Sure - we don't even know when this barge will leave port, but once it does, the Atlanta Braves should win, if you believe those who should be on the inside.
In a piece from theAthletic on Monday (subscription required), 3 writers came together for a pre-season Q&A about their projections. They were Dave O'Brien (Atlanta Braves), Britt Ghiroli (Nationals), and Tim Britton (Mets).
They discussed their interactions with players about the state of things, their desire to play (they want to) vs. their apprehension with possible restrictions (the risks are still in their minds consistently).
From the sound of it, players are all getting some form of cabin fever - this is the first time many of them have been away from the game in the Spring in at least a decade - maybe even 2 decades. They are going a bit stir-crazy in not having 'clarity' (as one writer put it) on what's going to happen.
The questions turned to who might benefit more from this delay. O'Brien noted that a compacted/compressed schedule would tend to help the Atlanta Braves, thanks to their deep and experienced bullpen. Ghiroli noted that as the Nationals were going to have to deal with the fatigue of a long 2019 season and shortened off-season, this delay would be very helpful to them.
Britton suggested that the Mets best shot at the division might be in a 'sprint' vs. a marathon, and noted that if the original 2020 schedule is salvaged in any fundamental way, many of their early games against the Braves might not happen.
What could hurt the Atlanta Braves?
The question then flipped: how could a delay hurt? O'Brien offered up the thought of a number of mid-30's pitchers being in the Braves' mix, but coming right after he listed them as a strength, the answer almost seemed ingenuine.
He also noted the possible inconsistency that younger players can exhibit; for the most part, however, Atlanta has already been through those growing pains and they have come out well.
Ghiroli noted that any team getting out of the gate slowly - like the Nats did last year - could face a very difficult mountain to climb in coming back. You could argue that more games in fewer days mean that such a team could come back more quickly, but there's the fatigue issue that could be a serious roadblock - even with expanded rosters.
Britton points to the Mets starter depth and bullpen depth will definitely be of concern with consistent double-headers. Even their catching depth isn't particularly good.
SO WHO WINS?
Each writer had a chance to inject the Phillies into the mix since they didn't have a writer participating in this roundtable discussion - and they all have concerns about their rotation and bullpen, as we've noted all along. Thus each one is discounting their ability (Joe Girardi notwithstanding) to make a serious run.
Every single writer was thus in agreement: the NL East order of finish would come out like this:
- Atlanta Braves
- Washington Nationals
- New York Mets
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Miami Marlins
Britton added that his take includes the smallest gap being between the Mets and Phillies for their respective positions.
The Atlanta Braves are built to win ... but in a season that's liable to be out of kilter, they will still have to figure out how to consistently overcome the obstacles of getting enough rest, adapting to new scenery and new schedules, and perhaps even new rules.
Cole Hamels, Freddie Freeman, and even Felix Hernandez should be better rested and better healed up by the time all this gets going. That can't hurt a bit. Same goes for those 30+-year-old bullpen arms. But can the adaptations be done successfully?
Everybody is going to be in that same boat, but those who embrace the changes will have a leg up. Hopefully, that will be our Braves. Hopefully, we can get this game going.