FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2015, file photo, members of the media and grounds crew work on the field at Citi Field in New York, the day before Game 3 of the World Series between the Mets and the Kansas City Royals at the stadium. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says talks have ended over the proposed sale of a controlling share of the Mets from the families of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz to hedge fund manager Steven Cohen. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)

NL East season preview

As the 2021 Major League Baseball season is set to kick off Thursday, the National League East is expected to be a machine. The NL East is arguably the toughest division in baseball this upcoming season. Although four of the five NL East teams are projected to post winning records this season, some compelling arguments can be made for each club.

 Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves have held the crown in recent years with their streak of NL East titles. The Braves offense is looking to be in even better shape for the upcoming season.

They have an All-star studded lineup that features the reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman. In the 2020 season, Freeman was hitting .341 with 13 homers and 53 RBI. Atlanta has killer hitting, as no lineup had posted a better OPS than the Braves’ .832 in 2020. Their hitting will keep them obvious contenders in keeping their title streak alive.

As the Braves will face off with the Phillies on Opening Day, Philadelphia will kick off the season with a sense of urgency to win. But the Phillies have made obvious which star players they value this upcoming season.

Philadelphia Phillies

FILE – Philadelphia Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto follows through after hitting a two-run home run off Atlanta Braves pitcher Robbie Erlin during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Philadelphia, in this Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, file photo. The Philadelphia Phillies and two-time All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto agreed on a $115.5 million, five-year contract, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, because Realmuto’s deal was pending a successful physical.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

After becoming a free agent following the 2020 season, all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto is back with the Phillies. Realmuto continues to be one of the best all-around catchers in the game. In the 2020 season, he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs.

Realmuto is coming off a broken thumb injury, but there should be no question he will be getting action on Opening Day. We can expect to see him catching this Thursday, according to team manager Joe Girardi.

The Phillies should be strong at the top of their rotation this season, which will be something to look out for in 2021.

New York Mets at Washington Nationals

An obvious headliner for the MLB’s 2021 Opening Day is the Mets at Nationals matchup. After a disappointing season in 2020, the Mets are making strides towards holding the torch in the NL East.

After picking up Francisco Lindor, the Mets are expected to have one of the best lineups in 2021. Lindor has been the talk of the team unsurprisingly and the headliner should bring some adrenaline to New York’s defense. In his 2020 season with the Cleveland Indians, Lindors’ BA was .258 with eight home runs and 27 RBI.

With the addition of Lindor, the Nationals are in for an interesting Opening Day match.

The Nationals have made some interesting moves as well in the offseason. They added veteran Jon Lester to the starting rotation and picked up some sluggers in Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. Josh Bell will be a great weapon for the Nationals in addressing their first-base needs. But most eyes will be on veteran pitcher Max Scherzer who is in the final season of his contract.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins have endured a struggling narrative in recent years. But the 2020 season displayed some surprising promise for Miami. The team has a young rotation as starting pitching will likely be key for the Marlins.

Sandy Alcantara is the likely leader of the group with Pablo Lopez and Elieser Hernandez to follow. Lopez and Hernandez are both coming off breakout seasons in 2020 and will need to bring the same energy to Miami in 2021.

Who will win the NL East?

The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets are widely-anticipated to be favorites. However, the other three teams have been staying busy this offseason. It would not be surprising to see the Phillies and Nationals as contenders in 2021, so keep an eye on each club.

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