Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is one of 11 preseason National League MVP candidates who plays in the NL East. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, March 8 (UPI) -- The National League East enters the 2021 season as arguably MLB's most competitive division. Each NL East team believes it can reach the postseason despite the parity, which could be an asset in the playoffs.
Players switching teams, retirements, ascensions of top prospects and managerial changes within the Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets organizations has led to the competitive balance in the division.
"Obviously, the Mets have gotten better, the Braves are going to be good, Philadelphia has gotten better and Miami has gotten better," Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters last week during a Zoom video conference.
"But my focus is on us. ... We just have to be ready to compete every day and go 1-0 every day. We have to play good baseball every single day."
The Nationals were World Series champions just two seasons ago, but are projected to finish third in 2021. They finished second in 2018 and 2019, but dropped to fourth in 2020. The quick drop-off proves that dominance atop the NL East is nearly impossible.
Braves show strength
Four teams have won the division title in the last 10 years. The Braves captured the division last year behind MVP Freddie Freeman, and they are among the preseason favorites to reach the World Series.
"I've said it the last few years that the NL East is the hardest division, and I was biased because I was in the NL East, but there is no bias anymore," Freeman told reporters Wednesday in a Zoom video conference.
"It's hands down the hardest division. It's fun, and we love the competition, but It's going to be a bloodbath."
The Mets -- who finished last in the division in 2020 -- have the second-best odds to win it this year, according to most betting websites.
The Phillies also have a wealth of All-Star talent and have hovered around .500 for the past three seasons.
"I think this is the best division in baseball," Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper told reporters Feb. 25 on a Zoom conference call. "I don't think that's even a question.
"We have five teams that are really good. They have really good pitching, good bullpens and good lineups. I think this is going to be a juggernaut of a division."
The Marlins last season were perhaps the best example of division's parity. They embraced a "bottom feeders" mantra, as they were picked to finish last in the division and went on to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
They also won a playoff series. Marlins players have said the experience made them believe they have a chance to compete with any team in 2021, despite outside criticism.
"We legitimately have a chance to win here," Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson told reporters in a Feb. 23 zoom conference.
"We can compete with these teams in the NL East. We are going to try to win games."
Eleven of the Top 25 favorites to win the 2021 National League MVP Award play for NL East teams. A dozen of the Top 24 favorites to win the National League Cy Young Award also hail from the NL East. Each of those totals are the most for any division in baseball.
Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber joined NL East teams in off-season transactions an even more talent to the already All-Star-filled division.
Freeman, Harper and Andrew McCutchen were among the former MVP Award winners who already played for NL East teams. The division also has produced the National League Cy Young Award winner in four of the last five seasons, all claimed by the Mets' Jacob deGrom and Nationals' Max Scherzer.
That level of competition could pay off for NL East teams in the playoffs, as they are forced to face top pitchers and hitters with regularity during the regular season, which means they won't face vastly superior talent than they are used to in the postseason.
NL MVP favorites from NL East
Ronald Acuna Jr. -- Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman -- Atlanta Braves
Marcell Ozuna -- Atlanta Braves
Francisco Lindor -- New York Mets
Pete Alonso -- New York Mets
Michael Conforto -- New York Mets
Bryce Harper -- Philadelphia Phillies
J.T. Realmuto -- Philadelphia Phillies
Rhys Hoskins -- Philadelphia Phillies
Juan Soto -- Washington Nationals
Trea Turner -- Washington Nationals
Cy Young favorites from NL East
Jacob deGrom -- New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard -- New York Mets
Carlos Carrasco -- New York Mets
Max Scherzer -- Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg -- Washington Nationals
Patrick Corbin -- Washington Nationals
Aaron Nola -- Philadelphia Phillies
Zack Wheeler -- Philadelphia Phillies
Max Fried -- Atlanta Braves
Charlie Morton -- Atlanta Braves
Mike Soroka -- Atlanta Braves
Sixto Sanchez -- Miami Marlins