Lo Duca: Even With Harper, Phillies Aren’t a Sure Thing in NL East

Lo Duca: Even With Harper, Phillies Aren’t a Sure Thing in NL East article feature image
Credit:

Kim Klement, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Bryce Harper

  • Even with Bryce Harper in the fold, the Philadelphia Phillies are still tied with the Washington Nationals as favorites in the NL East.
  • Paul Lo Duca breaks down whether or not Harper's arrival will be enough for Philadelphia to come out on top of a tough division.

Now that Bryce Harper is getting settled with the Philadelphia Phillies it finally feels like we can take a responsible look at the season ahead.

Of course there are still big-ticket players (Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel, anyone?) without teams for 2019, but now that Harper is off the board we can get to work.

So what does Harper’s jersey-switch mean for the NL East? The answer is pretty surprising.

NL East Odds: The MLB’s Most Competitive Division?

  • Philadelphia Phillies +225
  • Washington Nationals +225
  • New York Mets +300
  • Atlanta Braves +300
  • Miami Marlins +20000

My colleague Mark Gallant reported that oddsmakers were ready for Harper to jump to the Phillies and that’s why their betting outlook didn’t really adjust much after the news of his signing broke on Thursday.

Philadelphia currently sits at 12-1 to win the World Series at the Westgate SuperBook, tied with Harper’s old team in Washington. The Nats and Phillies also share the same odds to win the NL East (+225) and the same win total (89).

The fact that Vegas projects the Phillies and  Nationals to be neck-and-neck is one of the most intriguing storylines going into this season.

On paper you’d think Harper’s move from Washington to Philadelphia would give the Phillies the edge in the NL East. Harper is a dynamic left-handed hitter and his power will absolutely play at Citizens Bank Park, which finished fourth in the Majors with an average of 1.19 home runs per game, and joins a lineup that already boasted talented players like Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura.

Philadelphia’s rotation isn’t half-bad, either. The Phillies have a legitimate Cy Young candidate in Aaron Nola and he is backed up by high-upside arms like Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, as well as veteran Jake Arrieta.

There is a lot to like about this team for 2019 and yet oddsmakers aren’t alone in thinking that the Nats may still be the team to beat in the division. Fangraphs projects Washington will win the NL East, while PECOTA projects both teams for 89 wins.

With so much focus on Harper the past year it was easy to forget that the Nationals still have a ton of talent all over the field.

Their pitching staff, which features a three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, remains a strength and their lineup is projected for the second-most runs per game in 2019, per FanGraphs.

Things don’t get any easier behind Washington and Philadelphia, either.

The Braves, who surprised everybody to win the NL East last season, shouldn’t be overlooked and the Mets improved over the offseason and their rotation makes them dangerous.

With so little separating these four teams, the margin for error will be razor thin all season long.

That’s why I was intrigued that there wasn’t any knee-jerk reaction in the betting market. If the addition of an MVP favorite isn’t enough to stack the odds in Philadelphia’s favor, what is?

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