Last night, the Braves became the first NL team to clinch a 2018 division title. Braves fans interested in a look back on the season and some of the biggest contributing factors to the club’s surprising season might consider giving this piece by Mark Bowman of MLB.com a read. Atlanta officially eliminated the division-rival Phillies from the NL East race with its best starter, Mike Foltynewicz, on the mound; Bowman describes Folty as the Braves’ “most significant acquisition made within the first year of the rebuild”. “It was very different knowing what’s at stake, but at the same time you can’t get overhyped, like I tended to do in the past with bigger games,” Foltynewicz said of his performance. “To be able to do it in front of our home crowd was pretty special.” The soon-to-be 27-year-old right-hander was acquired as part of the January 2015 trade that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros. The resume of his breakout season includes 178 innings of 2.88 ERA ball, 193 punchouts and a 1.11 WHIP.
While the Braves prepare for the playoffs, here are a few notes regarding the NL East teams looking towards 2019…
- A poor start to the 2018 season for Mets free agent signee Jay Bruce manifested itself in a .212/.292/.321 batting line with just three home runs through the middle of June. But since coming off the disabled list on August 24th, he’s looked a lot more like his old self. As Tim Britton notes in a piece for The Athletic, Bruce is hitting .256/.347/.523 with six blasts in 98 plate appearances, which more closely resembles the 2017 season that he considers the best of his career. Britton believes that Bruce will be an integral part of the 2019 Mets plans, whether as their everyday first baseman or right fielder, but suggests that the Bruce signing ought to be a “learning experience” for the organization. That’s because one of the risks of signing players in their 30’s is that even those with largely healthy track records, like Bruce and teammate Todd Frazier, come with increased injury risk.
- Bruce’s late-season performance extending into 2019 is one thing the Mets will be counting on if they hope to contend next season; Joel Sherman of the New York Post breaks down a laundry list of other things that need to go right for the club in order for to support those hopes. In fact, Sherman believes that the Amazins don’t necessarily need to rebuild, and have a shot to contend again right away if they play their cards right. He posits that the Mets should be willing to listen to trade offers on their starters, but also lists a host of potential free agent targets that could shore up the roster. That list includes lefty reliever Zach Britton, versatile infielder Eduardo Escobar, and catcher Wilson Ramos.
- Have quick hooks in late-season games by rookie Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler cost Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez valuable development opportunities? That’s a question Matt Gelb attempts to answer in an article for The Athletic. Pivetta, for instance, faced just 20 batters in his Friday start, and has faced an average of just 21 batters in each of his 10 starts since August 1st. “You know, the way that the game has been going and the way that Gabe has been coaching, at the end of the day the most I can do is just go as long as I can,” Pivetta said. “It’s up to him when he takes us out.” Velasquez has been yanked even sooner in many cases, including being plucked from his Thursday starts after just three innings during which he allowed three unearned runs. The quick hooks, Gelb opines, make it more difficult to judge Pivetta and Velasquez ahead of 2019, and cost them valuable experience that could come in handy down the road. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Phillies’ bullpen allowed 10 runs combined in those two contests while taking the loss in each against the division-rival Braves.