certainly wasn’t lazy this offseason, adding 2B/1B Robinson Cano, closer Edwin Diaz and infielder Jed Lowrie in an effort to drag a Metropolitan team somewhere close to contention. Cano is still a good player, even if the Seattle Mariners cut bait at the right time, and Diaz is an incredible reliever. One could ask why the Mets — they won 77 games last season — thought they were only an aging second baseman and about 70 dominant innings away from contention, but alas, the team is better. One wonders what Dallas Keuchel might do for a squad primed to give a lot of innings to Jason Vargas (wait, is a 5.77 ERA bad?) He’d be far from the ace here, which strikes me as a great way to deploy 2019 Dallas Keuchel.

Improved, yes. Good enough for October? Ehhh … more than a few things need to break correctly. But good enough — much like the Cincinnati Reds — to entertain fans deeper into the season.

5. Miami Marlins

Goal: Lose every game?
Most Important Player: Sixto Sanchez?

Look, what is there to say? The Derek Jeter era in Miami hasn’t been pretty. El Capitan showed up and immediately salary-dumped the reigning NL MVP and then about a month later traded the new NL MVP. As Dan Syzmborski pointed out in his ZiPS preview for the team, even including the haul for JT Realmuto, the Marlins might have only scraped up a couple big league regulars.

Fun times in Miami! Don’t give these people your money, fans. Seriously.

NL East Observations

Best Pitchers going into 2019 Best Position Players going into 2019
1. Jacob deGrom 1. Anthony Rendon
2. Max Scherzer 2. Freddie Freeman
3. Aaron Nola 3. Bryce Harper