CLEARWATER, Fla. -- One of the reasons the National League East should be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball in 2021 is because every team has a stable of strong starting pitchers.
Here is a look at how those rotations are shaping up:
The known: With the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, the Braves added valuable experience to a young, talented rotation. If Morton can extend his recent success and continue producing like a frontline starter, there will be less pressure on Max Fried, Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson. Fried has made tremendous strides over the past two seasons and Soroka will be bidding to regain the Cy Young candidacy he created before tearing his right Achilles tendon last year. Enhancing the strength of this rotation is Anderson, who burst onto the scene last year and began his postseason career with 17 2/3 scoreless innings.
The unknown: While there is hope Soroka will regain the magic that made him one of the game’s top pitchers in 2019, time will tell whether the torn Achilles will have any lingering effects. Smyly produced some impressive metrics, including increased velocity last year. But the Braves are taking a big gamble on this veteran lefty, who threw just 26 1/3 innings for the Giants in 2020. The 37-year-old Morton ended last year in impressive fashion, but there always is some level of concern about starting pitchers as they near 40. -- Mark Bowman
The known: Barring injuries, Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Elieser Hernandez will front a young but talented starting staff that is 25 years old and younger. Top prospect Sixto Sánchez, who was a few days late to camp, is projected as the fourth member of the rotation but has the makings of an ace. Then there's the group of Trevor Rogers, Braxton Garrett, Nick Neidert and Daniel Castano competing for the final spot. Miami also reached an agreement with southpaw and local Gio González on a Minors deal, a source told MLB.com, to provide veteran depth.
The unknown: There are many questions to be answered in Miami's rotation. With the return of a 162-game season, how will the Marlins manage their young arms, especially after a truncated '20 campaign? The quartet of Alcantara, López, Hernandez and Sánchez have 121 combined big league starts. Might the delay of the Triple-A season help the organization find innings in August and September? What is to come of Rule 5 Draft selection Paul Campbell, who must be returned to the Rays if he doesn't remain on the active roster? And could last year's top pick Max Meyer debut? -- Christina De Nicola
The known: The Mets continue to rely on two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom as their unquestioned ace. Entering his age-33 season, deGrom has shown no signs of slowing down, and he’ll have more help than in seasons past. At the start of a busy offseason, Mets extended a one-year qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman, who’s back in Flushing. They also acquired Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland, and signed Taijuan Walker to a two-year deal. The result is one of the league’s deepest and most experienced rotations.
The unknown: It’s unclear who will serve as the Mets’ fifth starter. David Peterson probably deserves the job coming off a strong rookie season, but the Mets may try to take things slowly with Peterson after he threw only 49 2/3 innings as a rookie. Trade acquisitions Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto are also candidates for that job, as is veteran Jerad Eickhoff. Then there is Noah Syndergaard, who is due back around June. How quickly Syndergaard returns -- and how effective he can be coming off Tommy John surgery -- will be major factors in the success of this rotation. -- Anthony DiComo
The known: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are returning to anchor the Nationals' starting rotation. After being limited to just five innings last season because of carpal tunnel neuritis in his throwing hand, Strasburg is feeling healthy in Spring Training. The trio will be joined by fellow veteran Jon Lester, whose goals include being “a fly on the wall” with his fellow starters and helping win another title. The three-time World Series champion gives the Nats a second lefty in the rotation with Corbin.
The unknown: The Nationals have to determine a fifth starter to round out the group. Manager Dave Martinez has said he would like Joe Ross, who was the top candidate before he elected not to play last season, to be part of the rotation, but that role has to be earned in Spring Training. Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are in the mix once again, and Rogelio Armenteros also will get a look. The Nats also are proceeding cautiously with Scherzer, who sprained his left ankle during conditioning drills prior to camp. They will be careful with their No. 1 starter rather than rush him onto the field just for time’s sake. -- Jessica Camerato
The known: The Phillies had issues in 2020, but the rotation was not one of them. They had one of the best rotations in baseball, thanks to Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. Its 7.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs, ranked third in baseball behind the Reds (8.2) and Indians (7.9). Nola and Wheeler led the way, but Eflin was right behind them. He believes he is ready to take another step forward in 2021. Eflin showed flashes of dominance last season, and if he takes off it could give the Phillies a formidable trio.
The unknown: The final two jobs in the rotation are up for grabs. There are four candidates: left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard. The fact that the Phillies signed Moore and Anderson to Major League contracts makes them early favorites, especially Moore, if for no other reason than he would be the only lefty in the rotation. But Velasquez and Howard can make the decision difficult. The Phillies want to monitor Howard’s workload. He has missed time each of the past two seasons because of shoulder issues, but he came to camp healthy and stronger and has impressed early. -- Todd Zolecki