AL East AL Central AL West NL Central NL WestThe NL East is a beast, with four of the five teams projected to post winning records in 2021 in what could be baseball's most tightly contested division. The Braves have maintained a stranglehold in the NL East in recent years, but the other teams have been busy and could challenge Atlanta for the crown.Atlanta Braves Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 35-25 (1st in NL East)Payroll: $155.7MO/U win total: 82World Series odds: +9003-year trend: 2018 (1st); 2019 (1st); 2020 (1st)Highest projected WAR: Ronald Acuna Jr. (5.3)X-factor: Mike SorokaKey injuries: Soroka, Touki ToussaintProspect to watch: Cristian Pache (MLB.com: No. 12)Winter report card: B+Projected Lineup Order Player POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Ronald Acuna Jr. RF 5.3 2 Ozzie Albies (S) 2B 3.6 3 Freddie Freeman (L) 1B 4.5 4 Marcell Ozuna LF 2.9 5 Travis d'Arnaud C 2.3 6 Dansby Swanson SS 1.8 7 Austin Riley 3B 1.7 8 Cristian Pache CF -0.1 Bench Player POS. PROJ.WAR Alex Jackson C 0.1 Ehire Adrianza (S) IF/OF -0.1 Pablo Sandoval (S) 1B/3B 0.0 Ender Inciarte (L) OF 0.1 The Braves re-upped Ozuna to fold him back into a lineup already featuring the reigning NL MVP in Freeman and All-Stars Acuna and Albies. With Pache on the roster for a full season and Swanson's continued emergence, the Braves' offense may be in even better shape than it already was. Atlanta was one of only two teams to hit more than 100 home runs in 2020, and no lineup posted a better OPS than the Braves' .832.Projected Rotation Pitcher PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Max Fried (L) 171 3.76 Charlie Morton 168 3.72 Ian Anderson 138 4.21 Drew Smyly (L) 134 4.15 Bullpen Pitcher PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Will Smith (L) 64 3.62 Chris Martin 65 3.75 A.J. Minter (L) 60 3.94 Tyler Matzek (L) 58 3.58 Grant Dayton (L) 38 4.41 Luke Jackson 44 4.03 Nate Jones 26 4.20 Sean Newcomb (L) 35 4.04 Josh Tomlin 50 4.77 Huascar Ynoa 25 4.61 The Braves revamped the rotation by signing veterans Morton and Smyly to go alongside the young core of arms. Soroka will be an added bonus when he's fully recovered from a serious Achilles injury. Fried and Anderson helped steady the ship when Soroka initially went down en route to a third consecutive division title last season. Bryse Wilson may round out the rotation after the first week or so, but Atlanta appears ready to open the season without a fifth starter.Miami Marlins Mark Brown / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 31-29 (2nd)Payroll: $78.2MO/U win total: 68World Series odds: +60003-year trend: 2018 (5th); 2019 (5th); 2020 (2nd)Highest projected WAR: Pablo Lopez (2.6)X-factor: Lewis BrinsonKey injuries: Jeff Brigham, Jesus Sanchez, Jorge GuzmanProspect to watch: JJ Bleday (MLB.com: No. 20)Winter report card: C+Projected Lineup Order Player POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Corey Dickerson (L) LF 0.8 2 Starling Marte CF 2.3 3 Jesus Aguilar 1B 1.1 4 Adam Duvall RF 0.7 5 Brian Anderson 3B 2.4 6 Jazz Chisholm (L) 2B 0.1 7 Jorge Alfaro C 0.2 8 Miguel Rojas SS 1.8 Bench Player POS. PROJ. WAR Chad Wallach C 0.4 Garrett Cooper 1B/OF 0.3 Jon Berti IF/OF 0.8 Magneuris Sierra (L) OF -0.1 The Marlins returned to the postseason in 2020 after a 16-year drought. Projections don't have them making a return trip in 2021, but the club has done a remarkable job rebuilding from the ground up. Miami was recently listed as having the No. 4-ranked system by MLB Pipeline. Maybe Marte and Dickerson get dealt to strengthen the system further if the organization doesn't give either an extension. After Isan Diaz struggled throughout spring, Chisholm earned the starting job at second base.Projected Rotation Pitcher PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Sandy Alcantara 181 4.31 Pablo Lopez 160 3.85 Elieser Hernandez 135 4.42 Sixto Sanchez 138 3.78 Trevor Rogers (L) 97 3.96 Bullpen Pitcher PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Anthony Bass 63 3.89 Yimi Garcia 63 4.16 Dylan Floro 64 3.96 Richard Bleier (L) 59 3.73 John Curtiss 56 4.18 James Hoyt 53 4.17 Adam Cimber 48 4.27 Ross Detwiler (L) 42 3.98 Zach Pop 34 3.96 The pitching staff is already bearing fruit from the bustling farm system, and only Rogers is completely homegrown after being selected 13th overall in 2017. Alcantara, Lopez, and Sanchez were acquired in the deals for Marcell Ozuna, Dee Strange-Gordon, and J.T. Realmuto, respectively. Meanwhile, the Marlins restocked the bullpen this offseason via trade and free agency. Other young hurlers who could make waves for Miami this season include Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera, and Nick Neidert.New York Mets Mark Brown / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 26-34 (T-4th)Payroll: $193.8MO/U win total: 96World Series odds: +10003-year trend: 2018 (4th); 2019 (3rd); 2020 (4th)Highest projected WAR: Jacob deGrom (6.6)X-factor: Dominic SmithKey injuries: Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Seth Lugo, Jose MartinezProspect to watch: Khalil LeeWinter report card: AProjected Lineup Order Player POS. Proj. WAR 1 Brandon Nimmo (L) CF 2.1 2 Francisco Lindor (S) SS 5.0 3 Michael Conforto (L) RF 3.1 4 Pete Alonso 1B 2.7 5 Dominic Smith (L) LF 0.8 6 Jeff McNeil (L) 2B 3.3 7 J.D. Davis 3B 1.7 8 James McCann C 1.0 Bench Player POS. Proj. WAR Tomas Nido C 0.2 Luis Guillorme IF 0.2 Jonathan Villar IF/OF 0.4 Albert Almora Jr. OF 0.0 Kevin Pillar OF 0.3 Lindor is clearly the talk of the borough in Queens, and it's hardly a surprise. It's not every day that a team lands a perennial MVP candidate in the offseason. Top-to-bottom, the Mets' lineup has no easy outs, and New York could push Atlanta to the brink if Smith can stick as the primary left fielder while building on an impressive 2020.Projected Rotation Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Jacob deGrom 201 2.78 Marcus Stroman 164 3.84 Taijuan Walker 141 4.46 David Peterson (L) 100 4.07 Joey Lucchesi (L) 66 4.33 Bullpen Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Edwin Diaz 63 2.80 Trevor May 64 3.38 Miguel Castro 62 3.67 Dellin Betances 58 3.80 Jeurys Familia 56 3.86 Aaron Loup (L) 52 3.63 Jacob Barnes 38 4.01 Robert Gsellman 26 4.41 Adding Walker and Lucchesi is proving prudent after Carlos Carrasco suffered a hamstring injury and while Noah Syndergaard works his way back from Tommy John surgery. When they're ready to join the rotation, the Mets will have formidable depth on both sides of the ball. And even with the injuries, deGrom should offer ample support as he comes off another top-three finish in Cy Young voting, and Stroman returns to the mound after opting out of 2020.Philadelphia Phillies Mark Brown / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 28-32 (3rd)Payroll: $198.5MO/U win total: 83World Series odds: +35003-year trend: 2018 (3rd); 2019 (4th); 2020 (3rd)Highest projected WAR: Aaron Nola (4.2)X-factor: Zach EflinKey injuries: Seranthony Dominguez, Brad MillerProspect to watch: Spencer Howard (MLB.com: No. 42)Winter report card: B-Projected Lineup Order Player POS. Proj. WAR 1 Andrew McCutchen LF 1.3 2 J.T. Realmuto C 3.7 3 Bryce Harper (L) RF 3.8 4 Rhys Hoskins 1B 2.5 5 Alec Bohm 3B 2.9 6 Didi Gregorius (L) SS 2.1 7 Jean Segura 2B 2.0 8 Odubel Herrera (L) CF 0.1 Bench Player POS. Proj. WAR Andrew Knapp (S) C 0.0 Adam Haseley (L) OF 0.3 Matt Joyce (L) OF 0.0 Roman Quinn (S) OF -0.1 Ronald Torreyes IF 0.0 Signing Harper, trading for Realmuto, and hiring Joe Girardi to replace Gabe Kapler as the skipper hasn't solved the Phillies' postseason drought, which has