National League Predictions: Cubs, Mets look to get back to NLCS, but Dodgers loom
While the American League has the clear demarcation between teams that can make the playoffs and teams that cannot, that same line seems to be muddled in the National League. Based on offseason additions, several teams have vaulted themselves from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack.
Take the Arizona Diamondbacks for example. They had one need this offseason – pitching. They added not one, but two good pitchers to fix their pitching woes. Zack Greinke from the Los Angeles Dodgers should provide an All-Star talent at the top of the rotation, while Shelby Miller is one of the more durable pitchers in the league. If all breaks right for Arizona, the Diamondbacks could make the playoffs.
But they also have to deal with the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, two teams that were better than Arizona last season and made offseason acquisitions that will help this year.
Despite a league full of potential playoff teams, here are the five teams that I believe will make it to October, with a chance to represent the NL in the World Series.
NL East Winner: New York Mets
After shocking several pundits and making it to the World Series last season, I see the Mets with similar results: winning the National League East for the second straight year.
Offensively, the Mets are going to look for full-year production from players they added midway through last season. Yoenis Cespedes, acquired at the trade deadline, returns and will look to provide some power in the middle of the lineup. Michael Conforto could provide the Mets with another all-around hitter at the sixth spot.
And the pitching? We don’t need to talk about the pitching, but let’s do it anyway. Matt Harvey is one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball, and yet, he’s behind his teammate Jacob deGrom. Noah Syndergaard throws 100 mile per hour pitches with ease and Steven Matz, the fourth starter, would be a No. 2 pitcher on most rotations.
The Mets are good. The Mets have the talent. The only thing that could stop the Mets are the Mets.
NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are the best team in the National League and are still getting better.
Chicago made most of a young, cheap core of players. They added Jason Heyward to play right field where he may be one of the best at that position in the league, Ben Zobrist to play second base and John Lackey to bolster an already impressive starting pitching rotation. All three should help a team that made it to the NLCS last season.
And what about the young players all around the roster? Kris Bryant has monster power, Kyle Schwarber at catcher and in left field should provide some power to the middle of the order and Addison Russell is an elite shortstop prospect and only getting better as he continues to get playing time. Anthony Rizzo could be a MVP candidate at first base this year.
Oh, and the Cubs have Jake Arrieta, the most feared pitcher at the end of last season and Lackey, who is a quality start machine. This is one of the best teams in the league – maybe the best.
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
My vote is for the most intriguing team in baseball.
The Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball, but they opted for one of the more rare strategies in baseball: depth over stars. It’s not the healthiest group of players, but from the starting rotation to the bullpen to the position players, the Dodgers have a healthy group of starters and a wave of backup and prospects that can come in and provide production right away.
The best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, leads the pitching staff. After losing Greinke to the rival Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers added Scott Kazmir and international import Kenta Maeda to join Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and rookie prospect Frankie Montas to compete for big-league innings.
Offensively, Yasiel Puig is the star-studded leader, but guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal and Joc Pederson are all a bit more consistent at this point. A good Puig season could be the difference from another good, but not great Dodgers season and a potential championship season.
Also, look out for Corey Seager, the No. 1 prospect in baseball and penciled in to start at shortstop for the Dodgers this season. He could be great right off the bat.
NL wildcard No. 1: San Francisco Giants
I feel bad for not putting the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs. Whatever.
The Giants, after missing the playoffs last season, had a good offseason to put them back into it this position.
Pitching has been their mantra and they stuck to it in their offseason acquisitions. Johnny Cueto was a key asset in helping Kansas City win the World Series last season and Jeff Samardzija, who struggled last season, should fare better in the spacious AT&T Park. Those two join Madison Bumgarner, who might be the scariest pitcher in baseball.
They don’t have the most exciting offense, missing a key home run bat in the middle of the order. Yet they make up with that with several good, contact hitters. Joe Panik and Matt Duffy are two solid hitters in the infield, Buster Posey is a year in, year out MVP candidate and the offseason addition of Denard Span gives them a solid hitter with some speed in the outfield.
You can’t forget the even-year magic for San Francisco, too. The Giants have won the last three World Series in even years.
Wild Card No. 2: Washington Nationals
On one hand, the Nationals lost Jordan Zimmermann, one of their best pitchers, Denard Span, a solid hitter at the top of the order and they employ Jonathan Papelbon, who appears to be a bit eccentric. And, it must be mentioned, this team folded like a lawn chair when the Mets came through in the middle of the season and swept them … twice.
And yet, I think they put it all together this season. Bryce Harper is the second best player in baseball, capable of carrying an offense and going on a Barry Bonds-like streak for months at a time. Anthony Rendon, who was hurt for most of last year, comes back as one of the best third basemen in baseball. Daniel Murphy, a former nemesis, joins them to provide a bat at the top of the order.
The secret to Washington’s success? Youth, especially Harper, who’s still just 23 years old. Trea Turner comes in at shortstop – providing a young, fast player who can get on base and create havoc for starting pitchers. Joe Ross is a young pitcher who can ease the loss of Zimmerman and Michael Taylor, an all-D, no-O player who can improve at the plate with time.
One more weapon in Washington’s arsenal? Lucas Giolito. A top-five prospect in baseball, Giolito could be a potential addition to Washington’s rotation as early as this summer and, by all accounts, seems like the next great pitcher in the league.