National League East Division Parity
The National League East shapes up to be the most competitive division in baseball. I’m going to be previewing all five teams and doing so with a betting viewpoint in mind. One thing that stands out to me most is the quality of starting pitching staffs, with an exception being Miami.
Division Futures Odds
Below are each team's betting odds to win the National League. All odds provided are courtesy of Bovada.
1. Atlanta Braves (+175)
2. Washington Nationals (+250)
3. New York Mets (+275)
4. Philadelphia Phillies (+325)
5. Miami Marlins (+15,000)
Atlanta Braves (+175)
The Braves are the defending NL East Division champions after finishing with a 97-65 record. Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as well during postseason action, as they lost to St. Louis in five games during the National League Division Series.
Terrific Trio at Top of Braves Batting Order
Despite a disappointing ending to Atlanta's season, the organization's future looks plenty bright. Starting with 22-year-old left-fielder Ronald Acuna, who’ll already be entering his third MLB season. Acuna is coming off an outstanding 2019 campaign which saw him amass 41 homers, 101 RBIs, and steal 37 bases. Best of all, Acuna accomplished those impressive numbers primarily in a leadoff role.
Expected to bat 2nd in 2020 will be 23-year-old infielder Ozzie Albies. All Albies did a season ago was hit .295 with 24 homers, 86 RBI’s, and 15 stolen bases.
Up next will be veteran first basemen Freddie Freeman, who is coming his best MLB season. Freeman socked 38 homers, drove in an eye-catching 121 runs, and had an exceptional .395 on-base-percentage. Those are three quality table setters that any team would love the luxury of having.
Projected 2020 Atlanta Braves Batting Order
1) Ronald Acuña Jr., RF
2) Ozzie Albies, 2B
3) Freddie Freeman, 1B
4) Marcell Ozuna, LF
5) Travis D'Arnaud, C
6) Dansby Swanson, SS
7) Johan Camargo/Austin Riley, 3B
8) Ender Inciarte, CF
Starting Pitchers and Closer
The expected ace of the 2020 Atlanta Braves starting pitching staff is 22-year-old Mike Soroka. The young right-hander went 13-4 in 29 starts last season while compiling an outstanding 2.68 ERA. Furthermore, Soroka was 7-1 in 16 road starts with an exceptional 1.55 ERA. That’s not ordinary for a pitcher that young to perform so well on the road.
26-year-old righty Max Fried went 17-6 last season in 30 starts while posting a respectable 4.02 ERA. Additionally, Atlanta's front office is hoping both Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz take the next steps in their maturation process.
Mark Melancon is slated to be the Braves closer. Melancon was obtained in a trade from San Francisco last year. He made a combined 66 relief appearances in 2019 and was a perfect 12-for-12 on his save opportunities.
Projected 2020 Atlanta Braves Starting Pitching Rotation
1) Mike Soroka, RHP
2) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
3) Max Fried, LHP
4) Sean Newcomb, LHP
5) Kyle Wright, RHP
Closer: Mark Melancon
Washington Nationals (+250)
Washington started last season 20-32 and thing at that point looked grim. The Nationals followed that uneventful stretch by going 85-52 on their way to its first world championship in franchise history. No team has won the World Series in consecutive years since the 2000 New York Yankees. My point, it's extremely difficult to repeat as MLB world champions.
Speaking of elite young players, the Nationals' Juan Soto is precisely that. The now 21-year-old Soto hit 34 homers and drove in 110 runs a season ago. He also added five home runs and 14 RBIs during postseason action. Soto was especially productive in the World Series when he hit .333 with three home runs and 7 RBIs.
Washington made a nice under the radar offseason acquisition in veteran 2nd basemen Starlin Castro. He spent last season playing for an awful Miami Marlins team but still put up stellar offensive numbers. Castro manufactured 22 home runs and drove home 86 RBIs on an otherwise anemic offensive club. During 14 MLB seasons Castro is a solid .280 career hitter.
