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With the smell of spring on the horizon, the boys of summer are preparing their lockers, lacing up their cleats and taking their gloves into the field. Another season is about to begin and fans are beginning to daydream yet again, as their favorite teams have reported to the grapefruit and cactus leagues. Inter-squad games abound, minor leaguers with aspirations of making it to the show, veterans hoping to hang on just one more season, returning champs hoping to repeat and players meeting their new teammates for the first time.
Yes, it’s preseason baseball time and stadiums all throughout Arizona and Florida are full of players, fans and media! With baseball’s opening day just about a month away (April 3-5), what will this season look like for your favorite team? Of course we all know 54 games are won by each team, another 54 lost, so its imperative that your team be the best of the best in the other 54. Here is how I see the season playing out, with a few predictions of postseason participants and a few featured awards for the National League.
* Watch out for my American League preview later in the week!
National League East:
1. New York Mets: Yes, this is their division to lose. With the rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz this team is set barring any major injuries of course. Bartolo Colon is back for one more season and Zack Wheeler could see some solid innings, returning from Tommy John surgery. Neil Walker replaces Daniel Murphy at 2B and Yoenis Cespedes returns for at least one more season. The Mets lost the 2015 World Series to the Kansas City Royals, so their ability to contend in 2016 shouldn’t surprise anyone. For now, they are the team to beat, not only in the National League East, but quite possibly in the entire league.
2. Washington Nationals: I was tempted to put the Marlins here. I do think it will be a foot race for 2nd place and a possible Wild Card spot. I don’t believe that a WC spot will come from the East, so winning the division is imperative. The Nationals lost SP, Doug Fister, but had Joe Ross laying in waiting. They replaced Ian Desmond with Daniel Murphy at 2B, so they didn’t lose much. In a nutshell, this team didn’t get much worse, but didn’t get much better than the 2015 version. Are they better than a 83-win team? I don’t see it and I do believe it might take 88+ wins to edge out the Mets (and Marlins).
3. Miami Marlins: The temptation to put them second came down to the depth and quality of the starting rotation, 1B and Catching positions. They aren’t altogether dominating in their 5-man rotation once you get beyond Jose Fernandez. They have talent, don’t get me wrong, but compare it to the Mets and Nationals before defending it. Their outfield has a chance to be statistically special with Marcell Ozuna (assuming he doesn’t get traded), Christian Yelich and, of course, Giancarlo Stanton. I am excited to see what Don Mattingly does here, in his first year as skipper, but I don’t foresee a solid push at the division or a Wild Card spot.
4. Atlanta Braves: This team has a real chance to surprise in a few years. I do believe their prospects will surge entering 2017 and beyond. That was their game plan when they started tearing the team down a few seasons ago, with the intent to be competitive for the new stadium in 2017. If you’re looking for “name” players, there are still a few hanging around (Nick Markakis, AJ Pierzynski), but not many. Julio Teheran highlights a young and inexperienced staff. Don’t expect much from this team this season, but keep tabs on some of their young talent because they might be players you’ll hear about for years to come.
5. Philadelphia Phillies: Should I use this space to admonish Ruben Amaro Jr. and his unwillingness to rebuild… EVER! Maybe we should focus on the future, now that he is gone. I expect this team to challenge all other entrants for worst record in the league. Their team is filled with aging veterans, mediocre depth and prospects. I would expect to see this team hold this spot in the standings for at least the next 2-3 seasons. Sorry “Philly Fanatics!”
National League Central:
1. Chicago Cubs: Ah, the media darlings. We’ve seen this story play out in recent years with the 2012, Miami Marlins, and then a season later when the Marlins traded what seemed like their whole team to the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays and most recently, the 2015 San Diego Padres. After signing Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and bringing back Dexter Fowler recently, it’s hard to find a hole in the Cubs depth chart. They appear, on paper, to be loaded just about everywhere making them the odds on favorites to win their first World Series since 1908. Well, even the best laid out plans can have flaws. I do believe the Cubs will be the only 100-game winner in 2016. I believe they have as good a chance as any to win it all this year… But you don’t win games “on paper”. They are the chosen ones. Now they have to go out and prove it.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have done well in the past few years to maintain pace with the Cardinals in the central. Beginning last year though, it is now a 3-team race for the division. I slotted the Pirates here, ahead of the Cardinals, because I think they have the talent to build on their success from last season. Coming off a 98-win season, they could experience some regression, even up to 8 games and still be a 90-win team! Their outfield is again going to be one of the league’s best with perennial All-Star Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Planco and Starling Marte. Their 5-man rotation isn’t as deep as the Cubs, Mets or Giants, so that might be their Achilles heal.
3. St. Louis Cardinals: Their run atop the NL Central has got to come to an end soon and 2016 looks as good as any. Don’t get me wrong, the Cardinals are still a top 10-12 team in MLB. Their division is top-heavy and that should cause them to slide a bit. The losses of Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the division-rival Cubs will be felt. They had some depth to help deflect the losses, especially Lackey’s, but will they be able to absorb the loss in depth? I expect this race to be the best of the season to follow, but in the end someone has to fall to third. Why can’t this be the year it’s the Cardinals?!
