2021 National League East Preview: Can Braves Fend Off Mets for Fourth Straight Title?

Eddie Griffin

For the Atlanta Braves, there is no time like the present for the NL East’s preeminent power. The Braves are in their best run since the early 2000s and are poised to keep it going. They have won three straight NL East titles and coming within a win of reaching the World Series last season.

This season, the Braves will aim to win a fourth straight NL East title and take the next step in the postseason. And they are armed with the talent at the plate and on the mound to do so. However, the New York Mets are expected to make their own push for the NL East title and a deep postseason run. If they do, the Braves will face a serious challenge to their division supremacy. Can the Nationals, Phillies, or Marlins throw their hat in the ring as well?

Here is our look at the 2021 NL East. Next up is the NL Central, so keep an eye out for our look at that deep division.

2021 NL East Preview Menu

2021 NL East Odds and Team Win Totals

  • New York Mets +130 (Team Win Total: 91)
  • Atlanta Braves +140 (Team Win Total: 91.5)
  • Washington Nationals +650 (Team Win Total: 84)
  • Philadelphia Phillies +850 (Team Win Total: 81.5)
  • Miami Marlins +3200 (Team Win Total: 71.5)

All MLB betting odds are via FanDuel Sportsbook. Click here for updated MLB betting odds.

2021 NL East Team Previews

New York Mets

Division Title Odds: +130

2021 National League Title Odds: +550

2021 World Series Odds: +1000

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 91 (-110), UNDER 91 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (-320), NO (+245)

The Mets have had all of three winning seasons since 2008, but they are receiving a boatload of 2021 hype. Many have penciled the Mets in as a serious contender to reach their first World Series since 2015.

In fact, the Mets edge out the stacked Braves as the favorite to win the NL East. Why? The Mets have a deep lineup that should be productive, led by their shiny new (rental, perhaps) toy. On top of that, they have a pitching staff led by arguably the best pitcher in the game.

There may be early stumbles for the Mets as they navigate sky-high expectations and get healthy, but no panic should ensue. As the season progresses, they should get stronger. With talent and experience in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen, the pieces are in place to justify the hype. It remains to be seen if they thrive or wilt.

Is Lindor the Missing Piece for the Mets’ Lineup?

Along with the San Diego Padres, another ambitious NL pennant hopeful, the Mets made a huge off-season splash. The Mets acquired All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and veteran starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland in January. The Mets are looking to lock down Lindor long-term, but there are high hopes of winning this year first.

Lindor hit a career-low .258 last season but will command a massive contract for good reason. He is 27, and his speed, power, and defense are all elite. If he returns to his best form–.280+, 40+ doubles, 30+ homers, 80+ RBI, 100+ runs, 20+ steals, and the Mets win as expected, Lindor will be in the thick of the NL MVP race. At this stage, he is +1200 to win it.

The Mets also have three returning regulars who hit over .300 last season. Michael Conforto (.322, 9 homers), Jeff McNeil (.311), and Dominic Smith (.316, 10 homers, 42 RBI) were all solid. All three are in or approaching their prime years, like Lindor. As is 2019 home run leader Pete Alonso, who hit only .231 last season but did hit 16 homers. So is J.D. Davis, who hit only .247 last season but hit .307 with 22 homers in 2019. Expectations are reasonably high for this season, but if Lindor inks for the future, a stellar core is in place.

NL Cy Young Favorite deGrom Leads Stout Staff

In 2018 and 2019, Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young despite lacking a exceptional win-loss record or team success. This season, deGrom could have a third Cy Young, a sparkling individual record, and team success. The two-time winner is a +350 favorite to win the NL Cy Young this season. He is also +5000 to win the NL MVP.

There’s some distance in quality between deGrom and the rest of the rotation. But that says more about how good he is. Carrasco, Marcus Stroman (who is back with the Mets after sitting out 2020), Taijuan Walker, and deGrom form a solid quartet. Carrasco is out due to a torn hamstring, but he is on track to return in May or June. When he is healthy and Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) returns later this season, the Mets will have a rotation that few can match.

Another big off-season addition for the Mets was to the bullpen. Veteran reliever Aaron Loup was 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA in 24 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays last season and has a 3.38 ERA in 406 career appearances. Key reliever Seth Lugo, currently out with bone spurs in his elbow, had an ERA under three in 2018 and 2019 before some struggles in 2020.

Last but not least, the Mets should have one of the best closers in baseball in Edwin Diaz. After a rough 2019, Diaz went 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA and six saves in 26 appearances.

Atlanta Braves

Division Title Odds: +140

2021 National League Title Odds: +550

2021 World Series Odds: +1000

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 91.5 (+100), UNDER 91.5 (-120)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (-280), NO (+220)

After winning three straight NL East titles, the next step for the Braves is to reach their first World Series since 1999. They held a 3-1 series lead over the Dodgers in last season’s NLCS but couldn’t close out the series. There’s no shame in that, given how good the Dodgers are. And to reach that point with a makeshift rotation is a noteworthy achievement.

