The Braves will win the National League East for the fifth consecutive year if FanGraphs’ initial ZiPS projections prove accurate.

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FanGraphs released its highly anticipated ZiPS projections last week, a model it uses to predict the MLB standings. The projections will be updated again before the season – obviously, since there are still many dominoes yet to fall – but the system considers the Braves the favorites.

It projects the Braves at 90-72, winning the NL East by two games over the Mets. The Phillies are pegged for 82 wins, the Marlins for 80 and the rebuilding Nationals for 75.

And what about the whole Freddie Freeman caveat? FanGraphs writer Dan Szymborski:

“As I expected when discussing Atlanta’s projections, the Braves show up in ZiPS as a mild favorite, even with the baked-in assumption that Freddie Freeman will depart in free agency. His still-likely return would put a few more games between the Braves and the Mets, though that return isn’t certain until there’s a signed contract to that effect.”

Szymborski added the Mets “probably” underperformed last season and could catch the Braves with better fortunes in 2022. The Mets already have had a busy offseason, hiring respected manager Buck Showalter and a plethora of productive veterans, including starting pitcher Max Scherzer, outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha, and infielder Eduardo Escobar. They’re expected to make further reinforcements when the lockout ends.

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The Braves, meanwhile, aren’t sure if they’ll retain their best player. If Freeman signs elsewhere – a more realistic proposition than any of us would’ve imagined a year ago – they’ll need to address first base. Regardless, they’ll probably add an outfielder, perhaps one of their July acquisitions from last summer – Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and/or Jorge Soler – or another veteran.

Despite another glamorous Mets offseason, the Braves should still be preseason favorites, at least until Freeman departs. The team still has several All-Star-caliber regulars and a solid rotation headlined by Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson. The bullpen also returns its key components.

The NL East should be improved. Even if the Phillies continue hovering in the .500 range, the Mets should be more threatening, and the Marlins certainly should be better. Miami has a batch of promising young pitching and has steadily improved its offense. The Marlins, MLB’s longtime punch line, seem to be building something in south Florida.

Washington underwent a teardown in July and won’t be a factor in 2022, though given the team’s resources and urgency to build around Juan Soto (a free agent in 2025), the Nationals probably aren’t planning on a lengthy rebuild.

In other parts of the NL, FanGraphs has the Cardinals winning the Central with 89 victories. The Brewers, ousted by the Braves in October, are just behind them with 88. They’re followed by the Reds (80), Cubs (76) and Pirates (68).

Despite losing Scherzer to the Mets and shortstop Corey Seager to Texas – the Braves won’t shed a tear over that one, given Seager’s postseason success against them – the Dodgers are projected at an NL-best 94 wins. Los Angeles, which also has starter Clayton Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen unsigned, likely has more moves up its sleeve.

FanGraphs believes the Padres rebound under new manager Bob Melvin, leaping from a disappointing 79-win campaign to 90 victories. The Padres went down in flames last season, but the talent is there for a quick turnaround.

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Perhaps most surprising was FanGraphs having the Giants dip from 107 wins to an 81-81 mark. While the team lost Buster Posey (retirement) and Kevin Gausman (Toronto), that seems a bit steep. The Diamondbacks (72 wins) and Rockies (66) are again projected nonfactors in the playoff race.

For the record: FanGraphs’ final ZiPS preseason projections last season had the Braves at 91 wins, tied with the Mets. The Braves won 88 games, going on to win the World Series, while the Mets cratered in the second half and won only 77 games.

Ultimately, there are too many lingering questions to confidently project the standings. But aren’t we all just looking for Braves and MLB content to discuss?