2015 MLB Season Preview: National League
By NICK ALBICOCCO
It’s that time of year again as the MLB season is set to begin. After an off-season with more than 100 players switching teams, this upcoming season is unpredictable because parity between teams is as tight as ever. Ever since the Giants won their 3rd World Series in 5 years last year, the other teams in the National League look to replace them as the top team. Who will that team be? Will they have the MVP on their team? Here are the predictions for the National League teams in 2015.
National League East
1. Washington Nationals: The Nationals added more firepower to their already impressive rotation when they signed Max Scherzer for over $200 million. With Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister filling out the rest of the rotation, it will be hard for opposing teams to score. Their bullpen took a loss when they traded Tyler Clippard and chose to let go of Rafael Soriano. Their lineup is stacked from top to bottom with young phenoms like Bryce Harper to veteran sluggers in Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Ian Desmond. Look for the Nationals to have a dominant season.
2. New York Mets (2nd Wild Card): No bias here for the hometown team. The Mets had a subpar off-season with only one key free agent signing in former All-Star Michael Cuddyer. The Mets failed to add more pitching, especially in the bullpen. Their top left-handed reliever Josh Edgin is out for the year with a torn UCL as is SP Zack Wheeler. The good news for the Mets is they get back their two stars–Matt Harvey who was out all of last year and David Wright who was out for last two months. Look for Curtis Granderson to have a strong year now that he is reunited with his former hitting coach. The key for the Mets is development in guys like Wilmer Flores, Travis D’Arnaud and Lucas Duda. With young prized pitching prospects on the horizon and a solid lineup, look for the Mets to make a run at a Wild Card spot.
3. Miami Marlins: After locking up star young outfielders Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins have a bright future. Aside from the acquisition of star shortstop Dee Gordon, the Marlins signed mainly veteran players. They acquired two pitchers that will help in the rotation in Mat Latos and Dan Haren. Their lineup received a boost when the team signed Michael Morse, Martin Prado, and Ichiro Suzuki. Look for the Marlins to stay close with the Mets for a Wild Card spot.
4. Atlanta Braves: With the realization this team was destined for mediocrity, the Braves traded young and proven outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. They acquired a solid replacement in Nick Markakis and still have Freddie Freeman and Melvin Upton Jr., but this lineup just doesn’t have the talent needed to make the playoffs. Shelby Miller brings a boost to the rotation and with Craig Kimbrel closing, it seems that if the Braves are leading after 8 innings, it’ll be a definite win. Look for the Braves to end up with 70-75 wins at the most.
5. Philadelphia Phillies: Oh what a disaster. This team has the big names such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Grady Sizemore but they all reached their peak 5 years ago. Their starters aren’t much better and things could get really bad if Cole Hamels is traded and Cliff Lee gets Tommy John surgery. Jonathan Papelbon, the closer, is an absolute embarrassment to the Phillies with his pathetic sportsmanship and terrible pitching. The only good thing Phillies fans have to look forward to are off-days and the off-season. Look for the Phillies to have around 65 wins.
National League Central:
1. St. Louis Cardinals: Their off-season couldn’t have started any worse with the death of their prized prospect Oscar Tavares. But even without him, their lineup is stacked. With new acquisition Jason Heyward surrounded by guys like Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina, he should fit right in. Their pitching staff is pretty dominant as well. With star Adam Wainwright and young guns in Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha, the Cardinals have great pitchers in their rotation for years to come. Their bullpen also remains one of the top in the league, headed by Trevor Rosenthal. Look for the Cardinals to clinch the NL Central and make a playoff run.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: They have the reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen. They have the good young guys such as Pedro Alvarez, Josh Harrison and Starling Marte and they have the star prospect in Gregory Polanco. So why will they finish second? It’s because they just can’t match up with the Cardinals. They have a solid bullpen but their rotation is shaky. If their starters lose control during a game, it could get ugly. Look for the Pirates to contend for the top Wild Card spot.
