The National League East is shaping up to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball! In this division preview, I’ll go over each of the five teams in the NL East while breaking down their projected lineup, bench, starting rotation, and bullpen.
Pitcher List is previewing each division as we get closer to 2022 Opening Day, so be on the lookout for our other division previews later this week. Let’s dive in to the NL East!
2021 Record: 88-73, 1st place in NL East
Notable Roster Changes:
The notable absentee from Atlanta’s lineup is Freddie Freeman. The club attempts to fill that void with first baseman Matt Olson, who they traded Cristian Pache and three minor leaguers for. Olson had a career-high year in 2021, slashing .271/.371/.540 with a 146 wRC+ over 156 games as a member of the Oakland A’s. The rest of the World Series infield remains the same, with Ozzie Albies at second, Dansby Swanson at shortstop, and Austin Riley at third.
Ronald Acuña Jr. will be out until May as he continues to rehab from knee surgery. Until then, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Marcell Ozuna should be the regular outfield. Duvall and Rosario both joined Atlanta mid-way through the 2021 season on their quest to win a World Series. Duvall slashed .228/.281/.491 with a 103 wRC+ in 2021. Rosario slashed .259/.305/.435 with a 98 wRC+ in 2021, but had a fantastic showing against the Dodgers in the NLCS where he went 14-for-25 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Ozuna missed most of 2021 after he was arrested on domestic violence charges last May.
Much of Atlanta’s starting pitching looks the same as it did last year. Max Fried and Charlie Morton sit atop the rotation. Fried had a fantastic 2021, holding down a 3.04 ERA and 1.09 WHIP by inducing soft contact and limiting walks. Veteran Charlie Morton also pitched very well in 2021, relying mostly on his mid-90s four-seamer and low-80s curveball that earned Ben Palmer’s praise for the best curveball of 2021.
Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa will return to their usual spots in the rotation. Anderson had a strong showing in the small sample size that was the 2020 season, but he wasn’t as impressive in 2021. It wasn’t bad, but he’ll look to take a step forward in 2022. As for Ynoa, he looked good until he broke his hand punching a wall after a rough outing in May. Prior to the injury, Ynoa held a 3.02 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. In his starts since then, his ERA jumped by two full runs to 5.05 and he lost his spot in the rotation during the postseason.
Atlanta’s bullpen wasn’t special during the regular season, but they proved dominant when it mattered in October. They’ll be even better going into 2022. Atlanta signed former Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen and veteran Collin McHugh this offseason. Jansen brings 350 career saves and his signature cutter to Atlanta. With Jansen assuming the closer’s role, Will Smith will slide into the set-up spot. The other bullpen addition is Collin McHugh who is coming off a stellar season with Tampa Bay. He held down a 1.55 ERA and 25.9% strikeout rate over 37 appearances. Jansen and McHugh will join the lefty-heavy bullpen of Smith, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Sean Newcomb.
2021 Record: 67-95, 4th place in NL East
Notable Roster Changes:
After having one of the worst offenses in the big leagues last season, the Miami Marlins made their lineup a priority this offseason. To their credit, they added two solid bats in Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García. But as it stands, there’s still a gaping hole in centerfield and neither Soler nor García are reliable options. For now, it looks like the Marlins will go with young outfielder Jesús Sánchez in centerfield.
On the offensive side of the ball, Soler slashed .223/.316/.432 with a 101 wRC+ over 149 games with Kansas City and Atlanta. He was an integral part of Atlanta’s World Series run, hitting three home runs and earning himself the 2021 World Series MVP Award.
García spent last year with Milwaukee. In 135 games, he slashed .262/.330/.490 with a 115 wRC+. These two additions bring 27 and 29 home runs, respectively, to a team with the third-worst home run total and second-worst slugging percentage in 2021.
In addition to these two free-agent signings, the Marlins also traded for Joey Wendle and Jacob Stallings. Wendle, who can play all around the infield, has had a strong spring and may pry the starting third baseman’s spot from Brian Anderson. Stallings brings Gold Glove defense to the Marlins’ backstop, something the team desperately needed. The Marlins also hope, however, that Stallings will add more consistent offensive production to the catching position. The catcher’s spot in the lineup was dismal in 2021: Marlins catchers combined for a slash line of .212/.267/.319 with a 63 wRC+ and a strikeout rate of nearly 35%.
Finally, the Marlins will benefit greatly from the new universal DH role. Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar will trade off there and at first base. Other familiar faces are Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Miguel Rojas. Chisholm showed flashes of the player he can be, but will need to prove he can be that player consistently. Rojas will continue to provide a veteran presence in his unofficial role as the Marlins’ captain.
