- The National League East is predicted to be the tightest division race in Major League Baseball
- The Atlanta Braves are a +125 favorite to win a fourth straight division crown, just ahead of the Mets
- Read on for a division preview, full odds, and best bet on who will win the 2021 NL East
Three straight division titles would seem pretty good for any franchise in Major League Baseball. But maybe Atlanta is the exception, which is no surprise when you consider that the Braves won 14 consecutive division crowns between 1991-2005. There’s dominance … and then there’s dominance.
Either way, if the Braves hope to claim the division summit once again in 2021, they will have to get by the retooled New York Mets, who have been busy over the winter, galvanized by the deep pockets of a new owner and the arrivals of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco.
But it’s far from a two-horse race. Arguments can easily be made for both the Washington Nationals, World Series winners two seasons ago, and the Philadelphia Phillies, while the Miami Marlins just made the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The 2021 NL East odds are reflective of what should be the closest division race in the majors.
2021 NL East Division Odds
|New York Mets||+145|
Odds as of Feb. 22 at DraftKings.
An extra run here or there and it could easily have been Atlanta playing the Tampa Bay Rays for the World Series last fall. Instead, the Braves let the Dodgers off the mat, throwing away a 3-1 NLCS lead to end their season in heartbreaking fashion.
With the new season almost upon us, the Braves have reason to be excited, not least of which is their overhauled rotation. While Charlie Morton has come in from the Rays, some of the improvement will come internally, not least of which is the reappearance of Mike Soroka.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) August 4, 2020
The young right-hander saw his 2020 season end with an Achilles tendon injury. While he might not be back on the mound for opening day, when he does get back he’ll be bringing his 15-6 record and 2.86 career ERA with him.
MLB Network’s Top 100 Player’s List:
1. Mike Trout (LAA)
2. Mookie Betts (LAD)
3. Jacob deGrom (NYM)
4. Freddie Freeman (ATL)
5. Juan Soto (WAS)
6. Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD)
7. Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL)
8. Anthony Rendon (LAA)
9. Christian Yelich (MIL)
10. Cody Bellinger (LAD)
— Danny Vietti (@DannyVietti) February 19, 2021
The team will need little help offensively; Atlanta’s 348 runs were just one run back of the Dodgers’ major league-leading 349. Their bats are led by first baseman Freddie Freeman, who won the NL MVP award last year. He’s ably abetted by Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson, and Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in the shortened 2020 season.
All of those bats are back and the Braves have an embarrassment of riches to drive the club offensively.
Mets on a Mission
New owner Steve Cohen brought more than just a blank check when he took over the team last November. He brought a new attitude to this team, and it has shown over the off-season.
Steve Cohen on the 2021 Mets:
"I think we're gonna be significantly improved. I'm hopeful… I'm excited about the prospects that we have this year, so I can't wait 'til we start." pic.twitter.com/nKxcWEnVGI
— SNY (@SNYtv) February 20, 2021
Only the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants have added more free agents than the Mets’ nine, while the team’s total spending – over $94-million – was the fifth-highest.
The biggest splash the team made was trading for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starter Carlos Carrasco from the Indians. Carrasco addis his 2.91 ERA from last season to a rotation that includes Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, and Noah Syndergaard at some point when he returns from Tommy John.
On our season finale of Beyond The Booth Live, Gary, Keith & Ron look at the Fernando Tatis Jr. extension's impact on Francisco Lindor, if the Mets have made the necessary improvements to be a better defensive team, and so much more.
— SNY Mets (@SNY_Mets) February 19, 2021
The offense is slightly above average in the NL. Lindor joins first baseman Pete Alonso and outfielder Michael Conforto, who drove in a combined 66 runs last season. The team also signed catcher James McCann, and will also have the willingness and financial resources to add to their lineup before the trade deadline if the Mets are in contention.
A National Uncertainty
It’s hard to overlook a team with a top-of-the-rotation trio consisting of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. But for the Nats to do anything in the division race, they will need the trio to return to their form of 2019, when they combined to go 43-20 with all three posting an ERA of 3.32 or lower en route to winning the World Series.
One year ago today…
Max Scherzer told Joe Ross he couldn’t go for World Series Game 5 and to “be ready.”
Joe was ready.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 27, 2020
Last season, Strasburg made just two starts, while Corbin went 2-7 with a 4.66 ERA. Only Scherzer looked anything like his normal self, going 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA.
However, all three are over 30, and maybe, just maybe, that World Series-winning campaign was the beginning of the end for this group.
The 2020 Philadelphia Phillies were undermined largely by porous defense and a horrendous bullpen on their way to a 28-32 third-place finish in the division.
It’s hard to see where the change will come from in 2021, with the team bringing most of last year’s lineup back, keyed around the recent re-signings of shortstop Didi Gregorius and catcher J.T. Realmuto, who had 72 RBI between them.
“We may not be the favorites”
“But inside that clubhouse, we feel we have just as good a shot as anybody”
“We’re not as far off as people want to make it seem”
1on1 with JT Realmuto tonight on NBC10 Philly Live Sports 11:50pm pic.twitter.com/YM7ms4lKi5
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) February 15, 2021
Much like the Nats, if the Phillies are going to go anywhere in 2021, it will be on the strength of their rotation. Philadelphia’s starters had a combined 7.0 wins above replacement last season, according to FanGraphs, which ranked third in MLB. That ranking was mostly owed to Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin, who all won at least four games and posted ERAs below 4.00.
Phillies have won 8 of 9 🔥🔥
2 games above 500
In second place
2 straight team shutouts behind
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) September 3, 2020
The team will need more from that group, especially going deep into games, if the bullpen continues to underperform like it did last season. The pen’s 7.06 ERA was the worst mark in MLB last year, so the hope will be that former Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley can do something to help revive that group.
Miami Making Waves
A first postseason berth in 17 seasons does wonders for team confidence. The question now becomes what the Marlins can do for an encore.
FLIP THE M!!!!! The 2020 Miami Marlins are playoff bound for the first time since 2003! Marlins beat the Yankees in extra innings to clinch a spot in the postseason. Sandy Alcantara was electric and Garrett Cooper hit a three-run blast! LFG!! #JuntosMiami pic.twitter.com/OWUwzI6vnM
— Hector Rodriguez (@Hector_Baseball) September 26, 2020
A +2500 outsider to win the division, the Marlins went 31-29 to finish four games back of the Braves last year. Their offense was just the 11th-best in the NL, which was is also exactly where their pitching finished with a 4.86 ERA.
Given the Marlins have lost more games than any other team since 2012, expect the team to stay the course in giving its youth a chance to develop. That may pay dividends in a season or two, but it probably rules them out of making a real run for the 2021 NL East.
A Four-gone Conclusion?
The Atlanta Braves have been here before and they’ve always responded well. Given how close they were to making the World Series, their blossoming rotation, and an offense that is every bit as good as that of the world-champion Dodgers, it’s a case of unfinished business for the Braves.
Expect them to start their assault on a World Series championship by adding a fourth straight NL East to their championship resume.
Pick: Braves (+125)
2021 MLB division previews: