A peek around the NL East 1

The New York Mets’ 2021 schedule.

Last season’s abbreviated 60-game schedule saw the Mets play division opponents 10 times apiece with the remaining 20 games against American League East opponents. Now the 162-game schedule is back and the Amazin’s will face their National League East rivals 19 times each.

The Braves are searching for a third straight division title. The Marlins are looking to show last season’s surprise playoff appearance was no fluke. The Phillies want to prove they have the pieces to make the postseason, despite a bullpen that betrayed them in 2020. And the Nationals are hoping there is another deep playoff run for the franchise that won the 2019 World Series.

The Mets were active in the offseason but will it be enough to win the division?

Atlanta Braves

After falling one game short of getting into the World Series, the Braves are hungry to finish what they couldn’t in 2020. Atlanta features Met-killer and reigning MVP first baseman Freddie Freeman, who hit .341 with 13 home runs last season. Freeman will be extra-motivated entering a contract season.

The team re-signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit .338 with 18 home runs. Former Met castoff Travis d’Arnaud hit .321 in 44 games behind the plate. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. received some MVP votes and hit 14 home runs in 52 games.

Atlanta is hoping for a repeat of the good health enjoyed last season when Freeman, Ozuna and shortshop Dansby Swanson played in all 60 games.

In the starting rotation, the team is hoping for repeat performances from Max Fried, who went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts, and Ian Anderson, who pitched to a 1.95 ERA in six starts. The Braves also acquired Charlie Morton, an All-Star with the Astros in 2018 and the Rays in 2019, though he struggled last season in Tampa Bay.

Washington Nationals

Outfielder Juan Soto has quickly become a star since debuting in May 2018. He hit five home runs in the 2019 postseason and followed that up by leading the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2020.

Shortstop Trea Turner also had an impressive season, batting .335 with 12 homers and 12 stolen bases.

The Nationals will lean on a veteran-laden staff. Max Scherzer is in the final season of his seven-year contract. The future Hall of Famer, who is entering his 14th season, went 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA. Southpaw Patrick Corbin hopes to bounce back from a disappointing 2-7 campaign. Stephen Strasburg was 2019 World Series MVP and signed a seven-year, $245 million contract. He pitched all of five innings last season, sidelined with a nerve issue in his throwing hand.

The Nats went out and acquired Jon Lester, who is approaching his 200th career win. The five-time All-Star with the Red Sox and Cubs struggled in Chicago last year, pitching to a 5.16 ERA.

Miami Marlins

Of nine opponents, Miami was the only team the Mets had a winning record against last season, with New York going 6-4 head-to-head against the Fish.

The Marlins lost 105 games in 2019 before making an unexpected playoff push in 2020. Former Yankees star Don Mattingly earned NL Manager of the Year honors for going 31-29 with a Miami squad that was ravaged by Covid and used 61 players.

Pablo Lopez led the team with six wins and 11 starts in 2020. Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez both went 3-2 with solid ERAs.

Third baseman Brian Anderson hit a team-high 11 home runs and played in 59 games, despite the Marlins seeing 18 players sidelined to Covid during the year.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas provided a steady bat, hitting .304 in 40 games. The team acquired centerfielder Starling Marte from Arizona during the season. Miami is hoping for production from Marte, who was a 2016 All-Star with the Pirates.

Many pundits believe the Marlins will finish last, but that’s what they thought last year.

Philadelphia Phillies

For years, Joe Girardi used his weapons to the max with a talented Yankees relief corps. In his first season as Phillies skipper, he watched a beleagured bullpen pitch to a 7.06 ERA, the second-worst in MLB history.

Philadelphia added a few relievers including Archie Bradley, Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson. It’s impossible for the bullpen to be as bad as it was in 2020.

The Phillies, looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, do have some impressive bats. Catcher J.T. Realmuto hit 11 homers and signed a five-year, $115 million deal. Infielders Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius both hit 10 home runs. And star outfielder Bryce Harper hit 13 homers, while walking more times than striking out for the first time in his impressive nine-year career.

Leading the rotation are Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Nola led the team with five wins, 12 starts and two complete games. Wheeler, the former Met who signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies, went 4-2 with an impressive 2.92 ERA in his first season in Philadelphia red.

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