Starting pitching is the Marlins’ strong suit. Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López anchor the rotation as the two veterans. Alcantara works with an above-average sinker, slider, and change-up. His sinker made Ben Palmer’s list of the best five sinkers of 2021 here at Pitcher List and his slider dazzled with a 35.6% CSW rate. López’s calling card is his changeup, which he gets batters to chase at 48.7% of the time. He came into his own in 2021, posting a 3.07 ERA and 27.5% strikeout rate.
Additionally, rookie southpaw Trevor Rogers made a name for himself in 2021. He pitched in the All-Star Game and came in second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Rogers posted a top-10 ERA of 2.64, missed barrels, and got a ton of whiffs. Making up the rest of the Marlins rotation is Elieser Hernandez and Jesús Luzardo, two pitchers the team has faith in going into 2022.
There’s also no shortage of arms in Miami’s minor league system. The pitchers starting the season in the minors are Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Max Meyer, and Eury Perez. Sixto Sánchez will also start the year on the injured list.
Dylan Floro was slated to be the team’s closer, but he’ll start the season on the injured list. Anthony Bender, who has a filthy slider with a 42.4% CSW rate, will likely start the year as the team’s closer. Anthony Bass and Richard Bleier will also hold down the fort, along with recent acquisitions Louis Head, Cole Sulser, and Tanner Scott.
2021 Record: 77-85, 3rd place in NL East
Notable Roster Changes:
Right before the lockout, there was a stretch where it seemed like every big name was signing with the Mets. Outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha were two early signings, along with infielder Eduardo Escobar. Marte brings speed to a lineup that stole very few bases last season. Between his time in Miami and Oakland, he stole a league-leading 47 bases in 2021. Marte also brings a well-rounded offensive profile to the Mets. He slashed .316/.359/.466 with a 134 wRC+ in 2021.
Canha brings impeccable plate discipline to the lineup. He had a 12.3% walk rate and 22.7% chase rate last year. For context, the league-average walk rate was 8.8% and the league-average chase rate was 29.9%. Escobar has been inconsistent over his career but he showed rejuvenated pop last year as he hit 28 home runs and played solid defense.
Brandon Nimmo will take over free agent Michael Conforto’s spot in centerfield, with Canha sliding into left and Marte in right. With the addition of third baseman Eduardo Escobar and the loss of second baseman Javier Báez, Jeff McNeil will man second base for the Mets. Like last year, Francisco Lindor will play shortstop, Pete Alonso at first, and James McCann behind the plate. Rounding out the bench is Tomás Nido at catcher and utility men Luis Guillorme, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith.
Ahhh, the Mets. For all they’ve done this offseason, a cloud of disappointment will hang over Opening Day because Jacob deGrom is injured once again. If he’s healthy, deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball. That’s a big if, however. A shoulder injury will keep him from throwing for at least a month. Newly signed Max Scherzer will slide into the Opening Day spot…for now. He’s dealing with a hamstring injury that leaves another question mark at the top for the Mets.
Beyond the lethal but injury-prone 1-2 punch for the Mets, they also added Chris Bassitt to the top of their rotation. He quietly made a name for himself in Oakland. He’s done a great job suppressing hard contact, while also posting above-average strikeout (25.0%) and walk (6.1%) rates.
The Mets will need Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, and Tylor Megill to round out their rotation while deGrom is off the field. Walker looked like two different pitchers in the first and second half of 2021. Coming into the All-Star Break, he held a 2.66 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, and allowed only 6 home runs; after the break, his numbers ballooned to a 7.13 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, and 20 home runs. For the Mets’ sake, they’ll need Walker to be the pitcher he was in the first half.
There was a lot of turnover with the Mets pitching staff this offseason. In addition to the losses of starters Rich Hill, Marcus Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard, the bullpen will be without Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, and Dellin Betances. Edwin Díaz will remain the Mets’ closer, with Trevor May, Seth Lugo, Drew Smith, and Trevor Williams also returning to the bullpen. The new faces in the Mets bullpen this season are Adam Ottavino and Chasen Shreve.
2021 Record: 82-80, 2nd place in NL East
Notable Roster Changes:
The two big bats of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos bolster the Philadelphia Phillies lineup and will likely book-end the current two and three holes where J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper reside. The top half of the Phillies’ lineup is absolutely stacked. Here’s each player’s slash-line and wRC+ from last year, positioned in their projected lineup spot:
- Kyle Schwarber: .266/.374/.554, 145 wRC+
- J.T. Realmuto: .263/.343/.439, 108 wRC+
- Bryce Harper: .309/.429/.615, 170 wRC+
- Nick Castellanos: .309/.362/.576, 140 wRC+
Hitting behind them are the Phillies infielders you know from last season: Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, and Alec Bohm. There are also a few prospects who have a real shot to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster. Matt Vierling and Mickey Moniak are battling it out for the starting centerfielder’s spot.
