It will take more than sluggers, aces and closers to win the National League East this season. It will take role players and fifth starters and middle relievers, too.
It might take somebody or something that nobody is expecting at all.
We are talking about secret weapons, of course. It could be a player or a skill that flies under the enemy’s radar, but it could also win a game or multiple games throughout the season. Here's a look at the secret weapons in the NL East.
Braves: The bench
The Braves’ primary weakness last season might be one of their better strengths this season. Johan Camargo provides an above-average glove at each infield position, and he has proven that his tremendous arm also works at both corner-outfield spots. Dating back to the start of 2018, Ronald Acuña Jr. is the only Atlanta player who has a better at-bats-per-home run ratio than Camargo and Charlie Culberson, who is also capable of playing every position. The bench’s power potential has been enhanced by the addition of Matt Joyce, who hit 25 homers for the A’s in 2017. The bench’s defensive versatility should help keep Josh Donaldson fresh and prevent the second-half fatigue that some of the Braves regulars experienced last year.
Marlins: Nick Anderson
One of the more obscure trades in the offseason, so far, is providing a big return for the Marlins. Lost in a Hot Stove season consumed with where All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto would go, Miami pulled off a Minor League trade with the Twins in November. The Marlins sent third baseman Brian Schales to Minnesota for Nick Anderson, a 28-year-old former 32nd-round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2012. After striking out 88 batters in 60 innings at Triple-A last season, Anderson is a making an impact in a setup role with Miami. The hard-throwing right-hander is a candidate to move into the closer role later in the season.
Mets: J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith
J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith are the Mets’ two primary pinch-hitters; Davis is right-handed and Smith is left-handed. Both could reasonably be starting position players elsewhere, but with New York, they provide depth. Davis has started some games with Jed Lowrie on the injured list, and he is a regular starter against lefties, but his real value is as a lefty crusher off the bench. Smith is blocked by Pete Alonso, but he has thrived in a pinch-hitting role and as a fill-in first baseman about once a week. Smith has also been key as a late-inning defensive replacement for Alonso. The Mets expect both to be key parts of the bench all season.
Nationals: Howie Kendrick
Howie Kendrick continues to rake, and while the Nats aren’t at a point yet where they will consider a straight platoon with Brian Dozier at second base, if the latter keeps struggling, it could eventually get there. Washington didn't really have Kendrick for most of last year after a right Achilles injury in May, but he proves his worth whenever he is on the field. He is proving it again in 2019.
Phillies: Jerad Eickhoff
Jerad Eickhoff is a secret weapon, because he has not been on the scene much the past two seasons due to a nerve issue in his right hand. But after he struck out six in four scoreless innings Tuesday against the Mets, the Phillies optioned Nick Pivetta to Triple-A to get Eickhoff back in the rotation. Eickhoff posted a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts in 2016. Armed with a nasty curveball and slider, he could rack up a lot of strikeouts and stabilize the Phils’ rotation.