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NL East Division position comparison: catcher

My position-by-position evaluation of the National League East Division teams moves behind the plate today after covering the full infield over this past week.

The Philadelphia Phillies projected starter was ranked third in the division at each of first base, second base, shortstop, and third base. That is not the case at catcher. The man who is arguably the best backstop in all of baseball plays his home games at Citizens Bank Park.

Even though the Phillies catcher is indeed among the cream of the crop in the game today, the other four teams are not weak behind the dish. Despite the fact that two of the top contenders for the division crown are likely to go with a platoon situation, catcher is generally a position of strength in the division.

Over the next week I’ll begin to work across the outfield from left to right. That will be followed by separate pieces covering each club’s projected starting pitching rotation, their benches, bullpens, and finally the managers.

Once this evaluation process is complete, fans should have a better idea of where the teams in the division actually stand. Pitchers and catchers are due to begin reporting to Clearwater, Florida for Phillies spring training on February 11.

Let’s take a look now at what is easily the single most volatile, unpredictable position in the division for the upcoming 2020 campaign.


1) J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies: Depending on who is doing the evaluating, Realmuto is either the best or second-best overall catcher in the game today, with Yasmani Grandal of the Chicago White Sox at times rated above him. Turning 29-years-old in the middle of spring training, Realmuto has been an NL All-Star in each of the last two seasons. In his first year in a Phillies uniform, Realmuto was awarded his second straight Silver Slugger Award and his first career Gold Glove Award. He slashed .275/.328/.493 with 25 homers, 36 doubles, 83 RBIs, and 92 runs scored. The big question for the Phillies is whether or not general manager Matt Klentak can get Realmuto to sign a long-term contract. He is due to become a free agent following the upcoming 2020 campaign. There is a big drop-off, especially offensively, when backup Andrew Knapp gives Realmuto a break. But the 28-year-old Knapp is at least competent defensively and has a good rapport with the pitching staff. It is possible that Deivy Grullon, who turns 24 in mid-February, could beat out Knapp for the backup spot in spring training or pass him during the season at some point.

2) Wilson Ramos, New York Mets: The 31-year-old Ramos signed as a free agent with the Mets in December 2018 after ending the prior season in a Phillies uniform. He produced a solid offensive year in New York, slashing .288/.351/.416 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs. Ramos has plenty of experience in the division, having been the starter in Washington for most of the 2011-16 seasons. He won a Silver Slugger and was an NL All-Star in his final year with the Nationals before moving on to Tampa Bay, where he became a 2018 AL All-Star. Ramos is guaranteed $10.25 million this year and the Mets hold a $10 million option for the 2021 season. The backup will likely be Tomas Nido, who turns 26 in mid-April. The drop-off from Ramos to Nido is similar to the Phillies situation with Realmuto and Knapp.

3) Kurt Suzuki / Yan Gomes, Washington Nationals: Gomes just might be the second-best defensive catcher to Realmuto within the division. He turns 33 in the middle of July and will be appearing in his ninth big-league season. Suzuki is a 36-year-old who will be playing in his 14th season. The two combined for 29 homers and 106 RBIs, and each now has a ton of postseason experience to draw on after splitting time behind the plate as the Nationals won the first World Series crown in franchise history in 2019.

4) Tyler Flowers / Travis d’Arnaud, Atlanta Braves: A year ago, Atlanta won their second consecutive NL East Division crown using Flowers and veteran Brian McCann as a fairly strict right-left hitting platoon at catcher. McCann chose to retire after the season. Flowers, who turned 34 just days ago, will return for his 12th big-league campaign. Atlanta signed former Phillies farm hand and Mets catcher d’Arnaud as a free agent and he is expected to see significant playing time at age 31. The two catchers combined numbers a year ago add up to 27 homers and 103 RBIs over 661 plate appearances.

5) Jorge Alfaro, Miami Marlins: Traded by the Phillies to the Fish last February as one of the keys in the deal to bring Realmuto to Philly, Alfaro turns 27 in mid-June. He slashed .262/.312/.425 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs his first year in a Marlins uniform. Alfaro possesses a cannon for an arm behind the plate, but otherwise will never be more than just passable defensively. With a young team building from within, and with Alfaro inexpensively under club control for another four years, he is likely to become a fixture behind the plate in Miami, and thus within the division. Veteran Francisco Cervelli, who turns 34 during spring training and will be appearing in his 13th season, was signed as a free agent to provide the Marlins with an experienced backup.


Braves bats pound Pivetta as rookie hurler shuts down the Phillies

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Rookie righty Bryse Wilson largely shut down the Phillies bats

The first-place Atlanta Braves (51-36) used a big six-run 6th inning to pull away from the visiting Philadelphia Phillies (45-41) and register a 9-2 win on Wednesday night at SunTrust Park.

With the win, the Braves pushed their lead in the National League East Division standings back out to 5.5 games (five in the loss column) over the second place Phillies, who are now just a half-game ahead of the third place Washington Nationals. The Phillies have not been lower than second place in the division standings all season.
The two teams were battling in a tough 3-2 game after the first 5 1/2 innings, with all of the runs coming via the long ball. Josh Donaldson ripped his 16th homer of the season in the bottom of the 4th inning, a three-run shot off Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, to open the scoring.
In the top of the 6th, Bryce Harper got the Phillies back within a run by blasting his 16th homer. For the Phillies big free agent signing, it was the 200th home run of his big-league career as well as his 1,000th career hit.

