2024 Major League Baseball Season Preview: NL East

2024 Major League Baseball Season Preview: NL East

For the past few years, the story of the National League’s Eastern Division has been one that feels very familiar to how it was during the 1990s. While the Atlanta Braves have won the NL East for six straight seasons dating back to 2018, it’s only resulted in one World Series appearance and victory for Atlanta while other teams like the Philadelphia Phillies and even the Washington Nationals have managed to get to the World Series (and in Washington’s case, win it — yes, that really happened) without winning the division. When it comes to this year’s outlook for the NL East, the Braves are once again strong favorites to win the division but they’ll be hoping to add another World Series title instead of simply “settling” for yet another divisional crown while watching one of their rivals have all the fun in October.

Let’s start with the one result in this division that shouldn’t cause much of a debate, which is that the Washington Nationals will likely spend another year as cellar dwellers in the NL East. While glimpses of future glory are starting to emerge in the form of hot prospects like James Wood and Dylan Crews, it’s likely not going to be enough to really make noise just yet. Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams are perfectly fine players that any team would take and they should continue to serve as the cornerstones of Washington’s lineup this season. The Nats should also get solid contributions on the mound from starters Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore in addition to relief production from Hunter Harvey.

Still, this is a team that’s in full rebuilding mode and didn’t exactly go out and make the type of moves that indicates that they see their championship window opening any time soon. Despite the aforementioned pitchers, Washington’s pitching staff was one of the worst in all of baseball and they didn’t really address it outside of putting up signs at their spring training backlots claiming that “I don’t care how fast you throw ball four.” They added Joey Gallo and Nick Senzel in an effort to find the next Jeimer Candelario and if they can do that (while also avoiding 100 losses for another season) then that alone might be considered a success for Washington this season.

Outside of last place, the battle for third place should be a riveting one between the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets. If you’re a Mets fan, that’s probably the last thing that you expected to see at this time last year, which is when expectations were sky-high for New York following a 101-win season. A calamitous campaign then ensued and the Mets suddenly found themselves going from having World Series-or-bust expectations to selling at the trade deadline and going into a mini-rebuild phase.

The good news for the Mets is that they still have Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso (in a contract year, no less), Jeff McNeil and burgeoning talent Francisco Alvarez in their lineup, so that’s still a very solid core to have in your lineup on any given day. Pitching-wise, Kodai Senga is the real deal and having Edwin Diaz back should do wonders for their confidence in the late stages of games. There's still a decent amount of talent here and if all goes well, it really wouldn't be shocking at all to see the Mets battling for a Wild Card spot.

The bad news is that once you get past those guys, there’s not a lot of impressive talent outside of that. This bullpen outside of Diaz isn’t imposing at all, the rotation has a bunch of question marks outside of Senga and the same goes for New York’s depth chart of hitters as well. If a decent amount of your hopes are riding on 35-year-old Starling Marte having a bounce-back season following double-groin surgery, then you’re not in the best place.

Meanwhile in Miami, the Marlins don’t have as many question marks when it comes to their starting pitching. Even with Sandy Alcantara missing this entire upcoming season due to recovery from Tommy John surgery, the Marlins have a very formidable starting rotation with Jesús Luzardo leading the charge for Miami. Eury Perez and Braxton Garrett are both forces to be reckoned with in their own regard and you can do a lot worse than having Trevor Rogers and Edward Cabrera in the back of your rotation. Miami's bullpen should be just as tough to deal with, on top of that. If Miami can somehow return to the Postseason, it'll be because their pitching carried them back there.

It'll also be a result of Miami's offense stepping up just enough to take advantage of the high-quality pitching that they have right now. Jazz Chisholm Jr. is still the star of the show and all eyes will be on both him and Luis Arraez to provide the offense that Miami will desperately need if they want to stay in the Postseason conversation. Miami will also be hoping that a drastic change of scenery and good health for Tim Anderson can bring him back to the form that he displayed during the best of times in Chicago. If all goes well for the aforementioned three and Josh Bell and Jake Burger can bring the boom with their bats, then they'll be in the mix to get back to October for a second-consecutive season. Both Miami and New York likely won't come near the top of the division but it really wouldn't be shocking to see them in the mix for one of the Wild Card spots.

Once you get near the top of the division is when things get especially serious as far as projections go. The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off of a season where they were one win away from going back-to-back as NL Pennant winners and looked very much like the favorites to return to the World Series for much of October. This was after Philly's offense hit its stride in a big way down the stretch — from August until the end of the season, the Phillies had the fifth-best team wRC+ (121), the third-best team wOBA (.352) and the top Isolated Power number (.229) in all of baseball — while also getting some elite performances from their rotation from top to bottom. This was a team that deserved every bit of the second-consecutive NLDS victory over the Braves that they earned and they’re basically just running it back with a lot of the same guys once again.

That means Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmuto, Bryson Stott and Nick Castellanos are all back and poised to do damage. They’ve added Whit Merrifield to the mix via free agency and they’ll have Zack Wheeler for the next three years after signing him to a lucrative contract extension while also retaining Aaron Nola in free agency for the next seven years. Running it back with most of the same crew is the right choice but that also means that they have to deal with the same pros and cons of the past couple of seasons. The ‘pro’ is that this is a talented squad that has proven to be tailor-made for getting hot in October but the ‘con’ is the same as always: It’s still a squad that’s not particularly built for the long haul of the regular season.

The Phillies are a very good team but on paper, the Atlanta Braves are clearly still the best team in the division. Just like the Phillies, the Braves are running it back with a lot of the same faces when it comes to their lineup. While the Phillies finished the season with a team wRC+ of 105, a wOBA of .329 and an Isolated Power number of .182 as a collective the Braves were busy slamming a team wRC+ of 125, a collective wOBA of .359 and mashed for .225 Isolated Power as a unit — with each number being the top figure in baseball.

The only position where the Braves were close to even having simply league average production at the plate was from their left field spot and they’ll be hoping that bringing in Jarred Kelenic via trade can boost their fortunes in that department. Either way, this lineup with reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., 2023 NL Home Run leader Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Ozzie Albies and Sean Murphy is an incredibly formidable lineup that should be just as good as they were last season.

Atlanta also needed to boost their rotation as their starting pitching depth was put to the test for nearly the entire 2023 season. They've addressed that issue by bringing in veteran hurler Chris Sale to round out their rotation. It's definitely a gamble when you consider Sale's horrible injury luck in recent seasons but if he can stay healthy, then the Braves will be able to boast having one of the best rotations in baseball with Spencer Strider (who has been busy working on a nasty curveball), Max Fried and Charlie Morton returning as well. Atlanta's bullpen also figures to be just as deep and talented as ever, which only adds to the tough task that they'll figure to give any given opponent on any given night.

The Braves are clearly the best team in the division but at this point but the main question for them is whether or not they can get it done in the Postseason again. They climbed the mountain and lifted the World Series title as underdogs in 2021 but now they have to prove it as favorites in the playoffs. The Braves should make it seven straight years of being NL East champions but if this season is going to be a success for them then they absolutely have to get it done in the Postseason.