And now, my picks for the Senior Circuit…
Nats have the best rotation in the division anchored by Stephen Strasburg. Acquisition of Doug Fister form the Tigers will also be a boost to the rotation. If the Nats, especially Bryce Harper can remain healthy for a good part of the season, Nats will be dangerous in the NL. Nats finished last season strong, going 26-12 down the final stretch.
Braves bats will be providing some heavy lumber again this season, especially the middle of their lineup. The loss of 2 of their starters, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, could be a hindrance to the rotation. But with an offense that includes the power trio of Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, and a strong back end of the bullpen, the Braves still remain a legitimate threat to win this division.
Phillies starting rotation still sport a formidable 1-2 tandem in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels but age has caught up to this organization that had made it to the post-season 5 consecutive seasons from 2007-2011, appearing in 2 World Series and coming out on top in 2008. 5 years ago, I would have loved to have Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz in my lineup.
In my surprise pick, I’m picking the Marlins to finish beyond the NL East’s cellar. It will be interesting to how if NL ROY pitcher Jose Fernandez follows up his ROY campaign as he will be anchoring this young rotation. Marlins still have too many inexperience to pose a serious challenge for the division.
The Mets starting pitching should make for a lot of close games, but scoring runs continues to be an issue for them. David Wright is not the home run threat he once was. I’m also interested to see if Bartolo Colon can match his somewhat surprising performance of 2013, and I say somewhat because, yes, he will be turning 41 in May. Can he pitch 200 innings ? Having said that, Colon should still provide a steady veteran presence in their rotation.
So, as for the NL East , it appears that there is no lack of pitching from the top on down the bottom. I still see this being a 2 team race between the Nationals and Braves.
Over the last 14 seasons dating back to 2000, the Cardinals have had the most successful run in the National League, with 10 post-season appearances, including 4 trips to the Fall Classic in which they have won 2. Aside from the loss of David Freese, the Red Birds pretty much field the same personnel from last year’s squad that took them to the World Series. Their pitching staff, a good mix of veterans and youngsters from Adam Wainwright to Michael Wacha, could be the deepest in all of baseball. The offense along with Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina is also expected to put up some big numbers.
The Pirates, after going 21 consecutive seasons of sub .500 baseball, not only broke that dubious streak but won 94 games en route to a Wild Card victory over the Reds before taking the eventual NL Champion Cardinals the full 5 games in the NLDS. A lot has been made of the Bucs pitching and defense, which was certainly a huge factor in returning to post-season play for the first time in 21 years. The Bucs and their fans got a taste last year, now everyone in Steel City wants more, and they should. If they can add another solid bat or two to back Andrew McCutchen to their offense ranked 9th in the NL in scoring last year, the Bucs could make another serious run in October.
Overlooked last year was the fact the Reds made it to post-season play for the 3rd time in 4 years. However, closing out the season on a 5 game skid, including a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Pirates in the season’s final weekend at home, capped off by their Wild Card loss to the Bucs, eventually cost Dusty Baker his job as skipper. Fair ? I don’t think so. But that’s life in any major coaching capacity these day’s when even a hint of success is achieved and higher expectations are not immediately met. The big 3 run producers, Votto, Bruce and Phillips remain intact. The health of the pitching may be a question mark. The bullpen will be thin at times with the loss of Aroldis Chapman until at least June. ( Thank goodness he’s OK after being hit in the head by a line drive from Royals Salvador Perez ) .
Ryan Braun return from his suspension will definitely add some pop to the Brewers lineup along with Lucroy, Segura and Carlos Gomez. Pitching, as well as keeping key players off the DL , will be key for the Brew Crew if they are to sneak up toward the NL Central, the only division with 3 teams with 90 plus wins in 2013.
It has been 105 years since the Cubs have won a World Series. With all the youth on their team, it’s highly doubtful Wrigley Field, celebrating it’s 100th birthday, will finally be presented with a World Series triumph any time soon. Anthony Rizzo led the club with 23 dingers, and he could pass that up this season, but with a thin all-around lineup comprised of youngsters, he may not get many opportunities to drive home many runs.
So the NL Central could very well have 3 post season teams this year. St Louis with all it’s depth is the favorite to win the division, but Pittsburgh and Cincinatti, the somewhat forgotten team of last season, could pose a serious challenge for the NL Central crown.
The Dodgers are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as NL West Champions. Many expect the Blue to run away with this division. If only it we’re so easy. However, with all the depth they have, there really is no reason to think the Dodgers will not win the division unless injuries, which no expert prognosticator, can ever predict. The starting 5 could potentially have 2 20 plus game winners in their rotation in Kershaw and Greinke, and a couple of 15 plus game winners with Haren and Ryu. The bullpen, anchored by Kenley Jansen along with the return of Brian Wilson and the acquisition of Chris Perez, could be the best in the game.
