In short, they were somewhat optimistic that the Nats would be competitive. Currently, PECOTA has the Nationals finishing second in the NL East behind the Mets, with an 84-78 record.
In terms of record, FanGraphs doesn’t think of the Nationals much differently than PECOTA. They think Washington will win two fewer games, going 82-80 in 2021, but where the two sites really depart is where they think the Nationals will finish. While PECOTA had the Nats finishing second, as mentioned, FanGraphs gives the second place nod to the Braves, who are projected to finish 89-73, only two games worse than New York, while the Nationals will finish third.
I’ve been very publicly espousing my belief that the Braves will be the ultimate victors in the National League East, operating mostly under the assumption that the Mets will find a way to squander their talented roster. The Nationals, it seems, could be the real wild card of the division. Their roster configuration suggests that they could ultimately fall almost anywhere in the division, from first all the way through fourth.
Frankly, I was surprised to see PECOTA give the team the second place nod, but I shouldn’t have been. The winner of this division will rely on talent, of course, but they’ll have to be the beneficiaries of a whole lot of luck. Whoever wins the division will also win the injury-less sweepstakes; in other words, whoever has the fewest injuries will likely win the division.
There doesn’t seem to be that much separating these teams when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it. Much has been made about the Mets because of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding that organization, what with Steve Cohen coming in as the new owner, and all of his subsequent signings. Even I’ve been swept up some in the glamour and glitz of their signings at times.
But the Braves continue to quietly toil away down south, still with a stockpile of players which might constitute the best roster in the division.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, the Nationals have done a pretty good job of piecing together free agent signings with whom to surround their stars.
The Nationals’ chances to win the division are certainly not as good as they’ve been in the past, but there’s a tremendous amount to be excited about and to be fully engaged with this season. This is likely the best the division has been in years, so there will be ample storylines throughout the season. Not to mention, almost all divisional games are going to be against ultra-competitive teams. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: This is going to be an excellent year in the NL East.