MLB Opening Day is right around the corner and with it comes the return of all the superstars the National League (NL) East has to offer.
The NL East is what many are calling one of the most competitive divisions this season, should deliver plenty of season-long fireworks and late-season drama, something every baseball fan can look forward to watching. Any one of these teams could be crowned the division champion come October, so here’s a brief overview of why I believe each team could win the NL East.
Atlanta Braves: Run It Back
The reigning 2021 World Series Champions are looking to run it back with the same strong squad– well, somewhat.
The Braves did lose their World Series MVP Jorge Soler and the heart and soul of the franchise, Freddie Freeman, this offseason. They did bring in some talented players to fill the void of those two though, one of them being Matt Olson from the Oakland A’s.
The Braves will be getting a lot of key players back from injuries that make them a potentially scarier team than last year’s title squad.
Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. headlines the returnees and provides a huge spark to an already dynamic lineup that features Olson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley.
Mike Soroka, the Braves’ best pitcher, is also in line for a return following the All-Star Break after suffering a torn Achilles during the summer last year.
The Braves bullpen could be one of the league’s best this season, especially following the signing of long-time Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. The Braves just need to stay in the mix while they wait for their injured guys to return because once they do, this team is going to wreak havoc on opposing teams.
New York Mets: Wolves of Wall Street
The Mets are bolstered by the best 1-2 pitching tandem in the league, however, it may not matter come opening day.
Jacob deGrom, arguably the best pitcher in the league, is reported to miss a significant amount of time due to a right shoulder injury he suffered in spring training. Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, recently tweaked his hamstring, leaving his status for opening day up in the air.
The Mets are going to have to rely on the arms of Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker to step up in the potential absence of both deGrom and Scherzer.
The Mets lineup could also turn out to be potent, thanks to recently acquired free agents Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Mark Canha. These guys paired up with Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso could make for one dynamic lineup come 2022.
Getting a bounce-back year from Jeff McNeil at the dish would help tremendously, however, the Mets’ key to the division lies within the health of the rotation.
Philadelphia Phillies: Broad Street Bombers
The lineup the Phillies have built throughout free agency is breathtaking. Unfortunately for fans, they may be gasping for air every time their opponents hits the ball into play.
Regardless of how bad the defense will be, the Phillies have a legitimate shot to have four players hit for 35 or more home runs this season, with Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber. And I didn’t even mention the two-time Silver Slugger Award Winner and three-time All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto yet.
This Phillies lineup is extremely deep, as there appears to be no easy out anywhere throughout the order.
The Phillies rotation proves to be solid, with 2021 Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler leading it, though Aaron Nola is expected to start opening day due to Wheeler facing a setback with his shoulder.
The Phillies bullpen, however, is a giant question mark this year. They’ve shown positive signs throughout spring training thus far, but will it be able to hold for a full 162? If their bullpen has a similar performance to that stinker they had in 2020, then defense won’t be an issue as all the fielders will just turn their necks and watch it fly.
The Phillies will need people to step up on the pitching side of things to make a run at the division crown, but this team will only go as far as the lineup and reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper will take them.
Washington Nationals: Juan Solo
The Nationals underwent a fire-sale during last season’s trade deadline, trading away stars Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, leaving Juan Soto all by himself.
The Nationals did go out and get Nelson Cruz to fill the designed hitter (DH) role on their team, and made some lowkey additions, getting guys like Cesar Hernández and Maikel Franco. However, the bulk of the load will fall on the 23-year old phenom’s shoulders once more.
The Nationals pitching staff, led by Patrick Corbin, looked extremely weak throughout spring training thus far. They are expected to get former World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg back from injury sometime this year, although they won’t be able to depend on him like they used to as he’s only pitched 26 ⅔ innings in the past two years.
Spring training games aren’t typically a good indication of how a team’s season will unfold, but the Nationals losing 29-8 seems accurate for the projection of their season. Unless Soto becomes the second coming of Shohei Ohtani, you may have a better shot at winning the lottery than the Nationals do of winning this division.
Miami Marlins: Ya Like Jazz?
The Marlins are tired of being disrespected as one of the worst teams in the National League.
Led by middle infielders Jazz Chisholm and Miguel Rojas, the Marlins are hungry and out to prove that they have arrived. To help Chisholm and Rojas, the Marlins brought in free agents Avisail Garcia and reigning World Series MVP Jorge Soler to help bolster a lineup that should see a significant improvement this season.
Their pitching staff is already one of the more underrated ones in the league, with Sandy Alcántara leading the way. Pablo López and Trevor Rogers are solid middle-of-the-rotation guys and we may see Jesús Luzardo breakout this season for Miami. Pair all of this up with a potentially healthy Sixto Sánchez and the Marlins rotation could cause headaches for opposing lineups.
It is definitely still an uphill battle for this team to win the division, but with guys like Sandy Alcantara and Jazz Chisholm, don’t be surprised if this team makes a tremendous leap forward from their 67-95 record in 2021.
You really didn’t think I was going to go this entire preview without making predictions, did you? What would be the fun in that?
So without further ado, I see the NL East ending up as the following, with three teams making a push for a world championship.
1. Braves (93-69)
2. Phillies (88-74)
3. Mets (84-78)
4. Marlins (77-85)
5. Nationals (68-94)
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