Is this the year Dee Gordon solidifies his everyday spot in the infield at 2nd base ? Will the Dodgers be with 4 outfielders the entire season ? Can Matt Kemp ever return to the Matt Kemp of 2011 ? Yasiel Puig, after his breakout rookie season in which he played a huge part in the Dodgers run toward the post-season, how will he handle the pressures of higher expectations in 2014 ? Yeah, I’m being somewhat pessimistic. But that’s what fans who follow their teams closely do. Having said that, this team really is loaded. Many of these so-called issues are ones lots of teams would like to have, especially when talking about the outfield and pitching depth. I haven’t even mentioned the presence of Hanley and AGon in the lineup, also expected to put up some more big numbers this season.
Our rivals up north, the Giants, after struggling through 2013 with many of it’s players spending time in the DL and an unlikely shaky season from it’s rotation, look to give the Dodgers a run for the division. As much as Cain and Lincecum struggled, they still form a pretty formidable tandem along with Madison Bumgardner. The offense may be a question though, however, if the top of their lineup can stay healthy, Hunter Pence and of course Buster Posey could have more run-producing opportunities. How does a lighter Pablo Sandoval do in a contract year ?
There will be no shortage of runs in Arizona this year, as long as they got notorious Dodger killer Paul Goldschmidt in that lineup along with the addition of former Angel Mark Trumbo. The starting 5 is another story and the loss of Patrick Corbin before the Opening Series did not do any favors to the top of their rotation. The usually durable and dependable Bronson Arroyo should provide a good veteran presence. Will it be enough for the DBacks to pose a serious challenge in the NL West ?
The strength of the Padres, celebrating 10 years in Petco Park, has always been their pitching. Even with the changes in the outfield, Petco still remains a pitcher friendly yard. Now if only scoring runs wasn’t such an issue. Not helping matters is Josh Johnson, slated to be the Opening Day starter, is starting the season on the DL. With Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin in their lineup, will they have enough talent in that lineup to provide those two ample opportunities to drive home runs, always a tough task at pitcher friendly Petco.
The Rockies, opposite the Padres, have always been known for high offensive numbers. Playing 81 games at Coors Field certainly helps, especially when you have guys like Tulowitzki, CarGo and Michael Cuddyer in that lineup. Pitching, on the other hand, has historically been an issue for the Rockies. I really think it does have something to do with the thought of pitching in thin air , thus possibly affecting the mechanics of their starters.
As stated earlier, NL West is their for the Dodgers to take. Will they run away with the division ? No. I look for the Giants and DBacks to be the Dodgers closest contender, with the Padres and even the Rockies being possible sleepers to move up in the division. I still feel this is Matt Kemp’s team to lead. He may not be the 5-tool player that we saw in 2011 and may never go back to that form, but his presence in the lineup along with Hanley, Gonzales, Puig and either Ethier or Crawford, can still not be overlooked.
More of Dre’s Take’s…
I also would like to see Juan Uribe to build upon his performance from last year . It’s been noted that Juan struggles after a contract season. We will find out this year which Uribe we see, be it the Juan of 2011-12, or Juan Uribe of 2013.
And of course, let’s not forget our favorite Cuban, Yasiel Puig. Yes, he may be the most talented player the Dodgers have, which, when compared to a healthy Matt Kemp, is saying a lot. Yes, he still has the potential for an even bigger upside. And of course, yes, there’s also potential that dealing with the young Cuban Missile can be an ongoing issue. By now, we all know that Yasiel Puig was called out by manager Don Mattingly after last Saturday’s 7-5 win over the DBacks, in which Puig went 3 for 5. There is no denying the world of talent this kid posses. What is driving Mattingly, and others up the wall , including the fans…. ATTITUDE .
I have in the past questioned Mattingly himself on some of his decision making ( I’m sure you have too ), but in this case I see his point. They often say young talented players are the most difficult to handle. L.A. Sports fans, lets remember some guy named Kobe whom Phil, and even his own teammates, particularly some guy named Shaq, we’re not always on the same page either. Kobe and Phil still found a way to win 5 rings together. Puig will no doubt play another huge role as to how far the Dodgers go this year. Puig will also make more mistakes along the way, you know, growing pains. All of us will feel those pains along the way too. But as former MLB player Gabe Kapler said earlier this week, Mattingly can’t handle Puig by himself . Yes, like anything in any organization, it’s going to take a whole team to make this all work out. Calling a team meeting to address issues surrounding Puig is a start. Let’s see how this story turns out with both Puig and the Dodgers. This may sound crazy, but in some way’s Puig reminds me of another Dodger who had a world of talent as well as a world of baggage. Does the name Raul Mondesi ring a bell to you ? I really don’t see Puig going down the road of Mondesi, a world of talent met with unfulfilled promises. It’s all there for Puig to take, with a little help from his friends…
Dre’s NL Playoff Forecast
The World Series
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