There are some serious bullpen questions, but the Braves are well-positioned to make a serious championship run. They may not need to win the NL East to do so, but no one wants to spend more of their postseason on the road.

Ozuna’s Return Ensures Braves Will Keep Raking

Freddie Freeman is the reigning NL MVP and is +1500 to go back-to-back. Ronald Acuna, Jr. is the show-stopping star of today and tomorrow and a potential 40-40 player. He is +750 to be NL MVP. But their third star slugger, Marcell Ozuna, is every bit the reason the Braves are knocking on the door.

Last off-season, the Braves signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal after Ozuna had a so-so two-season run with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a medium-risk signing, but he repaid the investment and then some. He hit .338 and led the NL in homers (18), RBI (56), and total bases (145).

After flirting with other opportunities, Ozuna decided to remain in Atlanta and signed a four-year, $64 million deal last month. Will he hit .338 again this season? Probably not, but he should be better than +5000 to win the NL MVP. Based on last season’s production and what he could do in a full season, his odds should be shorter.

In the infield duo of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, the Braves have two steady performers, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud hit .321 with nine homers and 34 RBI in 44 games last season. That leaves third base and center field, where the Braves have prospects with tremendous potential in Austin Riley and Cristian Pache. Riley has 30-homer potential if he stays healthy and can hit consistently. Pache got 22 vital postseason at-bats last season and is +1200 to win NL Rookie of the Year.

Will the Bullpen’s Rollercoaster Rides Continue?

Last year, the Braves almost reached the World Series with a rotation that was not what it had been expected to be. Potential NL Cy Young candidate Mike Soroka tore his Achilles in August after making only three starts, while Mike Foltynewicz had a rough end to his Braves career after losing his velocity.

Now, the Braves enter the 2021 season with four starters at +4000 or better to win the NL Cy Young. Max Fried (+2400) went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA last season after a 17-win 2019. Soroka (+3000) has returned to the mound and is on track to be ready early in the season. Ian Anderson (+3500) went 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA in six 2020 starts, and he is also +600 to win NL Rookie of the Year. Veteran starter Charlie Morton (+4000) is back with the Braves, with whom he broke into the majors in 2008.

The bullpen will ultimately decide the Braves’ fate this season. The last few seasons have featured too many unnecessary rollercoasters and sticky situations. While many of them were navigated successfully, it’s a big ask for one arm to regularly bail out another. There is a lot of depth, however, even with a couple of departures.

Washington Nationals

Division Title Odds: +650

2021 National League Title Odds: +1800

2021 World Series Odds: +3000

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 84 (-110), UNDER 84 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+160), NO (-200)

After stunning the Houston Astros to win the 2019 World Series, the Nationals took a step back in 2020, finishing 26-34. No defending World Series champion had done so poorly since the Marlins went 54-108 in 1998 after decimating their 1997 World Series-winning team. The Nationals didn’t blow things up after their World Series win, but they were done in by many factors. The loss of slugger Anthony Rendon in free agency hurt, and so did a number of injuries, age, and underperformance.

Can they rebound to challenge for the NL East title and a postseason berth in 2021? A lot of talent remains, and they have made some interesting additions. If they start well and are not derailed by injuries, don’t count them out.

MVP Hopeful Soto Leads the Way

After winning the NL batting title last season, what’s next for Juan Soto? Now is the time to make a run at winning NL MVP. After hitting .351 with 13 homers and 37 RBI in only 47 games last season, Soto is a co-favorite for the NL MVP. He comes in at +700, as does San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Speedy shortstop Trea Turner was also a standout in 2020, hitting .335 with 12 homers, 41 RBI, and 12 steals, and he tied for the NL lead with four triples. Turner had four straight seasons with 30+ steals prior to the pandemic-shortened season and led the NL in steals in 2018. He comes in at +4500 to be NL MVP, and if he can replicate last season’s form this season, he should be a first-time All-Star.

To beef up the lineup, the Nationals signed a couple of former NL Central stars with power production in their history. New starting first baseman Josh Bell had 37 homers with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019, while new starting outfielder Kyle Schwarber had two 30-homer seasons with the Chicago Cubs. Both had struggles in 2020 but will hope to put that behind them in their new NL East home.

Big Arms, Big Ifs

In Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals have a top three in their rotation that is as good as any on paper. But Scherzer is coming off of a season in which he posted his highest ERA since 2012, Strasburg is returning from injury, and Corbin (2-7, 4.66 ERA in 2020) is coming off of one of his worst seasons.

If all three can be back to their best in 2021, the Nationals could throw a wrench into the Braves’ and Mets’ plans to duke it out for the NL East title. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, is +1000 to win his fourth. Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP, is +2000 to win his first NL Cy Young. Corbin, who went 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 2019, is +4000 to win his first.

