Mound Musings: A Look at Pitching in the NL East

Mound Musings: A Look at Pitching in the NL East

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

We're closing in on Opening Day, and the excitement is sure building. Things will change as Spring Training finishes up, but we have handled those changes on the fly. This is the sixth of six columns briefly reviewing the pitching staffs of all 30 teams. Remember, the Musings are intended to be interactive. Ask questions and share your opinions. That's what we're here for. Let's get to it and look at the:

National League East

Atlanta Braves – Many of the team pitching staff evaluations will focus on the "haves" and "have nots" of MLB. No team ever really has enough pitching, but the Braves do appear to fall on the positive side of the ledger. I'm going to start with Spencer Strider – with apologies to Max Fried. Perhaps never have I been so fooled by a pitcher. The first time I saw him, he looked okay, but nothing really special. The next time he was better, and then he was better again, and again. It happened every start. And, by the end of the season, I thought he was one of the best pitchers in the game, and I hesitate to say he can't continue to improve. Fried is solid, although he often looks hittable to me, so I avoid him. Kyle Wright is next on the food chain. Early last year I saw him hinting that he was turning the corner so I started recommending him. That turned out pretty well, and I think as long

We're closing in on Opening Day, and the excitement is sure building. Things will change as Spring Training finishes up, but we have handled those changes on the fly. This is the sixth of six columns briefly reviewing the pitching staffs of all 30 teams. Remember, the Musings are intended to be interactive. Ask questions and share your opinions. That's what we're here for. Let's get to it and look at the:

National League East

Atlanta Braves – Many of the team pitching staff evaluations will focus on the "haves" and "have nots" of MLB. No team ever really has enough pitching, but the Braves do appear to fall on the positive side of the ledger. I'm going to start with Spencer Strider – with apologies to Max Fried. Perhaps never have I been so fooled by a pitcher. The first time I saw him, he looked okay, but nothing really special. The next time he was better, and then he was better again, and again. It happened every start. And, by the end of the season, I thought he was one of the best pitchers in the game, and I hesitate to say he can't continue to improve. Fried is solid, although he often looks hittable to me, so I avoid him. Kyle Wright is next on the food chain. Early last year I saw him hinting that he was turning the corner so I started recommending him. That turned out pretty well, and I think as long as he's healthy he can carry on. The Braves staff is very good, but relatively young, so Charlie Morton adds a veteran presence even though I think he could be tailing off a bit. Now we come to Michael Soroka who can't seem to get healthy. He has been out following surgery for a torn Achilles that cost him most of 2020, all of 2021 and limited him to a few innings of rehab work last year. He may be eased back into a full workload, but he should be a solid fantasy asset. It's no secret I am a huge Soroka fan, and the optimist in me actually expects even better days ahead. That's a very good front five, but depth is a concern. Next in line is lefty Jared Shuster. He was a first-round draft choice in 2020, but hasn't pitched in the majors yet. Dylan Dodd could also be in the mix, but Shuster is the better bet. I would actually prefer Ian Anderson who enjoyed a very strong rookie season in 2021 but came unglued last year. He has to find himself before he can be expected to contribute.

Taking a quick look at the bullpen, Raisel Iglesias stabilized a bullpen that appeared headed for serious distress prior to his arrival. With Kenley Jansen gone, Iglesias is the man. He is quite competent, and although I don't consider him top tier, he is close. That probably leaves the eighth inning to lefty A.J. Minter and Joe Jimenez who I think can be a competent set-up arms. However, I would keep an eye on Collin McHugh, and to an even greater extent, former ace closer Kirby Yates, who is still trying to make it back from Tommy John surgery and is a possible sleeper for saves. Late breaking news: Iglesias is expected to open the season on the IL with what is being called a "low grade shoulder strain," so Minter and perhaps Jimenez should temporarily move up in the saves chase. Yates could be a factor, too, but he probably needs to prove himself first.

Recapping the Braves:

The arm to roster: Soroka will be a bargain due to his injury recovery timeline.

He'll likely be overpriced: Fried just hasn't convinced me he is a true No. 1.

Best of the bullpen: Iglesias, but keep an eye on Yates if he gets regular work.