At the hot corner, Bryson Stott is doing everything he can to earn a big-league call-up right now. In 11 spring training games, Stott went 12-for-25 with two doubles, one home run, six walks, and only four strikeouts. After Alec Bohm’s sophomore slump and a slow start this spring, I don’t think it’s outlandish to wonder if Stott will be in the starting lineup on April 8.
On the bench for the Phillies will be catcher Garrett Stubbs and utility man Johan Camargo, along with whichever players don’t get the starting centerfield and third base spots. The Phillies won’t have the best defense, but it might not be as big of a deal if they put up inflated run totals thanks to Schwarber and Castellanos.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are the studs in Philadelphia’s rotation. Nola will get the ball on Opening Day, while Wheeler is slated to pitch the following Tuesday after having not pitched in a spring training game.
In 2021, Nola was among the top-15 pitchers in strikeout rate (29.8%), walk rate (5.2%), and CSW (32.1%) due in part to his fastball-curveball combo. Wheeler’s 213.1 innings pitched was the most in the league, which is why the Phillies are cautious with him going into 2022. He posted a top-15 ERA (2.78) and WHIP (1.01), with strikeout (29.1%) and walk (5.4%) rates not far behind.
Making up the rest of the rotation are right-handers Kyle Gibson and Zach Eflin, along with lefty Ranger Suárez. The Phillies traded for Gibson mid-way through last season, but he didn’t pitch very well. With Texas, Gibson held a 2.87 ERA; with Philadelphia, a 5.09 ERA. Gibson works with six pitches, four of which are used between 12.0% and 16.0% of the time. His slider-curveball combo was pretty good last year, the former earning a 43.6% whiff rate.
Eflin is sinker-slider heavy and lives on the edges of the strike zone, with 48.4% of his pitches on the edge compared to the league-average rate of 39.0%. He’s also got a minuscule 3.6% walk rate, one of the lowest in the league.
The lone lefty in the Phillies’ rotation is Suárez, whose 2021 season was a pleasant surprise. His 1.36 ERA was second-best in baseball thanks to his top-5 sinker, according to Ben Palmer, and his ability to limit hard contact.
The Phillies made it a point to improve their bullpen, too. They added Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia, and Brad Hand all via free agency. Knebel will take over the closer’s role, with Familia and José Alvarado looking like set-up men. Hand will slide into the middle relief role with Connor Brogdon and Seranthony Domínguez.
2021 Record: 65-97, 5th place in NL East
Notable Roster Changes:
The Nationals didn’t do too much this offseason, but mainly because they hosted their fire sale at the 2021 trade deadline. That said, they did sign second baseman César Hernández and 41-year-old Nelson Cruz to take advantage of the universal DH. Beyond these signings, they did very little to upgrade their lackluster lineup.
Juan Soto, who was born more than six months after Nelson Cruz signed his first professional contract, will provide most of the offensive production. Soto is so good and so young that it’s mind-boggling. He slashed .313/.465/.534 in 2021. His 163 wRC+ was behind only Bryce Harper and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and his 22.2% walk rate was the best in baseball.
To be fair to the 17-year MLB veteran Nelson Cruz, he was pretty productive in 2021: .265/.334/.497 with a 122 wRC+. However, I’m not sure fans will flock to the ballpark because of this signing.
The Nationals made one move to add to their rotation when they signed Aníbal Sánchez. The veteran right-hander was on the Nationals’ 2019 World Series-winning team, but he did not pitch at all in 2021.
Patrick Corbin is the ace of the Nationals staff this year, but he’ll have to pitch much better than he did last year to give his team and the fans confidence in him. A quick look at his statistics will send shivers down your spine, but not in a good way. Corbin posted a 5.82 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, both among the worst in the league.
Josiah Gray, Josh Rogers, and Erick Fedde round out the rest of Washington’s rotation. Gray, and catcher Keibert Ruiz, were the main players the Nationals got back when they traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers last season. Although he didn’t show it last year, Gray has the potential to be a solid big league starter.
Much like the rest of the team, the Nationals’ bullpen is a bit lackluster. Sean Doolittle returns to Washington D.C. after bouncing around with Cincinnati and Seattle last year. Veteran reliever Steve Cishek was another free agent signing. Kyle Finnegan and Tanner Rainey are two of the more notable names returning to the bullpen, with Finnegan looking like he’ll get most of the closing duties.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)