2021 MLB Season Preview – NL East

The MLB is nearing its return as players have begun reporting to spring training. This offseason has been dominated by huge signings, trades, and retirements that have changed the 30 teams as we once knew them.

In the shortened 2020 season, the National League East Division had two representatives in the NLDS and one in the NLCS. The Atlanta Braves surprised no one, led by sluggers Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna, torched the rest of the division and swept their way to an NLCS berth. The Miami Marlins were in the midst of a rebuild and found themselves in the sixth seed in the expanded playoffs. Led by shortstop Miguel Rojas and pitchers Sixto Sanchez and Sandy Alcantara, the Marlins stunned the Chicago Cubs in a two-game sweep in the Wild Card round. The Philadelphia Phillies capped off a disappointing season three games out of the Wild Card spot and despite career seasons for outfielder Juan Soto and shortstop Trea Turner, pitching plagued the fourth-place Washington Nationals. Jacob DeGrom and Edwin Diaz were the only bright spots in the abysmal New York Mets pitching staff, ultimately landing them in last place in the NL East.

1) Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves did not have the most eventful offseason yet still managed to improve an already World Series caliber team. The signing of two-time All-Star Charlie Morton bolsters an already lights-out pitching staff. Atlanta’s newfound ace, Max Fried is coming off his best year of his four-year career, earning a Gold Glove and posting a 2.25 ERA. Ian Anderson is coming off a spectacular rookie season in which he finished with a sub-two ERA and seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting. Mike Soroka is coming off a successful surgery after he tore his Achilles in August. If he puts up numbers similar to his 2019 campaign, in which he went 13-4 with an All-Star appearance, the Braves pitching rotation will be complete.

The Braves playoff run last year should be attributed to their success in the batters’ box. Reigning MVP and Silver Slugger, Freddie Freeman looks to lead a battle-tested infield to another Division title. The dynamic duo of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson each posted .270 averages and .360 slugging in 2020. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is also coming off a career year in which he batted .321 and won a Silver Slugger. The resigning of outfielder Marcell Ozuna completes the returning trio of Ozuna, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Ender Inciarte. Acuña Jr. was awarded his second career Silver Slugger after mashing 14 home runs and posting a .406 OBP.

Atlanta should have no issues winning its fourth straight NL East title and making a deep run into the playoffs. The accolades and statistics speak for themselves.

2) New York Mets

Every time the New York Mets seem to have it figured out, they fail miserably. This year I can say with confidence, the Mets have it figured out. Signing Marcus Stroman and trading for Carlos Carrasco, Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto creates the perfect balance between experience and youth. Two-time CY-Young winner Jacob DeGrom aims to follow up on an exceptional 2020 in which he led the NL in strikeouts. Not to mention Noah Syndergaard is planning his long-awaited return in June from Tommy John surgery. Newly acquired reliever Trevor May was brought in to aid Edwin Diaz and Dellin Betances in a notoriously terrible Mets bullpen.

In the same trade in which the Mets acquired Carlos Carrasco, they also landed four-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, Francisco Lindor. Lindor along with Jeff McNeil should be a dangerous duo up the middle and the Mets hope that slugger Pete Alonso can return to his rookie year form. James McCann should provide that classic veteran catcher mentor role as well as providing occasional pop from the right side of the plate. The trio that will take the outfield for the Mets on opening day is criminally underrated. Brandon Nimmo hit .280 and had a .404 OBP in 2020, Michael Conforto hit .322 to go along with a .412 OBP and Dominic Smith hit .316 with 10 home runs receiving MVP votes.

The only reason the Mets are not sitting first atop the ranking is simply because they are the Mets. The 2021 Mets team has an impressive roster and a good chance to make a playoff run if their pitchers stay healthy and perform.

3) Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals had a busy offseason making signings that shifted them from a rebuild to a possible playoff contender. Signing Jon Lester was the last piece to arguably the most decorated rotation in the MLB. Lester, a five-time All-Star and a three-time World Champion, joins Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. The Nationals also landed three-time All-Star closer Brad Hand to aid a bullpen with notable struggles in the past. Hand is coming off a career year with a 2.05 ERA and will reside in the left-field bullpen with fellow relievers, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris.

Aside from Juan Soto and Trea Turner, the Washington Nationals had an offensive drought in 2020. General Manager Mike Rizzo, addressed the hole at first base by trading for Josh Bell. Bell is a .260 career hitter and is expected to use his power to put runs on the board. Trea Turner looks to repeat his success after a dominant 2020 in which he posted a .335 average and led the league in hits. After the departure of Adam Eaton, the Nationals signed Kyle Schwarber to fill the void. Schwarber will most likely play left field and Juan Soto will take Eaton’s place in the right.

Despite having one of the best pitching rotations in the league, the offense is what will ultimately hold the Nationals back. There are still glaring holes at second and third base that will prove to be crucial down the stretch.

4) Philadelphia Phillies

Looking over the Philadelphia Phillies roster, nothing looks new or improved. Phillies one and two, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler look to repeat impressive 2020s. Nola finished seventh in CY-Young voting and Wheeler posted a sub-three ERA, leading the team. Spencer Howard will aim for the final spot in the rotation, after showing flashes of potential in his rookie year. The addition of reliever Archie Bradley should help an average bullpen make some noise.

The Phillies locked up their star catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius to save an offense left to starve at the beginning of free agency. Alec Bohm secured his spot in the infield after posting a .338 average and finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. Franchise outfielder Bryce Harper is out to prove his worth after finishing the 2020 season with a .268 average and a team-leading 13 homers. Veteran Andrew McCutchen is coming off a year in which he posted career worsts in average, OBP, and OPS, something he must correct.

Considering the Phillies did next to nothing to address their glaring pitching issues, there is no reason why they should be talked about in this year’s playoff conversation. It would require career years from all of the Phillies stars to carry the weaker links on the team to a postseason berth.

5) Miami Marlins

With no major offseason moves, the Miami Marlins continue their rebuild in 2021. Despite finding themselves in the NLDS in 2021, the Marlins made no push to sign any big Free Agents. The biggest Marlins offseason news was hiring the first-ever female General Manager, Kim Ng. The Marlins begin the year with Sandy Alcantara as their ace after posting a three ERA in 2020. Sixto Sanchez was vaulted into the top half of the rotation and did not disappoint in his rookie year. The Marlins bullpen was surprisingly good in 2020 but let the main pieces go in the offseason.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas had a special year, hitting .306 with a .888 OPS. First basemen Jesus Agular hit .277 but aside from him, the rest of the team hit around .250. There is definitely some hidden firepower hidden beneath the surface as the Marlins have the third-ranked farm system according to prospects1500.

I cannot find a scenario in my head where the Marlins are contenders this year. They are in the middle of a rebuild trying to find their key cornerstones. I think Sixto Sanchez and shortstop Jazz Chisholm will breakout this year and finally, give the Marlins some value again.

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