So far this off-season, no two moves have impacted the NL East more than Kurt Suzuki and Anibal Sanchez moving from the Braves to the Washington Nationals.
It’s been a busy off-season in the National League East involving numerous marquee players. But when it’s all said and done, the Washington Nationals ability to lure two key players away from the 2018 NL East champion Atlanta Braves might leave the biggest mark.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Check out the starting lineups for Game 2 of the 2018 NLDS between the Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Anibal Sanchez was Atlanta’s starting pitcher with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate, batting fifth. These were two of a division rival’s most important weapons, and both now play for the Washington Nationals.
As evidenced by his selection for a Game 2 start, Sanchez was the Braves’ second-most effective pitcher in 2018, sporting a 2.83 ERA and just 106 hits allowed in 136-plus innings. The Braves have yet to replace Sanchez, who will be Washington’s fourth starter behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and the newly-acquired Patrick Corbin.
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Suzuki revived his career in Atlanta, where he hit 31 homers and drove in 100 runs in two solid seasons. Instead of paying Suzuki, the Braves gave an extension to backup Tyler Flowers, who had a nice 2017 season before hitting just .227 last year. Brian McCann, who the Braves signed after Suzuki’s departure, is a beloved figure in Atlanta, but no longer an All-Star caliber backstop.
The bottom line is that the second-place Nationals have significantly upgraded their starting pitching with Sanchez and Corbin as well as behind the plate with Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Meanwhile, the first-place Atlanta Braves are weaker in both areas.
So far, Atlanta’s only major signing is 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson, who is coming off an injury-plagued year. Donaldson could return to form, of course, but he also might not even prove to be an upgrade over Johan Camargo, who lost his starting third base job despite a surprising 2018 season.
Are the Nationals the NL East favorites in 2019? While the Nats currently look better than the Braves on paper, it’s still too early to tell. Perhaps Atlanta will pull off a blockbuster trade for J.T. Realmuto and/or an ace starting pitcher. Maybe the Philadelphia Phillies, who’ve already acquired Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Jean Segura, will also add Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado to the fold. Maybe the New York Mets, who’ve added Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, have one more big move left in them.
Until then, two unlikely players have altered the 2019 NL East landscape more than the household names who’ve already joined what should be an exciting, talented division.
If the Washington Nationals wind up dethroning the Braves, Anibal Sanchez and Kurt Suzuki just might be the biggest reasons why.