With three successive National League East titles, the Atlanta Braves have earned the tag as the team to beat in the division. MLB betting lines agree that a fourth consecutive crown is in the offing, but not without a fight in baseball’s deepest division from top to bottom.
This era’s Atlanta bunch still has a long way to go to live up to the dominance of those Braves teams that reeled off 14 division titles in 15 seasons from 1991-2005. Atlanta garnered five NL Pennants and a World Series title along the way. The Braves are third overall in the National League at betting sites behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, and top the NL East as +135 picks.
Uncle Charlie Returns from Whence He Came
Those MLB odds have tightened since last fall when Atlanta was a stronger bet in the division. The Braves were generally were running +120 in January when the New York Mets were listed +250. New York has crept up on the Braves, and is now selling at +150.
Alex Anthopoulos didn’t spend a lot of time shopping for free agents and making trades this past winter, in part because he didn’t need to. The biggest moves were re-signing outfielder Marcell Ozuna and inking starting pitcher Charlie Morton, who is returning to the club he began his MLB career with in 2008.
Morton adds a veteran presence to a rotation that includes Max Fried and Mike Soroka. We should expect something of a closer-by-committee once again, unless Will Smith holds the job from Day 1. It’s a deep relief corps with Chris Martin, AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek penciled in ahead of Smith’s expected ninth-inning calls.
Ozuna rejoins an outfield that should open with MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. in right and Ender Inciarte out in center. Manager Brian Snitker is hoping speedster Cristian Pache can ultimately play his way into the mix. Acuña will have to wrestle the MVP hardware away from last year’s NL winner Freddie Freeman. A big key is Austin Riley and whether or not he can nail down the hot corner. Atlanta also signed Pablo Sandoval as a third base option, as well as Jake Lamb as insurance.
Mets Counting on Rotation in ‘21
Activity on the Mets at online sportsbooks follows an active winter under new ownership. New York made a blockbuster trade to land shortstop Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians, and the Mets fully expect to not only unseat the Braves in the division, but win it all.
Hard to believe any rotation that has Jacob deGrom in it would qualify as one of the worst, but New York’s starters were indeed awful in 2020 with a 5.27 ERA, 26th in the majors. Carrasco certainly helps, but getting a healthy Marcus Stroman back is also being counted on.
The Mets should also see Noah Syndergaard return by June, and a bullpen headed by Edwin Diaz. Lindor gives the lineup a spark, which should help sluggers Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto.
Can Nats, Phils or Fish Upset the Applecart?
We have seen plenty of surprises in the NL East before, and it’s certainly possible in 2021 for someone other than the Braves or Mets to walk away with the crown. Washington is priced around +600 just two seasons from winning it all, with the Nationals trailed by the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins on MLB futures boards.
Washington has Mac Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation, plus Juan Soto in the lineup. That trio alone makes the Nationals dangerous, plus they added sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to the lineup along with Brad Hand out in the bullpen.
Philadelphia has been fading on the charts, and in my experience, the Phillies are a bigger threat when nothing is expected of them. Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto are the beef of the lineup, so it could all come down to health and pitching. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin were better pitchers in the goofy 2020 campaign than most people probably realize.
What makes the NL East so deep from top to bottom – and one of the toughest MLB picks to make – are the Marlins. Miami may have benefitted from the shortened 2020 slate, but the Marlins also played very well. They’ve been falling back on the lines, like the Phillies, but much of that is due to public action on the Braves and Mets. One thing I learned a quarter-century ago was never bet against Derek Jeter, who has turned this franchise around in short order.
My Mets friends aren’t going to like this, since their Amazin’s seem to always do poorly when I pick them. But my play for the NL East title will be on the diamond dandies of New York. You can get them at +140 as of right now at Bovada (see our Bovada Review)
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.