MLB – NL East Season Preview, Predictions & Pick: Phillies Make Appeal

Zack WheelerAs February turned to March, there was uncertainty on if there would be a season for MLB in 2022, let alone a 162-game one. But fortunately for baseball fans the world over, the skies aligned and the MLBPA and MLB owners were able to come to terms on a new CBA.

So, in just a few short days, that means we’ll be returning to the sport long hailed as America’s pastime. That means crisp summer nights at the ballpark, Sunday afternoons in front of the TV, and an opportunity to regularly bet on your favorite team/s.

Before the first pitch is thrown however, USA Betting has you covered with our MLB Preview series. And what better place to start than with the division that is home to two of the last three World Series-winning squads, the NL East.

Can the Atlanta Braves Defend their Crown without Freddie Freeman?

  • +1200 to Win World Series
  • +600 to Win National League
  • +120 to Win NL East 

When the Atlanta Braves won the 2021 World Series, it certainly came as a surprise to many in the baseball world. It’s not that the Braves weren’t good, because they were. It was more that no one thought, without Ronald Acuna Jr., who’s mid-season injury cost him a bulk of the games in the latter stretch, that the Braves were good enough to win it all. But Atlanta proved everyone wrong as the Braves lifted their fourth trophy in franchise history.

Winning a title and winning two back-to-back are two very different things however. Especially as this championship defense season for the Braves will be one without cornerstone Freddie Freeman. Enticed by the money of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Freeman left Atlanta in one of the bigger moves this spring. His absence is notable as without Freeman the Braves lose their best offensive player since the legendary Chipper Jones wore the uniform. However, much like the rest of the NL East, the Braves didn’t sit pat in the frenzied offseason.

Sure, Atlanta let Freeman walk, but they instantly found his replacement in former Oakland Athletics’ first baseman, Matt Olson, who hit 39 home runs last year and is actually being projected to have a slightly better WAR than the one Freeman had in 2021. It is hard to believe, but even with Freeman gone to LA, the Braves are projected to have a better WAR than they did as a team the year they won it all. A big part of how successful the Braves will be however, falls on the shoulders of Acuna. One of the top youngsters in the game, Acuna was on a collision course with the NL MVP until an injury derailed those plans. He is expected to miss the early part of the season, but a fully healthy Acuna could be what it takes to turn the tides back in the Braves’ favor.

From the mound, the Braves also look strong with Max Fried and Charlie Morton leading the way. If Atlanta can get Ian Anderson back to his rookie form and continue to see strong numbers from Huascar Ynoa, then you are looking at probably the most solid 1-4 in the NL East. The Braves also have a fantastic bullpen, one that was made even better than last year’s with the acquisitions of Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh. And with almost all of the NL East lineups boasting offensive firepower, pitching could well be what makes the difference when it comes to capturing the division crown.

Will the Mets Rotation and Health of Players Hold Up Over 162 Games?

  • +1000 to Win World Series
  • +500 to Win National League
  • +190 to Win NL East 

There is no denying that the New York Mets are – on paper – a great-looking baseball team entering the 2022 season. Their owner was not afraid to spend millions in the offseason (Mets now have the second highest payroll in baseball) and the team is set to enter the new season with a veteran manager who knows how to win in this league, in Buck Showalter. For their part, Vegas has taken note as the Mets have the fourth best odds to win the World Series and second-best odds to win the National League. Should New York’s often joked about second team claim the pennant, it would be their first since 2015 and just their sixth all-time.

The Mets have had strong teams recently but something has been missing. In classic LOLMets fashion, something has always gotten in the way of the team’s success and derailed what otherwise could have been a championship campaign. And already in 2022, that same foe that defeated the Mets in 2021, is rearing its ugly head before the season even starts.

New York’s biggest strength is set to be their starting pitching, but that is only if the aging rotation can stay healthy. And so far, the cards don’t seem to be falling that way. NL Cy Young winner and perennial triple crown of pitching candidate, Jacob DeGrom is slated to begin the year on the DL with yet another injury to his throwing arm. DeGrom was sidelined during the stretch run last year with an injury, the likes of which cost the Mets any chance at a late playoff push. But the news got worse as Max Scherzer, who along with DeGrom gives the Mets the best 1-2 in baseball, is also set to miss his first start with some hamstring issues.

No one is sleeping on the Mets but it is hard to fully trust them given their history. Injuries seem to plague this team and starting 2022 off with injuries to their two biggest names is not a good sign. That said, the bullpen is strong and the offense is set to see improvements with the acquisitions of Starling Marte and Eduardo Escobar and expected bounce-back seasons for Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor. In short, this is the best team the Mets have had in a while. Their window for a title is wide open if they can keep their players on the field.

Spending Over the Luxury Tax on Bats, Can the Phillies Finally End their Playoff Drought?

  • +3000 to Win World Series
  • +1200 to Win National League
  • +350 to Win NL East 

The decline of the Philadelphia Phillies is well-documented. World Series champs in 2008, the team got gradually worse each following season, bottoming out in 2012, the first year since 2007 that they had missed the playoffs. And things only got worse and not better as the Phillies enter 2022 desperate to end a 10-year postseason drought. To the team’s credit, they seem to be inching back towards that playoff stage, having made improvements both in the front office and on the field. That was especially the case post-lockout as the Phillies grabbed both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to fill the NL’s new DH position as well as play the field. Now, defensively, the team still projects to be one of the worst groups in baseball but if their bats do as anticipated, this could be one of the best 1-6 power-hitting groups in all of MLB. And it is worth noting that when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so with a lot of power-hitting from the heart of the order.

But they also did so with pitching, specifically the bullpen, which was one of the best in all of baseball. Their closer didn’t blow a single save and the Phillies didn’t register a single loss when leading after the 8th. 2022’s bullpen is a far cry from Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson however. Still projecting as one of the worst in baseball and one of the Phillies’ biggest problem areas, the team did take some strides in the pen through the acquisitions of Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia, and Corey Knebel, who may end up being the biggest difference-maker. Their rotation is hit-or-miss. If Zach Eflin and Ranger Suarez do what they did last year, then this is a solid 1-5. If not, the Phillies are once again back to having one ace in Zack Wheeler and maybe one other serviceable arm depending on if Aaron Nola can bounce back from a career-worst year in 2021.

The Phillies don’t need their pitching to be great, they just need it to be a little more consistent and reliable. This is a team built to its home park. Citizens Bank Park is a hitter’s ballpark and the Phillies have five hitters who could go for 25 home runs or more in 2022. That’s where the strength – and playoff hopes – of this team truly lie.

What About the Nationals and Marlins?

While the odds are not in their favor, we’d be remiss not to at least mention the NL East’s two other teams, the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins. Playoffs aren’t out of the question for either of these teams, though the road there is a lot tougher than that of the rest of the division.

The Marlins are a team on the rise. Full of young talent, Miami is still a few years away, but they are making strides. And more importantly, stand as someone who can play spoiler among the top-3. Particularly with derailing the Phillies’ playoff hopes as the Marlins have been Philadelphia’s kryptonite over the last few years.

From a pitching standpoint, Miami has a very young, but very talented 1-3. There is a lot of potential with that unit. And the bullpen is strong as well, coming off a season where they ranked with the fourth best ERA in the NL.

The Nationals are in rebuild mode as well, which seems shocking to consider given this team won a World Series just two seasons ago. But gone are just about all of those pieces and it is clear that Washington needs a refresh. Their biggest strength should be their hitting, which is reliant on several players very familiar with the NL East. But from the mound, the Nationals need a lot of help as their 1-5 is one of the worst in the league and will likely hemorrhage runs this year.

Washington isn’t trending upward or downward but the midseason could change that. Look for eyes to be on Juan Soto at the trade deadline if the Nationals decide to move their best asset elsewhere in an effort to speed up their rebuild.

Final Pick

Three teams stand to be in the race for the NL East crown with each making a compelling case for why they can win the division and an equally compelling case as to why they may fall just short. With health issues already creeping up on the Mets and regression seeming likely in Atlanta, we’re going to ride with the Phillies as a bit of a dark horse division winner here. Bats alone aren’t everything but as mentioned, in a hitter’s ballpark, they can go a long way. Take the Phillies to win the NL East.