Projected 2020 Washington Nationals Batting Order
1) Trea Turner, SS
2) Adam Eaton, RF
3) Juan Soto, LF
4) Carter Kieboom or Asdrúbal Cabrera, 3B
5) Starlin Castro or Howie Kendrick, 2B
6) Eric Thames, 1B
7) Kurt Suzuki, C
8) Victor Robles, CF
Starting Pitchers and Closer
The Nationals starting pitching staff is arguably top to bottom the best in baseball. It all starts with star right-handers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. These two flame throwers were terrific during the 2019 postseason. Scherzer was 3-0 in five postseason starts, while posting a brilliant 2.40 ERA and microscopic 0.63 WHIP. While Strasburg went 5-0 in his five starts, with an excellent 1.98 ERA.
Washington's slated #3 and #4 starters aren't bad either. Left-hander Patrick Corbin and seasoned righty Anibal Sanchez give the Nationals quality starting pitching depth.
Unorthodox right-hander Sean Doolittle will be the closer. Doolittle went 29-35 on save opportunities during the 2019 regular season. Moreover, in nine postseason relief appearances he had a glorious 1.74 ERA and 0.68 WHIP.
Projected 2020 Washington Nationals Starting Pitching Rotation
1) Max Scherzer
2) Stephen Strasburg
3) Patrick Corbin
4) Aníbal Sánchez
5) Joe Ross
Closer: Sean Doolittle
New York Mets (+275)
The Mets are coming off a respectable 86-76 regular season campaign. Sadly, anything short of a postseason appearance is not acceptable for Mets fans and the highly critical New York media. Once more, expectations will be high heading into the 2020 season.
The Mets fired last year’s manager Mickey Callaway after two seasons at the helm. New York went just a combined 163-161 (.503) during Callaway's tenure.
They then proceeded to hire recently retired player and former Met Carlos Beltran. Shortly thereafter, Beltran resigned after being found guilty of being an integral part of the 2018 Houston Astros cheating scandal.
Hoping to get it right this time, the Mets named Luis Rojas as their next manager. Rojas has been coaching/managing in their farm system during recent years before being hired in 2019 as the Mets Quality Control Coach. It'll be interesting to see how that 3-ring circus of events affects the Mets upcoming season, if at all.
Young and Rising Stars
There were plenty of positives from last year that can be carried into 2020. Jeff McNeil was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season. The 27-year-old 3rd basemen hit .318 with 23 homers and 73 RBI’s.
Right-fielder Michael Conforto is coming off a career best year. The 27-year-old who will be entering his 6th MLB campaign had a career best 33 homers and 92 RBI season. Since being called up to the Mets in 2015, Conforto's offensive numbers have encouragingly improved each year.
Then there's National League Rookie of the Year Pete Alonzo, who drilled 53 home runs and amassed 120 RBIs.
Let's not omit 24-year-old Mets shortstop Ahmed Rosario who accounted for 15 home runs. 72 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, and hit .287 in 2019.
With that said, there's certainly reason for abundant optimism for the impending season.
1) Jeff McNeil, 3B
2) Pete Alonso, 1B
3) Michael Conforto, RF
4) J.D. Davis, LF
5) Robinson Canó, 2B
6) Wilson Ramos, C
7) Brandon Nimmo, CF
8) Amed Rosario, SS
Mets Starting Pitchers and Closer
The Mets ace will be 2019 National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob Degrom. Although going a pedestrian 11-8 in 34 starts, Degrom registered a 2.43 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and had a colossal 255 strikeouts.
The front office has added former 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello to an already strong starting pitching rotation. Since that 2016 season, the 31-year-old right-hander is 64-40 in 131 starts. Porcello has been durable throughout his 11-year MLB career, which is evidenced by him making 27 or more starts in each season.
The probable Mets closer is Edwin Diaz. I say probable because Diaz had some shaky moments in his first year with the Mets, in 2019. Most notably surrendering an alarmingly high 15 home runs in 58.0 innings pitched and having a lofty 5.59 ERA. New York is hoping Diaz can return to the form he displayed for Seattle in 2018. During that breakout season, Diaz accrued 57 saves while collecting a superb 1.96 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and struck out 99 batters in 58.0 innings of work.
Projected 2020 New York Mets Starting Pitcher Rotation
1) Jacob DeGrom
2) Marcus Stroman
3) Rick Porcello
4) Steven Matz
5) Michael Wacha
Closer: Edwin Diaz
Philadelphia Phillies (+325)
After getting off to a promising start to last season, Philadelphia ended up with a discouraging final record of 81-81, and finished 4th in the division. It wouldn't be a stretch whatsoever to imply the Phillies can contend for a division crown in 2020, but they'll need a little bit of luck to do so.
