Since the advent of the wild card in 1995, an entire division has finished .500 or better just one time. It happened with the National League East in 2005, when the Braves won the division with a 90-72 record and the fifth-place Nationals were just nine games back at 81-81. Just six games separated the five teams entering September, so the final month began with a legitimate five-team race for the division title.
We could get a similar tightly packed chase in the NL East in 2021. While the projection systems place the Marlins a distant fifth in the division, you can't exactly ignore a team that finished ahead of the Phillies, Mets and Nationals and made the expanded postseason in 2020.
With the Nationals finally getting their season started Tuesday night against the Braves and the Phillies hosting the Mets on ESPN (7 p.m. ET), let's look at some of the key factors that will decide the division race.