2021 MLB season: X-factor for each National League team

As the 2021 MLB season draws nearer, find out who the biggest X-factors are for each team in the National League and how they could swing their clubs' fortunes.

By Robbie Stratakos
September 26, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Tommy Pham (right) is congratulated for hitting a two-run home run against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 MLB season is just days away. Expectations are set, as we prepare for the first full MLB season in two years.

However, who are the players that can move the needle for their respective teams when it comes to exceeding expectations? Here is the X-factor for every National League team in the 2021 MLB season.

Read More: 2021 MLB season: X-factor for each American League team

Atlanta Braves: Ian Anderson

Atlanta Braves X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Ian Anderson
Oct 18, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson (48) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning during game seven of the 2020 NLCS at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves reached Game 7 of the NL Championship Series last season thanks to their young starting pitchers picking up the slack in the wake of injuries; Ian Anderson was part of that play. He posted an impressive 1.95 ERA across six regular-season starts and was phenomenal in the postseason. Can he be the same pitcher across a 162-game season? The Braves need their young arms to continue to progress with Mike Soroka rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon to stay in the NL pennant race.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Braves, check out #ForTheA rumors, rankings, and news here.

Miami Marlins: Starling Marte

Miami Marlins X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Starling Marte
Mar 23, 2021; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Starling Marte (6) smiles as he heads back to the dugout after being forced out at second base in the fifth inning during a spring training game against the New York Mets at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

While he provided depth, Marte was underwhelming in his brief time with the Marlins in 2020. A return to the Marte of old, a productive and reliable hitter and outfielder, gives the Marlins another impact bat. Alongside the likes of Brian Anderson, Miguel Rojas and Jesus Aguilar, the Marlins have a grouping of productive veterans. Marte playing up to his capabilities complements the team’s young positional core and provides more run support for their compelling, young pitching staff.

Read More: Miami Marlins perfectly complemented their starting rotation in 2021 offseason

Philadelphia Phillies: Alec Bohm

Philadelphia Phillies X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Alec Brohm
Mar 9, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm (28) singles during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bohm was one of, if not the most impressive rookie to debut in the 2020 MLB season. He hit .338 and was a primary offensive catalyst for the Phillies. In a stiff NL East, the Phillies, like everyone else in the division, have no margin for error. Offensive consistency has been lacking in recent memory for the Phillies. Bohm establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the batter’s box would add a new dimension to a productive, veteran offense. It would also secure the hot corner.

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Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

Washington Nationals X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Stephen Strasburg
Mar 24, 2021; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg (37) pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros during a spring training game at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals go as their starting rotation goes. Strasburg made just two starts last season due to a wrist injury, and the Nationals missed the playoffs. A healthy Strasburg is one of the premier pitchers in the sport. He grinds through at-bats, totals strikeouts at a high rate and throws a mean curveball. The Nationals rotation, which also includes Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, performing to 90 percent of what it was in 2019 gets them back to the playoffs. That comes from Strasburg being on top of his game.

Read More: MLB rotation rankings: 10 best starting rotations entering 2021 season

New York Mets: Marcus Stroman

New York Mets X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Marcus Stroman
Mar 23, 2021; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (0) pitches against the Miami Marlins during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard are out for at least the first month of the 2021 MLB season. Meanwhile, Marcus Stroman hasn’t taken the hill since 2019, but he’s active. The right-hander has been hit and miss throughout his career, by means of being a groundball pitcher who tends to labor through at-bats. Jacob deGrom and David Peterson carrying the load like they did in 2020 isn’t going to cut it for the Mets. Stroman has to pitch at an All-Star level for the Mets to take advantage of their exuberant offense.

Read More: Mets make Big Apple statement to New York Yankees by landing Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco

Chicago Cubs: Adbert Alzolay

Chicago Cubs X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Adbert Alzolay
Sep 5, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Adbert Alzolay (73) delivers against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs are in a rough, retooling phase. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a competitive team, though. Them being such a team is reliant on those not named Kyle Hendricks pitching at a high level. Albeit it was a small sample size (six appearances, four of which were starts), Alzolay was a pleasant surprise for the Cubs last season, posting a 2.95 ERA and holding opponents to a .169 batting average. Alzolay building off his 2020 campaign would help the Cubs replace the veterans they’ve traded/lost to free agency (Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Jon Lester).

Read More: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox get OK to boost early-season capacity

St. Louis Cardinals: Tommy Edman

St. Louis Cardinals X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Tommy Edman
Mar 10, 2021; West Palm Beach, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman (19) double in the 4th inning of the spring training game against the Washington Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Tommy Edman looked like a star in the making. Unfortunately for the St. Louis faithful, the youngster had an underwhelming 2020, low-lighted by a .685 OPS. Edman is capable of being one of the driving forces of manager Mike Shildt’s offense. He’s a contact machine who is difficult to strike out and can play four positions (second and third base, shortstop and right field). Edman getting back on track (he hit .304 in 2019) gives the Cardinals an elite infield (Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado operate the corners).

Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Mahle

Cincinnati Reds X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Tyler Mahle
Sep 13, 2020; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle (30) pitches during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Reds still have a reliable starting rotation after Trevor Bauer’s free agent departure. For them to continue being such a unit they’ll need some of their younger arms like Mahle to progress to a considerable degree. The right-hander posted a 3.59 ERA and 60 strikeouts across 10 appearances last season, nine of which were starts. The two seasons prior he posted a combined 5.06 ERA (48 starts). Was Mahle’s 2020 success an aberration or a sign of what’s to come?

Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes

Milwaukee Brewers X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Corbin Burnes
Mar 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Corbin Burnes (39) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a spring training game at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Burnes was electric in the 12 games he appeared in last season, nine of which were starts. He posted a 2.11 ERA and 88 strikeouts, making effective and efficient use of his backpack of offerings. This was Burnes’ first season as a primary starter. If he can continue to pitch at a high level, he’ll form a potent one-two punch alongside Brandon Woodruff. On the other hand, him taking a step back would further Milwaukee’s rotation shortcomings and likely keep them from returning to the playoffs.

Read More: MLB games today: Upcoming MLB schedule, best matchups with Opening Day 2021 approaching

Pittsburgh Pirates: JT Brubaker

Pittsburgh Pirates X-factor for 2021 MLB season: JT Brubaker
Sep 27, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher JT Brubaker (65) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have embarked on a full-fledged rebuild, trading several reputable players over the last year. The emergence of a young pitching core would help get the train rolling on a plausible rebuild. JT Brubaker struggled to keep runners off the basepaths and provide length in his debut season at the big-league level. At the same time, it was just his first season. Steven Brault has shown some promise, but he alone isn’t moving the needle for their pitching staff. Brubaker taking the next step would help do as such.

Los Angeles Dodgers: AJ Pollock

Los Angeles Dodgers X-factor for 2021 MLB season: AJ Pollock
Aug 27, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock (11) is congratulated by outfielder Cody Bellinger (35) after hitting a two-run home run against the San Francisco Giants in the seventh inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

While they have 10 players who could start at six positions and about 12 starting arms on their pitching staff, the Dodgers do have a bit of a hole in their outfield. A healthy Pollock can quell those concerns. When healthy, Pollock is a versatile outfielder (he has played both left and center field with the Dodgers) with a smooth, level swing. Health abiding, Pollock is another considerable threat at the plate for manager Dave Roberts. If he can’t suit up and/or struggles, it forces the Dodgers to fill out their outfield rotation with players who have little MLB experience.

Read More: MLB world reacts to Trevor Bauer signing with Los Angeles Dodgers

San Diego Padres: Tommy Pham

San Diego Padres X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Tommy Pham
Mar 24, 2021; Scottsdale, Arizona, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Tommy Pham (28) hits a double against the San Francisco Giants during a spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Pham has a sweet swing. That said, he hit just .211 in his debut season with the Padres in 2020. The Padres have a high-octane offense, but it’s lacking a bit in the outfield. Pham getting back to his traditional self, that being a player who ropes baseballs to all fields and posts an OPS in excess of .800, beefs up that aspect of their depth chart. If the Padres are going to overcome the rival Dodgers in the regular season and/or postseason, they need to be firing on all cylinders.

Read More: MLB world reacts to Fernando Tatis signing 14-year, $340 million extension with the San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb

San Francisco Giants X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Logan Webb
Aug 27, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Logan Webb (62) throws the ball to first against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Webb has posted an ERA above five in each of his two seasons at the big-league level. However, he’s still just 24: Webb can become a rotation fixture for the Giants, who surprised the MLB world last season in missing the playoffs by just one game. Webb has a consistent four-pitch arsenal (fastball, changeup, slider and sinker). In getting better command of his offerings, he can begin to rack up more strikeouts and get the Giants through midgame jams. The Giants could use a young pitcher to boast about.

Colorado Rockies: Antonio Senzatela

Colorado Rockies X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Antonio Senzatela
Mar 26, 2021; Goodyear, Arizona, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela (49) looks on against the Cleveland Indians during the third inning at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies are entering a tedious rebuild with Arenado gone and Trevor Story likely following him out the door within the next year. The organization has some headway in its rotation, which Senzatela is a part of. The 26-year-old had a breakout 2020 season, posting a 3.44 ERA and inducing weak contact with his fastball. Healthy versions of Kyle Freeland and German Marquez are top-of-the-rotation pitchers. The trio of arms pitching well could help the Rockies through their precarious situation.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Merrill Kelly

Arizona Diamondbacks X-factor for 2021 MLB season: Merrill Kelly
Aug 8, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly (29) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The D-Backs have a deep pitching staff. Concurrently, Zac Gallen has an arm injury, and Madison Bumgarner is coming off a disastrous debut season in the desert: the D-backs would benefit from Kelly taking a step forward. While he made just five starts last season due to a shoulder injury, the right-hander showcased an ability to work out of trouble and get the ball to the bullpen with a lead (Kelly posted a 2.59 ERA across five starts). Kelly stabilizing the D-backs rotation enhances their chances of making the playoffs.

Read More: Why the Arizona Diamondbacks are a dark-horse MLB playoff contender in 2021