Results tagged ‘ National League East ’
After watching the majority of above average outfield free agents get plucked off the market over the course of this offseason (the most recent case being Justin Upton, who agreed to a six-year, 132.75 million dollar contract with the Tigers), Yoenis Cespedes is currently in the process of determining his fate for the 2016 season and beyond.
Reportedly, the two teams most in the running to nab Cespedes are the New York Mets and the division rival Washington Nationals (though the Yankees have been mentioned as well).
As with every team around baseball, either team would be a better version of itself with Cespedes as part of their everyday lineup in 2016, but in this case I think the choice could wind up being more important than usual. With the Mets and Nationals going back and forth in the division last season, all the way until the latter part of the year, I truly believe that the team that gets Cespedes will be the team that holds the advantage to win the National League East division.
Back on July 31st of last year, the National held a two game lead over the Mets and were seemingly on their way to the postseason as had been expected from Opening Day. But a trade for Yoenis Cespedes by the Mets ultimately gave them what they needed to surpass the Nationals and never look back.
In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes blasted 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs, all while hitting a cool .287. With Cespedes leading the way, New York wound up taking what was supposed to be an easy division win by the Nats and turning it a complete 180 degrees into a cakewalk division win by the Mets — an outcome that truly stunned many around the baseball world.
Sure, the Mets had a lot go right last season, and the Nationals had almost everything go wrong, but you can’t deny the impact that the lone presence of Cespedes brought to the Mets.
With the Phillies still seemingly lost heading into 2016, the Braves working on rebuilding their club and the Marlins being much improved but still likely a third place team at best, the division will inevitably go to either the Nationals or the Mets.
On paper, the two teams are quite even. While I would give the edge to the Mets in terms of pitching staff (with guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard), I would declare the Nationals the better lineup, with tons of pop including the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, who hit 42 home runs and batted .330 a year ago. The difference maker, in my mind, for both teams comes down to one free agent: Yoenis Cespedes.
With the National League East division set to be just as competitive as ever between the Mets and the Nationals, whoever can win the Cespedes sweepstakes (given the reports are correct, and he does end up with one of the two) will hold the upper hand heading into 2016 to win the division. As history has shown since the introduction of the second wild card in 2012, winning the division is extremely important in securing a long playoff run in October.
The Washington Nationals are somehow finding a way to win, despite the fact that some of their key players are posting disappointing numbers due to either injuries or a long stretch of struggles. Currently riding a four game winning streak, the Nats amazingly find themselves in first place for the National League East division, six games in front of the second place Braves, who were on top less than a month ago.
Ryan Zimmerman, who has been dealing with injuries all season long, is out until at least September, which is obviously a big blow to the team, seeing how much of an affect he’s had over the course of his career. In addition, Stephen Strasburg, while he’s been healthy, still hasn’t been that over dominant pitcher that he has been hyped to be, currently possessing a mid 3.00 ERA, though he’s been showing signs of a turn around. Those two players alone not playing to the best of their ability would understandably be enough to make the Nationals under perform.
But the one player who is hyped the most of anyone on the team, and arguably is the one player that the Nats need the most in order to be the best their team can be, is their 21 year old, Bryce Harper, who has also been struggling, after coming off the disabled list due to a thumb injury.
Putting up numbers so bad that there were rumors that Harper could be sent down to the minors — rumors that were quickly set straight by Nationals’ manager, Matt Williams –, Harper hadn’t been able to find his overall groove through a couple of weeks since his return.
Having struggled in 2013 after a knee injury, and threatened with bench time, Harper stated that the Nationals should “play [him] or trade [him]”. By pressuring the Nationals to keep him in the lineup, Harper worked that slump out, and he’s beginning to show signs that he’s working out of this one as well.
Following a two RBI night on Thursday, coming off of a home run, Harper went 2-4 with a couple more RBI’s on Friday. Batting .282 with 3 homers and 9 RBI’s in his last ten games, Harper’s stats for the season now stand at 6 home runs and 23 RBI’s with a .259 average. Though that’s not very good, with this set to be the first season in his young career without 20 homers, the two-time All-Star is recently starting to contribute like he’s expected to.
And the Nationals are going need Harper’s bat to continue to stay hot if they hope to make any sort of deep playoff push with the talent level that October baseball brings. After reaching the postseason in 2012 for the first time since 1933, the Nationals were quickly eliminated, and failed to reach the postseason at all in 2013.
Though they’re on track to make it once again this year, whether or not Harper produces in the clutch will likely make a big difference in how they fare down the stretch.
Two years removed from his rookie of the year season, in which everything seemed to go right, Bryce Harper has definitely seen his fair share of trying situations. From injuries to slumps, Harper has been scrutinized in the headlines of nearly every major publication across the country for not playing in a consistent manner.
But despite all of that negativity coming his way, there are signs that the Nationals are once again getting the type of player that was anticipated when they drafted Harper number one overall back in 2010. If Harper can get things clicking, the Nats could be in for a strong final month and a half to the season.