Miami Marlins – The Marlins are young, but appear to be progressing in an organization that's making a name for itself by developing young arms. I think Sandy Alcantara, who came over in the Marcell Ozuna deal a couple years ago, is clearly considered their No. 1. and his results have improved with his steadily improving command. He's close anyway, but on any other staff, he'd be considered one of the best pitchers overall. However, another youngster, Jesus Luzardo was also included as a headliner, and his is perhaps the highest ceiling. Like Alcantara, needed to do, Luzardo still needs to refine his command, but he is nearly ready to be a genuine ace, and his massive upside makes him very appealing. Next up is Johnny Cueto. He comes from everywhere, and he makes hitters talk to themselves. Then, in my opinion, the trio of Trevor Rogers and the promising Edward Cabrera and maybe Braxton Garrett all fit into the back-of-the-rotation mix. Long term, I like Rogers the best of that group, followed by Garrett and Cabrera, but they are all very close. And, don't forget, the Marlins like keeping their options open with kids like 2020 first-round pick Max Meyer. I'm not sure he's legitimately ready for the show just yet, but he's close.

The Marlins bullpen is clearly not a strength of the team. At this writing, I count four (maybe more) candidates for saves. At the top of my list is Dylan Floro, but anyone could emerge. He has just 25 saves in parts of seven major league seasons. He has good but not great stuff, and has a lower strikeout rate. Other than that, he's perfect. Actually A.J. Puk who came over from Oakland might be the most likely candidate to pitch the ninth on days when the Fish can carry a lead into the last frame, but he's much better suited to a set-up role. But, how about Matt Barnes? He has the stuff to close, but he has to display consistency. Track his usage. Tanner Scott, Steven Okert and Anthony Bender could all get into the mix too, but he is likely out for the year.

The arm to roster: Alcantara still has huge upside, and he is learning on the job.

He'll likely be overpriced: Luzardo is good but seems to be at least a bit overvalued.

Best of the bullpen: Floro is my choice for the best in an undermanned bullpen.

New York Mets – The NL East is a division deep in quality starting pitching, and the Mets, loaded with talent, are a part of that equation. The staff is lead by Justin Verlander, but the 40-year-old is just one of the aces, and he will be one of the first pitchers off the board in fantasy drafts. Some day age might catch up to him but not today. Next up is another senior citizen in 38-year-old Max Scherzer. One of the most intense hurlers, he looks like a great fit for the Mets as they mount an assault on the NL East. The three spot will be manned by new Japanese import, Kodai Senga. I like him as much as any Pacific Rim pitcher not named Ohtani. Senga is just a kid (he's 30) but he has learned the art of pitching. They also have Carlos Carrasco. He is a solid starter when healthy, but he has had trouble staying on the mound. The plan was to have Jose Quintana hold down the five spot, but a rib injury has him out until mid-season at the earliest. To begin the season, it looks like a pair of adequate arms, Tylor Megill and David Peterson, could share the five spot, so the rotation is both capable and deep when everyone is healthy. Let's see, have I forgotten anyone? Oh yeah, swingman Elieser Hernandez sometimes flashes competence and could find a few starts.

Overnight the bullpen went from a strength of the team to the land of question marks. Edwin Diaz, their ace closer, blew out his knee at the WBC and is lost for the season. His replacement is still TBA. The "best" in house option might be David Robertson, but I don't consider him the solution. He and Adam Ottavino are both better in a set-up role. If nothing changes, I think I'd like to see southpaw Brooks Raley, but the Mets have to be looking for alternatives. There are a couple potential closers still on the market if they still have enough in the tank. Could we see Zack Britton or Ken Giles closing?

Recapping the Mets:

The arm to roster: I find myself anticipating another big year from Verlander.

He'll likely be overpriced: I wish Carrasco could stay out of the trainer's room.

Best of the bullpen: Right now my lukewarm favorite is Raley, but stay tuned.

