National League Preview
On Monday my American League picks were published to very mixed reviews. One said that I was “not smart” if I think the Astros are going to finish last in their division, and another called me an “idiotic clown” for picking the Indians to win the AL Central. Well, I hope that I will be able to impress more people with my picks for the National League.
Washington Nationals: The Washington Nationals might be the best team in baseball, and are playing in arguably the worst division in baseball. While there are big questions for them this year (Will Ryan Zimmerman be able to stay healthy and make the transition to first base? Will Bryce Harper be able to have his breakout year?), the team is so strongly built that they will get solid production from every position on the field. Even more impressive than their lineup is the Nationals’ pitching staff. The top three in the Nationals rotation (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmerman) would likely be the number one starter on almost any other team, and their other two pitchers (Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister) would likely be second or third starters. Add to this a deep and strong bullpen, and the Nationals should match their 96 wins from last season and win this division.
Miami Marlins: The last time the Marlins made a flurry of moves in the off-season in 2012, they imploded their team after just one season. However, this year will be different. Instead of getting top notch star players, the Marlins got players who fit needs and provide this team with depth. Dee Gordon and Martin Prado will fill much needed holes at both second and third base, and Ichiro Suzuki gives their outfield some depth that they have been lacking in recent years. They also provide strong bats in the lineup to compliment the one-two punch of outfielders Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. The additions of pitchers Jarred Cosart, Mat Latos, and Dan Haren to go along with the return of pitching ace Jose Fernandez should help this team improve enough on their 77 wins from last season to nab one of the Wild Card spots in the NL.
New York Mets: The Mets have a solid team, but not good enough to make the playoffs because of their lack of offensive firepower. Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer can be expected to have good production if they can all stay healthy. But, Lucas Duda cannot be expected to repeat his success of last year (when he doubled his career high home run production with 30), and the rest of the offense lacks pop. There are positives for the Mets, though. Even with the loss of Zack Wheeler for the year, the pitching staff is one of the best young staffs in the league. If Matt Harvey can return to his elite form, this team will be able to finish above .500 for the first time since 2008 on the strength of pitching alone – but still miss the playoffs.
Atlanta Braves: This appears to be a team that is headed towards total rebuilding mode. After trading Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton earlier in the offseason, the Braves traded Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton just a day before their season began. These players accounted for 74 of their 123 home runs and over half of their RBIs last season. In addition Kimbrel has had at least 42 saves in each of his 4 seasons in the league. Without these players (and after the likely trade of first baseman Freddie Freeman), the Braves are left with a lot of young players that will need time to develop. General manager John Hart has said that this team is not giving up on this season, but it is clear that this will be a long year for everyone involved with the organization.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are a horribly run organization that has held onto former stars for far too long which has stunted the growth of young players in their organization and diminished the possibility of getting top prospects for their players. Furthermore, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seems unwilling to give up hope and still won’t pull the trigger on trading Cole Hamels. This is a very bad team that has seemingly no hope for short or long term success.
