MLB division preview and predictions: NL East

Sep 4, 2022; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris II (23) hits a single to drive in a run against the Miami Marlins during the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2022; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris II (23) hits a single to drive in a run against the Miami Marlins during the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
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Widely regarded as one the best divisions in the league, the NL East comes into 2023 with three World Series-contending teams. It will be a really fun race to follow, with last year’s title race coming down to the wire between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

Let’s break down our NL East predictions for the 2023 season.

NL East preview: 5. Washington Nationals

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The 2019 World Series champs dealt away Juan Soto for a record haul at last year’s deadline, further accelerating the long rebuild that awaits. While another tough losing season is on the brink, Washington has some exciting young pieces that will hopefully be key in future championship runs down the road.

Josiah Gray and Mackenzie Gore are the two young arms highlighting this rotation, both looking to make big leaps this year. After two seasons of pitching at the big league level, it’s time for Josiah Gray to take that big step forward and become a top of the rotation pitcher he was proclaimed to be. Gray has maintained a 5-plus ERA in both big league seasons, hoping to significantly trim this number in 2023. Mackenzie Gore was a key piece in the Juan Soto trade, but he hasn’t looked great in his recent rehab starts this spring. After giving up five runs to Houston on Friday, Gore’s spring ERA has risen to 7.07. The 24-year-old has been regarded as a top prospect for years, surely possessing the arsenal to become a quality starter in this league. Hopefully Gore can turn it around or else the Nats might have the worst rotation in major league baseball. Washington received devastating news that Cade Cavalli will miss the 2023 season, requiring Tommy John surgery. Out of this group of young arms, I believe Cavalli has the best chance to become an ace, having three potential plus pitches in his arsenal. He has a fastball with movement that averages around 96 mph, a nasty changeup, and a curveball that almost moves like a 12-6. It’s a real shame we won’t get to see the #58 overall prospect pitch this season. Patrick Corbin will take the ball on Opening Day, hoping to avoid the disastrous numbers he’s posted over the past two seasons. Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl will eat up innings too, with Washington likely hoping to trade both at the deadline for young talent.

Joey Meneses highlights a lineup composed of developing prospects and veterans. CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, and Jeter Downs highlight the young core that Washington hopes will thrive in this upcoming season. The Nationals are looking for Abrams to become a more consistent contact hitter, hopefully serving as their leadoff hitter in the lineup for years to come. That, paired with his elite defense, will make him a worthy acquisition in the Juan Soto trade. The Nationals clearly believe in catcher Keibert Ruiz, who received an eight-year, $50 million extension over the offseason. The 24-year-old put up a serviceable .251/7HR slash last season, with many years of growth left ahead. Lane Thomas is quietly panning out to be a pleasant surprise, putting up a respectable .246/17HR slash in the outfield last season. The 27-year-old brings great defensive versatility to the outfield, logging games in all three spots last season. Jeter Downs has been a top-rated prospect for years, and it came as a surprise to many Red Sox fans when he was released over the offseason. Downs, often regarded as the centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade, went 6-for-39 with one homer in his call-up with Boston last year. While these numbers aren’t stellar, it’s quite foolish for any team to judge a 24-year-old’s value on just 39 MLB at-bats. With Washington, Downs will have ample opportunities to further develop his talent, with the team’s main priority in development. The elite defense of Victor Robles will keep him in center field, with Robles still trying to find consistency at the plate. Robles is entering his fifth season at just 25 years old. The Nats will cross their fingers and hope either Dominic Smith, Corey Dickerson or Jeimer Candelario can become a valuable asset at the trade deadline. It’d be great to cash on some prospects on one of these vets, all of whom are on one-year deals. Speaking of the deadline, I think it’s very likely that Joey Meneses could be a name come late July. The soon to be 31-year-old has no use being on the team that is still years from contention, and could command a huge prospect haul if he replicates something close to the 156 wRC+ slash he put up last season.

While the Nationals are still years away from contending, things are looking bright on the farm. Washington boasts four top 100 prospects, along with two young studs in Brady House and Jarlin Susana (whom I personally thought were snubbed from this list). Not to mention, Washington owns the second pick in this year’s entry draft. Developing and acquiring young talent will and should be Washington’s M.O. for this upcoming season.