Also added to the mix is three-time World Series champ and five-time All-Star Jon Lester, who will look to reach 200 career wins this year after signing a one-year deal with Washington. Lester had thyroid surgery earlier this month and may not be ready for the start of the season, but he shouldn’t miss too many starts.

The Nats also added to the bullpen, bringing in veteran closer Brad Hand. Hand was 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 16 saves last season with Cleveland, and he could prove to be a very valuable addition if the rotation returns to form.

Philadelphia Phillies

Division Title Odds: +850

2021 National League Title Odds: +1800

2021 World Series Odds: +3500

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 81.5 (-116), UNDER 81.5 (-106)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+300), NO (-400)

The Philadelphia Phillies have the talent to compete, along with a World Series-winning manager in Joe Girardi. A first winning season since 2011 is achievable and would likely keep Girardi’s seat cool heading into 2022. But with no expanded playoffs and the Braves and Mets potentially being 90+ win teams, the Phillies are likely to miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season.

Harper, Hoskins, and Homers Aplenty for Phillies

If there is one thing that the Phillies will do this season, they will hit a lot of homers. In a shortened 2020 season, they have five players reach double digits in homers. All five are back this season, led by Bryce Harper, who has NL MVP odds of +1500. With the number of top candidates who will be on top teams, the Phillies will need a good season for him to win it unless his individual numbers are too good to ignore. Look out for a big second year by 2020 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Alec Bohm, who hit .338 in 160 at-bats last season.

The Phillies were also tied for fifth in the majors in runs scored last season, so power and run production should not be issues this season.

Pitching Will Tell the Tale

The NL East race could get very, very interesting if pitching can come through for both the Nationals and the Phillies.

The Phillies don’t quite have the arms that the Nationals do, but they do have a leading NL Cy Young candidate in Aaron Nola (+1200). Nola was more solid than superb in 2020, going 5-5 with a 3.28 ERA, but he did have 96 strikeouts in only 71.1 IP. Behind Nola are Zack Wheeler, who’s +4000 to win the NL Cy Young after posting a career-best 2.92 ERA in 2020. Zach Elfin also posted a career-best ERA (3.97) and averaged more than a strikeout an inning for the first time.

Hector Neris will open the season as the closer but needs a better 2021. If his run of decent odd-numbered years continues–3.01 ERA and 26 saves in 2017, 2.93 ERA and 28 saves in 2019, that will happen. There are some new faces in the bullpen that will also help determine how near or far the Phillies are to the top of the NL East. Neris beat out off-season pickups Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado, who will be counted on in key roles. So will another experienced arm in Brandon Kintzler, who had 12 saves and a 2.22 ERA last season for the Marlins.

It’s hard to put much faith in the Phillies when they haven’t had a winning season in a decade, but there is reason for cautious optimism in backing the over for their team win total.

Miami Marlins

Division Title Odds: +3200

2021 National League Title Odds: +3500

2021 World Series Odds: +6500

2021 Team Win Total: OVER 71.5 (-110), UNDER 71.5 (-110)

Odds to Make 2021 MLB Playoffs: YES (+1120), NO (-3000)

The Marlins were unheralded heading into 2020 but proved to be one of the season’s best stories. They impressively finished second in the NL East and then swept the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card round. Their season ended in the NLDS at the hands of the rival Braves, who swept them 3-0, but there was plenty for manager Don Mattingly and the club to feel proud of.

Expectations are low again, and the under for their team win total looks like the better bet for now. But the Marlins should be entertaining, if nothing else. There is a lot of young talent throughout the roster, most notably on the mound.

Veteran Lineup Could Surprise

While the youth-centric pitching staff is going to garner the most attention, the lineup full of returning regulars could be quietly productive. Their top returning hitter (Miguel Rojas – .304), home run hitter (Brian Anderson – 11), and run producers (Anderson with 38 RBI and Jesus Aguilar with 34) are all back. Also, Adam Duvall, who averaged a home run every 11.92 at-bats (26 in 310 at-bats) across 2019 and 2020 with the Braves, signed a one-year deal with the Marlins.

Among all of the veterans in the lineup is one fresh face in infielder Jazz Chisholm, who won the starting job at second. Chisholm played 21 regular-season games last season and is +3000 to win NL Rookie of the Year.

Young Arms Anchor Promising Rotation

In the coming seasons, the Marlins could have one of the best rotations in baseball. That is, if they hold on to all of their touted arms, which is not a given for this franchise. Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, and Trevor Rogers are all 25 or younger and made a combined 31 regular-season starts in 2020.

Those four will be a part of the rotation to start the season. The most highly-touted arm will not, however. Sixto Sanchez logged seven stars and 39 IP last season and went 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA, but he will start the season in the minors. It is only a matter of time before he gets called back up, but starting the season in the minors does not help him in the NL Rookie of the Year race, especially against the likes of Ian Anderson. But he is still one of the leading contenders, coming in at +450.

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