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Sizing up the Mets’ competition in the NL East this year

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A look around the NL East at the Mets’ biggest competition this year.

Tampa Bay Rays v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

We have previewed the Mets at length for weeks here at Amazin’ Avenue, player-by-player, position-by-position, in excruciating detail. But how about the teams they’re up against? The National League East figures to be the deepest division in baseball this year, with no team in the division outright tanking—a rarity in baseball today—but each team still having its warts. Let’s take a deeper look at the Mets’ four division rivals to gauge the competition in the way of the division crown this year.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves enter the year off coming off their third-straight division title and an NLCS appearance, quickly reasserting themselves as the most consistently dominant force in NL East after a brief rebuild in the mid-2010s. They once again appear to be one of the best teams in the National League.

Key Additions

  • SP Charlie Morton
  • SP Drew Smyly
  • INF/OF Ehire Adrianza
  • 3B Pablo Sandoval
  • RP Nate Jones

Strengths

The Braves have an elite core and a deep roster. Offensively, it’s the same cast of characters that has pretty much won them the division every year since 2018, so there’s no reason to expect them to disappoint this time. Marcell Ozuna returning is huge, and Christian Pache figuring out how to hit would lengthen the lineup even more. The rotation is also very strong with Mike Soroka leading the way once he is fully ramped up, followed by Ian Anderson, Max Fried, and Charlie Morton to round out one of the best rotations in the game.

Weaknesses

It’s tough to poke holes in their roster, but Atlanta’s pitching depth isn’t quite as good as it seemed this time last year; Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, and Touki Toussaint don’t quite seem like reliable major league pieces. They may have to hope that pitching prospect Kyle Muller is ready quickly because banking on Drew Smyly to be a quality starter based on 26.1 innings in 2020 is quite the risk after he posted an ERA over six in 2019. Furthermore, there isn’t a single league-average bat coming off their bench as of now. The loss of Adam Duvall really hurts there.

Philadelphia Phillies

When the Phillies went on their free agent bonanza in the 2018-2019 offseason, it looked like they were about to take the reins as the new powerhouse in the division. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. There have been flashes of brilliance in Philadelphia recently, but it has only resulted in an accumulated 99-103 record over the past two seasons. They come into 2021 as once again a highly talented, but ultimately flawed team.

Key Additions

  • RP Josè Alvarado
  • RP Archie Bradley
  • RP Brandon Kintzler
  • SP/RP Chase Anderson
  • RP Joakim Soria
  • SP Matt Moore

Strengths

The Phillies retained both Didi Gregorius and J.T. Realmuto this offseason, meaning they will once again run out a lineup with tremendous upside. An infield alignment of Realmuto, Hoskins, Segura, Gregorius, and Bohm can hit the tar out of the ball, and it helps to have a guy named Harper in right field, too. They’ve also added to their historically-terrible bullpen from a season ago by adding Josè Alvarado, Archie Bradley, and Brandon Kintzler, all of whom should improve things there. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler also provide a nice 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation, with Spencer Howard likely to be back in the majors at some point as well.

Weaknesses

While those additions to the bullpen do help, it’s still an extremely volatile crop of pitchers that lacks any authentically elite relievers, or any real depth after the top four. The bullpen could still definitely be an issue for them, and potentially worsened by the bottom three in the Phillies rotation not routinely pitching deep into games. Zach Eflin, Matt Moore, and Chase Anderson will round out the Phillies’ rotation at least until Howard comes back up, and that has some serious disaster potential itself.

On top of that, the Phillies failed to address center field at all this offseason. They had a competition between Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, and Odubel Herrera this spring, and Haseley only won it because the other two played themselves out of roster spots. Haseley is best suited as a fourth outfielder and probably isn’t a starter.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals never got a chance to properly enjoy their World Series victory last year. Given that D.C. will have fans for the first time since that World Series victory against the Mets on Thursday, they will likely have some sort of acknowledgement to that World Series team. Unfortunately, it was two years ago now, the roster has changed, there was another World Series winner last October, and the team is coming off a 26-34 record in the 60 game season last year. It won’t be the same.

