The National League East will be a tussle no matter when the season starts.

Atlanta remains the slight favorite in most projection models, the Nationals are the defending World Series champions, the New York Mets are a paper contender according to many advanced analytics models, Philadelphia should be better simply by being healthier, and even Miami is improved.

Opening win total projections looked like this back in January:

Atlanta Braves                           91 ½
Washington Nationals              90 ½
New York Mets                          86 ½
Philadelphia Phillies                 85 ½
Miami Marlins                           64 ½

Not much has changed with any of the teams since.

The Braves and Nationals still don’t know what is happening at third base. New York thinks its bullpen will be better. The Phillies are unclear on their rotation. The Marlins are...the Marlins.

Major League Baseball's decision Monday to push the start of the season until mid-May -- at the earliest -- will chop about a quarter of the season. Which means the division winner could be a 69-win team.


But, for clarity, let’s hop back to the original projections and compare them with last season’s outcome.

Atlanta won the division with 97 victories. The Nationals won 93 games, the Mets 86, Philadelphia 81 and Miami 57. So, the projections envision a significantly better -- though still bad -- Marlins team, which means erosion at the top. Washington went a whopping 15-4 against Miami last year. Dominating the Marlins became a huge factor for the Nationals getting into the playoffs and hosting the N.L. Wild-Card Game.

How hard can the Marlins skew things? Philadelphia went 9-10 against them. If they matched Washington’s record, the Phillies would have finished 87-75, good for two games out of the second wild-card spot -- and a much more palatable first season for the Bryce Harper Era in Philadelphia.

Which is why Miami matters so much again when -- if -- the season starts. The Marlins could determine how many teams out of the hyper-competitive NL East make the playoffs. The division is the best in the NL. It could also only have one postseason representative thanks to the depth of talent.

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