now reached nine seasons. Bringing in Dave Dombrowski to run baseball operations is its own kind of win-now move. Re-signing Realmuto and Gregorius means they're running back virtually the same lineup as a year ago, but it's clear the bats weren't the problem as the Phillies finished 11th in home runs (82), seventh in wOBA (.336), and ninth in wRC+ (109). Sure, there's room for improvement, but several playoff teams reached October with worse returns on offense.Projected Rotation Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Aaron Nola 190 3.69 Zack Wheeler 181 3.99 Zach Eflin 168 4.48 Matt Moore (L) 136 4.93 Chase Anderson 107 5.04 Bullpen Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Hector Neris 65 4.06 Archie Bradley 67 4.21 Jose Alvarado (L) 56 3.39 Brandon Kintzler 62 4.55 Connor Brogdon 52 4.18 Vince Velasquez 119 4.30 David Hale 44 4.29 Sam Coonrod 30 4.06 Only three clubs finished with a worse team ERA than Philadelphia (5.20) last season, and that's with Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin each producing sub-4.00 marks. Much of the futility was due to a historically terrible bullpen that blew more saves than it successfully converted while cobbling together a 7.06 ERA. It's no surprise, then, that improving the relief corps was a top priority. Bradley, Alvarado, and Kintzler - all new arrivals - have each served as a closer at various times in their careers and could stabilize the team's biggest weakness: an inability to preserve any lead.Washington Nationals Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 26-34 (T-4th)Payroll: $193.8MO/U win total: 85World Series odds: +45003-year trend: 2018 (2nd); 2019 (2nd); 2020 (4th)Highest projected WAR: Juan Soto (5.8)X-factor: Victor RoblesKey injuries: Will HarrisProspect to watch: Seth RomeroWinter report card: BProjected Lineup Order Player POS. Proj. WAR 1 Victor Robles CF 1.2 2 Juan Soto (L) RF 5.8 3 Trea Turner SS 4.0 4 Josh Bell (S) 1B 0.8 5 Kyle Schwarber (L) LF 1.9 6 Starlin Castro 3B 0.5 7 Yan Gomes C 0.8 8 Josh Harrison 2B -0.1 Bench Player Pos. PRoj. WAR Alex Avila (L) C 0.8 Ryan Zimmerman 1B 0.0 Jordy Mercer IF 0.0 Hernan Perez IF/OF 0.0 Andrew Stevenson (L) OF -0.2 What to make of the Nationals' roster? Their season trajectory went very similarly in 2020 as it did in 2019, but the club couldn't make a second-half surge with the shorter schedule. There are a lot of questions beyond Soto and Turner. Can Bell regain his 2019 form (37 homers, 135 wRC+) and offer the desired lineup protection? Can Robles rebound and follow-through on his 20-20 potential? Carter Kieboom was positioned to be the Opening Day third baseman before a horrible spring forced the team to demote him to Triple-A.Projected Rotation Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Max Scherzer 179 3.53 Patrick Corbin (L) 190 4.01 Stephen Strasburg 163 4.05 Jon Lester (L) 135 5.01 Joe Ross 127 4.97 Bullpen Player PROJ. IP Proj. ERA Brad Hand (L) 64 3.88 Tanner Rainey 62 3.86 Daniel Hudson 61 4.44 Wander Suero 58 4.54 Kyle Finnegan 54 4.07 Luis Avilan (L) 24 4.39 Erick Fedde 74 4.88 Austin Voth 54 4.51 All eyes will be on Scherzer in the final season of his contract. Injuries have limited him a bit in recent years, but he's fulfilled his end of the bargain over the life of the deal. He's getting his sixth Opening Day start with the club, breaking his own Nationals record (Steve Rogers has the franchise mark with nine). If healthy, the Nats have one of the most imposing trios to top any rotation in baseball. With Hand's addition, the bullpen is a strength instead of a weakness, which has been a long time coming. Reinforcements could come sooner than later, too, as Harris does not have a blood clot in his throwing arm as was originally suspected.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.