A lot will be dependent upon what kind of season 27-year-old superstar Bryce Harper has. During his first year with the Phillies in 2019, Harper hit 35 homers and drove in 114 runs. With everything being considered, if Harper can match or improve on those offensive numbers in 2020, Philadelphia should have a realistic chance to contend.
Philadelphia's front office was able to sign free agent shortstop Didi Gregorious during the offseason. Gregorious had been a key contributor for the New York Yankees from 2015 through 2019. During last season’s injury riddled year, Gregorious still was able to generate 16 homers and 61 RBIs in only 81 games. The Netherlands' born Gregorious is also an excellent defensive shortstop as well.
Projected 2020 Philadelphia Phillies Batting Order
1) Andrew McCutchen, CF
2) J.T. Realmuto, C
3) Bryce Harper, RF
4) Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5) Didi Gregorius, SS
6) Jean Segura, 3B
7) Scott Kingery, 2B
8) Adam Haseley, CF
Starting Pitchers and Closer
Aaron Nola will be the ace of Philadelphia's starting pitching staff. The 26-year-old right-hander has gone 29-13 with a 3.10 ERA over the past two seasons.
The Phillies were also able to sign free agent and former New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. The right-handed hurler is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA in 126 career starts.
The Phillies will also return 2019 starters Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velazquez.
The closer will again be unheralded Hector Neris. I say unheralded because Neris has quietly gone 65-77 (84.4%) on his save opportunities throughout the past 3 seasons.
Projected 2020 Philadelphia Phillies Starting Pitching Rotation
1) Aaron Nola
2) Zack Wheeler
3) Jake Arrieta
4) Zach Eflin
5) Vince Velasquez
Closer: Hector Neris
Miami Marlins (+15,000)
I'm not going to waste much time writing about a franchise that's shown little, if any, urgency to win since the Derek Jeter led ownership group has taken over. The Marlins went a miserable 57-105 last season and were embarrassingly outscored by 192 runs. That came on the heels of a 63-98 campaign in 2018. After scanning through the 2020 Marlins roster, there's little or anything that resembles a ray of hope.
Projected 2020 Miami Marlins Batting Order
1) Jonathan Villar, 3B
2) Brian Anderson, RF
3) Corey Dickerson, LF
4) Jesús Aguilar, 1B
5) Jorge Alfaro, C
6) Isan Díaz, 2B
7) Miguel Rojas, SS
8) Lewis Brinson, CF
Starting Pitchers and Closers
The elder statesmen of the Miami Marlins starting rotation will be 28-year-old southpaw Caleb Smith. The other four expected starters are 24 or younger. Cumulatively, Miami's five-man rotation are 39-64 in 157 career MLB starts. On most nights this staff will be overmatched by opposition hitters.
The Marlins closer is anticipated to be 35-year-old right-hander Brandon Kintzler. He hasn’t been a fulltime closer since 2017 and is an uninspiring 49-70 (70%) in his career save opportunities.
Projected 2020 Miami Marlins Starting Pitcher Rotation
1) Sandy Alcantara
2) Caleb Smith
3) Pablo López
4) Jordan Yamamoto
5) Elieser Hernandez
Closer: Brandon Kintzler
NL East Recap and Forecast
Like I previously suggested, nobody in their right mind would pick Miami to win the NL East Division title.
I'm not crazy about Philadelphia's starting rotation beyond Aaron Nola.
My gut feeling tells me that Washington will be a better postseason betting value than NL East futures bet. Remember, the Nationals won last season's World Series after qualifying as a wildcard team. Furthermore, I'm very skeptical about the chances of Stephen Strasburg staying healthy for an entire season.
The Atlanta Braves will be an exciting team to watch from an offensive standpoint. However, I don't share the same enthusiasm when it comes to their pitching.
My NL East Division winning prediction is on the New York Mets at betting odds of +275.
Ross Benjamin is a top sports analyst and one of the sports industry's most respected handicappers. Follow him on Twitter: @RossBenjamin1 or visit his website at RBWins.com