Baseball’s setup was made to be interesting because simply looking at 162 games per season can get boring. Luckily, the drama of baseball has carried us through this season. What was once a sport where players could get away with actions with no consequences has turned into a sport where MLB Commissioner is every player’s parent. Towards the end of every season, the excitement of playoff races goes on top of whatever drama the commissioner has in store. But if you are a fan of a team in the National League East division, you have had year-round excitement on if your team will make the playoffs or bottom out year after year.
You are not alone in your confusion. From the outside, other fans look into the NL East and worry about what will happen every year, whether there is a potential threat or if any of the teams will even be relevant. Not that I am an expert at diagnosing confusion, but with the ups and downs of the division over the past five years, there is reason to look back and then look ahead wondering what is next.
When it comes to the Washington Nationals, the team’s recent history can be divided into three sections: Bryce Harper/2019 World Series/post-World Series teams. In the days of the star outfielder/slugger, the Nationals made the playoffs consistently by way of either wild card or division champion, but they could not seem to win once reaching October. The Nationals won the division in 2014, 2016, and 2017, so they had a solid dose of playoff experience and also saw the success of the teams that moved on. They clearly couldn’t conquer the hill that was the playoffs, so the team chose to trade their superstar before the 2019 MLB season. Harper, who was traded to Philadelphia, slipped up in his introductory press conference, noting that he desired to “bring a title back to D.C.” Although that was a mistake, the prophecy came true, as the Nationals defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series that following October. Despite their success, the team could not retain the core of the championship team, so management elected to break up the team and rebuild in the seasons that followed.
The New York Mets have had success of their own, reaching the World Series in 2015, but have not reached those heights since then. In 2016, the team put together an 87-win Wild Card team; however, they dropped out of the playoffs in the early rounds. Since then, the Mets have had some office facelifts, including multiple scandals with management and ownership that completely rebuilt the entire organization. Now that the Mets have cleared their issues off the table, they are ready to bring a non-Yankees championship to the Big Apple, but building the right team will surely take time as well.
The Atlanta Braves of today are the most likely team to find the winning path needed in October. They sat patiently in the basement of the division until their time was right. When the farm system was ripe, they chose the right time to call the future stars into The Show. This move has paid off, as Atlanta has won three straight division titles. If they continue to ride this wave of consistency, it will likely pay off in the end and benefit both the organization and the entire league as a whole.
Flipping to the other side of the coin, one would find the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Not only has the team been the opposite of consistent, but they also haven’t even been relevant since 2011. Following the 100 win season of 2011, the team has built 80-win seasons just twice since 2014. These 80 win seasons turn out to be flukes, as their youth look promising in the system, but when they are called up, it seems like they weren’t ready yet. What seems like a relatively minor issue for the team ultimately turned into a much bigger problem in the long run.
The Miami Marlins seem to align with the Phillies as they have similar issues regarding winning: they just can’t. The most significant blow to their success was their own blunder, as they traded away superstars such as Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and others for a younger system. That might be beneficial for them later down the road, but imagine having a prime, healthy Stanton alongside prime Yelich. It just sounds crazy, but they were in a position to do something. With the current state of the Marlins’ roster, the only thing they consistently do is lose, and outside of last season, that is what they have been doing. Outside of the Wild Card miracle that Miami turned out to be during the COVID-shortened season, the team must keep working at building their system. The playoff run made the league aware that the Marlins are soon ready to strike, and they will be dangerous when they do in the future.
Since 2014, there has been no consistency of any type in the NL East. Might teams load up young talent to fire at division rivals? Are some teams under the proper management to bring success to the team in the future? Are teams even struggling for the right reasons? Who will challenge Atlanta in the near future?
All of the NL East teams seem to have good/above average farm systems running. Atlanta and Philly were recently at the top of the line, but since they called up their talent, it seems like all of their farm systems blend in with the rest of the league.
When it comes to the ownership of the team, everyone except Philly is looking upward to the future. The Nationals just won a championship and were in their right mind to rebuild. The Mets seemed to be successful in their rebuilding efforts, while Atlanta manages their success very well. Miami has new owners just like the Mets, and things seem to be looking upward in their system.
Looking at the teams’ struggles might not do justice to some of the teams. Did the Nationals really need to give up Anthony Rendon and a few other pieces to implode their success and rebuild? The media said no, and from what he deserved, many would beg to differ. The Nationals could have signed Rendon and let World Series MVP Stephen Strausburg walk, but that would leave a hole in the pitching. That alone opens up more questions about their system, but it might have seemed easier to ride the wave of success by riding Rendon’s wave to more championships.
Miami seems to struggle because of youth. Do they struggle for the right reasons? They do. The struggles are a part of rebuilding teams, and when teams are rebuilding properly, they wait for the core players to be ready. Not only is it the wrong time for the organization to bring in veteran players, but they know the right time, and they will know who to bring in as well.
The Mets are struggling simply because the right players are not available now. It is near the trade deadline, which is a time for the Mets to make some noise if they want playoff success, but who are they to approach? They aren’t struggling as much as prior seasons, but there is still room for the team to grow. Is this a one-and-done season for the Mets? From what it sounds like, probably not, but that is also to be determined based on what they do at the trade deadline for the future.
Philadelphia is struggling for so many different reasons, and that might be due to the fact that they used what talent was left in their system. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them go through another minor rebuilding process, but that is all determined by their management. Atlanta has a much more minor problem, and that lies around their offense. It might be a bit of a slump they are going through at the middle of the season, and it might help to bring in one or two more bats to help the team out for the remainder of the season.
Overall, the Eastern division of the National League has seen much change over the course of the past decade or so. Atlanta currently rules the division, but at any point of the next few years, they might drop off and hand off the torch to another young team. Will there be change? Sure. Will teams struggle? Of course. That is the nature of baseball, and that is why the NL East is so interesting right now-it is how baseball is meant to be.
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