4. Cincinnati Reds: Well the Reds finally started the rebuilding process. And, of course, in Cincinnati Reds style it blew up in the their face from the get go! They dealt bullpen stalwart, Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers, just to see his pending domestic violence case force the trade to unravel. They then dealt him to the Yankees for a prospect package that lacked the depth of the one from the Dodgers. Sorry, Reds. They traded Jay Bruce to the Blue Jays in a 3-team trade, also including the Angels, again… you guessed it… just to see that trade unravel when a minor league prospect failed his physical. So their core of Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips (who refuses to be traded) and Homer Bailey (returning by midseason, at best, from Tommy John surgery) returns, but it won’t be enough. The only thing preventing them from a 5th place finish is that the Brewers are expected to be worse.
5. Milwaukee Brewers: Quick name two Brewers not named “Lucroy” or “Braun”! Yeah, right. It will be that kind of year for the Brew Crew in 2016. They recently dealt power hitting OF’er, Khris Davis, to the Oakland A’s for a prospect. They are in full re-build mode for the next few years and considering the amount of depth in the division I don’t see why this isn’t their best option. The Brewers may not be competitive again until 2020, but if they make the right moves in free agency and the draft, I don’t see why they can’t be the Cubs 2.0, loaded with young players in 3-4 seasons.
National League West:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: Have you ever went shopping at Christmas, threw everything in the cart for the kids because “they’ll like this” and then gotten home, looked at the receipt and gasped, what the hell did we do? Well that kind of feels like the Diamondbacks offseason. They gave Zack Grienke a Dodgers sized contract to change uniforms. They dealt 2015 #1 overall pick, Dansby Swanson, to the Braves for Shelby Miller. They overpaid to bring Jean Segura over from the Brewers. They were a 79-win team last season. Were their moves fruitful enough to gain another 7-9 wins? I do have them finishing first in the division and for Dave Stewart’s and Tony LaRussa’s sake, they better hope that I am right.
2. San Francisco Giants: They made a strong push for Grienke themselves, just to come up short. The Giants then brought in free agent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto (fresh off a World Series win) to solidify their 5-man rotation behind Madison Bumgarner. I am not sure the Giants are buying the “Cubs” version of “The Shark” (Samardzija), but more the “White Sox” version that we saw in 2015. He seemed to lose some velocity in 2014, with the A’s, after his midseason trade from the Cubs. I like the late signing of Denard Span, whose defensive ability should translate well in that vast outfield of AT&T Park. The Giants are lucky to have three true centerfielders comprise their OF, in Span, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing seemed to go right for the Dodgers this offseason. They seemed to settle on Dave Roberts to replace (Don) Mattingly. They couldn’t re-sign Zack Greinke, signing Scott Kazmir as a lesser alternative. They ended up not trading Yasiel Puig, who seems much more happy as a malcontent than as a superstar in waiting, that most seemed to think he’d become. I don’t see Joc Pederson becoming the middle-of-the-order bat that the Dodgers had envisioned and relied upon. They had plenty of opportunities to include Pederson in trades over the past 2 seasons to improve their MLB roster, always refusing because of his potential. I think they erred in their assessment and will someday regret hanging on to him. He is still young and I could be wrong. They will need every bit of production they can get from him and Puig in order to compete in this tough division.
4. San Diego Padres: A year removed from being the odds-on favorites to win the World Series, amid a flurry of offseason activity that saw their GM, AJ Preller decimate their minor league system in order to compete now. Well, that ended poorly for the Padres, seeing them finish 74-88, good enough for 4th in the NL West in 2015. It got so bad that most of the players that Preller brought in during the offseason, went on the trading block within months. They still run 3 deep in their 5-man rotation (James Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner), so they have the ability to compete, but if they fall too far behind the the Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers, don’t be surprised to see both Ross and Cashner, and possibly catcher, Derek Norris dangled at the deadline in an attempt to rebuild the farm system.
5. Colorado Rockies: Poor Rockies fans. It seems like a lifetime ago that this team was in contention and exciting. In short, it was only nine years ago that they got swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. Nine years is a lifetime for a sports franchise. The Rockies never even came close to their success of their 93-win season, in 2007 since, even though they had 92 wins, just two years later. This team perpetually seems to be at the bottom of the division, or expected to be year in, year out. I hope one of these years this team can figure it all out and turn the tides, but 2016 doesn’t look to be that year. I’d expect at least Carlos Gonzalez to find a new this season, if not Jose Reyes, assuming his off the field issues don’t detract from his value too much.
National League Playoffs:
Wild Card: San Francisco Giants (1), Pittsburgh Pirates (0)
NLDS: Arizona Diamondbacks (3), San Francisco Giants (2)
NLDS: Chicago Cubs (3), New York Mets (1)
NLCS: Chicago Cubs (4), Arizona Diamondbacks (1)
National League Awards:
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers