Since 2018, the NL East has become increasingly competitive, with the Braves winning the last three division titles. Thanks to Mike Rizzo, Washington has found ways to keep up, with the team even winning the World Series in 2019. However, heading into 2021, the NL East arms race will reach a new high, being the toughest it has ever been in recent memory. All five teams have made significant strides, be it free agency, trades, or shrewd drafting.
Even the Marlins have started to show major improvements in their rebuild, reaching the playoffs last year for the first time since 2003. The Mets have bolstered their roster immensely, while the Phillies decided to re-sign their big bats in order to keep the gang together. Throw in Atlanta is still the team to beat and Washington is facing an uphill battle.
With all five teams improving their roster, the NL East is undoubtedly the best division in baseball. Here is a breakdown of the Nationals rivals for the 2021 season.
2020 Record: 35-25
Notable Players Acquired/Re-signed: Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Marcell Ozuna, Jake Lamb
Notable Players Lost: Mark Melancon, Adam Duvall, Cole Hamels
Until further notice, the Braves are still the team to beat. Fresh off of winning their third straight NL East title, the Braves were a win away from reaching the World Series in 2020. Unfortunately for them, they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Dodgers, who went on to win it all.
The Brave’s only weak point has been their starting rotation, but now it projects to be one of the best in the league. Max Fried is the ace of the rotation, with Ian Anderson looking to build upon his successful playoff campaign. Against the Reds and Marlins, Anderson had a playoff scoreless streak of 18 1/3 innings, which is the second-longest in Braves history. Atlanta brought in reinforcements in the form of veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. Throw in that Mike Soroka should return at some point after tearing his Achilles last season and the Braves rotation will be able to go toe to toe with anyone in the division.
Atlanta’s bullpen has taken a step back with both Melancon and O’Day leaving in free agency. However, they still have Shane Greene and Will Smith to close out games.
Atlanta’s offense is still a force to be reckoned with and they re-signed slugger Marcell Ozuna after he overperformed on his one-year deal in 2020. The lineup led by Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and Travis d’Arnaud pales to only the Dodgers and Padres.
Overall, Atlanta had an underrated off-season, adding depth to the starting rotation and re-signing their slugger.
Prediction: Atlanta wins the NL East for the fourth straight year