Key Additions

  • OF Kyle Schwarber
  • 1B Josh Bell
  • RP Brad Hand
  • RP Luis Avilan

Strengths

The offense is powered by Juan Soto and Trea Turner, which is about as good of a head start as you could ever wish for. They’ve got a nice bullpen as well, anchored by Brad Hand. Combine that with the usual top three in the rotation—Scherzer, Corbin, and Strasburg—and you’ve got a heck of a core.

Weaknesses

The players beyond them. The Nats tried to add more depth and power to their lineup by adding both Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell this offseason, but those are two risky players coming off down years whose peaks haven’t really been that high to begin with. They’re nice players to have for sure, but they fall short of really being stars at this point in their careers. The lineup after them falls off dramatically, with Starlin Castro, Yan Gomes, and Josh Harrison set to hit 6-7-8 most days with Carter Kieboom demoted to the minors. And the bench is just ugly. They haven’t really recovered from the loss of Rendon.

What’s more, if you’re worried about the bottom of the rotation for the Mets, consider that Jon Lester, who just put up an ERA over 5 last year, is their number four starter and Joe Ross, who hasn’t started more than 10 games since 2017 and who hasn’t had an ERA under 5 since 2016, seems likely to be their 5th starter.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins’ 2020 season was a wacky one. Their season was thrown into a whirlwind thanks to a two-week COVID outbreak. The Fish then needed to go on a mad dash to finish their season with numerous replacement players. They were outscored by 41 runs overall, ranked in the bottom five in both offensive and pitching fWAR, and about 30% of their wins came in 7-inning games. They made the playoffs anyway. There’s nothing about them that would make you think it was a sustainable performance, but they have at least cobbled together a nice little roster for 2021.

Key Additions

  • OF Adam Duvall
  • RP Anthony Bass
  • RP Dylan Floro
  • RP Ross Detwiler

Strengths

Pitching. The Marlins are built around their starting pitching in particular, headed by young phenom Sixto Sanchez. If he can stay healthy, Sanchez has everything it takes to be a true ace and a star in the game. Beyond him, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers are extremely interesting pitchers themselves, and Elieser Hernandez looks like a nice bottom of the rotation piece. Pitching prospects Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer could also make appearances this year. The bullpen isn’t half bad either, with a backend (Anthony Bass, Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro, and Richard Bleier) that can go toe-to-toe with any team in the division.

Offensively, unlike Marlins teams of recent years, Don Mattingly can actually fill out a lineup card and see major-league quality players at most positions. Starling Marte, in particular, was a nice addition at the trade deadline last year that the Marlins will have a full season of this time around.

Weaknesses

There is just not a lot of offense here when compared with the rest of the division. They’ve tried to add some thump with Adam Duvall, but there is no Stanton or Yelich here to anchor this lineup. Jesus Aguilar could be a solid middle of the order bat, but he a risk you probably don’t want to build your offense around. It’s not a young offense, either. According to Roster Resource, five out of their eight starting players are over the age of 30. So not only is it a low-ceiling offense, it’s a low-floor one as well, with age-related decline a large potential factor for several players here.

How the Mets stack up

It’s tough to look at the division and not be optimistic about the Mets’ chances to compete for the crown this year. The Mets were in the same neighborhood as the Phillies, Nationals, and Marlins going into the offseason, but wound up adding significantly more than those three teams did. They now clearly have a deeper roster than both the Phillies and the Nationals, and far more star power than the Marlins.

The Mets have definitely done quite a bit to catch up to the Braves and position themselves as a serious threat to the reigning division champs, but they failed to make that one last big move to that could’ve really put them over the top as clear division favorites. That’s not to say the Mets can’t surpass Atlanta, and it’s not like they’d need a whole lot to go right to do so, but it’s shaping up to be a dogfight between the two teams. Everyone else appears to be an echelon below the Mets and the Braves, though nobody is too far off, either. It will not be an easy division to win.