While the AL East has been a battle of great teams and good teams (and the Orioles), the NL East has been more of a battle to see who can do the least amount of things wrong. The Mets have ended up leading the division by default despite an almost total lack of offense, the Phillies are treading water, the Braves can’t stay healthy and the Nationals have just been kind of…there. But someone’s got to win the division, so here’s an educated guess on who that someone might be.
BEST BET: NEW YORK METS, -300
Reason: The value here isn’t great, but the Mets are in the best position by a wide margin. They still have 14 games left against the Marlins, more than anyone else in the NL East. The Nationals probably knocked themselves out of contention during a stretch against the NL West’s three titans that saw them go 2-8 and get swept by both the Dodgers and the Giants, and the Braves were likely taken out of the running when Ronald Acuna was lost for the season.
Plus, the Mets have the most financial muscle of anyone in the division. Steve Cohen wants a winner and wants a winner ASAP, so the Mets are certain to be buyers at the trade deadline. They’re the only team in the NL East that you can say that about, so even though you’re paying a lot of juice here, it’s the best option available.
VALUE PLAY: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES, +700
Reason: If anyone is going to keep the NL East title from going to Queens, it’s going to be the Phillies. Philadelphia can hit and pitch, and the Phillies really couldn’t ask for a better set of non-divisional opponents. They’re done with the Giants, they get the Dodgers and Rockies at home, they’ll see the Orioles in interleague play and the two NL teams they haven’t faced yet (meaning 14 matchups against them) are the Pirates and Diamondbacks.
The problem here is that the Phillies aren’t going to open the wallet to try to catch the Mets. At 44-44, there’s just not enough incentive for the Phils to mortgage part of the future to get bumped off in the NLCS by the NL West champions. Philadelphia would likely be quite happy to let New York have this year’s crown and watch Atlanta and Washington waste a year of their open windows while the Phillies keep building for the rest of the decade. There’s a chance they pull it off, but I think the Mets’ checkbook will put this race away.
OUT OF THE RUNNING: WASHINGTON NATIONALS, +750
Reason: No team is really out of the race, considering that even the Marlins are only nine games back, but the value just is not there for the Nationals (or the Braves, for that matter). With Washington’s rotation now looking like Max Scherzer and little else and Atlanta having lost its best player, there’s no reason to take either team at these odds. I’d honestly rather have the Marlins at +8000, which also isn’t going to happen.