National League Preview
Baseball season is here. Every team and their fan base starts with a clean slate and has every reason to be optimistic coming into the season. Who will be this seasons surprise team? Who will be this year’s breakout star? I have a feeling that this season is going to be one of the best in recent memory. Today, I will provide a preview of the National League, with the American League preview coming tomorrow.
Washington Nationals-They have to be the favorites to win this division due to their dominant rotation led by Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg, and because of the injury issues that the Atlanta Braves are facing with their rotation. Along with Strasburg, this rotation consists of stars Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister. Bryce Harper, who is a top pick to be this seasons NL MVP, will be a huge factor in determining how far the Nats go this season. No reason the Nationals should not win the East.
Atlanta Braves-As mentioned before, the Braves are dealing with the loss of pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery for the entire season, which is a tough blow to recover from. Still, this team has the talent to compete with the best of them with an offense led by Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, and Dan Uggla. The Braves will need B.J. Upton and Uggla to come back much better than last season if the Braves want to compete in the division.
Philadelphia Phillies-The Phillies are have a tough time letting go of the past. Their core players are all in their mid-30’s and they do not have a ton of youth on their team. The rotation will be the strong point, led by Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett, but with Hamels out for the first month, the rest of the rotation will have to pick up the slack. If the Phillies want to compete, Ryan Howard must return to the feared power hitter he once was, Chase Utley must remain healthy, and Dominic Brown must be more consistent than last season.
New York Mets-The Mets will have to adjust to live without ace Matt Harvey, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year. Their rotation is still formidable, led by young star Zack Wheeler, Bartolo Colon, and Dillon Gee. The offseason deal with Curtis Granderson will provide much needed support for David Wright, who is the main piece of the offense. Young phenom Travis D’Arnaud will be a player to watch throughout the year for sure.
Miami Marlins-Jose Fernandez was the breakout star of last season, winning the Rookie of the Year award and posting the 2nd best ERA in the NL behind Clayton Kershaw. Look for another solid season out of Fernandez and hope a bleak rotation steps up and surprises some people. Giancarlo Stanton will again be the main piece of an anemic Marlins offense. Stanton is a real treat to watch and his power may be unmatched in all of baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals-The Cardinals bring back the majority of the team that won the NL pennant last season. Losing Carlos Beltran will be made up for by Peter Bourjos and rookie Oscar Taveras, who will take over in right field. The rotation is still led by Adam Wainwright and young stars Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller and will continue to be one of the best rotations in baseball. The Cards should take the division yet again, but with the Pirates and Reds in the division, it will be far from easy.
Pittsburgh Pirates-The Pirates were the best story in baseball last season after finally making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. NL MVP Andrew McCutchen will look to repeat on last years performance and lead the Pirates to the playoffs yet again. While the rotation lost A.J. Burnett to the Phillies, ace Francisco Liriano and young phenom Gerrit Cole will keep the rotation as one of the strong points of this squad. The Pirates will battle the Cardinals right to the end for the NL Central title.
Cincinnati Reds-The Reds took some big losses in the offseason and in spring training, losing Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers and losing Aroldis Chapman for a lengthy period after taking a line drive to the face. The Reds still have MVP candidate Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, who will need to step up with Choo gone. With Chapman out and the Reds bullpen not very strong at all, they may fall too far behind the Cardinals and Pirates.
Milwaukee Brewers-The Brew Crew return slugger Ryan Braun from suspension and will need him to return to his MVP form from 2012. With a rotation headed by Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, and Kyle Lohse, the Brewers will have solid pitching on most nights and will be involved in some low scoring affairs. Along with Braun, Carlos Gomez, Johnathan Lucroy, and Jean Segura will have to have big seasons if the Brewers want to compete for a wild card spot.
Chicago Cubs-100 years without a title and this season will be no different. While they do have some bright spots in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs just do not have the talent to compete with the rest of the teams in the division. The Cubs will continue to rebuild this season and hope that their prospects improve enough to make an impact and have the Cubs being a formidable foe for next season.
Los Angeles Dodgers-The Dodgers are the favorites in the NL and all of baseball coming into this season. The best rotation in the league is headed by Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke, who are both Cy Young candidates and will make all teams shutter in fear. A lineup that consists of Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Eithier is just plain scary and will be insanely difficult to beat. Factor in a very strong bullpen, and you have a clear cut favorite to win the World Series.
San Francisco Giants-The Giants are in great position to grab one of the two wild card spots this year. The offense is very formidable, led by Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Brandon Belt. The rotation will rely heavily on Tim Lincecum returning to form and being a great compliment to Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. Tim Hudson will add some nice depth to the rotation as well. I do not see the Giants being much of a threat to the Dodgers, but the wild card is certainly within reach.
Arizona Diamondbacks-Losing ace Patrick Corbin was a massive blow on what could have been a promising season in Arizona. With the rotation in shambles, the Diamondbacks will need to score a lot of runs and will look for major production from Paul Goldschmidt, who was last year’s MVP runner-up, and Mark Trumbo, who was acquired from the Angels in the offseason. I see the D’Backs struggling this year.
Colorado Rockies-The Rockies have the offense to compete with the best of them, led by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but lack pitching big time. They will have to hope that Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin can keep them in games and not let it get out of hand and make it an unmanageable task for the offense. If the Rockies can figure out the pitching situation, they can possibly compete for a wild card spot.
San Diego Padres-If the Padres want to contend this season, the most important thing that needs to happen is pitcher Josh Johnson managing to stay healthy and pitch how he did with the Marlins a few years back, which he is definitely capable of. Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin will head an offense that plays in one of the toughest ballparks in all of baseball to score in, so do not expect major stats from these guys. The bullpen is the strength of this team and will give the Padres a great chance of winning with the lead late in games.
NL MVP-Andrew McCutchen
NL Champions-Dodgers over Nationals