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2023 Cubs: Know your enemy, NL East

There are some powerful teams in this division.

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Funny thing about these NL East teams. As good as they were last year — two 100-win teams and the eventual NL pennant winner — the Cubs played surprisingly well against them. They played at least .500 ball against all five NL East teams and swept the Phillies in the six-game season series. Overall, the Cubs went 21-10 against NL East opponents in 2022, compared to 53-78 against all other teams.

I can’t explain it either, but those are facts. The Cubs have improved this year, but then, so have some of these teams. Let’s have a look.

Atlanta Braves

Key departures: William Contreras, Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen, Jake Odorizzi, Dansby Swanson

Key arrivals: Nick Anderson, Joe Jiménez, Sean Murphy, Kevin Pillar

The Braves are going to find out just how much Dansby Swanson meant to their team. They didn’t re-sign him, nor sign any of the Big 4 free agent shortstops, so it appears 22-year-old Vaughn Grissom, who has 41 games of MLB experience, will take over.

Atlanta has had very good luck with bringing solid players out of their system, so they’re obviously hoping it happens again with Grissom.

Raisel Iglesias, who was lights-out (0.34 ERA) in 28 games with Atlanta after he was acquired at the deadline last year, probably takes over at closer for the departed Kenley Jansen.

This is a really good team run by a good organization. Other teams should take notice.

At Wrigley Field: August 4-5-6
At Atlanta: September 26-27-28

Miami Marlins

Key departures: Brian Anderson, JJ Bleday, Richard Bleier, Jordan Holloway, Pablo López, Nick Neidert, Miguel Rojas

Key arrivals: Luis Arraez, Johnny Cueto, A.J. Puk, Jean Segura

If you just look at the list of 2022 Marlins departing, you might ask, “What are they doing?”

There’s method to this madness. The Marlins have some good players coming out of their system to replace veterans like Rojas, Anderson and Bleier. The starting rotation has the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Sandy Alcantara, and the bullpen is pretty good, including a couple of reclamation projects from the Cubs in Dylan Floro and Tommy Nance.

They made an interesting change of scenery trade, sending former No. 1 pick JJ Bleday to the A’s for A.J. Puk. Bleday, who was the fourth overall pick in 2019, never quite lived up to his promise in Miami. Puk strengthens the Miami pen.

At Wrigley Field: May 5-6-7
At Miami: April 28-29-30

New York Mets

Key departures: Chris Bassitt, Jacob deGrom, Mychal Givens, James McCann, Dominic Smith, Taijuan Walker, Trevor Williams

Key arrivals: Danny Mendick, Omar Narváez, Tommy Pham, José Quintana, David Robertson, Kodai Senga, Justin Verlander

Well, you likely know the Mets story: Outspend everyone! That guarantees winning!

Of course, you also know that’s not necessarily the case. This pitching staff is old! Other than Japanese import Kodai Senga, the youngest of the Mets rotation is Jose Quintana, who’s 34.

The Mets won 101 games last year without all these machinations. Steve Cohen’s spending of hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t necessarily mean one more win, or winning a postseason series, and the risk of injury to older pitchers is large. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were teammates in Detroit, going to a pair of World Series there in 2012 and 2014. But now it’s nine years later. Can they put the band back together?

It would not surprise me if the Mets do go farther in the playoffs. It would also not surprise me if this all blows up in their faces.

At Wrigley Field: May 23-24-25
At New York: August 7-8-9

Philadelphia Phillies

Key departures: Zach Eflin, Brad Hand, Corey Knebel, David Robertson, Jean Segura, Noah Syndergaard

Key arrivals: Josh Harrison, Craig Kimbrel, Matt Strahm, Trea Turner, Erich Uelmen, Taijuan Walker

About the Phillies, it’s important to remember that the Cubs swept them in a late September series at Wrigley Field just as they were trying to sew up a playoff spot (in fact, swept the entire season series from the Phils). They lost eight of their last 12 regular season games and backed into the playoffs because the Brewers went 5-6.

Then they went on that amazing run in the postseason but just to show you how random things can be, if they don’t have that six-run ninth inning in their first wild card game against the Cardinals, maybe they don’t even make it out of that series.

They’ve brought on board a great hitter in Trea Turner, who will be a difference-maker for their offense, and that will get even better when Bryce Harper returns. They’ve pretty much replaced the departed Zach Eflin with Taijuan Walker. As has been the case for many recent Phillies teams, the bullpen and defense will be important questions they’ll need to answer. Will Craig Kimbrel return to previous form? If not, the late innings are going to be dicey.

At Wrigley Field: June 27-28-29
At Philadelphia: May 19-20-21

Washington Nationals

Key departures: Steve Cishek (retired), Nelson Cruz, Erick Fedde, Anibal Sanchez, Luke Voit

Key arrivals: Jeimer Candelario, Alex Colome, Corey Dickerson, Wily Peralta, Dominic Smith, Trevor Williams

The Nats blew up the team that won the 2019 World Series, and then last year when they might have had the chance to lock up a generational talent in Juan Soto, they traded him, too.

They were 35-69 (.337) before the trade. They were 20-38 (.345) after the trade. Obviously Soto alone wouldn’t have been enough for the Nats to return to contention and they decided to deal him for prospects.

Maybe in three or four years this will make the Nationals a good team again. But looking at some of the veterans they acquired, they’re placeholders. The Nats will lose 100 games again.

As I mentioned in the NL Central preview, I’m glad Corey Dickerson is out of the Cubs’ division. He set a Cardinals record with 10 straight hits last summer, all of them against the Cubs, and overall against the Cubs last year, Dickerson hit .581/.581/.968 (18-for-31) with four doubles, a triple and two home runs.

Good riddance. Go beat up on the Mets and Braves now, Corey.

At Wrigley Field: July 17-18-19-20
At Washington: May 1-2-3-4