Braves: How a shortened season changes the landscape of the NL East

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has already shaken things up for the Braves, as well as the rest of the majors. On Thursday — which would’ve been Opening Day of the 2020 season — we found out that MLB and the MLBPA had agreed on a wide variety of details, including service-time, salaries, and the upcoming draft (as well as the following international signing period).

You can read our analysis on those issues here at SportsTalkATL…

Whether there are actual games in 2020 or not, these compromises made by both sides will help layout a course of action during these unprecedented times, and hopefully, the league’s well-planning will payoff. But let’s focus on the positives for a moment and assume that there are baseball games this year.

We know that the MLB regular season is suspended until at least mid-May, for that’s the current start date ordered by commissioner Rob Manfred back on March 16. However, the chances of that happening are becoming increasingly slim by the day. A start date somewhere along the lines of late-June or July seems more realistic at this point, though either way, a delayed and shortened season will undoubtedly change things within the NL East. But before we can determine the impact of a shortened season, we must first learn how the division was projected to stack up pre-COVID-19.

 

Pre-COVID 2020 NL East Projected Standings (FanGraphs)

(Win Division / Make Playoffs)

  1. Nationals: 88-74 record (40.4% / 66.5%)
  2. Braves: 87-75 record (33.3% / 58.6%) 
  3. Mets: 85-77 record (19.8% / 43.3%)
  4. Phillies: 81-81 record (6.5% / 18.9%)
  5. Marlins: 69-93 record (0.0% / 0.2%)

 

As you can see, the NL East this season was projected to essentially become a crapshoot, with the first-place team winning only three more games than the third-place team (even though I strongly disagree with FanGraphs’ projection for the Braves). Our own Chase Irle already looked at what a shortened season does to the Braves’ playoff odds and overall record, but today I want to take a more general approach and look at how the shortened season will impact each team’s roster, including the Braves. Here are my 2020 NL East standings, with the shortened season in play:

 

Clint’s 2020 NL East Standings (Shortened)

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

 

1. Atlanta Braves

In terms of roster shakeup, the Braves are probably the least impacted from a shortened 2020 season, at least in a negative way. Luckily, other than lefty veteran Cole Hamels — who should be fully healthy by May — the Braves don’t have any players banged up or in need of some invasive surgery. In fact, a month or two delay helps them. Now, the Braves could realistically roll with a 6-man starting rotation for the entirety of the 3-month season (or however long it winds up being), giving the team more options for its starting staff. I could even see an all-hands-on-deck approach, where all of Felix Hernandez, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, and Touki Toussaint team up to hold down the bottom-half of starting staff, allowing manager Brian Snitker plenty of options and the ability to go with whoever has the hotter hand. Plus, a shorter season certainly helps guys like Mike Soroka and Max Fried, who both logged the most innings of their careers in 2019. Overall, it just seems like this delay will benefit the Braves. Although, fewer games does mean more parity, which could result in some craziness in the standings by the end of the season.

 

2. Washington Nationals

Count the Nationals as another team probably welcoming a little bit of a delay to the season (not that they’re happy there’s no baseball… you know what I mean). Max Scherzer was just recently missing Spring Training starts because of a fatigued arm, and Stephen Strasburg coming off an NL-high 209 innings pitched in 2019 — both were depended upon more than ever in the Nationals World Series run. The hangovers teams tend to get after a championship season appear to be a real phenomenon, so this time off should at least prevent some kind of slow start out of the gate. Plus, the 36-year-old Anibal Sanchez — who has logged almost 2,000 innings in his career — could always use a little more rest.

 

3. Philadelphia Phillies

With the bats they have in its lineup, it’s a bit surprising that the Phillies finished 14th in the majors last season in runs-scored. But that could change in 2020 now that outfielder Andrew McCutchen is healthy and ready to go. Also, this time off should benefit Philadelphia’s bullpen, a group that ranked in the bottom-7 in reliever WAR in 2019. Now that there’s a delay, both Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano will be able to start the season in the ‘pen — two guys that would’ve been on the IL if the season began this past Thursday.

 

4. New York Mets

The delay to this season will benefit the Mets in that the team should finally get outfielder Yoenis Cespedes back (who played only 36 games in 2018 and missed all of last season). Both of his heels weren’t ready for a March opening day, but a June or July start would be just right. However, the loss of Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) is going to be costly, even with Jacob deGrom and Marcos Stroman carrying the extra weight. Honestly, I don’t think Cespedes’ return will be as magical as everyone assumes it will be (he has been out of the game for basically two years and is 34), plus this team always seems to shoot itself in the foot. A shorter season with less margin for error isn’t going to make me like the Mets more.

 

5. Miami Marlins

The Marlins could actually be worse in a shortened season, even though the added parity league-wide could potentially improve the team’s odds. They signed several veterans this offseason — guys like Jonathan Villar, Jesus Aguilar, Corey Dickerson, and former Brave, Matt Joyce… but Miami’s younger players are the future for this organization. With fewer games in 2020, the Marlins will have to decide quickly if they want to try to win or perhaps just continue developing their prospects. If it’s the latter, it could get ugly, which is sad because before the COVID-19 outbreak the Marlins were projected to improve from 57 wins in 2019 to almost 70 in 2020.

 

 

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