St. Louis Cardinals: Not many players on the Cardinals have changed from their team last year that won 90 games and the division. Similar success should be expected for this team that has not missed the playoffs since 2010. The addition of Jason Heyward provides a key bat in a lineup that already features the powerful bats of Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams, as well as one of the best lead-off hitters in the league, Matt Carpenter. The pitching on the Cardinals is very strong with starters Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and John Lackey all expected to have big years. The bullpen is also one of the strengths of this team, anchored by Trevor Rosenthal who will finally get his chance to be the team’s everyday closer.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers lead their division for 149 consecutive days last season but fell off at the end of the year. This year, the Brewers will again not win the division, but they will finish second instead of third this season. A pitching staff headlined by Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, and Wily Peralta is by no means dominating, but they are solid enough to bring a lead into the sixth inning where a strong bullpen can take over. Jonathan Broxton, Neal Cotts, and Francisco Rodriguez are the top pitchers in this deep bullpen. Offensively, the bats of Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Gomez that are supported by Adam Lind and Jean Segura should be enough to help them finish second in this very tough division.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs got much stronger this off-season but will fall victim to being in one of the strongest divisions in all of baseball. The addition of Jon Lester to the rotation should provide a very strong one-two punch with breakout star Jake Arrieta. After that, the pitching rotation tapers off, and the bullpen, highlighted by closer Hector Rondon, is less than reliable. After the additions of catcher Miguel Montero and outfielder Dexter Fowler, this team should experience an uptick in an offensive that relies on the bats of left fielder Jorge Soler and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Manager Joe Maddon is also a major improvement for this team that should be in the playoffs – next season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: This team should be dominant offensively, especially with centerfielder Andrew McCutchen becoming one of the biggest stars in the game, but their pitching staff will struggle too much this year for this team to make their third straight playoffs. Inconsistent starters Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett can not be expected to repeat their success from last year. Third starter Gerrit Cole has yet to pitch more than 138 innings in a season, so it remains to be seen if he can have success throughout an entire year. Closer Mark Melancon, who has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the last two seasons while converting on 49 of 58 save attempts, is the lone bright spot in a bullpen full of inconsistent pitchers.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have been a strong team for the last couple of years but have fallen victim to major injuries each season. It is hard to expect any different this year as the Reds have virtually the same players. The addition of Marlon Byrd will be a nice extra bat for the Reds, but it seems likely that players like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce will be traded before the deadline in July. A team built around Billy Hamilton, Todd Frazier, and Joey Votto (along with pitchers Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman) have a bright future but a rough season ahead of them.
Los Angeles Dodgers: It would be very hard to pick against the Dodgers this year. The Dodgers already had a strong lineup with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and Yasmani Grandal but only got stronger with the up-the-middle additions of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. Also, Joc Pederson will get to prove his worth by getting the starting nod in centerfield. Andre Ethier, who is a two-time All Star and won the Silver Slugger Award in 2009, is starting the season on the bench which shows the depth that this team has. Along with their high powered offense, the pitching on this team is phenomenal. Reigning NL Cy Young and MVP winner Clayton Kershaw headlines a pitching staff that also includes Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, and an injured Hyun Jin Ryu. Their bullpen will also receive a major boost when Kenley Jansen and Brandon League return from injury.
San Diego Padres: The Padres come into the year with an almost entirely new group of players. Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton bring a combined 60 home runs to an outfield that hit just 19 last season. The addition of Will Middlebrooks to third base and Derek Norris at catcher provides more right-handed power that this team desperately needed. The team also traded for Melvin Upton on Sunday which provides a solid bat off of the bench. The Padres also made a point to improve their pitching staff this off-season. They signed James Shields in free agency, which gives them an incredibly strong top three in their staff of Shields, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy. The Padres strengthened their bullpen by trading for Craig Kimbrel, who has 186 saves through his four years in the league.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants, after winning the World Series in 2012, finished third in their division. The same can be expected to happen this year. After losing Pablo Sandoval in free agency, the already anemic offense of the Giants will struggle to put up strong numbers against the very tough pitching in the NL West. While the team still has the very consistent bat of Buster Posey, the other power bat on this team, Hunter Pence, is sidelined for at least another month with a fractured arm which could mean a very slow start for the Giants. The Giants will rely on defense and pitching, which the team has plenty of. Starting pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain have proven themselves as aces, and Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have seemed to turn back the hands of time to regain their form of their younger days. The Giants will also hope that Tim Lincecum can regain some of his two-time Cy Young form to at least be a bridge from the start of the game to their very deep bullpen. In the end, it will be their offense though that keeps this team from the playoffs.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks have some some stars on their team (Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo), but this team is still very much in rebuilding mode. Pitcher Josh Collmenter is the number one pitcher on a staff that is young and inexperienced. This should be a long year for the Diamondbacks, but they will improve on their 64 wins from last year which is a step in the right direction for a team in rebuilding mode.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are not a very good team. There is no other way to put it. The Rockies have some players that are still performing at a very high level in Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Justin Morneau. However, all of these players struggle with injuries and will likely be traded by the end of the season. Other than that, the Rockies do not have many positives to note and have a long couple of years ahead of them.
Division Winners: Washington, St. Louis, and Los Angeles
Wild Cards: Miami and San Diego
World Series: Los Angeles
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins)
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Rookie of the Year: Jorge Soler (Chicago Cubs)
Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey