Spring Training complete, the baseball Gods set their eyes on the upcoming 2014 season. Last week we explored the American League and I laid out my AL predictions for 2014. Now let’s shake out the NL and shed some light on just who will stroll into the postseason from the National League.
1. WASHINGTON NATIONALS. The Nats are young and looking to capture the feel of their 2012 campaign that is still overshadowed by the infamous Strasburg decision. Washington is loaded with talent that is overshadowed by the names of Jason Werth, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Yes, Harper is going to put up big numbers (.310/24/88) this season, and I fully expect Strasburg to return to his overpowering self; but let’s not forget the old reliables. Expect a Gold Glove effort from Ryan Zimmerman, an Atlanta Brave-like Adam LaRoche, and Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister to help back Strasburg in the rotation. The Nats win 95 games and take the division.
2. ATLANTA BRAVES. For those of you who don’t remember, I had Atlanta doing big things last postseason; perhaps too big. Atlanta is dangerou. With superstar Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, and the Upton Twins, their roster is loaded. The Braves will contend with Washington down to the dying days of September for the division, but ultimately Dan Uggla is not what he used to be, and Ervin Santana will be left to carry the Atlanta’s starting rotation. Despite the talent, Atlanta grabs 92 games and a wildcard spot.
3. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES. Oh how the Phils have fallen. It wasn’t long ago they were the NL powerhouse. Of course it wasn’t long ago that Ryan Howard was the most feared hitter in baseball. My how times have changed. Preseason troubles with Jimmy Rollins only publicize the disharmony in Philly. Take a look at the Phils roster and you serach for someone to step up and provide some offense. Chase Utley may be the only reliable hitter in the lineup. Even the addition of A.J. Burnett won’t be enough to help a team that is paying for overpaying. 83 wins.
4. NEW YORK METS. The addition of Bartolo Colon who was so dominant in Oakland last season is great and David Wright continues to be the foundation of the Mets; and Curtis Granderson could finally provide the Mets with some much needed offense. If at the very least, he’s a star power name that will fill seats. The Mets 2014 season won’t be too exciting and having to try and exist in a division where Atlanta and Washington are cuts above the rest isn’t going to help. The Mets win 80 games.
5. MIAMI MARLINS. The whole Marlins story is just sickening. The new stadium, the expectations, and nothing to show for it. Who’d have guessed that with a new stadium in South Beach, the Marlins would still have trouble drawing more fans than inter-state Tampa Bay? If you haven’t seen Giancarlo Stanton play, you’re missing out. This kid crushes the ball. He’s worth watching all in himself. Stanton will put up crazy numbers, and the addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Red Sox will provide some experience, but the Marlins are the NL’s version of Houston. ‘Nuff said. 74 wnis.
1. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS. The Cardinals are baseball’s most succesful franchise the past decade. They have gotten stronger, while their divisional rivals have weakened, which spells out another divisional title for the Cards. Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and the newly added Jhonny Peralta propel the St. Louis infield, and Matt Holliday continues to flourish in the shadow of the Great Arch. The Cards have proven one thing over the past ten years and that’s finding a way to win. A weakened division and returing experience combine for another dominant year. St. Louis racks up 92 wins.
2. CINCINNATI REDS. The injury to Aroldis Chapman wsa terrifying and when he returns he’ll have as much of a struggle blocking that out of his mind as he will getting back into a groove. That howver is not the biggest problem facing the Reds this season. Their starting rotation is solid. The question becomes, who supports Joey Votto. While Votto remainsone of the most overlooked talents in the game, relying on Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce are not great contingency plans for Cincy. 82 wins.
3. PITTSBURGH PIRATES. The Bucs returned to the postseason last year and the city was electric. While expectations are high, I am not. Andrew McCutchin is scary good, but outside of that the lineup isn’t much to worry about. Clint Barmes is reliable defensively, but doesnt produce much from the plate, and Francisco Liriano is still feeling out his groin injury. The Pirates were a great story in 2013, but a return to familiar territory is ahead of them this season. 81 wins.
4. MILWAUKEE BREWERS. The return of Ryan Braun could be the highlight of the 2014 Brewers season. Much like the NL East, the Brewers and the Cubs are lightyears behind the Reds, which puts them even further behind the Cards. While Hank the Dog has added some feel goods to the Brew Crew’s Spring Training, that little fella won’t be cute enough to keep the fuzzies around come August. Aramis Ramirez is battling age and Matt Garza will have to rely heavily on Kyle Lohse to carry the Brewers rotation. But with little offense, despite the return of Braun, the Brewers won’t be in many ballgames this year. 76 wins.
5. CHICAGO CUBS. Everyone should watch Starlin Castro this year, I’m expecting big things. The 24-year-old has a few seasons of experience under his belt, and is looking to return to All-Star form. And Jeff Samardzjia is finally blossoming into the prospect the Cubbies anticipated. As Theo Epstein works to get the playoffs back to Wrigley, and I expect him too; it won’t be this year. Expect the Cubs to be the doormat of the Central that they’ve become the past few seasons. 70 wins.
1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS. There’s only one team in baseball this season that will win 100-plus games and its the Dodger Blue. Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, and Zach Greinke are healthy and Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Period. Expect big things in LA and a runaway with the division. I expect the Dodgers will have everything sured up by the end of August and can use September to rest and gear up for a run at the World Series. After all, anything less is a serious disappoinment. 106 wins.
2. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS. The Giants underachieved last season. And while LA is busy running away with the division, the battle for second will be more heated than you thing. Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson make a strong rotation for the G-Men of baseball. Buster Posey is one of the, if not the best catchers in baseball; and Hunter Pene has spent a career giving more than expected. The Giants are good enough to get to the postseason and history has shown what they can do there. The Giants grab the other wild card with 89 wins.
3. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS. The D’Backs are no joke. The name Paul Goldschmidt became a mainstay in hitting conversations last season, and will continue to be thise season. Martin Prado is always dangerous and the addition of Mark Trumbo will add some pop to the D’Back lineup. The loss of Patrick Corbin and an aging rotation makes Zona vulnerable to injury and unreliable pitching. Despite the negatives, I love the culture in Arizona and I think some magic from last season is still lingering. 84 wins.
4. SAN DIEGO PADRES. The Padres are young, and I love youth when summer runs long. There’s no blockbuster star on their roster and if there was ever a team of balance, this would be it. They landed Josh Johnson in the offseason which is big for their rotation. The Padres biggest downfall has always been there inablity to stay healthy. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a team the past few years that has dealt with injuries as often as San Diego does. Call it a curse, call it a trend, it keeps me from ever expecting more from San Diego. 82 wins.
5. COLORADO ROCKIES. It’s no secret the Rox have been bad the past few years. In fact, you could say at times they’ve been down right abysmal. Many writers aren’t giving Colorado any scenario where they contend in their division, or in the majority of their ballgames. I want to, and have tried. With Tulo and Cargo, the Rox house two of the game’s best players. Nolan Arenado could have a coming out party this season. But the Rox have replaced Todd Helton with another aging slugger in Justin Morneau, and it would be a long shot to expect Michael Cuddyer to compete for an NL Batting Crown again. Alas, the Rox are what they are. 73 wins.