Every team has four divisional opponents to overcome if they want to reach their ultimate goal at the end of the regular season. The Braves have done it in each of the last five seasons, which is the longest active streak in the major. But if they want to extend that number to six, they are going to have to overcome their two biggest challengers yet.
This continues my series where I count down the days to Opening Day. If you missed any of the previous editions to this series, follow the links below:
- 7 things I’m most looking forward to in 2023
- 6 NL East foes I’m least excited to face
- 5 biggest questions that must be answered
- 4 MVP candidates
- 3 breakout candidates
The Phillies are the reigning National League champions, and they beat the Braves 3-1 in the NLDS to reach that title. Even though they haven’t been quite as successful during the regular season, they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Philadelphia’s lineup is as powerful as any. They will start the year without Bryce Harper, and Rhys Hoskins is out for the season after sustaining an injury during Spring Training. However, Harper will be back when it matters most, and the addition of Trea Turner this offseason will be more than enough to makeup for the loss of Hoskins.
Their pitching staff also received substantial additions this winter. Everybody knows about Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. They are one of the best pitching duos in baseball, but Ranger Suarez also proved to be a valuable #3, and the Phillies added Taijuan Walker as well this offseason. The fifth spot in the rotation leaves a lot to be desired, but they are as good as anyone 1-4.
The bullpen was a bit of a revelation for the club last postseason. They were terrible during the regular season but turned it on in October and became nearly unhittable. Bullpens are always volatile, so that is to be expected, but the Phillies took the necessary steps to fix their problems this offseason, adding Craig Kimbrel and Gregory Soto to the mix. If Philadelphia’s bullpen can hold up, they should have no problem eclipsing the 90-win threshold and giving the Braves a run for their money in the division.
New York Mets
The rivalry between the Braves and Mets is quickly becoming one of the best in baseball again. Steve Cohen has revitalized what was a dormant franchise, but they still haven’t been able to get over the hump that is their big brother in the division.
Last year’s NL East race came down to these two teams and was decided when they met in the second-to-last series of the season. The Mets needed just one win to take a stranglehold of the division, but they were unable. The Braves swept them at Truist Park and went on to win their fifth consecutive NL East title.
Like they will continue to be under Steve Cohen, the Mets were one of the busiest teams this offseason. They spent loads of cash, but they also lost several critical pieces.
The most notable additions are Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana and Kodai Senga to the rotation. This will once again be the best group of starting pitchers in baseball, but how much did they really upgrade over Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, and Taijuan Walker?
The Mets bullpen was originally in very good shape coming into the season, but the loss of Edwin Diaz for the season is a massive blow. He’s the best closer in baseball by a mile; replacing him will be impossible, but the Mets will need to find answers if they want to win the division.
However, what will likely decide the Mets fate is their lineup. They don’t have a lot of threats to hit 30+ homers, but they play a scrappy brand of baseball. New York is chalk full of tough outs that just know how to get on base, but their lack of power has held them back in the past. Not adding to their lineup this offseason could end up being Steve Cohen’s biggest regret, especially after they were so close to landing Carlos Correa.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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