Image Copyright: Curtis Compton
With the onset of the 2021 MLB season occurring Thursday, it seemed like an appropriate time to post some pre-season predictions. The general consensus around the league is that the NL East is currently the strongest division in baseball, as the emergence and strengthening of teams like the Mets and Phillies may evoke a bit of worry within Braves fans, myself included. Hence, I would like to share my predictions regarding the most intriguing division in baseball.
5th Place: Miami Marlins, 69-93
While their miraculous, COVID withstanding playoff run was one of the most entertaining and supportable stories of the 2020 season, do not expect the fish to repeat this feat in 2021. Their harsh record is not necessarily a reflection of their talent, but more of the fact that they are slated to play 76 games against the Braves, Phillies, Mets, and Nationals, all potential playoff teams. While I think they are better than a 69 win team, compared to their divisional foes, they are weak and will rack up losses playing against their divisional superiors. While featuring some underrated talent in Sandy Alcantara and Brian Anderson, much of their rotation and lineup remains unproven, and the sole addition of Adam Duvall to the lineup doesn’t excite me. However, while their young talent is currently unproven, they have loads of potential with prospects like Sixto Sanchez and Jazz Chisolm, so this Marlins team will be worth watching.
4th Place: Washington Nationals, 84-78
The Nationals are just 1 season removed from a World Series title, and while still fielding a competitive team, they are not what they used to be. Their rotation is among the best in baseball, with Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin pitching at elite levels, and Jon Lester and Tyson Ross being impressive back of the end guys. Additionally, Juan Soto is quite possibly the best hitter in baseball, and Trea Turner looks to prove his 2020 power surge was no fluke. However, other than this core, they lack a supporting cast that convinces me of their potential dominance; Josh Bell is inconsistent and a terrible defender, Kyle Schwarber is coming off a career-worst 91 WRC+, and top prospect Carter Kieboom has not proved himself yet. With the exception of Victor Robles, their defense is terrible, as Soto, Schwarber, and Bell are notoriously inept defensively, so Nationals fans better hope their aces strike many batters as out, as it will otherwise cause unwanted trouble. Players like Bell and Schwarber could bounce back to form a solid supporting cast to boost their chances, but as of now, I think this Nationals team places 4th in the division.
3rd Place: Philadelphia Phillies: 88-74
The Phillies lineup is scary: Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins are amongst Phillies players that crush opposing pitching. Their rotation is solid as well, with studs Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler contributing significantly in 2020. However, their bullpen led to their demise last year, as that unit acquired a historically poor ERA of 7.01 that ranked dead last in the league. While they acquired relievers Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado to alleviate the struggles of their bullpen, they have not done enough to make them an imminent pre-season force. While they will certainly be improved since last year, I do not think the back half of their rotation consisting of Vince Velazquez, Zach Eflin, and Matt Moore rivals that of the Braves or Mets; hence, despite the offensive prowess of the Phillies, the Braves and Mets have similarly toned offenses and better pitching, so I believe that they will finish in 3rd place. However, their offense is too strong to not put them in competition for a playoff spot, and I do see a scenario in which they vastly exceed my expectations if they significantly improve the performance of their pitching, but I do not think that the changes they have made to their pitching staff will be quite enough to do so.
2nd Place: New York Mets, 91-71
The Mets offseason, while acquiring the elite talents of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, should be considered somewhat of a failure. They had all the money in the world to throw around at free agents like JT Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, and George Springer, but the best free-agent they could sign was… James McCann? They fleeced Cleveland in the Lindor trade, so the offseason should not be considered a total disaster, and they definitely improved their roster with this trade. However, with Noah Syndegaard and Carrasco beginning the season on the IL and the fact that Marcus Stroman hasn’t pitched in nearly two years brings up concerns about their rotation excluding DeGrom. The addition of Trevor May solidified their bullpen, and their lineup is elite offensively enough to compete with the Braves, but I do not think it is enough to get them into first place. I think they will get off to a very slow start with their two potential all-stars injured and Stroman regaining his form because their remaining starters, Joey Lucchesi and David Peterson, are not strong options, and Jacob DeGrom cannot do it all by himself. Hence, their slow start will allow the Braves to claim the division title.
1st Place: Braves, 94-68
The only aspect of the Braves roster that arguably got worse is the bullpen with the losses of Shane Greene and Mark Melancon; however, with the addition of hybrid pitcher Drew Smyly (click here to learn more about him), and the fact that Will Smith cannot possibly be worse than he was last year, I do not think the bullpen regressed significantly enough to result in worse than a first-place finish. Now mostly healthy and with more depth, the rotation of Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, and possibly Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, or Drew Smyly will be one of the best in baseball. Additionally, the Braves offense that led the MLB in OPS and finished second in Home Runs returns all starters except a streaky Adam Duvall and an aging Nick Markakis, while adding the exciting top prospect Christian Pache to the lineup. Hence, the Braves have done nothing this offseason but improve an already elite roster, so by that logic, they have earned the right to stay at the top of the division.