An Orioles fan's guide to the NL East

Ryan Homler
NBC Sports Washington

The 2020 MLB season is finally getting underway. As exciting as it is to have baseball back, the campaign will look quite different from past years. No fans, increased measures of safety during the pandemic and a 60-game sprint make it an oddly structured few months.

This year, teams will also be limited to playing teams that are in the same geographical reason. For the Orioles, that means playing the AL and NL East. While its division foes are familiar faces,  the Orioles will also face some rather unfamiliar teams for the bulk of their schedule. Here's a primer on what you should know about the squads from the NL East.

Washington Nationals: The Defending Champs

The Nationals enter 2020 with a target on their back as the defending World Series Champions. After a magical 2019 postseason run, Washington is looking to recapture the magic in the shortened season, but it won't be easy.

To have another shot at the title, it will once again be the arms of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin that are relied upon. All three have the ability to shut down the opponent's batting order at any time. That will be crucial in a short season, especially because the Nationals bullpen -- minus Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris -- has a lot of question marks.

Lineup wise, even once Juan Soto returns, replacing Anthony Rendon's production will be a challenge. Trea Turner, Victor Robles and Starlin Castro will need to take on bigger roles, and there's hope top prospect Carter Kieboom asserts himself in 2020. 

Likely 2020 outcome: A playoff team competing to do something incredibly hard, repeat.

What could slow them down: An inability to fill the hole Anthony Rendon left and another shaky season for the bullpen.

Atlanta Braves: World Series Hopefuls

The Braves were one really bad first inning in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS from potentially ending the Nationals World Series run. Instead, they enter 2020 hoping to take the next step.

The core of talent could easily make that possible. Freddie Freeman may be the best first baseman in baseball, Ronald Acuña Jr. may become the face of baseball and Ozzie Albies shouldn't be overlooked. Dansby Swanson and Marcell Ozuna make the lineup very deep. Pitching wise, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz highlight a formidable rotation.

Likely 2020 outcome: A playoff team and World Series contender even without the expanded field. Also, a favorite to win the NL East.

What could slow them down: Starting pitching not living up to its potential, forcing the offense to carry the load.

New York Mets: Hit or Miss

The Mets are an enigma of a team sometimes, and that will probably be no different in 2020. Jacob deGrom will once again be one of the best pitchers in baseball, but who backs him up with Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard out? And, can the offense finally get him some run support?

On paper, the answer should be yes. Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto are a great four to have at the top of the order. Also, Yoenis Céspedes is finally back. If that core can stay healthy and consistent, it's a dangerous lineup. Dellin Betances is a solid addition to the bullpen, and Edwin Diaz really can't be worse than he was last year.

Likely 2020 outcome: Competing for a playoff spot, with a potential surprise run at the division.

What could slow them down: No run support for Jacob deGrom, injuries or just the typical Mets bad luck. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Big Names, Bigger Expectations

When the Phillies landed Bryce Harper in free agency last year, expectations shot up. Now, Philadelphia has plenty of big names to go along with Harper, leading to even bigger hopes.

In the rotation, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Zack Wheeler are three pitchers any team would like to have. In the lineup, J.T Realmuto, Did Gregorious, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura give Philadelphia plenty to work with at the plate. Now that they've made all the right moves, they just need them to work out on the field.

Likely 2020 outcome: Playoff contenders, also involved in the division race

What could slow them down: Inconsistencies in the lineup and the fact that they have to play the NL and AL East, divisions loaded with talent.

Miami Marlins: Just Here To Have Fun

The Marlins, much like the Orioles, are still in a rebuild. This year -- though 60 games and an expanded playoff field makes anything possible -- is not about contention but rather seeing what they have in their young players. 

The four core starters of José Ureña, Sandy Alcántara, Caleb Smith and Pablo López, however, could make some noise in 2020.

Likely 2020 outcome: Competing for the draft pick, not the playoffs

What could slow them down: Nothing. If anything, the Marlins can speed themselves up by outperforming expectations. 

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An Orioles fan's guide to the NL East originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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