March has arrived and spring won’t be far behind. That means it’s time to start preparing for the return of America’s favorite pastime, the MLB season. Last year’s season, while played in some capacity, reflected the impact of COVID-19 and the strain it left on sports.
One in three of the games were played with teams facing just their divisional opponents. There were expanded playoffs and the introduction of the universal DH, both of which will be going away in 2021. One rule change is staying however, and that is that double headers will be played as seven-inning games, not nine, which was the customary way of play prior to 2020.
As part of an ongoing series at USA Betting, we’re kicking off the baseball season by taking in depth looks at each division. We’ll provide betting picks for each division, the playoffs, and World Series. We kick things off with a division that Philadelphia Phillies’ star outfielder Bryce Harper recently called, “the best division in baseball,” that of the NL East.
Whether or not Harper’s assessment, which was concurred by MLB.com, is accurate or not, it is one that is hard to dispute. Even the Washington Post dubbed the NL East, which consists of Harper’s Phillies, the New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, as “baseball’s nastiest division.” Why? Because every single one of those five teams has aspirations to compete in 2021 and did what they needed to do in the offseason to make those aspirations a reality.
While strong contenders abound in every division in baseball, only the East has the top-down talent, payroll and recent pedigree to make the claim of having five bona fide contenders.
Looking at some early win projections, the East’s top four teams are predicted to finish within 11 wins of each other, with those same four teams all projected to win at least 80 games apiece. No other team in baseball has four teams who are projected to win that many games. The Marlins are projected to win just over 70 games, which would make them the best-fifth place team of any division. Miami made significant strides toward divisional relevance when they reached and won their first playoff series last year in quite some time.
This division really is anyone’s to grab, especially in a 162-game marathon and not the rushed sprint that was last year. No matter who wins, this should be baseball’s most entertaining division to watch all year long as anytime these teams play each other – and they’ll do that a lot – it is must-see TV.
Now we will focus on each team individually as part of our NL East predictions and our preview of the division.
New York Mets (projected to win 93.4 games; +135 to win the East)
Wow. From last in 2020 to projected to finish in first in 2021, no team in baseball has made strides toward the top as quickly as the Mets. Backed by new billionaire owner, Steve Cohen, the Mets wasted no time in looking to shed their label of being New York’s second-best team.
The team made perhaps the biggest trade of the offseason when they acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, but they also added a top catcher in James McCann, instantly bolstering both their lineup and rotation.
New York is poised to win now and win into the future and following last year’s dismal campaign, they are already seeing the fruits of their labor, at least on paper. Bovada lists the Mets as having the fifth best odds to win the World Series in 2021. This would be a huge accomplishment for a team that hasn’t even won its own division since 2015 and whose last World Series trophy came in 1986. No team made the kind of moves New York did this offseason, and to think they may not even be done.
Washington Nationals (projected to win 84.2 games; +650 to win the East)
A lot can change in a year and no one knows that better than the Nationals. After somewhat of an improbable run to the franchise’s first-ever championship in 2019, Washington experienced a massive decline the following year. 2020 saw the Nationals win just over 43 percent of their games, finishing with a 26-34 record in the pandemic shortened season. Not looking to see their championship window close just yet, the Nationals are ready to forget about that World Series hangover and move on to bigger and better things in 2021.
In the offseason, the team’s most notable acquisitions included signing a pair of free agent pitchers in Brad Hand and Jon Lester, and bolstering their lineup with Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. Oh, and they agreed to terms to bring back career Nat, Ryan Zimmerman. While not as good as they were in 2019, this is a team that still has guys like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer anchoring the rotation and Trea Turner and Juan Soto in the lineup. Don’t sleep on Washington.
Philadelphia Phillies (projected to win 83.7 games; +950 to win the East)
If the Phillies had done nothing else this offseason other than re-sign JT Realmuto, most fans would have considered it a resounding success. The team did more, a lot more, including the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as GM. Dombrowski has a reputation for building championship teams having done so several times in his career. By bringing him in and then making every effort necessary to re-sign Realmuto (biggest guaranteed contract ever for a catcher), the Phillies re-affirmed their commitment to win.
With Bryce Harper locked up for another decade, this organization doesn’t want to waste his best years and offensively, they are well on track. With guys like Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, the return of DiDi Gregorius, and the revelation that was Alec Bohm, the Phillies may well have the best lineup in the East. As 2020 showed, a great offensive lineup is of no use when your bullpen is statistically one of the worst in the history of the sport.
Philadelphia took measures to improve in that area as well, bringing in Jose Alvarado and Archie Bradley, as well as Matt Moore in an attempt to add to a rotation that was inconsistent at best behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. This team hasn’t reached the playoffs in six years but they will be looking for that to change in 2021.
Atlanta Braves (projected to win 82 games; +135 to win the East)
It seems the sportsbooks and the baseball minds disagree on the Braves’ expectations this year, as some pundits have Atlanta ranking as the fourth best team in the division whereas Bovada pegs them as being tied with the Mets for best odds to win the East.
Let’s look at why there may be such a discrepancy. Of the top four contenders, the Braves, who reached the NL Championship last year, arguably did the least this offseason. Hoping to shore up a rocky rotation which ultimately cost them against the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Braves added veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to be their No. 3 and 4 guys. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but these two are good additions to slot in behind Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka, when he returns later this season from injury.
Then, much like the Phillies accomplished in bringing back Realmuto, the Braves did the same in re-inking outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was a bat their lineup absolutely needed. The Braves are looking for their fourth straight NL East crown and they spent the offseason doing what they needed to make that quest very possible.
Miami Marlins (projected to win 70.5 games; +3300 to win the East)
Unlike their NL East rivals, which make up three of MLB’s top-10 highest payrolls, the Marlins don’t really have the money to spend on flashy offseason signings. Unlike their rivals, who all made headlines with big name acquisitions, the Marlins were content to build from their core of young, outstanding players who are growing with the organization.
In some ways, it’s not unlike the Marlins teams of the early 2000s, including the one that won the World Series in 2003 and featured future stars in AJ Burnett, Juan Pierre, Ivan Rodriguez, and Miguel Cabrera. Prior to the 2020 campaign, that 2003 squad had been the last Marlins team to reach the playoffs.
Times they are a’changin in Miami. Derek Jeter, now in his fourth season with the team, is building a contender through baseball’s best farm system. The Marlins added some bullpen arms through free agency and did make their impact in the international pool, but their biggest splash, was a historic one. Whereas the other NL East teams made headlines for major player moves, the Marlins made theirs when they signed Kim Ng as GM, making her the first female in history to hold that position. The Marlins continue to rise but as last year showed, this isn’t a rebuilding franchise, it’s just a building one, and that building is almost complete.
- So who wins this division? When it comes to our NL East predictions, we go with the Mets. This wager is best placed with Bovada sports betting firm.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.