The Post’s Ken Davidoff previews the NL East. 1. New York Mets O/U wins: 32 Key player: OF/DH Yoenis Cespedes. In his four years as an active Met, Cespedes has tallied a 138 OPS+, his best output for any of the four major league teams for which he has played. If he could produce at …
The Post’s Ken Davidoff previews the NL East.
1. New York Mets
O/U wins: 32
Key player: OF/DH Yoenis Cespedes. In his four years as an active Met, Cespedes has tallied a 138 OPS+, his best output for any of the four major league teams for which he has played. If he could produce at that level for even half of this 60-game season, he would provide his club with an immense boost.
Player who’ll need to step up: RHP Marcus Stroman came around last September after a rough first month, yet he essentially served as the team’s fourth starter. With RHP Noah Syndergaard gone thanks to Tommy John surgery and RHP Zack Wheeler having left for the Phillies, Stroman becomes considerably more important.
Name you’ll get to know: SS Andres Gimenez generated some excitement in spring training 1.0 when he showed flashes of an improved bat. Even if that doesn’t stick, his glove gives him the floor of major league backup.
Biggest question mark: Do they possess enough organizational depth to cover for any coronavirus casualties and/or opt-outs, not to mention more standard baseball ailments? Their farm system remains on the mend after a series of trades and graduations.
How it’ll go down: The presence of the DH helps this group the most of any NL entity, as the Mets can capitalize on their abundance of interesting-bat, poor-glove guys like Cespedes, 1B/OF Dom Smith and 2B Robinson Cano. The Wilpons, who are working to sell the club, and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who easily could get jettisoned by a new owner, will be all-in on this bizarre season. It just might pay off with their first division title since 2015.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
O/U wins: 31
Key player: SS Didi Gregorius. He bet on himself by accepting a one-year deal to play for his old manager Joe Girardi, and boy, could the Phillies benefit from seeing the Gregorius who blossomed under Girardi in The Bronx. Didi wasn’t nearly that guy last year with the Yankees after returning from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Which is why he’s here on a short-term agreement.
Player who’ll need to step up: RHP Jake Arrieta, getting paid like an ace, didn’t give the Phils much last year as a bone spur in his right elbow slowed him down. In the last guaranteed year of his contract, he’ll try to boost his own value as well as his team’s success.
Name you’ll get to know: RHP Spencer Howard performed well for Double-A Reading in a late-season audition and is on the Phillies’ list of eligible players for this season. He could be in the mix if any of the veteran starters go down.
Biggest question mark: The infield. The versatile and valuable Scott Kingery experienced a rough bout with coronavirus and likely won’t be at full strength for a while. Gregorius must reprove himself. 1B Rhys Hoskins and 3B Jean Segura, who will slide over from shortstop to accommodate Gregorius, performed merely adequately last year.
How it’ll go down: Girardi got the job with the hope that he could improve both the culture and game management. With plenty of talent on hand, he’ll prove capable of both tasks. The Phillies could make a spirited run for the division title and gain their first playoff berth since 2011.
3. Atlanta Braves
O/U wins: 33 ¹/₂
Key player: OF Ronald Acuna Jr., a stud in his first two years, must at least maintain his All-Star contributions with 1B Freddie Freeman recovering from coronavirus, OF Nick Markakis opting out and 3B Josh Donaldson having departed for the Twins. The lineup cupboard isn’t completely bare thanks to newcomers C Travis d’Arnaud and OF Marcell Ozuna.
Player who’ll need to step up: RHP Mike Foltynewicz, an All-Star in 2018, struggled to a 4.54 ERA in 117 innings last year. With new guy LHP Cole Hamels uncertain out of the gate thanks to arm problems and veteran RHP Felix Hernandez opting out, “Folty” can really help by turning back time two years ago and teaming with sophomore RHP Mike Soroka and LHP Max Fried for a strong rotation frontline.
Name you’ll get to know: OF Cristian Pache reached Triple-A Gwinnett last year and is ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s top prospect. The odds say that, if he stays healthy, he’ll make his big-league debut in this crazy season.
Biggest question mark: Can the Braves withstand the impact of coronavirus? They have been hit especially hard in the early going and they play in a state where the numbers are spiking.
How it’ll go down: This organization deserves credit for winning the last two division titles and acting aggressively to improve; LHP Will Smith joins d’Arnaud, Hamels and Ozuna as guys who came aboard last offseason. However, in such a tightly packed race, they appear poised for a drop thanks to injuries both normal and abnormal.
4. Washington Nationals
O/U wins: 33 ¹/₂
Key player: RHP Stephen Strasburg earned a massive, $245 million contract last winter after winning World Series Most Valuable Player honors as the Nats won their first title in franchise history. Coming off the heaviest workload of his career (245 ¹/₃ innings, including the playoffs), can he rev back up for this 60-game sprint?
Player who’ll need to step up: 3B Carter Kieboom, a rookie, will be called upon to fill the gaping void at the hot corner left by 3B Anthony Rendon’s departure to the Angels, with the understanding that the youngster need not be an MVP candidate. If he falters, veteran IF Asdrubal Cabrera is around.
Name you’ll get to know: Besides Kieboom, RHP Wil Crowe could contribute after spending time last year with both Double-A Harrisburg (it went well) and Triple-A Fresno (it went poorly). At 25, he is running out of time to establish himself.
Biggest question mark: What will a Nationals season without 1B Ryan Zimmerman look like? In their 17th year since moving from Montreal, the Nats finally will find out, as Zimmerman — who debuted with the club in 2005, the same year it began playing in Washington — has opted out. While his on-the-field production has declined, the 35-year-old still contributed leadership as well as the occasional big hit.
How it’ll go down: With Zimmerman and RHP Joe Ross both sitting out, and with Rendon gone, the Nationals won’t be able to replicate their 2019 magic. With no tickets to sell, anyway, they’ll put their feet up and look ahead to next year (Lord willing) as the true defense of their full-season title.
5. Miami Marlins
O/U wins: 24
Key player: Um, how about OF Corey Dickerson? He at least owns a track record of being a solid major league player, which makes him stand out on this roster. The Marlins’ decision to spend a few bucks and acquire Dickerson (as well as IF Jonathan Villar) last winter symbolizes CEO Derek Jeter’s acknowledgement that it’s time to start winning some more. Dickerson can set a tone by honoring that track record.
Player who’ll need to step up: RHP Jose Urena endured a rough 2019, winding up in the bullpen after missing time on the injured list. He had proven himself to be a reliable arm in the prior two seasons, so the Marlins really could benefit from that version of Urena re-emerging.
Name you’ll get to know: RHP Sixto Sanchez hopes to become the second Sixto in the big leagues (fans of a certain age recall Brewers OF Sixto Lezcano). After his strong 2019, during which he put up a 2.88 ERA in 103 innings for Double-A Jacksonville, there’s strong reason to think he can join that club.
Biggest question mark: Where’s the beef? There don’t appear to be any future stars (as in MVP awards) on the current major league roster. To be fair, their farm system has climbed considerably in the media rankings; now that farm system must produce.
How it’ll go down: In a 60-game season, finishing in fourth place doesn’t sound impossible. More likely is the cellar once more, yet if nothing else, they should improve upon last year’s ugly .352 winning percentage.