3. Chicago Cubs: With the acquisition of two new guys, the Cubs have vastly improved. Jon Lester signed a deal worth over $150 million and Joe Maddon, a highly popular and successful manager, agreed to terms with the Cubs. The Cubs can be a great team if all their young stars pan out. Javier Baez and Starlin Castro form a powerful middle infield combination and up-and-coming star Anthony Rizzo playing first. The big name to watch is Kris Bryant who was sensational in spring training, but did not make the roster despite his performance due to a contract clause. Whenever he does come up, he should provide an immediate impact. The Cubs bullpen might be the main thing holding them back, which needs improvement as the season goes on. The Cubs haven’t won in 106 years so look for that to grow to 107, but someday soon, the curse will end.
4. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds were mediocre last year. Besides acquiring an old slugger in Marlon Byrd, they did nothing and that is why nothing will change. Sure, they have the sluggers in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Brandon Phillips but the team can’t seem to stay healthy. Besides for flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, the Reds don’t have much of a bullpen, and same with the rotation. After Jonny Cueto, the team is full of guys who are inconsistent. Some nights, the Reds will look great. Other nights, they’ll look like the Phillies; pure garbage. If the Reds stay healthy, they could possibly fight for the second Wild Card spot, but that’s highly unlikely.
5. Milwaukee Brewers: I’ll keep this short. The good teams in Wisconsin are the Packers and the Badgers. The outcast team is the Milwaukee Brewers. They have some good young players in Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. They also have star-turned-cheater Ryan Braun. Their bullpen is full of washed-up closers. Their rotation, especially spots 3-5, is questionable. I don’t see the Brewers succeeding this year.
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: The highest spending team in the MLB is destined to make the playoffs with their great rotation and lineup. Clayton Kershaw, last year’s Cy Young and MVP winner, and Zack Greinke headline a star-studded rotation. Their lineup talent may be even greater than their pitching talent. With former All-Stars Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier in the outfield, along with Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick in the infield, their lineup is stacked top to bottom. Look for the Dodgers to hit the 100 win mark in September.
2. San Diego Padres (1st Wild Card): The Padres were probably the most active team during the off-season. They acquired several quality players in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derrick Norris, and Will Middlebrooks. These additions surely make the Padres a lot more fearsome and put them in the playoff picture. Their rotation received a boost as well when they signed James Shields to be their number one starter. With hard throwers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the Padres could lead the league in strikeouts by pitchers. Look for the Padres to make a run for the Wild Card.
3. San Francisco Giants: The reigning World Series winners have won three of the last five titles. The problem is it’s an odd numbered year, and since the Giants have only won in even years (’10,’12, 14’), they won’t win it all this year. The Giants should be in the race for a Wild Card spot late in the season if stars Buster Posey and Hunter Pence can stay healthy (Pence is currently out 6-8 weeks with a fractured left forearm). With Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain leading the rotation, a surprise playoff appearance could happen but it’s unlikely. Look for the Giants to hover around the .500 mark.
4. Colorado Rockies: It seems as if the key for the Rockies every year is to stay healthy, but the problem is they can’t seem to do that. Even though they have star players in Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, and Troy Tulowitzki, the rest of the lineup is relatively weak after losing Michael Cuddyer. Their pitching staff is a disaster too, as almost every pitcher on the staff has an ERA of 4.00 or higher (which makes sense since they play in the thin air of Denver). The Rockies’ bullpen is surprisingly good with Rex Brothers, LaTroy Hawkins, and Boone Logan. Look for the Rockies to contend for a spot if they stay healthy. If not, look for a win total in the seventies.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks: Besides stars Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo, this team isn’t that talented. The Diamondbacks are full of uncertainty. Can Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill stay healthy? They couldn’t last year. How will Yasmany Tomas do after being a star in Cuba? Their pitching staff is still very young but talented. If Patrick Corbin and Jeremy Hellickson can return to their former good selves, things could get exciting in Arizona. Their bullpen is mighty talented as well with young guns Addison Reed and Robbie Ray. But in the end, this team doesn’t have enough talent to contend. Look for the Diamondbacks to struggle.
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Cubs
Manager of the Year: Bud Black, Padres
Playoffs: Padres over Mets
NLDS: (1) Nationals over (4) Padres in 4 games
(2) Dodgers over (3) Cardinals in 5 games
NLCS: (2) Dodgers over (1) Nationals in 6 games