The NL East is one of MLB’s toughest divisions and it’s only gotten better this offseason.
Today we conclude our 2021 season preview series by taking a step back from focusing on the Mets and discussing their division. The National League’s best division, the East will have hype and the depth to back it up.
The NL East is arguably the toughest division in all of MLB. The Atlanta Braves are among the elite teams in all of MLB. The Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019. And 2020’s biggest surprise was the playoff-bound Miami Marlins.
J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, and Zach Wheler make the Philadelphia Phillies a dangerous team. Of course, the New York Mets are one of MLB’s best teams on paper.
An argument can be made for every single team in the division pressing for a playoff spot. No other division in MLB comes close to that level of competition.
New York Mets
If the game was played on paper the Mets would be the runaway winners of the NL East. Their offense is the best in the division, their starting rotation is deep, and their bullpen is good enough.
This team has weaknesses, specifically their defense. However, they more than make up for that everywhere else. That is, if they play up to their potential, which has been a problem.
2021 could be the year that changes with Francisco Lindor on the team. When a team has a leader and superstar like Lindor they tend to play up to his level. Almost like that player lifts them up when they should be slumping.
Still, the Mets’ inability to put it all together can’t be ignored. It’s why they aren’t the favorites to win the NL East, though they should land a playoff spot.
The Atlanta Braves are the favorites to win the NL East, as they should be. The Braves have won the division each of the last three years. They’ve done so with a young core that’s been kept mostly intact. In fact, they only seem to be getting better.
Freddie Freeman won the NL MVP in 2020. Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies are finding consistency. Their young starting rotation has become one of the best in MLB with Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson becoming budding stars.
Advanced analytics say the Braves should regress. They’re punching above their weight with great BABIP luck, timely hitting, and pitchers getting results despite worrying analytics. For the past three years, the numbers have said the Braves are due to regress, but they haven’t.
That can’t be ignored anymore. Maybe the Braves have just figured out how to beat the analytics. Until proven otherwise, they’re going to be given the benefit of the doubt.
The Nationals won the 2019 World Series after a terrible start to the season. They had one of the most phenomenal turn arounds in recent memory. That momentum carried them into the playoffs and all the way to a championship.
That momentum was gone in 2020. A lot of that had to do with losing Juan Soto for a large portion of the season as he battled a false positive COVID test. That wasn’t the only weakness though, and they’ve only gotten weaker this offseason.
The Nationals lack everything on the infield. Trea Turner is a great shortstop, but he can only do so much. Josh Bell is going to try and replicate his 2019 after being traded to the Nationals this offseason, but that season looks like an aberration. Carter Keiboom had a rough rookie year in 2020. Young prospect Luis Garcia is going to play second base and he was worth -0.1 rWAR in 2019. The outfield isn’t much better outside of Soto.
The Nationals are going to need their starting pitching to carry them in 2021, but that only works if they can stay healthy.
The Nationals are more likely due for another season of mediocrity than a return to greatness.
The Phillies are a top-heavy roster. Their top players are great players. Aaron Nola, Zach Wheler, J.T. Realmuto, and Bryce Harper are among the best foursomes in MLB. The issue is the Phillies have little else behind them.
That’s especially true in their starting rotation and bullpen. The Phillies had the worst bullpen in MLB history in 2020. They’ve done little to improve it this offseason. They’ve added Brandon Kintzeler on a minor league deal and Archie Bradley on a major league deal. Who closes for that team though? Who pitches in middle relief? They improved the bullpen, but one or two relievers doesn’t make a historically bad unit that much better.
In the starting rotation, the Phillies did little to improve. Behind Wheeler and Nola is expected to be some combination of Matt Moore, Spencer Howard, Vince Velasquez, and Zack Eflin. The same bad unit from 2020 and 2019 except they’ve added in Matt Moore who played in Japan in 2020.
Is it possible the guys at the top carry the Phillies to a playoff spot? Sure. It’s not likely though.
The Marlins are a team of mystery. By all accounts, they should be one of the worst teams in MLB. However, it’s impossible to forget that this was a playoff team in 2020.
They’re a young team with a lot of talent, especially pitching. Is it real though? Was 2020 a 60 game fever dream and the Marlins are going to wake up in 2021 to find out they’re one of the worst teams in baseball again? It’s very possible.
It’s also possible that the Marlins are just ready to play. Brian Anderson leads a surprisingly tenacious Marlins offense. Sandy Alcantara fronts a Marlins rotation that may be young but can get the job done. The biggest question is the bullpen, can they maintain their surprising success from 2020?
The best bet is the Marlins suck in 2021. After all, they don’t have a talented enough roster to really believe they can repeat 2020. Still, that magic from 2020 could just linger long enough to make the Marlins interesting.