Philadelphia Phillies – Like most teams, the Phillies' rotation presents an intriguing scenario. The staff has some upside, but it's not very deep, and that could present challenges in this rough division. They have two genuine aces. Aaron Nola has been a favorite of mine since his college days. He is an exceptionally talented workhorse who thrives on competition, and those guys are always very appealing. He fits nicely at the top of pretty much any fantasy rotation. After years of frustrating injuries that always interrupted his progress, Zack Wheeler has now taken a regular turn every five days over the past few years. He's pitched well since putting the injuries behind him, and there's really no reason to think he won't again competently man the two spot in their rotation. Now the question marks arise. The lackluster group following the top two includes newcomer Taijuan Walker (decent stuff but something of an underperformer) who is likely penciled into the three slot, followed by Ranger Suarez who just doesn't excite me, and perhaps Bailey Falter who has some upside but might be better in the bullpen while he refines his skills. Both of those last two are No. 5 starters in MLB at best right now and unlikely to warrant a spot on any but the deepest fantasy rosters. That leaves us shopping for someone capable of stepping in as a legitimate back-end starter, and there just isn't someone I consider a good candidate. They do have an appealing kid in Andrew Painter. He is high on my kids list, but he's hurt right now and probably not ready yet so he's more of a futures selection.

In recent years the Phillies pen has given a whole new meaning to the term ugly. Every season – 2023 included - they bring in pretty much a whole new herd, and every season the ugliness continues. Not surprisingly, another complete overhaul was in order. They brought in Craig Kimbrel, and he should be the favorite to close, but I think his best days are long past. They also added Gregory Soto who did some closing in Detroit, but he's best suited to set-up work. Flame-throwing Jose Alvarado is also a decent set-up option from the left side. Interestingly, their best option to close is holdover Seranthony Dominguez, but they have needed him in so many other places too often. Maybe 2023 is the year he gets the opportunity. They also have veteran southpaw Matt Strahm who gives them multiple innings, and competent bridge builder Andrew Bellatti.

Recapping the Phillies:

The arm to roster: Nola, but I would expect him to be full price on draft day.

He'll likely be overpriced: Suarez tends to out-pitch his overall stuff. Be careful.

Best of the bullpen: Dominguez is still the best of a rebuilt bullpen.

Washington Nationals – They are trying, but the Nats seem overmatched in this strong division. It's a tale of two camps on the mound. On one side of the equation, you have veterans Stephen Strasburg who has pitched just 30 innings in the past three years, and Patrick Corbin who has been nothing short of horrible over those same three years. Strasburg had TOS surgery, which ends many careers, which explains his fall. Corbin's signature slider mysteriously deserted him. A return to form is looking bleak. On the other side, two kids are the hope of the future. Josiah Gray is realistically at the top of the staff. He has paid the price, learning on the job after being pushed into service before he was ready. He has shown steady improvement, and I expect that to continue. The other arm belongs to MacKenzie Gore. Gore's a longtime favorite of mine and I admit to being concerned because he can't seem to find the strike zone following a few injuries. However, his stuff is still electric and I'm betting it all comes together. Unfortunately, they'll be followed by some less spectacular arms. Trevor Williams comes over from the Mets, but he probably only fits now as an average No. 5 even though he could rise as high as perhaps a two or three on this staff. The other favorite to claim the fifth spot is Chad Kuhl. He has struggled and would be better served as a swingman, but the elbow injury to top prospect Cade Cavalli likely pushes him into the rotation full time. There just aren't many options unless Wily Peralta or Paolo Espino step up.

The Nats bullpen was a mess most of last season, too. They needed a boost, and they did get some help late from Kyle Finnegan. He's reportedly not the named closer as the Nats look at a committee, but early on he will take the ninth most days. If he needs a day off, the Nats have a couple good alternatives in Carl Edwards (love his stuff), veteran Sean Doolittle and eventually Tanner Rainey, who is due back in August. Even guys with some closer experience like Hunter Harvey and Alex Colome could get into the mix, but I think their primary role will be setting up, which is where they fit best.

Recapping the Nationals:

The arm to roster: Gore probably comes at a big discount, and I'm buying.

He'll likely be overpriced: I think Corbin is unlikely to rebound at this point.

Best of the bullpen: Edwards is my major dark horse, he should help the pen.

Next week we'll wrap up our preseason with a look at the latest bullpen projections.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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