In the AL East, four teams have a decent shot of winning the division, and all of them are good. In the NL East, four teams have a decent shot of winning the division, and maybe one of them is good. The Mets look good on paper, but they’re, you know, the Mets (more on that later). If the AL East is a battle royale against the titans of the league, the NL East is a dizzy bat race where a cluster of drunken dudes named Todd stumbles toward the finish line. It won’t be pretty, but it should be fun.
Here are our predictions.
Andrés Chávez: Mets
The Mets actually led the NL East for several months in 2021, only to fully collapse down the stretch. Poor injury luck, especially involving their top offensive player (Francisco Lindor) and pitcher (Jacob deGrom); and the Braves’ hot streak down the stretch left New York biting the dust.
This time, however, the Mets are fully equipped to succeed: they changed everyone from the general manager (Billy Eppler took over) to the manager (hello, Buck Showalter), plus some coaches, and brought in many new faces to the roster.
Max Scherzer (2.46 ERA in 179.1 innings in 2021) was signed to a three-year, $130 million deal to join deGrom at the top of the rotation. Sixty starts between those two are just too much for opposing teams in the division, and they just got the underrated and reliable Chris Bassitt, too.
Their lineup is very good, as well, and Lindor (.734 OPS) should be much better in his second season in New York. The Atlanta Braves, as currently constructed, are the ones who could challenge the Mets for first place, and by the look of things, but they will be without Freddie Freeman (barring an unexpected development).
There are noticeable flaws in the Phillies’ roster construction, and the Marlins and Nationals just aren’t ready to compete for the division yet. The East should be the Mets’ to lose.
Kenny Kelly: Mets
Look at any projection system and you’ll see that New York is the favorite to win the division this year, and they should do it relatively easily. The offseason isn’t over (and it may never be), but the Mets have already had an incredibly productive winter. They added Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar to fill out their offense, and, oh yeah, they picked up Max Scherzer to form one of the best one-two punches in the majors.
However, believing in the Mets is a fool’s errand. There’s no team in all of baseball so prone to stepping on rakes no matter how good their roster is. Remember: they were supposed to win the division last year, too, but they simply Mets’d it up.
In the first month of the season, the Mets lost three Jacob deGrom starts in which the righty threw a combined 20 innings and gave up two runs. Then, deGrom got hurt. That isn’t necessarily the Mets’ fault, but they don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to keeping their pitchers healthy.
I don’t doubt that the Mets won’t screw things up horribly, so my faith in them to win the division isn’t confidence in their abilities, it’s a lack of confidence in their competition. The Phillies are just Mets-lite, the Nationals are doing to Juan Soto what the Angels are doing to Mike Trout, and the Marlins are, well, the Marlins. That leaves the reigning champions Atlanta who are likely without those key deadline acquisitions that got them into the postseason, and they could be without Freddie Freeman. That leaves the Mets with a clear shot at winning the East.
Matt O’Halloran: Mets
The Steve Cohen era in New York has continued bearing fruit. After the blockbuster last winter that brought Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to New York, Cohen has mad a flurry of moves this winter to improve his ball club, that should put them over the top.
A rotation featuring Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker may very well be the best rotation in baseball - it’s certainly the best 1-2 punch in the league. deGrom and Scherzer could very easily finish as 1-2 in Cy Young voting, in either order. The other three guys are certainly capable of seeing down ballot support as well, as both Carrasco and Bassitt have previous top-10 finishes, and Walker is coming off of an all-star campaign.
The loss of Michael Conforto will hurt the offense, but the additions of Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, and Mark Canha should more than make up for it. They’ll join a lineup that already has some big hitters, including the aforementioned Lindor and Pete Alonso. If one of Jeff McNeil or Dom Smith can find their old swing again, and the supporting cast of Brandon Nimmo, JD Davis, and James McCann and fill their roles, this could be a very dangerous lineup.
Ultimately, what will stand in the way of the Mets won’t be the Braves or any other team in the division, it’ll be themselves. This isn’t the first time they’ll enter the season as favorites in the division, and it wouldn’t be the first time they failed to live up to those expectations. Whether it’s cruel and unusual injuries, wildly underperforming their peripherals, the Mets have become marksman of their own foot. But this is the best team they’ve assembled in years, and I believe they finally get over that hump.
Steven Martano: Braves
After building upon two NLDS exits and an NLCS loss in the previous three years, Atlanta finally broke through and won their first World Series title since 1995. With a roster that is largely the same as last year, Atlanta should win the NL East again in 2022.
Thanks to the labor dispute that halted all free agent signings for over three months, we do not know if the Braves will be bringing back perennial all-star Freddie Freeman, who remains an unsigned free agent (the Yankees and Dodgers have been in the rumor mix as well).
Despite the uncertainty at first base however, Atlanta’s lineup still looks potent. Their young trio of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson in the infield, and Ronald Acuña in center, is one of the strongest up-the-middle combos in baseball.
Despite Acuña coming off ACL surgery he is still projected to be a near-six win player in ~130 games according to every FanGraphs’ projection system available. Albies and Swanson combine to bring over seven projected wins to the infield, and they are complemented by third baseman Austin Riley who had a great 2021. Riley ended the season with a 135 wRC+, good for a 4.2 fWAR. Throw a re-signing of Freeman into the mix, this is one formidable lineup.
Atlanta remains strong on the other side of the ball as well, with a rotation as strong and intact as it was last season. Atlanta will be bringing back Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Ian Anderson ---- all strong starters with a history of durability and production.
While no one can count on another World Series run, the East is Atlanta’s to lose.
Estevão Maximo: Braves
Regardless of how much I like the Miami Marlins pitching staff, this remains very much a two-team race between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. As of the time that I’m writing this article, Freddie Freeman remains a free agent and Matt Olson is still an Oakland A.
Meanwhile, the Mets have brought in Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, and Mark Canha to say the least. So many talented hitters underperformed in 2021 that it is easy to project an edge to the Mets at the moment, and I wouldn’t fault you for that.
However, I’ll operate under the assumption that the Braves won’t simply leave a black-hole at first base and find some sort of replacement for Freeman if he leaves. With a healthy Acuña, I’ll choose the reigning champs even without much confidence.
I simply trust the Braves floor a little more. If all goes right, I’ll concede that the Mets have a higher ceilling though.