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NL East team preview: Marlins could decide NL East ... seriously

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NL East team preview: Marlins could decide NL East ... seriously

This is the fourth of a week-long look around the National League East, baseball’s most competitive division, to assess who the Nationals are dealing with. Today, the Miami Marlins:

Miami Marlins
2018 record:
63-98

Overview: Name the Marlins’ closer. How about half of their rotation? Best returning player by WAR. No? Not coming? A pass is fair.

After all, manager Don Mattingly was asked at the Winter Meetings if he could name one starting position for a player other than Starlin Castro,. A shortstop, first baseman or outfielder...

“I think definitively it's hard to say anyone in particular is going to be at that spot, because we definitely are team building, towards the future, hopefully we're going to take steps forward this year,” Mattingly said. “Obviously last year was a tough year. We knew it was going to be a tough year, but we needed to take steps forward. You see what's going on in the division, what's happening with all the other teams.”

They loaded up. Miami remained stagnant, assuring its position as NL East doormat, but a player nonetheless. Fangraphs projects 84 wins for both the Braves and Mets, 86 for the Phillies and 90 for the Nationals. Two things could have an enormous influence on those totals: injuries and record against Miami. The high level of competition in the division could turn it into a home for only one playoff team. That team can find a slight gap -- and path to the playoffs -- if it outperforms the other three when dealing with the Marlins.

As for the Marlins themselves, the possible development of Lewis Brinson is among the few reasons to watch. Brinson is entering his age-23 season. Last year was a struggle (.577 OPS). He’s been hot this spring (yes, it’s spring training, but this is the Marlins; we’re searching). Byron Buxton is an easy comparison point for Brinson.

If Marlins fans have any luck this season -- unlikely -- they will see starter Sixto Sanchez at some point and outfielder Victor Victor Mesa. Otherwise, another season of lowest attendance and fewest NL wins is in the offing.

Projected lineup (2018 WAR):
Curtis Granderson (LF, 0.9)
Starlin Castro (2B, 3.3)
Brian Anderson (3B, 3.9)
Neil Walker (1B, -0.1)
JT Riddle (SS, 1.3)
Peter O’Brien (RF, 0.7)
Jorge Alfaro (C, 1.2)
Lewis Brinson (CF, -0.2)

Projected rotation (2018 WAR):
Jose Urena (1.0)
Dan Straily (0.7)
Wei-Yin Chen (-0.5)
Trevor Richards (0.3)
Sandy Alcantara (0.4)

Projected bullpen keys (2018 WAR):
Drew Steckenrider (0.0)
Sergio Romo (0.4)
Adam Conley (-0.3)
Tayron Guerrero (-1.2)

NL ranks last season:
HR: 15th
OPS: 15th
Starter ERA: 13th
Reliever ERA: 15th

Fangraphs 2019 win projection: 62

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Orchestra full of Baby Sharks plays Nationals fans' favorite song

Orchestra full of Baby Sharks plays Nationals fans' favorite song

You really thought you could get away with no baby shark content today? Think again. 

The National Symphony Orchestra was graced with a quartet of baby sharks playing their classical rendition of the rallying cry for all Nats fans during their second half of the season. 

The baby shark fever has spread consistently throughout the Nats fanbase ever since Gerardo Parra picked it up as his walk-up song. Now, Washington is helping turn that tune to be a little more classical. Even the Baby Shark mascot in the dugout has been a key item to look out for Washington fans in the postseason. 

Even yesterday, the Capital One Arena was rocking with Washington's new unofficial anthem during the Capitals game

No matter what genre the Baby Shark song is, it'll bring a smile to all Nationals fans. 

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Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

Where is the dent in Houston’s roster? Nowhere

What we know: Game 1 is Tuesday night in Houston. What we don’t: who will be pitching to start it.

There are reasonable guesses. Gerrit Cole is 99 percent the choice for Houston. Max Scherzer is the likely pick for Washington -- though it could tweak the whole situation by pitching Aníbal Sánchez in Game 1. Why Sánchez? Pitching Sánchez bumps Scherzer to Games 2 and 6, Stephen Strasburg to Games 3 and 7, and gives Patrick Corbin a start as well as two chances to use him out of the bullpen. The risk is two starts for Sánchez, though he has been pitching better than Corbin in the postseason.

Moving on. 

A closer look at the Astros confirms what is assumed from afar when the 107 in the wins column is viewed. They are a juggernaut. Often, that’s hyperbole. Not here.

Houston was No. 1 in Major League Baseball in OPS against right-handed pitching this season. Usually, that’s a left-handed heavy team which would suffer to a degree on the other side. Not the Astros. They were No. 2 in OPS against left-handed pitching. Rookie Yordan Alvarez carried an OPS over 1.000 against each side. George Springer is above .900 against both sides. So is Carlos Correa. 

Flip it. Maybe the Astros’ pitching has a notable problem against one side or the other. Nope. They are No. 2 this season in OBP-against by right-handed hitters (the Nationals are a right-handed heavy lineup). They are No. 1 against left-handed hitter in the same category. 

So, well, where else? The bullpen. Try there.

Roberto Osuna is the closer. He led the American League in games finished and saves. However, Osuna has not been infallible in the postseason. His ERA is 3.52. Sean Doolittle has been more than a run better, at 2.46. Daniel Hudson has not allowed a run. The key shot against Osuna came Saturday night when DJ LeMahieu hit a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth.

Osuna mixes a lot of pitches for a closer. He throws his fastball less than 50 percent of the time, his slider 18.4 percent of the time, a cutter 13.9 percent and a changeup 18.4 percent. He’s a rarity, the four-pitch closer.

Overall, the Astros’ bullpen was second in ERA.

Here’s another way to look at it: Do the Astros own the skills to get into the Nationals’ weakest point, the middle of the bullpen? Of course they do.

Houston led MLB in walk percentage and OBP. It is able to run up pitch counts, creating the gap between the high-end starter and the relievers with juice. The soft middle, as it is, for the Nationals, a place they desperately want to avoid.

So, to recap: the starting pitching is elite. The hitters operate against both sides. The bullpen is elite. The manager has been in charge of a club for three consecutive seasons of 101 wins or more, three consecutive ALCS appearances, two World Series appearances, and one title. Juggernaut, indeed.

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