A deep dive into every bullpen in the NL East

March 10th, 2021

While winning each of the past three National League East titles, the Braves have ranked either first or second among their division rivals in bullpen ERA. Their ability to fortify their relief corps with a trio of moves at the 2019 Trade Deadline significantly influenced the past two division races.

With the Nationals, Phillies, Mets and Marlins all adding at least one big arm to their respective bullpens this year, the defending division champs will be looking to compensate for the loss of a few key veterans. 

Here is a look at each NL East team’s bullpen as we approach the 2021 season:


The known: With Will Smith and Chris Martin, the Braves have two proven veterans capable of handling any high-leverage situation. Smith seems more likely to get a majority of the save opportunities, but fellow lefty A.J. Minter has also handled the role in the past. If Minter and Tyler Matzek are as dominant as they were last year, the back end of this ’pen will be strong. Josh Tomlin is back to serve as the leader of a relief corps that would benefit from a rebound year from former closer Luke Jackson or non-roster invitee Carl Edwards Jr.

The unknown: The Braves lost a lot of experience with the departures of Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day and Shane Greene. The departure of those veterans will not prove to be as significant if Jacob Webb continues to emerge and Minter feeds off the confidence he gained while serving as an impressive opener in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. If Edwards Jr. can get back to where he was with the Cubs from 2016-18 or Victor Arano regains the magic he had with the 2018 Phillies, this ’pen will have less of a left-handed-heavy feel.


The known: The Marlins made it their offseason mission to bolster the bullpen, which recorded the fifth-highest ERA (5.50) in the Majors in 2020. So the club complemented its young starting staff with experienced relievers, hoping they could hold onto leads. Anthony Bass and Ross Detwiler signed as free agents, while Miami acquired Dylan Floro, Adam Cimber and John Curtiss via trades. Barring injuries, those five will join returners Yimi García, Richard Bleier and James Hoyt. All eight have pitched in the postseason. Aside from García and Detwiler, each pitcher is under club control for multiple years.

The unknown: Will Bass or García be the closer? The former paced Toronto in saves in 2020, while the latter pitched in the late innings for Miami. García's relationship with manager Don Mattingly dates back to their time together in Los Angeles. Will there be a conventional long reliever -- perhaps a runner-up among the rotation candidates? Or could Curtiss, whom the Rays used in various roles, serve that purpose? Finally, what will happen to Rule 5 Draft selections Paul Campbell and Zach Pop? Neither has pitched in a Grapefruit League game, but the club thinks highly of them.


The known: Seth Lugo will miss Opening Day (and likely the first month-plus of the season) as he recovers from surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. That leaves the Mets with six bullpen locks: Edwin Díaz, Trevor May, Aaron Loup, Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances and Miguel Castro. Although Luis Rojas hasn’t technically named Díaz the closer, the manager acknowledged that the right-hander will appear in the ninth inning more often than not. As long as Díaz pitches like he did in 2020, he’ll be the team’s closer.

The unknown: A slew of candidates are competing for the final two bullpen spots, including Drew Smith, Sam McWilliams, Trevor Hildenberger, Arodys Vizcaino and Jerry Blevins. There are also plenty of unknowns even among those without job concerns. Can Díaz pitch well enough to prove 2019 was a blip? Will Betances regain his old velocity (or at least something close to it?) Might Familia rediscover his control? The Mets also must decide how best to deploy these pitchers. Rojas has spoken frequently about using an opener, which would change the back-end mix.


The known: The Nationals have an abundance of depth in their bullpen, and what's certain is they have plenty of arms to choose from. Washington has gone with a "closer-by-committee" approach in the past, and it could do the same this year by adding Brad Hand -- who led MLB in saves last season -- to the mix with Will Harris and Daniel Hudson. Tanner Rainey, who emerged as a late-inning reliever in 2020, Wander Suero and Kyle Finnegan also are returning.

The unknown: The Nats have to determine how many relievers they want to carry on their Opening Day roster, and there's a chance they could go with nine. Their decision on the fifth starting pitcher will impact this. Should they name Joe Ross to the rotation? They could also have Erick Fedde and Austin Voth in the bullpen as long men. Fedde has a Minor League option remaining on his contract, though, keeping his situation one to watch. Hand could be the only lefty reliever in their 'pen, or they could explore adding another southpaw.


The known: The Phillies had the worst bullpen of the past 90 years last season, so they have nowhere to go but up. They added three relievers to the 40-man roster in the offseason: Archie Bradley, José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod. They signed veterans Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson and Héctor Rondón to Minor League contracts with invites to camp. They expect good things from returning relievers like Héctor Neris, Connor Brogdon and JoJo Romero. But the biggest reason to think the bullpen should be better is this: these guys throw much harder. They have more velocity than the past few seasons, which means more strikeouts. More strikeouts mean fewer balls getting through the infield or falling in the outfield. And, ideally, fewer late-inning losses.

The unknown: How is it going to fit? The only locks might be Bradley, Neris and Alvarado. Brogdon, Romero and Coonrod have looked good in camp, but any young pitcher with options is a candidate to start in Triple-A. The Phillies are unlikely to include three non-roster relievers in Kintzler, Watson and Rondón. Who makes it? Does Spencer Howard fit in the bullpen? He has dazzled this spring, but it’s unclear how the Phillies will handle him. Do they put him in the rotation, knowing his innings will be limited? Do they start him in Triple-A? Hey, at least they have options.