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There was one bright spot tonight. Bryce Harper’s 16th home run of the season was the 200th of his big-league career, as well as career hit 1,000.

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The tight score didn’t last long, as the Braves knocked Pivetta out of the game with their crooked inning in the bottom of the frame. Two more homers, both coming with two outs, did most of the damage. The first came off the bat of rookie left fielder Austin Riley to make it 6-2 and drive Pivetta from the game. It was Riley’s 15th home run in just 44 games since his May 15 promotion from the minors.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and brought in Juan Nicasio. The right-hander has been inconsistent all season, and he was just bad in this one. Ozzie Albies and Tyler Flowers greeted him with back-to-back doubles to push the Atlanta lead out to 7-2. Then Matt Joyce, pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Bryse Wilson, drilled a Nicasio four-seam fastball out deep to right field for his third homer of the year to put the final runs on the board.
For Pivetta, this was a disheartening fourth consecutive poor outing. Over 23.1 innings in those four starts, Pivetta has given up 20 runs (19 earned) on 29 hits, including nine home runs. He was reached for at least two home runs in each of those four games.
The two clubs have now split the first two games of this series. If the Phillies want to win a series, they are going to have to find a way to score runs off one of the toughest starting pitchers in the game on Independence Day in Mike Soroka. They put at least five runs on the board in six of seven games coming into tonight. That offense has to show up on Thursday.


PHILLIES – Pivetta: (Loss 4-3), 5.2 IP, 5 hits, 6 runs (5 earned), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts. 86 pitches, 56 for strikes.
BRAVES – Wilson: (Win 1-0), 6 IP, 5 hits, 2 earned, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. 86 pitches, 60 for strikes.


The home run by Harper was the only real mistake made by the 21-year-old rookie right-hander who was making just his third big-league start. The Phillies beat him up back on March 30 in what was his MLB debut. This time around he showed why he is considered one of the top prospects in one of the most respected organizations in the game.


Rival Braves make big moves to put pressure on Phillies

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The Braves announced Josh Donaldson as one of two free agent signings

If I’ve seen it once then I’ve seen it a hundred times or more as the days roll along in this current MLB off-season. When are the Philadelphia Phillies, publicly self-proclaimed as wanting to spend big and heavily-rumored as a link to most of the big names, going to actually make a move?

Well we don’t have to wonder that same thing about the defending National League East Division champion Atlanta Braves. Already loaded with young talent, the Braves struck twice today to improve their lineup.
First, Atlanta brought back long-time catcher Brian McCann as a free agent. McCann will turn 35-years-old just as he is due to report for the club’s final spring training in Kissimmee. He’ll then join them as the Braves later move to their new spring facilities in North Port, Florida.
McCann slammed 176 home runs during his first run with the Braves from 2005-13. One of baseball’s most dangerous offensive catchers during the 2000’s, he was an NL All-Star for six straight and seven overall seasons and won five Silver Slugger Awards, including four in a row at one point.
In December 2013, McCann signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees. In 2015 he won the AL Silver Slugger Award at catcher.
The Yankees dealt him to Houston in December 2016 for a pair of prospects, and McCann helped the Astros win the first World Series championship in franchise history in 2017. He caught every inning of that Fall Classic as Houston won in seven games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It is expected that the lefty-swinging McCann will form a LH-RH catching platoon in 2019, teaming with the righty-hitting Tyler Flowers. McCann missed two full months in the middle of this past season after undergoing knee surgery but is said to be 100% ready to go for the 2019 campaign.
Later in the day, the Braves struck again to shore up another weak spot in their lineup. This time Atlanta announced the signing of third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson will turn 33-years-old in December. He was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2015 as a third baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays after starting his career with the Oakland A’s as a catcher. In addition, he finished among the top 4 in AL MVP voting twice, was an AL All-Star for three straight years, and won a pair of Silver Slugger Awards.

McCann returns to Atlanta, where he was one of the top catchers of the 2000’s.
The Blue Jays dealt Donaldson away to the Cleveland Indians this past August 31, enabling him to be placed on the Tribe’s postseason roster. He would go just 1-11 as the Indians were swept out of the ALDS by Houston.
Like McCann, Donaldson’s 2018 season was injury-marred. He missed three-and-a-half months due to an injured left calf muscle. He appeared to be healthy once activated by Cleveland in mid-September, slashing .280/.400/.520 with three homers and seven RBI over 60 plate appearances in 16 games.
Both McCann and Donaldson are aging veterans who are injury risks playing past their prime. However, the Braves got each on just a one-year contract, so there is no long-term commitment involved.
If either or both play healthy and closer to their career norms it will add just that much more firepower to an already solid Atlanta lineup that includes first baseman Freddie Freeman, three-time Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte, and 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna.
The Phillies and the rest of the National League East Division are on notice. The defending division champions have every intention of not only repeating, but they intend to improve on their 92 victories registered in the 2018 season.