Crunch time: 1 goal for each NL East team

September 14th, 2020

We're reaching the crunch-time stage of this abbreviated 2020 season, and every National League East club believes that it remains a contender. That's what should make these final two weeks of the regular season that much more exciting.

Given the expanded playoffs and the improved quality of competition within the division, every club here will be pressing toward a legitimate shot at October -- each with a different strategy and level of pressure.

For our NL East notebook this week, we polled our beat reporters on what their club's most important goal is over the final two weeks. There was a very familiar theme among the results.

Braves: Get their rotation healthy
Though the Braves’ rotation has been a liability for most of the season, it could become a potential strength during the postseason. Much of that depends on how Max Fried and Cole Hamels fare after they are activated from the injured list this week.

Hamels hasn’t pitched competitively in nearly a full year. So, there’s reason to be skeptical about his ability to quickly shake off the rust and be a difference-maker. But the Braves just need him to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation piece. They have their ace in Fried, who shouldn’t be bothered by back spasms that halted his Cy Young Award bid.

Fried has carried the load most of the season. But he will now get assistance from Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, a pair of young right-handers who both have the potential to be surprise assets in October. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: October baseball
Expectations have risen from “playing meaningful games in September” to “making the playoffs.” The Marlins have remained steadfastly focused on being a contender since Day 1 of Summer Camp. “Why not us?” was their battle cry when the 60-game schedule was announced.

Now, with two weeks to go, the Marlins, behind a rotation that includes Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sánchez and Pablo López, seriously believe they have as good a chance as anyone. The addition of Starling Marte solidified center field. If the Marlins are to reach the postseason, they’ll need contributions from their rookies, like infielder Jazz Chisholm, down the stretch.

South Florida hasn’t had playoff excitement since the 2003 Marlins shocked the baseball world and won the World Series. The organization hasn’t been to the postseason since then. But, hey, in an unprecedented '20, wouldn't the Marlins playing into October make perfect sense? -- Joe Frisaro

Mets: Make the playoffs
Earlier this month, outfielder Jake Marisnick said the Mets are “too talented not to make the playoffs,” but the reality is the team has spent most of the summer out of postseason position. To change that, the Mets will need a sustained winning streak in late September.

So far, inconsistent starting pitching has prevented them from achieving that. Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha and David Peterson have not pitched deep into games, and they have not always kept the team in contention. The Mets will need at least one or two of those pitchers to win consistently down the stretch if they are to help the team reach the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Yet as much as the Mets have struggled at times this season, they’re still well within striking distance of a playoff berth. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Make the postseason to defend their World Series title
The Nationals are banged up. They’re without Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, Sean Doolittle, Starlin Castro … the list goes on. But they also have two of the hottest hitters in all of baseball in Juan Soto and Trea Turner and a determined starter who won’t quit in Max Scherzer.

The Nats hope their returning players who won it all last season combined with new energy from young prospects can help them transform a slow start into a late-September push. This is a team that knows a thing or two about turning things around, and manager Dave Martinez hasn’t wavered from his mantra of simply trying to “go 1-0 every day.” -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: They must make the postseason
The Phillies have not made the postseason since Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt rocked the rotation in 2011. It has been too long. There is big-time pressure on the Phillies’ front office to deliver as general manager Matt Klentak finishes his fifth season.

The Phillies have made big-money acquisitions the past couple years, specifically shooting for this moment -- players like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Jay Bruce and Jake Arrieta. They made three trades before the Trade Deadline to improve the bullpen, including adding Brandon Workman, David Phelps, Heath Hembree and David Hale.

Of course, they fired manager Gabe Kapler and hired Joe Girardi after two consecutive September collapses, too. -- Todd Zolecki