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Keeping up with an increasingly talented National League

It’s not getting any easier to compete in the NL East.

In the picture attached to this article, the Atlanta Braves can be seen celebrating their 2020 National League East division championship. They were followed by the Miami Marlins, then the Philadelphia Phillies, and finally, the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, who were tied for fourth place. This is a drum I’ve beaten before, but it now bears repeating: The Nationals are falling behind in not only an increasingly talented National League East, but in a better National League period.

While the NL West’s San Diego Padres continue to bolster their roster with players like Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in order to try to compete for a championship immediately with rising star Fernando Tatis, Jr., there’s trouble brewing much closer to home.

When the Mets were bought by Steve Cohen, the demanding and talented hedge fund manager, much of New York was getting what they wanted: An owner willing to put pieces together to try to win as much as possible. Cohen wasted no time.

After the Mets signed relief pitcher Trevor May and then catcher James McCann, everybody knew that they weren’t finished attempting to make a splash this winter.

Fast forward to this week, when the Mets worked out a deal with Cleveland to bring in star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, more attention was paid to the team in Queens. Now, according to numerous outlets and insiders, including this tweet from SNY, the Mets are looking at landing Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant.

All of a sudden, a repeat champion in the East division doesn’t seem like such a sure bet. The Mets appear to be continually raising their stock as true competitors in the division — an offseason removed from finishing fourth in the east. With a fully healthy roster, the Mets might be on par with nearly any team you pull out of a hat — and will probably be much better than most. There’s all this going on without even mentioning the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favorites to claw their way back out of the National League for a second consecutive season and for the fourth time in five years.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have been trying to fill gaps in the roster while an increasingly thin farm system lies below the surface. To this point, all Washington has done is to “attack the fringes” of the roster as GM Mike Rizzo said, and add first baseman Josh Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kyle Schwarber from the Chicago Cubs — both useful additions, certainly, but not nearly to the same degree as what we’re seeing elsewhere. They’ve also signed Luis Avilán.

While there’s still time to move pieces around and try to match the level of competition that’s burgeoning around them, the path to success is looking thinner by the day. I’ve been perhaps the only vocal advocate for reassessing what the organization should do moving forward — whether they need to retool or even rebuild — but with so much going on in the rest of the league, the Nationals future begins to look even starker by comparison.

It will take a Herculean effort by any team to run the gauntlet of this upcoming year’s National League, but a team with aging veterans and only one bona fide (young) superstar — while other competitors now appear to have multiple — might find that the hill is too steep. Simply put, the Nationals don’t have the pieces in the system to trade and acquire the talent other teams are chasing, and it might be the case that they don’t have adequate resources on the big league roster to keep pace with those around them.

Despite having names like Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals might very well finish third in their own grueling division.

That 2019 World Series, which in many ways feels so recent, is starting to fade farther into the distance, while the Dodgers, Padres, Mets, and Braves duke it out for MLB’s throne.