It’s almost time to “play ball” as the 2021 Major League Baseball season gets underway April 1. That’s great news considering we were given the short end of the stick with last year’s 60-game COVID-shortened season. The excitement for the game of baseball seems to be heading in the right direction with a new crop of exciting, young players. There are new teams who are gunning for the top of divisions and new rivalries that should bring a spark. We will break down every division as the season gets closer. Let’s start with the NL East.
The National League East is hopeful that another team can make a run at the World Series. Of course, the Nationals won just two years ago but before that it had been an 11-year drought for one of the teams in this division to bring home the title. That should come as a surprise considering they have some of the most successful franchises in the bunch with the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves.
The cream of the crop last year was the Braves. Led by 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman, they have a young squad with some of the best hitters in the game with Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Marcell Ozuna. This team can beat you with their bats but also have a strong starting rotation with guys like Max Fried and Mike Soroka. The only offseason moves Atlanta made was signing playoff veteran pitcher Charlie Morton, re-signing Ozuna, and adding some depth. However, that could be enough as I expect Atlanta to compete for the championship in this division every year for the foreseeable future.
The team they will have to worry most about are the New York Mets, and no, I’m not joking. The Mets have a new owner and a new willingness to spend. They traded for four-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco. That move alone took the Mets from a decent ball club to contenders. They also signed 2019 AL All-Star catcher James McCann in free agency. New York finished in fourth place last year but look for a good season this year. With the offseason acquisitions and the returning talent from last year led by Pete Alonso and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom this team could be a pennant chaser. Especially if Noah Syndergaard can make a comeback from Tommy John surgery.
Another team to keep an eye on will be the Philadelphia Phillies who have spent more money the last three offseasons than most teams. They want Bryce Harper to be a World Series champion and have brought in plenty of pieces to try and get that done. However, they have disappointed more often than not in recent seasons. While re-signing J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius was great, their starting rotation lacks depth, and the bullpen ranked as the second-worst in MLB history last season according to the Elias Sports Bureau. New president of operations Dave Dombroski has his work cut out for him, but with two World Series championship titles on his resume he should be up for the task.
The Miami Marlins made the playoffs last year, for the first time in since 2003, but were quickly eliminated. The team made history in the offseason with the hiring of Kim Ng. She becomes the first female general manager in MLB history. Unfortunately, that was the only major offseason move that they made other than adding some depth to their bullpen. Since they did nothing major to improve this offseason, I see a regression with this squad this year and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll make the playoffs. It could be a long, hot summer in south Florida for manager Don Mattingly and CEO Derek Jeter.
One year removed from winning the World Series, the Washington Nationals made a splash by trading for 2019 NL All-Star Josh Bell to take over at first base and signing outfielder Kyle Schwarber in free agency. Oh, they also added three-time World Series champion pitcher Jon Lester. With Juan Soto and a starting rotation led by three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer don’t count the Nationals out. Especially if Stephen Strasburg returns to form after missing most of the 2020 season with an injury. Just like when they won the World Series, the Nats have talent, it’s just a question of whether they can put it all together.