5 things we've learned about the NL East

April 4th, 2019

It’s never too early to overreact. It’s always confirmation-bias season. Why tread lightly when you can jump to conclusions?

Hey, just being honest here. The baseball season is one week old, and everything is still unknown. But we all know what we’ve seen, and we’ve seen some games that count. So there’s an opportunity to take stock, and try to figure out what’s real, what’s a mirage, and what it’s just too early to know.

Here's what we've learned and one thing we still don't know about each team in the National League East after Week 1.


One thing we’ve learned: Ronald Acuña Jr. is still getting better. He came up as a five-tool player, and showed all those tools last season. What he didn’t show, initially, was great command of the strike zone. That improved quite a bit as 2018 went on, and he appears to have taken another step forward this year. Considering it was the closest thing to a hole in his game, if he’s figured that out, look out.

One thing we still don’t know: Whether the Braves need a starter. There are tons of young arms here, but it will be far better if the youngsters only need to fill a couple of spots. If Julio Teheran can build on his solid start, and Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman come back soon and strong, they can mix and match with kids and feel good about the rotation. If any the top three can’t be counted on, they might start to worry.

Two numbers: Entering Wednesday, Braves pitchers had walked 16.1 percent of batters faced, the second-highest rate in the NL. Their 20.8 percennt strikeout rate was second-lowest in the league.


One thing we’ve learned: The preseason optimism about the rotation might well have been justified. Sandy Alcantara was brilliant in his first start. Caleb Smith picked right up where he left off before an injury ended his 2018 season. Only Jose Urena has really struggled, and he’s probably the guy you’d worry the least about.

One thing we still don’t know: How far Lewis Brinson has come. He rapped out three base hits Tuesday, and has seven on the year for a nice .269 average. He also has yet to walk or hit a home run this year. It’s not as though the Fish will rise or fall with Brinson alone, but he’s a key part of their vision for the future, and his development is one of this year’s biggest storylines.

One number: Dating back to last season’s All-Star break, Tayron Guerrero issued six walks in 20 2/3 innings (entering Wednesday). He issued 25 in his previous 42 big league innings.


One thing we’ve learned: Pete Alonso’s vaunted power is legit. His first big league home run was an absolute rocket, and entering Wednesday’s game he’d already amassed four barrels (a Statcast measure of ideal contact). Alonso comes to the big leagues with some questions about his ability to make contact, but there’s never been any doubt about what he can do when he connects.

One thing we still don’t know: Whether Jason Vargas really is an answer at the back of the rotation. Both his spring results and his early-season performance have been cause for cautious optimism, but he’s pitching on a bit of a knife edge when it comes to hard contact and not missing bats. Mind you, when this is what you’re worrying about, it’s is a first-world problem. But it’s still a question.

One number: Entering Wednesday’s game, Mets starters had a 9.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.


One thing we’ve learned: Anthony Rendon is not distracted. Entering his final season before free agency, Rendon is crushing the ball. He sports a .474/.545/.895 line through five games. It appears he’s well on his way to a third-straight season of garnering some MVP votes. And if he keeps this up, they might not only be down-ballot votes.

One thing we still don’t know: How the Nats going to navigate the middle innings. We know the rotation should be good. We know Sean Doolittle is one of the best relievers in the game. In between … it’s been ugly so far. Trevor Rosenthal has yet to record an out. Matt Grace has a WHIP of 3.00. Tony Sipp has a 16.20 ERA. It’s very early, but the middle innings were a worry before the season, and that worry has not dissipated.

One number: Rosenthal has faced seven batters this year and allowed seven earned runs.


One thing we’ve learned: They can hit. This is a deep, dangerous, versatile lineup. They obviously won’t average almost eight runs per game all season, but it’s no fluke that the Phils can rake. There are very few lineups in either league that are as threatening from top to bottom as Philadelphia’s.

One thing we still don’t know: Whether to worry about David Robertson and Hector Neris. Robertson has a heck of a track record, and Neris has a huge upside. They may yet be the dominant back-end duo the Phillies anticipated. But in the early going, things have been iffy. It may be too soon to worry, but it’s not too soon to wonder.

One number: Bryce Harper has been on base 15 times in five games.